Telling the boys from the girls

I was recently shopping with my family at a nearby mall and mentally played a game called “guess their gender” with various people as they walked by. Its a pretty simple game, look at a person and try to guess if they are male or female. It is not very hard. Indeed it is almost trivial to figure out which gender someone is just by looking them. One hardly ever encounters someone whose gender one cannot determine almost immediately. About the only questionable ones are young boys with longish hair but if you watch their behavior you will quickly figure them out. Sometimes there may a tall woman who I wonder whether they are TG or not, but I seldom wonder if they are a man. It made me wonder about why it is so easy to tell males from females and what it means to TGs.  I started by making  a list of the attributes of each gender presentation:

  • males are generally physically larger than females
  • females usually have longer hair
  • females are usually dressed nicer and more colorfully than males
  • females features are more delicate, males have rougher features
  • females often wear some makeup, males don’t
  • females generally move more gracefully. Lots of guys just plod along
  • females generally wear some jewelry, some guys might have a necklace but nothing visible
  • females have curves, guys don’t (except around their stomachs…)
  • females usually carry a purse, most guys don’t

When you group all these characteristics together, they tend to form two well defined groups: male and female. Not all men nor all women have all the attributes of their gender, but virtually all have most of them. People have no problem deciding the gender of the person even when the person in question does not possess all the attributes of their natural gender (i.e. women with short hair or who are 6′, guys with “man bags” or delicate features) so long as they have “most” of them. Especially given the limited time (and interest) most of us when looking at other people we have no problems categorizing the gender of the person walking toward us.

For TGs, the ease by which other identify male and female is in many ways a good thing.  Most people are used to making snap judgements on gender since it is so easy to do normally. If a tg person can present a reasonable number of the attributes of their desired gender, most people will make the desired snap judgement  and move on. Most folks are not thinking about tgs and so if things more or less look “right”, they will accept you as your desired gender. If you can by genetics, surgery, or training (style, movement, clothing, etc) possess more of the attributes of the desired gender, so much the better. For casual or part-time TGs this is one of the goals of femininity training as offered by Denae and others. “Load up” on all the attributes you can have control over and hope those will cancel out the ones you cannot do anything about (of course if you try too hard (i.e. clothes that don’t fit the situation), you will attract attention for the wrong reason).

This of course works only for casual contact. The more prolonged the interaction, the more picky people get about making sure the gender attributes are consistent with the presented gender. Still if your goal is get out of the “closet” and into public, knowing that most people will make the snap decision as to your gender can be a source of encouragement.


One thought on “Telling the boys from the girls

  1. Robin,

    The way I think of it is as follows. The attributes you list tend to discriminate between two social constructs that society has defined over thousands of years – man and woman. You carry the paradigms for these social constructs around in your brain and when you see a person you start collecting data (attributes) and feed it into the two paradigms. Once one of the paradigms is satisfied, the little meter in your brain goes “bing” that is a man or that is a woman. This does not address the question of whether the person is male or female. Those are biological facts which cannot be changed even while they make it easier to express your birth gender. Even gender reassignment surgery only makes one anatomically resemble the other sex, but it does not alter your DNA. For those of us in the TG world, mastering the attributes of the social construct we identify with is how we gain acceptance from the world at large (and also why we all need Denae). Whether we get acceptance from ourselves is a far more difficult question and unique to each person. As for me, as long as society sees me as a woman, reacts to me as a woman and treats me like a woman, I am completely happy and do not give too much thought to the male/female thing which I cannot change anyway…. but that is just me.


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