Thoughts on being perceived as a woman

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Thoughts on being perceived as a woman Empty Thoughts on being perceived as a woman

Post  Tara on Mon Jul 09, 2018 3:34 pm

Here are some thoughts I first wrote in November 2014, and have added to a few times since then. Maybe these will be useful, or at least might spark some interesting discussion. Note that I started my slow transition in 2010, and now find myself at the point that I am correctly gendered in person as female by strangers better than 90% of the time. My phone results are probably closer to 50%; darn that testosterone induced deepening of the voice!

Thesis: there is a sort of unconscious scoring mechanism by which humans make both immediate and longer-term identification of a person's gender.

This is reminiscent of one approach to spam filtering, in which a set of patterns of varying weights is applied to an incoming message, and if the cumulative score exceeds a threshold, the message is flagged as spam. In the case of gender, most people are working from a binary basis, and so the scoring will at some point reach a threshold that flags the person in question as either female or male. The reality of gender identity is more complex than that, but most people seem to be very strongly acculturated to seek a binary outcome in identifying someone's gender.

I can immediately think of two approaches that people with binary approach may be subconsciously using. The first is a sort of first past the post approach, in which separate female and male scores are kept in parallel, and when one of the two values exceeds the threshold, that score determines the gender. The second is a single scale, with thresholds in opposite directions from the starting point, and the score can shift back and forth in a sort of tug-of-war until it passes the threshold one way or the other. The second is less strictly binary in approach, but still ultimately makes a binary decision of female or male.

There are more than one scale or set of scales being evaluated, depending on circumstance. For example, one may identify a person visually at various distances, or close up. In a face-to-face encounter, one may also use auditory and olfactory cues. On a telephone conversation, only auditory inputs are available. Further, visual cues can be broken up into such things as fashion, body shape, facial and cranial hair, and handwriting. Vocabulary selection can be used for both visual evaluation of written communication and auditory evaluation of spoken communication.

Update 15 October 2015: After a misgendering at Quick Way sushi, one in which even correcting the person didn't help, it occurs to me that people from different cultures (Japanese in this case) may have different weightings on the various filters.

Update 25 March 2016: A similar misgendering at Indian restaurant reinforces my thoughts. So is there something about Asians that is causing them to gender me as male?

Update 8 June 2016: As contrasted to the Asians mentioned above, it seems that African American men are more likely to gender me as female. I'm not as certain about African American women.

Update 9 July 2018: I have come to believe that one thing that works in my favour is the societal misogyny that assumes that anyone would choose to be male, if possible. Therefore, barring other cues, someone who presents as female must be female. This is not sufficient in itself, of course, but is probably worth a few points on the visual scale. It might be enough to tip an androgynous perception to the female side.

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Post  Lesley Niyori on Mon Jul 09, 2018 4:36 pm

My thoughts.

Well, I never wear anything other than dresses or skirts. No pants ever which mean after 3 years it's likely hard to think of me as male when they've never seen me as anything other than blatantly female presenting. And society is so conditioned to think only females wear dresses and skirts. So unless the person is blind or an asshole, thinking of me as male based on my voice is totally stupid.

I have no luck on phones of course unless my account is blatantly specific about me being female.

I prefer very feminine appearances. I walk around with a very female hairstyle and I'm frequently wearing a princess-like tiara. Thinking I'm not female brands the observer an obtuse idiot.

My summer attire tends to reinforce my being female. I have breasts eh. It's easy to see in a tube top I'm not a man.

I'm plenty sure non-binary persons go through a lot of hassle with strangers not familiar with them. Hey, you can just assume I'm going to gender a non-binary person wrong 50% of the time. Because if there's no blatant tells, there's nothing to work with.

Most transgender men I see have beards proudly displayed the same way I make it easy to see I have boobs Smile

Attitude though it key.
If you don't act like your gender, you likely will generate confusion.

I can take off the wig, put on work boots and work pants and a manly shirt and you will not see my modest breasts and of course not know I have a vagina. If I don't shave for 3 days there is no way to know I'm a woman at all. And nothing I say or do will change the presentation.

It's likely no one would even recognize me.

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Post  Guest on Thu Jul 12, 2018 3:14 am

People are pattern matching machines. It's very seldom that I come across someone, even in passing, that I am unsure whether it's a boy or a girl.

Linguists also talk about how language is the vector for conveying qualia, and even experience them. The philosophy of mind behind it is that we need language, even if only a private, internal language, simply in order to reason in the first place.

When I say "pink unicorn", what do you see?

Polar bear?

You get the idea. The words and the image are connected by way of symbolic reasoning that has been reinforced by a lifetime of practise. To make that disconnect requires a deconstructionist dive into subsymbolic paradox.

Very few people are capable of it. Hell, to even be aware of the patterning takes careful study and much ophaloskepsis.

The point is, people see your jaw, brow, Adam's apple, hear your voice or see your boobs or hands or whatever relic of your natal sex and their natural pattern matching provides the words to use. Titles and pronouns.

And so much shit gets flung around because of it. It pisses me off. It is what it is.

We will have misgendering for as long as we have gendered titles and pronouns, simple as that. If you don't pass, it will happen. No point in getting upset ahout it. There's a tonne of psychology behind it.

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Post  Tara on Thu Jul 12, 2018 4:20 am

Papillon wrote:
The point is, people see your jaw, brow, Adam's apple, hear your voice or see your boobs or hands or whatever relic of your natal sex and their natural pattern matching provides the words to use.
Yes, of course. But no two people read the pattern exactly the same way, and different cultures seem to focus on different collections of attributes.

I am 1.7m / 5'7", have no noticeable Adam's apple (thankfully!), small but present boobs, small hands that are more a give away on age than sex, and, thanks to years of electrolysis and thousands of dollars, no beard shadow. For some, that plus my shoulder length hair and feminine attire leads them to matching me as female. But I also have jaw and brow lines that are not extreme, but still tend toward the masculine, as well as a voice that, despite years of work, still has some masculine resonance, and for others, that's enough for them to peg me as male.

I'm sure there are a number of other attributes that go one way or the other. I've made whole lists of 'em that I didn't bother to post. And I'm sure it's some of the attributes I haven't thought about that are the tells for some cultural groups.

One of the things I've learned is that, once someone has you pegged as male or female, it's very difficult to change that impression in their mind, even if they are sympathetic. And so, my running group all consider me female, and introduce me to new members as female, and so it continues. Family, on the other hand... And for gender queer people, it has to be even more frustrating.

Papillon wrote:Hell, to even be aware of the patterning takes careful study and much ophaloskepsis.
Funny, I'm a computer programmer by trade, currently learning how to do pattern matching in machine learning. On that thought, I think I'll go contemplate my navel.

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Post  Guest on Thu Jul 12, 2018 7:08 am

Where the cultural thing is concerned, I, as a rule, find black people a whole lot more accepting than white people. I'm South African and thus I ride the coattails (some would say, undeservedly) of a social movement that at its heart is aimed at equality and rejection of discrimination based on outward appearances. Black people have a personal perspective on discrimination and thus act in a way that denies descrimination.

I can't say, however, that I'm correctly gendered more often by black people. That said, I don't come close to passing and so my data set is confounded by that.

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Post  MichaelaSJ on Thu Jul 12, 2018 8:39 am

Papillon wrote:Where the cultural thing is concerned, I, as a rule, find black people a whole lot
more accepting than white people.
Gneralizations are, in general, generally wrong - but, I have found that many African Americans were raised in baptist churches by black pastors who tend to be very conservative and do not take to anything LGB...T with kindness in their hearts.

I cannot imagine anything that society cares for less than a black transwoman - especially if she is a sex worker. Murderers, terrorists, rapists, child molestors garner more sympathy than a black transwoman.

I have only met one black transwoman and she was very fortunate to be uni educated, young, cute, small and working for a very progressive software company in The City.

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Post  Tara on Thu Jul 12, 2018 1:40 pm

Papillon wrote:Where the cultural thing is concerned, I, as a rule, find black people a whole lot more accepting than white people. I'm South African ...

I'm American, and I find the same is true of African-Americans.

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Post  Lesley Niyori on Thu Jul 12, 2018 1:53 pm

Very interesting thoughts Pap and Tara.

If yesterday's encounter at McDonald's taught me anything, it's likely that people will KNOW to treat me as female if they have a functioning brain, likely will only treat me as male if they are an asshole, to begin with, but likely are dragging around a lot of inaccurate information in their head.

I met a nurse that was polite, didn't know much at all about being transgender, even though they personally knew a transgender man. Asked me some questions that were shocking revelations about just how little so many will know about our community.

I was happy to chat with her. But I had to correct her on things like "no I wasn't a prostitute" and a range of other (not quite as alarming), misconceptions.

There are a lot of nice people out there, that simply haven't been subjected to any form of adequate information.

I sympathise with anyone not 'out'. But I'm not going to hold back on this matter, until you take the risk, and join me, you simply ain't helping me or you or anyone else correcting all of the misinformation out there. And your reasons for staying in that closet won't go away.

Every time I smile and chat with a poorly informed, cautiously interested, cisgender potential ally, I'm doing it for me. I'm out here, I'm the one taking the risks. I'm trying to make the world better. I'm taking all of the credit too.

I'm not sharing the accolades with anyone that advocates from inside of safe places.

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Post  Tara on Thu Jul 12, 2018 6:37 pm

Lesley Niyori wrote:
I was happy to chat with her. But I had to correct her on things like "no I wasn't a prostitute" and a range of other (not quite as alarming), misconceptions.

There are a lot of nice people out there, that simply haven't been subjected to any form of adequate information.

So, true, Lesley. There are lots of misconceptions, even among otherwise well-meaning people. Last fall, I spent some time with my oldest cousin and her husband. They are very accepting, were well aware and supportive up a couple of our gay cousins, as well as one who is gender queer. But they really were not aware of what it meant to be a trans woman.

I spent a lovely evening with them, educating them, dispelling misconceptions. I don't think they assumed I was a prostitute, but they definitely did have the idea that trans meant "super gay". I explained that, no, I'm not a super-gay man, I am a lesbian woman who happens to have some issues of plumbing and birth certificate. They continue to be very supportive, and welcoming, and it was worth the time and effort spent with them.

On the other hand, I am not going to risk myself dealing with people I will probably never see again, whose intentions are emotionally or physically violent. Life is too short for that, and that could make life even shorter.

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Post  Lesley Niyori on Thu Jul 12, 2018 8:16 pm

"On the other hand, I am not going to risk myself dealing with people I will probably never see again, whose intentions are emotionally or physically violent. Life is too short for that, and that could make life even shorter."

Yep, you have to pick your moments indeed.

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Post  mariehart1 on Sat Jul 28, 2018 3:51 pm

While I'm not transitioning and would rarely be seen in public as a woman, although I was out today. But to me what is important is to be perceived as a woman. When I first came out to a friend, even though I was still fully male. She instantly treated me as another woman and referred to me as such. That was wonderful to me. It was the same with my closest sister when I came out to her she began referring to me as 'sis' and while we haven't fully discussed it yet her attitude to me when we've met is to simply to treat as she does the other sisters. To me that's priceless. My only wish now is that I could present as female too. Maybe one day.

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