LGBTI ‘roles and stereotypes’: An emerging issue

Rukshana Kapali/Pahichan – Society apparently has assigned gender roles for people as a social role encompassing a range of behaviors and attitudes that are generally considered acceptable, appropriate, or desirable for people based on their actual or perceived sex or sexuality.

Gender role is a burning issue of discussions and debate, where people are expressing that gender stereotypes are harmful because they don’t allow people to fully express themselves and their emotions, and is affecting their welfare by constantly keeping them in rigid boundaries of social connotations of how they should behave as a particular gender.

Gender roles have been an issue in social activist circles, while we talk how socially assigned gender roles for men and women are harmful. With the rise of transgender, having their voices, we have started talking about diversity of gender and looking out of gender binary.

 In terms of gender roles, we have not really talked about what it could mean to transgender people. A lot of discussion happens on transgender women being forced to male gender roles and transgender men forced to female gender roles, which happens in transphobic and cisnormative society and circles.

However, an emerging issue is now in “transgender gender roles and stereotypes” among the trans-accepted circles and society. Just like how society expects a man to behave and work and a woman to behave and work, the trans-accepting circles have also started creating similar rigid lines for how a person identifying as a transgender woman and how a person identifying as a transgender man should behave.

For instance, me, as a transgender woman have been commented many times for my body image and asked why I am not like “other” transwomen, preferring more sex, putting ‘perfect’ makeups or acting ‘very’ feminine. These standards harm my own expressions, identity and do not allow me to express myself fully as I want to.

The inch of hips she shakes left and right, movement of hands she make while she talk, the expressions her face makes during reaction and the way she presents herself is de-constructed and their ‘femininity’ is judged, for if she is a ‘perfect’ transwoman or not. In trans-accepted circles, transgender men and women are also expected to behave in certain ways. It might be expected that a transwoman must show herself in a very feminine way, and cannot wear tomboy style clothes.

It is also expected that transmen must have certain patterns of behavior to be a “real transman”. Now transgender people are not just facing the burden of cisnormative social gender roles to take, but also having extra gender roles to play among the trans-accepted circles. Nevertheless, just like a ciswoman is expected to have certain profession and works to do, transgender woman are also expected to be activists, fashion designers, makeup artists, sex workers and some few more stereotype.

Nevertheless, heteronormality in transgender circles do exist. Why do we assume that all transwoman are attracted to men and all transmen are attracted to men? Trans people can also have diverse sexual orientations as cisgender people do.

We can also see many transgender women actually want to accept or go into the patriarchal norms set for women in the society, in order to show that they have ‘fit’ as a woman. This ideology that in order to ‘pass’ as a woman, transgender women need to confine them into patriarchal norms set for women, is also harming the expression of transwomen and their freedom and again making transwomen the part to systemize patriarchy.

I have heard many gay friends of mine are endorsing the ideas how a gay person should be. First of all, society already looks at gay and lesbian people in a negative way and stigmatizes them based on their sexuality, and even in the gay circles, many stereotypes and roles harm their expressions.

It is expected that gay men who prefer top role during sex needs to have specific attributes like assertiveness, dominance, while gay men who prefer bottom role during sex needs to have specific attributes. The emerging concepts of gender roles for the homosexual and bisexual people are as harmful as the heterosexual ones. Moreover, people also think that LGBTI activists shouldn’t be talking about other issues of society and a ‘broader activism perspective.’

We have somewhat accepted those LGBTI activists who bring closely connected intersectionalities to the movement, like the intersectionality of Women movement and LGBTI or Gender Studies and LGBTI; but talking with intersectionality like Dalit movement and LGBTI, Creating safe and resilient cities and LGBTI, Technology and LGBTI, Mass Eviction and LGBTI, Safe abortion and LGBTI, Class struggle and LGBTI, isn’t an issue that is considered for an LGBTI activist.

Similarly, if an LGBTI individual writes more about issues other than gender and sexuality, their legitimacy in LGBTI movement is questioned. This issue also might emerge in the straight identifying people who are attracted to transgender people. But meanwhile men who are attracted to transwomen and women who are attracted to transmen are still not a part of discussion while talking about diverse sexual orientation.

As I came out as a transgender woman and got accepted in my family, I now started to feel the patriarchal burden as other ciswomen children feel from their parents. On the other hand, those relatives of mine who have not yet accepted me as a transwomen, impose transphobic cisnormality gender roles on me.

Meanwhile, in the other circles outside family where I am accepted as transwoman, I am again expected to behave in certain ways as the “real transwoman”. I feel tridimensional burden of gender roles and how people expect I have to behave in specific pattern just because of my gender identity.

Gender roles and stereotypes of LGBTI people in an LGBTI accepting circle is also an emerging issue that again marginalizes and puts LGBTI people in boundaries from expressing themselves freely. We do not want to create a new set of system by inheriting patriarchy, heterosexism and gender roles for transgender people; also inheriting cisnormality, patriarchy and roles for homosexual and bisexual people; and such emerging issue creates disparity inside the LGBTI movement, while further disempowers us. Therefore these gender roles also needs to now be a part of discussion in LGBTI movement. We cannot inherit and create a new set of harmful social system, while we are fighting against existing harmful social practices.