Subject: The Appearance Of Normativity
Date: Tue 01 Dec 1998 - 17:28:23 GMT
I was chatting with the legendary Rachel Pollack yesterday and she made the
point that most employers don't ask transsexuals to pass, but they ask them to
be passable. In other words, they don't ask them to lie and claim
normativity, but they do ask that they allow customers (and maybe staff) to be
able to project normativity on them.
It reminded me of a VP who came to my company with experience at IBM. He told
us the old IBM wisdom: "We don't tell you how to dress. The customers tell
you how to dress. They want someone that they can be comfortable with." It's
the basic teaching of neuro-linguistic programming, that people like people
like them, so if you can show you are like them by mimicing the way that they
see the world, you will have a better relationship with them. (Most NLP
practioners believe that this should be a two way street, and they should
mimic they way you think.)
For me, it was always interesting to watch IBMers, in their seeminly identical
blue suits, to see the difference between them. Comfortable or stylish shoes?
Buttondown oxford or broadcloth? Perfect tailoring or off the rack? It was
easy to tell the salesmen from sales engineers from their clothes.
... even when we say nothing
our clothes are talking noisily to everyone who sees us,
telling them who we are,
where we come from,
what we like to do in bed
and a dozen other intimate things...
We can lie in the language of dress
or try to tell the truth;
but unless we are naked and bald,
it is impossible to be silent.
Things are changing, of course. IBMers are as likely to wear Ralph Lauren
Chinos and a polo shirt as a Hickey Freeman suit today, but the basic premise
is still the same -- they dress to comfort customers. In "Dress For Success,"
John Malloy's premise for appearance is simple: be as bland as possible to let
the customer project whatever good things he wants onto you.
That seems to be what Rachel is saying when she says that employers don't
demand passing, but do demand passability: they want customers to be able to
focus on the messages we bring and not the noise we make about ourselves.
Today, when profit centers abound, and even support folks think about the
people they serve inside the company as clients, this idea is gaining
Of course, some people don't follow this stategy, people like Gerry Spence in
his buckskin jacket....
"Look, in particular, at the people who, like you,
are making average incomes for doing average jobs
--bank vice presidents, insurance salesman, auditors, secretaries of defense--
and you'll realize they all dress the same way,
essentially the way the mannequins in the Sears men's wear department dress.
"Now look at the real successes,
the people who make a lot more money than you--
Elton John, Captain Kangaroo, anybody from Saudi Arabia, Big Bird, and so on.
They all dress funny--and they all succeed.
Are you catching on?"
Dave Barry, "How to Dress for Real Success"
It takes real brass ones to not appear normative and still suceed. We have to
make our excellence clear and big when we become visble for our unique
It seems valuable to expand the envelope of normativity to include normative
trannies, normative men-born-female and women-born-male who break the current
bounds of normativity. It also seems valuable, however, to help find ways to
empower each other to be bold, unique and indviduals and also claim success,
if not as a cog in the machinery of business or public sector, than as a
valuable indvidual contributor.
Changing normative and claimining indvidual seem to be two important goals for
trannies who don't just want to have to modify themselves to appear normative
in a heterosexist system where man/male and woman/female are the only
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