0009 - Uncanny Valley of Femininity

June 14, 2021 Tananda D.
0009 - Uncanny Valley of Femininity
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Building upon the last two episodes (007 Passing and 008 Imposter Syndrome) We discuss the idea of how much is too much when it comes to expressing femininity  - and how I found that I had been busy worrying too much.

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Okay. I admit it. The last two episodes, I've kind of been heading in a particular direction. In episode seven, we talked about passing and then last week (episode 8) we talked about imposter syndrome. I've been leading you someplace. A place I like to call the uncanny valley of femininity. Come and join me on a journey while we explore this utterly fictional place. You're listening to transgressive a podcast about gender identity, LGBTQ, and social justice issues. The term uncanny valley has its roots in animation and computer generated graphics, as well as in robotics. Within those contexts, it refers to the human perception of how authentic a animated or computer generated character looks in terms of its humanity. Visual pareidolia, or "the human tendency, to be able to see faces in very non-human things" allows us to see a man in the moon or faces in the clouds. So, given this, you could see something like Elmer Fudd or the Powerpuff girls and not attribute anything creepy to them. They look cute. They also are acceptable to your brain as human form and don't bother most people. But then if you've ever played computer games from a certain generation where they were getting better at rendering human beings, but it got a little weird. Sometimes the faces would look okay when they were still, but as soon as any emotion or speech entered in your brain, just kind of revolts against it in some ways. And it is only in very recent computer generated graphics or "deep fakes" where completely computer generated beings don't look a bit unsettling; a little uncanny. The term uncanny valley then comes from, if you graph the attempted realism of the object on one side against how comfortable you feel with it or how convincing it is on the other; that period where you are getting more and more realistic and it looks better and better, and then you put more realism into it, and suddenly it just looks a little creepy until you come out the other side... That dip in attractiveness or how convincing that graphic is, that's called the uncanny valley. Now, with that context in mind, we can talk about a place I call the uncanny valley of femininity. The idea being that instead of computer generated graphics, resembling human form, we're talking about increasing "convincingness" of one's gender identity and gender presentation. For the record, I am, of course, speaking from the position of a trans woman and I have labeled it The uncanny valley of femininity. But the truth is I suppose, that one could equally apply this to masculinity, trans men. However, since that's not my personal experience, I'm going to relate this in terms of femininity. I hope some of the concepts apply as I never wished to be. Non-inclusive... It's just, again, my case of having to speak from my own perspective and my own lived experience. When I first transitioned, I had this goal of orderly removing every masculine tendency, every little bit of masculinity from my appearance, my mannerisms, I saw myself and my gender identity as extremely binary. It was a case of, yeah, I was stuck born with a male body, but gosh, darn it. I'm going to completely be female and erase every trace of maleness back in the late eighties, early nineties, when I transitioned, that was pretty normative for most trans people. It would be several decades before the idea of gender as a spectrum was more widely accepted by helping professionals. But that happened to suit me just fine. So, I worked really hard to purge all my male clothing, to grow my hair long to learn how to apply makeup and nail Polish. I worked on my speech and my mannerisms to try and unlearn a lifetime of male habits and socialization. Transition is awkward, and even though I was fairly young, I had to do a lot of work to undo what male puberty had done to me. As I removed the facial hair through electrolysis, body hair thinned enlightened due to testosterone blocking and due to hormone replacement therapy with estrogen; as my skin softened as my face softened as fat redistributed to give me a more feminine look, all of these things combined to make my gender presentation more and more acceptable, more and more authentic, all of that progressed pretty well. But the thing is there were certain outfits or styles of makeup where I would try it out and just look in the mirror and say, oh gosh, that's really wrong. Generally speaking, that was when I tried something that just did not go with my body shape, did not go with my size, did not go with well to put it bluntly, my current level of passing. Luckily I think I recognized most of those mistakes before I actually stepped out of the house. If you think about it though, a lot of cisgender girls go through this. They'll go through that period where they're just awkward and trying on mom's heels or getting into mom's makeup or trying out makeup and just looking ridiculous, and it's okay. It's a part of the growing process. Of course, I didn't have this healthy understanding of the fact that yeah, I need to go through that period of time. I need to go through that experimentation because that's what CIS girls do. That's how they learn this stuff. They have friends who socialize and help with that. And I had to kind of pick all this stuff up and for the most part I did, but what I've come to realize is that that experience early on in my transition combined a bit with some of my imposter syndrome gave me this definite sense that I needed to be careful not to overdo it, that it was possible to try too hard, to be feminine and then end up looking ridiculous. So that was pretty sure that I had found the uncanny valley of femininity and I would work really hard to avoid falling into it. Keep in mind, I hadn't really consciously formed this opinion and had this level of self realization. It was kind of more of just a thing I felt without having put so many words to it. I ended up settling on a look for myself and aesthetic that I guess I would call "corporate-goth-meets-soft-butch. It's only with my current perspective, looking back that I never really let myself fully explore my femininity. If you asked me how identified, I'd certainly say female. I could stand naked in front of the mirror and not hate the person I saw there anymore, and yet I was a bit uncomfortable wearing dresses or skirts or heels or makeup even. I told myself; hey, I was sick and tired of having to put on gobs and gobs of makeup to cover up the facial hair, and so when I could finally just not wear it, I was happy to not do so... But no, I kind of felt a bit like a fraud. That imposter syndrome was combined with this unformed idea of this uncanny valley of femininity that I shouldn't go too far, I should be careful. To give an analogy. It's kind of like when you first put on makeup, you put on more than you're going to need, and then you blend it down, you pull it back. So you do too much and then you pull it back. And I felt like that's what I had done with my femininity. That's what I had done with my appearance. This wasn't about passing really because my transition itself had been very successful. I didn't get mis-gendered. I didn't get people saying, "oh, you're in the wrong bathroom" or anything like that. But it was just that in my head, I was convinced that I needed to tone it down, that I couldn't fully own my femininity because it would be too much; It would push me over that edge of what I thought I would look ridiculous. Oh, I'd occasionally wear dresses and makeup out at my local goth club or at medieval reenactment events that I attended, but otherwise I was pretty low key. That worry about being too much about trying too hard: that was always sort of there in the background in my head. Here's the thing though, I wasn't really basing that on objective data. I was simply concerned that, "oh, I might be going too far". In retrospect, this is our old "friend" imposter syndrome. In late 2016. I came to a realization that I really wasn't happy with how I was presenting that I had let myself go. I had let my femininity go. I didn't hate the woman staring me back in the mirror, but I didn't love her either. It actually took me about a year to first just lose some weight I had put on over the years. But then once I was at a place where I didn't feel my weight and size would be changing, I went ahead and I completely rebuilt my wardrobe. I also had to relearn how to do makeup because in the past I had used it to cover up facial hair, which of course no longer existed. But I realized, I didn't know how, but I was determined, and I went for it. I found some really cute p ush-up bras in my size to help pad the cleavage a little bit. In the past. I had been a bit afraid to wear those because I felt like they somehow made me less "real", but so many CIS women, I know w ear them and swear by them, and I said, "what am I afraid of?" Likewise, I sort of realized that I enjoyed retro styles, and so I not only went for wearing more dresses, but I kind of went for this vintage look. I pushed my comfort zone because that comfort zone I had been making my world small. I had been making my comfort zone small. I pushed back. And the results far from looking ridiculous. I actually felt, I looked pretty darn good. And I got some great feedback from friends who really noticed the change. My big takeaway from all this was that my self-confidence improved. I looked better. I felt better about myself. And while it is entirely possible that that uncanny valley of femininity still exists out there. I had seriously underestimated where I was on that axis. I will close by asking you, where is your uncanny valley of femininity? Is it maybe farther away than you think it is? Can you take better ownership of your image and your gender identity? I can only speak from my own personal experience and say, wow, I am really glad that I did .

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Cold Open
Opening Theme
First: the Uncanny Valley
Now: the Uncanny Valley of Femininity
The Take-Away