Adam's apple, behavior, blending, breast enhancement, CBS, cisgender, comportment, Eddie Albert, estrogen, Eva Gabor, facial and body hair, facial feminization surgery, farm, fashion sense, feminine, Green Acres, hormones, Lisa Douglas, masculine stature, Mr. Haney, MTF, Oliver Wendell Douglas, overload, passing, Pat Buttram, posture, television, Transgender, voice, walking gait, wattage
As I feared, the Dodgers had an early exit from this year’s playoffs. So no more sports posts are expected for a while. And now on to the latest post.
Green Acres lasted for six seasons on television and introduced the characters of Oliver Wendell Douglas (played by Eddie Albert) and Lisa Douglas (played by Eva Gabor). At the beginning of the show, the couple live in New York City. He is a high-powered lawyer who dreams of a more idyllic life as a farmer. His socialite wife reluctantly goes with him when he buys a farm.
Oliver buys a farm sight unseen. Unfortunately for the Douglases, he had fallen into the clutches of Mr. Haney (played by Pat Buttram), a con man’s con man. The rundown farmhouse, nutrient-depleted soil and a host of other decrepit gadgets and swindle attempts, collectively serve as part of the running gags the propelled this show into a surrealistic realm of satire not seen on other rural-oriented CBS fare.
So far, nothing in my description sounds remotely related to a transgender theme. While Lisa always appears very glamourous (except for one scene during the opening), her wardrobe and unassuming comedic activities are not of a type normally copied by drag performers. So where am I going with this?
Approaching my two year anniversary of living full-time as a woman, I have made a number of observations on how cisgender people react to the sight of me, as well as their reactions to other transwomen (both observed and reported). At one point along the way, it occurred to me that there is an analogy between some of those reactions and a recurring element of the show.
First, a discussion of the reactions and what they are based upon. Another transwoman recently remarked to me that no one is 100% female, including cisgender women. And that is absolutely correct. Look at just about any woman and somewhere there is a trait or mannerism that is more on the masculine side than the feminine side.
Consider some examples of famous women: Diane Keaton readily acknowledges her very masculine gait. Marlo Thomas possesses a deep voice and Cher’s vocal range was deeper than Sonny’s. Some women, like tennis star Martina Navratilova are on the more muscular side. Basketball star and model, Lisa Leslie stands 6’5” and was able to dunk a basketball by the time she was a sophomore in high school.
Even if we rule out those women (bodybuilders and athletes who rely on strength for superior performance) who masculinize themselves though steroids, HGH and so on, we can think of women who have more masculine facial features, some facial hair, a bit of an Adam’s apple, broader shoulders, flatter chests and so on.
So why is it that almost all women with these masculine attributes are not mistaken for men (despite some insensitive name calling from cruder individuals in a few cases)? Why is it that I and some other transwomen I know or have seen pictures of are very successful in blending in with the general female population while others struggle to be recognized as female and face periodic harassment as a result?
And I came up with the Green Acres analogy as an explanation. One of the features of the ramshackle farm house was that the electricity for the kitchen was supplied by a generator that was inadequate for the needs of a household with a combination of modern appliances such as television, refrigerator, washing machine, toaster, and so on. If too many were running at the same time, the generator would overload and stop running. So Oliver figured out a simple system based on the wattage of each item in the home that ran on electricity. He assigned them numbers from one to six. If appliances that totaled more than seven were plugged in, the generator would blow.
Here is the link to watching the episode that introduces the subject (Season 1, Episode 9). The link will take you to the free side of Hulu.
So what’s the analogy? Let’s take a scenario that transwomen face from time to time if they are out and about in the world: going into a women’s bathroom at the mall. And let’s say this mall is fairly busy, so there will be a number of other women coming and going during our visit there.
To various degrees each woman will be subtly engaged in what is routine for them: observing the other women who are passing through. It is not an exercise in voyeurism. The observation will be discreet, not intruding on the privacy or space of the other women. But most of the women will observe nonetheless. There are a number of reasons. One never knows when they might see someone they know, or see another woman wearing an article of clothing or hairstyle to be admired (whether the admiration is shared or not), or will smile at the timeless event of a mother coming in with a young daughter (or if young enough, her son). The latter reminds us of a second reason: women are trained to be mindful of their surroundings and have heard the stories of what happens at times if a woman becomes careless. The vulnerability of us women is heightened in a restroom, especially if suddenly it is no longer busy. A mother bringing in her three-year old son who needs help with his toilet is not a concern. As that boy starts approaching manhood, the concern level goes from zero to sixty in a hurry.
If a casual glance reveals that there are only women present, the observation remains discreet. But if the particular appearance of another person starts to raise the “wattage” readings on a subconscious meter, the level of scrutiny will increase.
The only difference is that it is impossible to set hard and fast numbers the way that Oliver was able to calculate for the kitchen appliances. First of all, each woman has her own meter calibration. Furthermore, any suspicious feature could range from borderline to extremely obvious. Therefore, any feature could be given a value anywhere from one to eight.
The following chart is a somewhat light-hearted guide to the range of comportment within the MTF transgender community. I gave much consideration to find terms that would not be offensive. Hopefully I attained that objective.
Now if you are an MTF transgender and one or more of your attributes threaten to blow the whistle on you, all hope is not lost. In most of the areas of concern, things can be done to correct, camouflage or compensate for the problem areas. Remember that cisgender women are beautiful, but most enhance their beauty by using techniques to deal with their problem areas. One of the reasons for makeup and fashion is to help a woman look even better. We can learn these techniques, too. Some of us learn them so well and even improve on them, to such an extent that sometimes cisgender women get tips from what we do to look great.
If there is one area that is recognized as the biggest giveaway of a male past, it is voice. Adjusting the pitch of the human voice is not all that difficult, and there are many good tutorials out there. The average male voice is only one octave lower than the average female voice. Speaking and singing ranges for men and women overlap. And yet, so many of us MTF’s either don’t care, are afraid to try or gave up too soon.
While it is true that estrogen will not raise the voice, practice will. Voice control is muscle control. Like any other muscles, as throat muscles are used, they respond. Learn which muscles will raise your voice, and then practice what you learned. The more you speak in the higher range, the more those muscles will develop with a corresponding weakening of the muscles used in the lower range. I am starting to lose my ability to hit lower notes that I could have reached easily a couple of years ago. I have conversations with a trans sister who has been full-time a few years longer than me. For some time now, she is no longer able to sound male.
Here is a video that demonstrates the importance of voice (by the person my friend used to train hers):
But there is also more to voice than pitch. Cher had a deeper voice than Sonny, yet they used speech patterns that left no doubt that Cher was the woman and Sonny the man. Women have far more modulation with their voices and often end their sentences on an up note, while men tend to speak more monotone and end their sentences on a down note.
Makeup and hairstyle can help with your facial features. There are many methods of removing facial and body hair. The best one depends upon both your particular hair situation and how long the hair needs to be removed (i.e. are you full-time or part-time?). Whatever your physique problem area may be, there are cisgender women with the same issue. The Internet has expanded our information in this area, as we can search for “best styles if you have large ________.” In general, remember that darker colors decrease size and lighter colors increase size, and that we want to draw attention away from problem areas, not toward them.
What will also help is developing an eye for what cisgender women look like as far as balance between various parts of the body (e.g. shoulders to breasts to hips). Part of the challenge is overcoming the fact that the typical male torso can be approximated by a triangle with the base along the top (the shoulders), while the typical female body can be approximated by a triangle with the base along the bottom (the hips). But you won’t be the first woman who needs to do so.
Like voice, fashion sense, posture and walking gait can be learned and improved by observation and practice. Clothing and makeup go hand in hand to some extent, and are somewhat dependent on time of day and event. There are differences between the office and the beach; between a day trip to a grocery store and a night on the town or fancy dress party. To some extent, walk and posture is dependent on both age and footwear. Women walk differently in heels than they do in sneakers. And at least where I live, younger women tend to walk with a more masculine gait than middle aged women.
Since gloves have been out of fashion for ages, there is not much you can do about the hands. Longer, pointed nails will elongate the fingers better than a short French cut and will give a little positive enhancement. Darker and/or brighter nail polish will attract more attention to the fingertips. And if your hands are rough, moisturize as often as you can and wear gloves for manual labor.
High necklines and chokers can help disguise smaller protrusions of the Adam’s apple, but with larger bumps, they will only focus more attention on them and will be counter-productive unless very loose. For some, surgery will be the most viable option. A plastic surgeon is also an option for those who want to feminize their face and/or increase their bustline to balance larger shoulders and torso. For those who will be taking estrogen, some improvement can be expected in these two areas, with individual results varying.
As far as that bulge in a more sensitive spot for those of us who are part-time, non-op or pre-op, there are very many ways to camouflage or smooth that area. It will be the subject of a future article.
Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people? – 1st Kings 3:9