Friday, December 09, 2005

Shades of Pink

(by Devi) A word about the title - 'shades of grey' sounded rather depressing, and not particularly relevant to the vibrancy and excitement of my own transgender expression. I initially considered 'shades of red' but the only red I could picture was the deep crimson of my favourite saree. So pink it had to be.

Shades in the title refers to those that characterize transgender expression in so many ways. The transgender world comprises people with so many different motivations, though, that it is impossible for me to speak for everyone, and I don't claim to do so. Transgenderism is such a wide spectrum that it's easy to narrow one's focus and view a subset as the whole.

Even my choice of the colour pink is an example: a reference to male-to-female, rather than female-to-male transgenderism. Perhaps a more appropriate choice to pink would be 'rainbow'. I speak primarily from the perspective of someone who pursues this part time and has no intention of permanently crossing the fence. The primary capability my transgenderism affords is, in a way, the ability to view each side of the fence from that side as well as the other side.

Shades of Origin

The expression of femininity begins in many ways. For some like me, it began very early, around when I started in elementary school. I found women, their attire and mannerisms mesmerizing. Silk sarees were a particular favourite, and I got to see women in them all around me, all year long. The sight, sound and even the scent of the silk was appealing. I had long wavy hair, and when women playfully used a headband or tied it in a ponytail, I found it pleasurable despite my outward protestations. It wasn't long before I started dressing. I knew even then that it wasn't 'normal', but as in the case of everything else, I chose to do things as I wanted to, as long as no one else was harmed. Ok, so maybe some clothes got a bit more crumpled...

Unlike the traditional sexually derived gender identity that is inculcated from birth, transgenderism can begin to manifest itself at different stages of life. It is a source of wonder to me that those who begin much later - even in their forties - can find it as fulfilling as I have. I suppose those who begin later might wonder how someone could start so much earlier and not be bent out of shape emotionally as a result.

Shades of Self Acceptance

With the development of transgender identity comes conflicting emotions. On one hand is the desire to express the opposite gender identity, either in a physiologically permanent way, or just as a temporary period en femme, depending on the individual. On the other hand is the restrictions imposed by the outside world, and one's own self loathing.

It helped me that I never viewed my dressing as something to be ashamed of. Unnatural, maybe, depending on the social mores. But I liked to enjoy it even within the restrictions. While the need for discretion within a largely unaccepting society is something not much can be done about in person, I believe that individual self acceptance follows when one genuinely treats the gender they are expressing as equal to their biological one. If a man sees the feminine as the 'weaker' or any other similar pejorative, his own en femme expression would reflect that, and affect 'his' ability to accept 'her'.

Shades of Motivation

There are several shades just within this. One tangent is that of the ultimate goal - whether just a continuous expression of the other gender on a regular basis, or permanent desire to change oneself. There's the part-time crossdresser who puts on just a few items, or a full ensemble once in a while, and on the other end a transexual whose change is permanent. Another tangent is frequency, ranging from fulltime to very infrequent.

Yet another issue is the very origin and evolution of motivation - prior to puberty, during the teenage years, or later. My own fascination with the feminine precedes my sexual development. While I can certainly be aroused en femme - something I don't see as any reason for shame anyway - it doesn't take away the joy (and the narcissism) of seeing myself look feminine.

An overtly sexually driven motivation (e.g. the stereotypical image of 'shemales') only makes the argument for the acceptance of transgenderism more difficult, for the simple reason that such a depiction doesn't measure up to reality as far as either gender expression goes. A balanced depiction, whether the motivation is to dress part time or transition fully, helps not just one's own self acceptance, but gradually by society.

Shades of Expression

From motivation follows a diversity of expression. For some, a few feminine, or even arguably unisex, items will suffice. For others, perfection in 'passability' alone will suffice. In between are many shades of, well, pink I suppose. There's (thanks to Marlena for introducing the me to the term) underdressing, where a transgender person is usually content to wear a few items of feminine wear under masculine attire. To some, like me, that doesn't make sense. But equally, I find it acceptable to want to dress partially, where I'd wear something that is outwardly a combination of unisex and feminine, while otherwise being masculine.

There's a tendency in the community to sometimes build a hierarchy around the perfection of expression. Looking good in general is in any case a gender-independent societal desire, a primal instinct with its origins in natural selection. But my own acceptance of overt partial dressing (in an accepting environment) while not wishing to covertly underdress regardless of circumstances makes me aware that while I may be instinctively not always be comfortable with those whose transgender expression isn't similar to mine, I cannot but accept and welcome their desire to do so as they wish.

There is the caveat that if such expression on the part of others negatively affects me, I would wish to redress it. But doing so by denying the other person's transgender identity is futile. It is like denying a common trait of anyone who causes you embarassment - "yes I know he did that and he claims to be from Oregon, where I'm from. But no Oregonian would do that, so he can't be from Oregon!" Redressal can follow by several means - positively portraying oneself, advising those who you feel are painting a negative picture, or both. But there are admittedly times when nothing satisfactory can be done.

Shades of Contentment

Contentment could arguably be interchangeable or treated as a corollary to either or both of motivation and expression. But I'll view it separately from a longer term, continued, perspective. Motivation and expression have their peaks and troughs. For me, there are times when I've felt motivated to dress almost continuously over several days, and periods when I voluntarily (as opposed to because of circumstances) haven't done so for weeks. Too much invariably leads to tedium, and too little to anxiety. Even for someone who dresses fulltime, there would likely be periods of 'girly girl' and more drab dressing.

It takes time to realize when it pushing the upper or lower limits because it affects the contentment of transgender expression. Too much, and sometimes the overwhelming emotions can be traumatic. For some it manifests itself as purging, self-loathing, or both. Too little can lead to a range of issues, both during the period when transgender expression isn't possible, and when it finally is again. Perhaps this gender expression and sexual expression follows similar lines, though there will be those who argue with a degree of justification that there's nothing wrong with a whole lot of sex. For me, I've found it useful to deny my desire to dress for short periods when I'm strongly motivated to, and partly dress during times when I'm not. It doesn't necessarily always help, but it's self assuring.

Epilogue

I probably dwelt on too many areas to be particularly coherent in any of them, but it is a reflection of the shades of gender expression within not just the entire transgender community but a single member as well. For those of you who managed to read this far, you have my genuinely tongue-in-cheeked admiration.

3 comments:

Michele Angelique said...

Devi thank you so much for this beautiful and thoughtful contribution! The title "Shades of Pink" is perfect for the context of your article. While pink is often thought to represent femininity, it can also be perceived as a blend of the color of love (red) and the color of light (white). In other words, Pink = Light + Love... what a glorious framework for the celebration of transgender expression. Your article conveys a sense of inner peace and emotional balance, which is what we all are striving for.

I really appreciate your use of the term "shades of..." as it seems among the transgendered community, there are no absolutes. The transgender umbrella includes a broad spectrum, with individuals representing every point. Many will even move from one shade to another as they evolve along their journey. Where the typical inclination has been to try and apply hard-and-fast labels to explain individual TG behavior (CD/TV/TS), your "shades" approach is all inclusive and gives recognition to the dynamic nature of the trans community. "Shades" corresponds so well with the message of your article because you are identifying the fluidity and progression of your own transgender expression. Among the beautiful transgendered ones, no two shades are exactly the same.

Those among the TG community have many commonalities, yet the differences are even greater. You do an excellent job of identifying the main areas of difference being the shades of origin, self-acceptance, motivation, expression, and contentment. Everyone within the community has a different perspective, or shade, within these areas. It is fascinating to think of the diversity that exists within these common realms.

I think you hone in on a very profound truth with this statement:

"I believe that individual self acceptance follows when one genuinely treats the gender they are expressing as equal to their biological one. If a man sees the feminine as the 'weaker' or any other similar pejorative, his own en femme expression would reflect that, and affect 'his' ability to accept 'her'."

I think you hit the nail on the head Devi. In my opinion, the primary reason M2F transgenderism is considered "unnatural" by society at large is the deeply ingrained belief that women are inferior to men. Women wanting to be more like men seems readily understood and accepted, given men's "superior" status in the eyes of prevalent religion and culture. A woman wanting to be more man-like is considered a natural aspiration to greatness. Whereas, a man wanting to be more woman-like is perceived as weakness or perversion.

I think a man's perception of women this is the singlemost important determinant of his level of comfort and pride in his transgender experience. Those who perceive woman as equal will not experience the same level of guilt and shame in expressing femininity, whereas a man with ingrained beliefs that women are inferior will fight against his feminine tendencies, perhaps even to the point of loathing and/or abusing his femme self. No man can be blamed for this internal struggle, as this gender disparity has existed within the human race since the dawn of time it seems.

For those transgendered people who feel this guilt, shame, self-hatred, the healing can begin with looking deeply into ones own individual perception of womankind. How one feels about his inner woman will be a direct reflection of how he feels about the female gender at large.

One of the quotes we have on GenderEvolve elucidates perfectly this very point...

"A man will treat a woman almost exactly the way he treats his own interior feminine. In fact, he hasn't the ability to see a woman, objectively speaking, until he has made some kind of peace with his interior woman." Robert Johnson

Again, thank you so much Devi for contributing this uplifting and enlightening article. I very much enjoyed experiencing a glimpse of your particular shade, and think you are truly brilliant!

With much love,
Michele

Lauren Thomas said...

Devi,

I actually read your writing several times because it gave me a new perspective on dressing. And, it also helped explain why I haven't been in the mood to get dressed up these past few months.

Although "Shades of Origin" is important I very seldom think about it unless someone brings up the subject during a conversation. As for "Shades of Acceptance" this something that I have dealt with in the past, and will continue to deal with because I am Transgendered. Acceptance is always a continuing process for me, as I encounter different life experiences.

What I really found interesting, and actually quite helpful to me were "Shades of Motivation, Expression, and Contentment." For me motivation us usually constant and without change. While my expression and contentment may be in constant change depending on my mood, and or situation.

My motivation to dress lies somewhere between having a deep admiration for women, and at the sametime wanting to emulate them. Being a CD is as close as I will ever come to being female, because it allows me to present an outward appearance of being female and at the same time express my feminine side. So, my motivation is always constant,

Unlike my motivation, my expression has changed as there was a time in my life when I believed that in order to emulate a woman, or feel feminine, I needed to be completely dressed. However, this has changed partly because I don't always feel like wearing pantyhose, high heels, and makeup, especially if I am not going anywhere. I have this female friend who I spent three days with on a camp out. As we were driving to the camp site she remarked that she was on vacation and the best part of it was that for three days she didn't have to wear makeup, pantyhose, or heels. She then smiled at me and commented that I would understand. At the time I didn't understand, because to me being female and being feminine meant wearing makeup, pantyhose, and heels. Today my female wardrobe consist of clothing to suit almost any occasion, because today I understand that I can emulate a woman by dressing up or dressing down, and either way I dress I can still feel just as feminine.

Finally it all comes down to my contentment, which has also changed. Some years ago someone commented to me, that if they where in my situation they would go out every week. My response to them was I've done that before, and after awhile it got old. Today my contentment is based on the fact that I can dress as often as I like, and that I can go out every week; but choose not too. What I choose to do is to dress casual everyday of the week, and if I do decide to go out, I have something special to look forward too. Otherwise I can be content wearing jeans and a sweater sitting on my sofa watching a movie.

Thanks Devi for giving me a new perspective on dressing. Everything you said makes perfect sense to me.

With Love and Respect,
Lauren

Adarabeth Veau said...

After reading it a second time Devi... I am even more impressed with your level of thoughtfulness on the topic and ability to cohersively relay your message...

Once I finish a more detailed analysis of your essay... I will throw my 2cents into the comment box... but until then...

Thank you for such a thorough piece... shades of pink, shades of the rainbow was well written and really shows us the level of commitment you toss into the community... and I really enjoyed it too :)

hope the holidays are a time of peace and joy for you...

And yeah, the silk sarees work for me too... the scent of the fabric and the soft flowing nature, I think, are a perfect example of feminine grace at its best...

hugs,

Adarabeth