Author: The Queer Therapist
Chris Grant, The Queer Therapist, is a trans non binary psychotherapist, sex and relationship therapist, Diversity, Inclusion and Equality Consultant and health content writer who specialises in trans and queer mental health, sex and relationships.
Brought to you by GLUE Magazine, No Straight Answers is a fiercely queer, non-hnormative column that looks at love, life and relationship through a queer lens.
You can follow The Queer Therapist on their social channels @theqtherapist
Whether we’re cis gender, trans or gender diverse, the gender norms and beauty standards in today’s western society have all of us holding ourselves to unrealistic standards. This is not news.
We have all seen the rise of the body positivity and body neutrality movement and the commercialisation of these movements. But where do visibly queer bodies fit in to all of this? And who is benefiting from rigid gender and beauty norms anyway?
You’re probably thinking, “Well it’s obvious who’s benefiting! Cisgender straight men of course”. Let me be clear, cis men aren’t benefiting. The term “toxic masculinity” proves there are gender norms and physical standards that cis men are also being held to. In fact, society is still quick to mock short or feminine men. And many are seriously struggling.
Cisgender lesbian, queer or bi women are under just as much pressure to conform to expected gender roles as cis straight women.
Often it is assumed that cis straight women have a harder time than cis lesbian, queer and bi women. But just because society doesn’t “expect” a cisgender lesbian woman to rock up in a banging dress, doesn’t mean they are under any less pressure.
The number of times I’ve had clients struggle with not being “butch enough”, “queer enough” or “femme enough” has now gone beyond my ability to count. The framing of women into rigid gender roles is one of the better understood examples of systemic oppression, but all too often people align that with cis straight white women and forget the realties of power, race, class and disability that come into play for the rest of cisgender women.
Cisgender gay men are certainly not benefiting. In fact cis gay men face enormous pressure to look and act a certain way. The neat categories of “bear”, “twink” and “daddy” all highlight the pressure to conform.
Within western society, cisgender gay men learn through societal messaging that their value is rooted in where they rank on the beauty scale. The rewards for conforming to these beauty standards are often linked to being seen as more “acceptable” to cisgender straight people. This can often translate into being included in spaces that would otherwise be potentially hostile to openly queer expressions.
Trans and gender diverse folk, particularly those who are also visibly disabled and/or from the global majority, really have the least to gain.
Firstly trans folk have the mammoth task of working out their own true gender identity. Then there is the lengthy process of coming to terms with the fact that gender expression is more often than not an evolving, fluid or changing thing. Alongside this, trans folk need to separate out what society expects them to look like versus what their actual gender expression is.
I don’t know about you but I’m already exhausted at this point…
But let’s continue. A trans man may feel pressured by societal gender norms to pass as a man but may not necessarily need to take HRT to manage their gender dysphoria. Equally trans women may feel pressure to shave their leg hair to conform to gender norms. She may enjoy it but equally feel guilty of conforming to unhealthy beauty standards.
It’s not always safe to be fully ourselves as openly queer people. In fact sometimes it’s easier to conform to these norms and ideals than to deal with the abuse that comes from walking down the streets as our fully-affirmed selves. You need to pick your battles and ask yourself: What’s me? What’s society’s BS? And where can I exist safely in that picture? Whichever way you look at it, trans folk are not the winners here.
Realistically our gendered expectations and definitions of beauty have changed time and time again. Cut back to a hundred years or so ago and cis men were sporting heels, long hair and wearing pink.
Gender norms and beauty standards are an ever moving target and we all have widely different ideas of what beauty is! That’s where capitalism comes in.
Sure, there are some people benefiting from these wildly impossible standards. In fact, right now, the beauty industry is said to be worth 12.14 billion globally. And whilst some brands are genuinely embracing individuality, many are pink washing, exploiting or jumping on the fact that queer, disabled and trans bodies particularly struggle with body image and self love.
So, as queer people, what can we do to counteract the oppressive and constant capitalist messaging aimed at undermining our self worth and restricting our understanding of beauty?
Well, if you love the feel of shaved legs because it affirms your gender identity then you do you.
You may have spent years of your life waxing your upper lip hair but deep down love the way it looks and feels. You do you!
We all need to own our space more and set our own standards. By doing this individually, we will collectively move towards a tipping point that places gender norms and so called beauty standards in the bin. That is the only way, we all win.
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