Confusion: an uncanny valley?

Photo of Lisa Lees, circa 1995

The Ethics of Passing.

There's an idea about human aesthetics and perception known as the uncanny valley that holds that a humanoid animation or robot that is almost but not completely human in appearance, movement and interaction is more upsetting than one that is clearly different.

From my experience it seems to me that one of the reasons trans* people are sometimes not well received is that we often do not  fall in the uncanny valley in terms of gender, yet people feel that we should.

Immediately after I transitioned I received lots of 'advice' of the form: "All women do this or that," or "Women never do that," and "I've never heard a woman say that." Since I had been paying very close attention since birth to what women do and don't do and say, I generally ignored such advice. (Just as many girls and boys ignore what their parents say about such things.)

For quite some time after I transitioned, people who found out would say things like: "Oh, I suspected of course; you have large hands," or "Of course; you're so tall." It's not that anyone who thinks for a moment can't recall knowing women who have large hands or feet or who are almost six feet tall, it's that they want to believe they can't be 'fooled' by a trans* person. This may also be why people who find out that someone is trans* often feel it is urgent to supply that information to all and sundry, and why trans* people are often repeatedly labeled as such in any gathering of LGBT people.

On the other hand, the value of my opinion in technical meetings declined immediately after I transitioned, as did the likelihood that I would even be allowed to speak. A couple of years later I was not considered for a promotion that I should have at least been offered because of my seniority and experience. To the people who ran things, clearly I was in the 'other' bin, which is often all that gender boils down to.

My conclusion is that there really is no consistent view of what gender is, but plenty of people who are willing to use it as a means of control and discrimination in their power games.

(Photo taken shortly after transition for staff listing in departmental brochure.)