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intervention and gender

On one episode of the Tyra Banks show they discussed public intervention in situations of need. One section of the show dealt with the different attitudes shown towards couples of various gender combinations. Couples (male and female here refer to their presentation) – one male/female, one male/male and one female/female – staged an argument where one partner was clearly more powerful and more threatening than the other.  The results indicated that:

The male/male couple were largely left alone. The conclusion many came to was that a guy can look after himself and that a domestic violence situation between them was basically a victimless crime. This was in spite of the fact that one man was significantly more burly and threatening than the other. No-one intervened.

The female/female couple was treated like a sideshow and many passersby found the angry and violent exchange (threats/pushing) funny.  The conclusion reached after the comments were analysed was that this reaction had something to do with lesbian couples being sexually objectified and therefore seen as less a real couple. It also may have had to do a with a perception that a woman would not really harm another woman (something that statistics show to be untrue). Again, no-one intervened.

The male/female couple attracted the most attention from passersby. This was the only scenario where someone (a NYC firefighter) stopped and clearly told the male that he had to stop what he was doing immediately. However, when a few police cars arrived on the scene it became clear that others had called 911 after seeing the exchange.

I’m curious to know the opinion of transgender people on this issue. You may have had the opportunity to see both sides of this scenario, particularly in terms of the expectations of other people on you, depending on whether you were presenting as male or female. Did (or do) you see a shift in how you are perceived in terms of your power and whether or not you need to be defended or aided? Did your expectation of assistance or support from others (particularly in situations of conflict) change when you transitioned?

3 Responses

  1. Personally, I have yet to be involved in a confrontation like these since my transition, but I’ve certainly experienced a change in how I’m viewed in terms of both my need for assistance and my ability to provide it to others. One everyday situation is at the grocery store, where I seem to be offered help carrying my groceries out to my car much more often than before.

    As for my ability to provide assistance, I had quite an amusing experience several months ago. Growing up, my dad almost always had a Jeep of one type of another and we spent a lot of times on backroads, far from any towns, phones or other potential sources of help. One thing I learned is that you always stop and offer help to anyone who appears to be in need, since it may be you needing the help the next time. I’ve owned my own 4-wheel-drive vehicle for several years now and have always adhered to the same code as an adult.

    I had spent a weekend in Tucson and decided to drive back by taking a 4-wheel-drive road down the backside of Mt. Lemmon to Oracle on my way home. (I hate driving the freeways all the time if I have the time to find a different way. Hmmm, sounds like a metaphor for much of my life. 🙂 ) A friend had advised me that the road was very rough and seemed skeptical about my plan to take it, but it didn’t seem all that bad in my experience. A few miles after leaving the paved road and heading down the dirt road on the back side, I came upon another vehicle stopped on the side of the road. A man was obviously in the process of changing a tire, while a woman and a young boy stood nearby. As I came alongside, I rolled down my window and asked the man if he needed any help. He looked somewhat incredulous at my offer and quickly said “no.” It was only after I drove off that I realized that what he saw was a single woman on a remote road, who, to him, probably had never changed a tire in her life and had no chance of being able to help him, any more than the woman who was with him. Little did he know, I’ve changed many a tire in my life, and always carry a shovel, jumper cables and a full set of tools in my vehicle for just such situations, whether mine or someone else’s. Oh, well, his loss.

    The reaction of people to the scenarios on the Tyra Banks Show is about what I would expect. I don’t think being trans would affect that, unless people can tell (i.e., “clock” you), which I suspect would confuse many people in deciding how to respond.

  2. I guess this is one of the many things about transition that I hadn’t given much thought to in the past. I have had a couple of experiences recently that tell me that people treat me in a different way when they see me as a woman. At the feed store where I buy my rabbit food, the guy who runs the place carried my 50 pound bag out to the car for me, saying “I’ll take that out to your car for you.” That was my first time for something like that, quite interesting actually. I didn’t mind at all, I now find it harder to lift those 50 pound bags than before I started HRT. (I was never very strong in the first place, being thin framed all my life.) The other recent incident was at a grocery store when I asked the meat cutter if he had a smaller roast available. He was quite the gentleman toward me. I still find it surprising and interesting when that happens.

  3. As someone who’s transitioning the other way, I have noticed that as an IT instructor my word is taken more as “gospel” with very few people challenging my knowledge or abilities. There is more of a shock factor when I mention I don’t have a driver’s license (I’ve lived in the core of major cities and have used public transit or bicycle to get around so saved on other options). I also get offered less a seat to sit down on when on a crowded subway after a long day (I don’t mind and would rather someone in need have my seat).

    People judge based on their perception of gender and stereotype of that gender in regards to weakness/strength. 🙂

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