Lingerie, Gender and Identity
Learning to Embrace the Transgender Experience
by Richard Vincente
A year ago, a Toronto family made international headlines for their decision to not reveal the gender of their new baby to anyone outside the immediate family — in effect, raising a ‘genderless’ child.
It wasn’t a publicity stunt or provocation. The parents were highly educated and caring people who simply wanted their child to develop (at least in its early years) free from the gender-based behaviors, social codes and expectations that are imprinted on us from the moment we are given our first pink or blue booties.
As you might imagine, their story ignited howls of condemnation from around the globe. Nothing threatens the security of our social order more than people who mess around with gender, those two pigeon-holes we are all slotted into at birth.
I thought about that a lot this week when I published a feature article on Lingerie Talk about Chrysalis Lingerie, a new brand that will be North America’s first fashion lingerie label for transgender women when it launches this spring.
To be honest, I didn’t think most readers of Lingerie Talk (or Lingerie Briefs) would be future customers of Chrysalis, but their enterprise seemed important and deserving of attention. I braced for whatever criticism might follow.
Surprisingly, that article quickly became the most widely read piece we’ve done this year and was retweeted and syndicated all over the web. What was going on? And why would so many people care about what I thought was a niche product and a niche issue?
At about the same time, the discrimination faced by the transgender/transsexual community was getting exposure elsewhere.
In Vancouver, a contestant in Donald Trump’s Miss Universe Canada pageant was kicked out after it was learned she had been born a male and later underwent sex reassignment (or gender confirmation) surgery to live life as a female (she calls herself “a woman with a history” – how awesome is that?!). An online petition seeking Jenna Talackova‘s reinstatement has so far gathered more than 40,000 signatures. Watch for developments in this benchmark case next week.
Then, in another coincidence of timing, the Dr. Oz Show yesterday devoted an extraordinary hour to the challenges faced by TG/TS women and their families. If you didn’t see it, look for it: it was edge-of-your-seat television filled with tension, emotion and plenty of raw truth.
The most interesting person to watch on the program wasn’t one of the heroic women who came forward to tell their stories; it was Mehmet Oz himself, the admired and empathetic doctor who has done so much to transform health and wellness education. Even though he’s addressed this topic before, he often appeared disoriented and nervously struggled to find the words to phrase his delicate questions, like he was tiptoeing through a sexual, social and biological minefield.
He admitted to knowing little about the medical issues related to gender transformation and, in one awkward moment, suggested viewers watching at home might want to have their children leave the room.
This isn’t a rap against Dr. Oz: it was simply fascinating watching him struggle toward understanding the issues faced by TG/TS people and find room for that new knowledge in his own belief system. And I think his experience will make it easier for others to do the same.
I know how he feels. When I interviewed Cy Lauz, one of the co-founders of Chrysalis Lingerie, for our article, we talked about my comparative ignorance and how to communicate Chrysalis’ mission in a way that avoided the stereotypes and misconceptions that dog transgender individuals.
That article would be a big learning experience for me, too. Although I’ve had many, many gay friends over the years, I’ve only had the most peripheral acquaintance with two people who identify as transgender (one M-F, one F-M; both of whom underwent hormone therapy but did not pursue sex reassignment surgery). Their experience, to me, seemed unbearably heavy and fraught with barriers at every turn. I found it hard to imagine the eventual payoff that could ever make such a painful journey worthwhile.
Delving into the topic challenged me to open up, to learn without judging, and to embrace a truth that goes beyond our binary view of gender. Nature, as Cy reminded me, is infinitely varied and for every social or biological template their are innumerable permutations. And all are part of the human family.
Like many of you, I won’t be a customer of Chrysalis Lingerie, but I’ll support what they’re doing in any way I can and I hope the fashion lingerie community welcomes and supports them too. After all, lingerie, as most people in the industry will tell you, is all about your sense of personal identity — how women view themselves, how they want to be viewed, and how they can transform themselves.
The Chrysalis team isn’t just selling undies, they’re inserting themselves into the fashion and media mainstream as a way of advocating for change, acceptance and empathy on behalf of people who have to fight for their chosen identity every day.
Like everyone else fighting this battle, they deserve to be welcomed — in the words of the teen daughter of a transgender woman on Dr. Oz’s show — with an open heart.
You can read Richard’s profile of Chrysalis Lingerie on Lingerie Talk here.