OPINION: Transitioning with Sugar – ‘You need to be more ladylike’

Ms Sugar Swan June 27, 2017

Those 6 words. Those 6 words that I have heard over and over again in many different guises since I began transition feed into a cis narrative in which I neither belong, nor wish to.

Ms Sugar Swan
Ms Sugar Swan

The OED defines ‘lady’ as ‘a polite or formal way of referring to a woman’. Well, I am a woman, so therefore, I am a lady, and I am ladylike.

Of course, this is not what people mean when they tell me I should be more ‘ladylike’. What they mean is that I should modify my behaviour to fit their blinkered ideas of what it means to be a woman, and I am done modifying my behaviour to suit society. Herein lies the problem. The whole ridiculous idea that I should act more ladylike is fed to me by the same people who told me that I was too camp when I was read by society as a man. I used to be told that when I walked, I ‘minced’, now that exact same walk is read as feminine, which of course, it always was as I am female. It’s just people’s perspective that has changed, nothing else.

“For the cisnarrative to police what the trans experience should be and look like is absolutely absurd”

At the other end of the spectrum flatulence was acceptable when read as male but now frowned upon when read as female. The whole premise is a completely toxic one and I, along with everyone else in society both cis and trans, are free to express themselves as they feel fit. I will not police my characteristics to fit into peoples neat boxes and neither should anyone else. It is an outdated cisnormative narrative that tells us that men should act one way and women act another – and that is the very heart of the problem. It is acting. As children, girls and boys have historically been encouraged to ‘act’ differently to each other. Girls are told to modify their behaviour, to be quieter, to not stand out so much, whereas boys are given a free pass to act boisterously. This is unhealthy right from the start and only feeds into the gap between gender behaviour expectations.

I was raised to be a boy, but I wasn’t one. I was certainly never boisterous, noisy, loud nor bouncy and highly excited as a child. I was the opposite. I behaved naturally how the girls were told to behave. I was quiet, shy, and preferred to play quietly with the girls. This, in turn, lead to bullying which then taught me to try to ‘act’ – there’s that word again – like a boy to minimise the bullying. This acting that I had to do all my life is deeply ingrained in me and naturally became part of the complex fabric of who I am. It leads me to my current conundrum where I am by nature very feminine but I carry over some of those masculine traits I picked up to try to protect myself when young, like being loud and standing out. This confuses people as they see a very feminine woman with some very masculine traits and they somehow think that it is their place to correct my behaviour and ‘help’ me ‘act’ (I’m getting angrier every time I type it) more like a woman. I am all the woman I always have been and always will be, I have absolutely no interest in modifying my behaviour to suit other people’s ideals of what a woman is. I am a woman, a proud woman, and I am enough.

As we enter Trans Pride month I want to remind all of my trans family, men, women, non binary, genderqueer siblings that we are ALL enough. None of us have to modify our behaviour to fit what we think is expected of us. We don’t have to change the way we ‘act’, the way we walk, the way we talk, the way we dress, or have to try to fit in. All our individual gender identities and presentations within the trans umbrella are valid and none of us have to explain ourselves, not to anyone. There is a huge amount of pressure on trans people to conform to what society thinks trans is. Cis people understand us better when we transition from one gender binary to another and we, as the trans community, need to be giving a huge ‘screw you’ to that mentality. 

There is no right or wrong way to be trans, trans is who we are, not how we present. Medical transition is not for every trans person, and nor should it be. Hormonal and surgical binary transition is the goal for many and that’s great. But for those of us who, like myself, may have a different starting point or may have a different end goal are not to be shamed. Trans women do not have to wear make up or dresses and trans men do not have to take on those qualities that boys were encouraged to at school. For the cis narrative to police what the trans experience should be and look like is absolutely absurd. As we approach both Trans and Brighton Pride I ask you, The LGB cis community, not to judge us by your standards. As you start to see more of us out and about celebrating with you over the summer, remember, we are not cis like you. We are not here to be held to your beauty standards, your social norms, your upbringing. We are trans. We are beautiful. We are powerful. We are unique.