This is a pretty old picture of me (from
1997). A more up-to-date picture can be found
The Story of Dave
Initially, when I created this web page,
I didn't have any pictures of me on
I'm rarely pleased with pictures of
secondly, I would rather that my web
be appreciated for what it has to say
for my image. But this past summer,
from a cruise with some nice pictures
by the ship's photographer; within
period of time, I'd scanned them, and
them up on my web site.
Until recently, this picture was accompanied
by the following comment:
My friend Dave saw this picture and said,
"frankly I think you look better
a man", which I think is code
a pretty ugly woman."
People have been sending me e-mail telling
me that Dave is an asshole, or that he needs
glasses, or that he's an asshole that needs
glasses. And I admit, this made me feel pretty
good. But I haven't really told the whole
A few months ago, I put up a bunch of pictures
from my cruise, and shortly thereafter, I received the
following e-mail from my friend, Dave. Now,
I should point out that Dave only recently
found out about my gender issues, and he
hadn't actually seen me presenting myself
as a female. So here's what he wrote:
Good pictures from the trip, although frankly
I think you look better as a man. The effect
is pretty convincing however. Perhaps if
I had/have a chance to grow accustomed to
it, or had met you first in female form...
Probably it is a bit like people who wear
glasses. If you always see them with glasses
on, they tend to look not as good when they
take them off. (or, at least different)
I also later spoke to another friend about
this e-mail from Dave, and I learned of some
other comments that were made (more on this
later). So I added my comment about Dave
beside this picture.
Some time later, Dave and I were exchanging
e-mails, and he included the following post
P.S. Thanks for putting my comments on your
web site completely out of context.
So I responded:
I saw [our mutual friend, A.,] this past
weekend, and she suggested that you were
a bit offended by the way I did that. So
let me apologize: I'm sorry. I'll take it
off the next time I do web maintenance.
But, if I may be so bold, I don't think my
representation of your comments are "completely out of context." With all due respect,
I have the strong impression that when you
wrote "you look better as a man,"
that was short-hand for "you make a
pretty ugly woman."
But maybe I'm wrong.
His response came pretty quickly, and I think
he has a lot of interesting things to say:
I really don't want to make a big deal about
what you put on your site. I was a little
worried because [another mutual friend] said
that you had received a bunch of mail related
to that comment, people I don't even know
thinking that I was a big asshole. The only
thing that I object to is that in my mail
message to you, I did say that I preferred
you as a man, clearly referring to your appearance.
However, I followed that up with the idea
that it is what I am used to, and how I am
used to seeing you.
I think if you had put that whole idea on
your site, followed by your interpretation, then I wouldn't have minded.
I think, then, that you would have got e-mail
from people who still thought I was a big
asshole, but you might also have got e-mail
"Gee, maybe you should accept what your
friend says at face value. Maybe he has trouble
accepting the new you, and it isn't that
he finds you ugly as a woman",
"Gee, maybe your friend is actually
gay, and he really only finds men attractive,
but didn't realize it until he saw you both
"Gee, do you think you're projecting
your own anxiety about your appearance onto
your friend's comment, rather than just reading
it for what it is"
I don't think any of those hit the truth,
but they would be better than people thinking
that I am some sort of idiot, out to destroy
The truth (or as close as I can get my brain
to admit the truth) is that my perception
of you is definitely coloured by knowing
you as a man for much of my life.
Watch Your P's and Cues
Like I said, I think there's a lot of interesting
stuff to discuss in his note. But here's
the salient part of my response:
Likewise, I don't want to beat a dead horse,
but let me be more blunt.
What you're talking about is very common
in TG circles. Much has been written by TGs
of gender cueing and how an assumption of
gender will cause people to see TGs in a
certain light. I personally know many TGs
whom you would never suspect to be TG because
their appearance fits in completely with
their preferred gender (in TG parlance, this
is called 'passing'). And yet, these same
people still have problems with co-workers
or old friends whose views are filtered by
an old gender paradigm. Gender paradigms
cause us to ignore things that don't fit
in those paradigms.
On this topic, there's an interesting segment
from a book called From Masculine to Feminine and All Points
It is the cueing that you project, the subtle
and not-so-subtle signals that you send which
will be the deciding factors in how others
attribute your gender.
Kessler and McKenna, in their book Gender, assert that most of the work is done by
the perceiver. As a displayer, you can create
the initial gender attribution with your
public appearance and present talk.
However, after that point, the gender attribution
is maintained by virtue of two things: (1)
every act of the displayer's is filtered
through the initial gender attribution which
the perceiver has made; (2) the perceiver
holds the natural attitude (e.g., gender
is invariant). In short, there is very little
that the displayer needs to do once she has
provided the initial information, except
to maintain the sense of the "naturalness"
of her gender. Passing is an on-going practice,
but it is practice by both parties.
Anyway, I finished my response as follows:
Gender cuing works in two directions. People
who "read" me as female won't notice
that I have a deep voice or large hands or
hair on my arms. On the other hand, people
who've always known me as male have been
relatively oblivious to the many physical
changes that I've undergone.
So, I expect that you and [the other members of that
circle of friends] will probably always see
me as male, and I don't get too bent out
of shape about that. And when I received
your e-mail, it fit in with that expectation;
no big deal.
Later, after I'd been informed that you'd
told others about my website pictures and
described me as "a pretty ugly woman",
I felt hurt and I think that hurt changed
my perception of your e-mail.
And, I guess, here was the real rationale
for my comment. I'd felt hurt, and I figured
that making Dave into a villain on my webpage
seemed like good revenge.
Dave isn't an asshole. I know this because
once he was aware of where I was coming from,
he quickly offered an apology:
Hmmm, while I don't remember specifically
saying this to anyone, It is quite possible.
I am really sorry about that, and I can't think of any
possible excuse for saying that to anyone,
about you. I truly don't think that you make
an ugly woman. Probably I was trying to make
some sort of stupid joke. Again, I am really
Here We Go Again!
Shortly thereafter, Dave and I met for dinner,
and we had a good time. Dave asked some really
thoughtful, intelligent questions, and I
was happy to answer them. Afterward, I got
an interesting e-mail from him that included
the following thought:
I thought a bit about what you said about
gender cueing. I think it is definitely true.
When we were sitting at dinner, I was reminded
of that picture with the old hag, and the
beautiful young woman. You can only see one
of them at a time, but in your mind you can
flip back and forth between them. I had some
of the same experience with you at dinner.
I think that there is a kind of binary thing
in my mind (and I think most peoples) with
regard to a person's gender. I imagine you
would like people to just experience you
as you. Unfortunately, there is a big gender
thing. I found myself able to mentally see
you as feminine, but then suddenly something
would snap me back.
Okay, reading that over, it sounds a little
confused, but I hope you get something out
of it. Just don't put on your website "I
think this means Dave thinks I look like
an old hag". ;-)
Copyright © 1997 by B.C. Holmes. Last
updated December 14th, 1997.
Quotations from my friend, Dave, used
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