What’s the difference between a transgender woman and a pantomime dame?

I despair, sometimes, at what outsiders must think whenever they happen to stumble across one of the trans community’s weekly outrages. Don’t get me wrong, these moral crusades are, usually, entirely justified – but of most the time you’d need to be pretty clued up on your gender theory to understand why. I still struggle to make sense of some of it, so lord knows what the muggles must think.

Case in point: the “transphobic” Libra ad. Turns out she wasn’t “a trans woman” after all, but rather a self-identified gay man who does drag: “I have never considered myself to be transgendered [sic] and never will do,” said Sandee Crack. And therein lies the problem: sometimes you just don’t know who you’re looking at.

Some people thought he identified as a woman. I suspected he might be a drag queen, because he “looked” like a drag queen. Turns out he was. But what if I’d made that assumption, as many people did, and got it wrong? The fact is, most of the general public haven’t got a frigging clue what they’re looking at when they see a trans person. This was made clear to me after someone in television asked me what the difference was between a trans woman and a pantomime dame. Stupid question huh? But the person who asked it wasn’t – quite the opposite, in fact. They just didn’t know.

The guessing game can be more than a bit tricky. Last weekend, I bumped into London drag princess Baga Chipz. Though I know that she performs in cabaret and wears over the top outfits and heavy make up – rightly or wrongly, all things which I associate with drag queens – I had always thought she might be transsexual. After all, trans woman Calpernia Addams, not to mention many other transsexual women I can think of, frequently perform in showgirl acts, with costumes which might, by some, be described as drag. But, after chatting to Baga Chipz for a while, she explained to me that she’s “just a gay guy” who likes to come out dressed up at the weekend. Fair enough.

She’s often out with Lady Lloyd, another drag princess who, to me, looks as though she could be female full time. I have no idea if she is, or even if she prefers male or female pronouns, though I’m guessing the latter. My partner thought she’d prefer male pronouns “because she has Lloyd in her name”. As you can you see, there’s a great deal of guess work in this game. Now, I may be wrong, as I can’t read people’s minds, but I’d say there were many in the club last weekend who wouldn’t have made the slightest distinction between my gender identity and Lady Lloyd’s and Baga Chipz’s. To them, we were just “trannies” or “T-girls”.

I don’t mind being categorised in this way when I’m at a club for transgender people. The very fact that drag artists socialise in transgender venues indicates that, on some level, they do in fact see themselves as part of the trans community. Nevertheless, when speaking to Baga Chipz, she referred to “transgender people” as just that, and not “other transgender people”. She seemed to imply that trans people are a separate group. Confused?

That’s why the Libra advert was problematic. It’s fine for drag queens to go on TV and say they’re not representing all trans people. The fact is though, the majority of people who watched that advert probably wouldn’t realise there’s a difference between someone like Sandee C and a transsexual woman who perhaps isn’t lucky enough to have passing privilege.

Frequently I’m left feeling perplexed as to why I’m meant to be offended by stuff which really seems to upset my friends. When I see anything with a man dressed up as a woman in it for example, I just don’t feel any connection. What has it got to do with me? I simply don’t believe that every time a man cross-dresses for humour it is directed at trans people, or indeed is automatically “transphobic”. The problem, I think, lies with those who cannot differentiate between a man in a dress, and a trans woman. To some people, we’re one and the same. The trouble with Sandee Crack’s response is that it fails to acknowledge this phenomenon:

“…I feel hurt that representing myself as a drag queen on television and playing out a common-place scenario in my life has lead to a clear “Dragphobia” among some transgendered [sic] individuals who wish to pull the plug on something that reflects true honesty about the life of a drag queen. A drag queen is a man in women’s clothing and if that offends a trans woman I am afraid I cannot apologise, as by doing so I am apologising for being me.”

I respect Sandee Crack, but I think we need to give this problem of mix-ups some thought. I don’t have the solution and I suspect it’s a hornet’s nest, but that’s precisely why we should address it.


9 thoughts on “What’s the difference between a transgender woman and a pantomime dame?

  1. misswonderly says:

    The conversation is badly needed … and it needs to be a conversation. Great post.

  2. James says:

    Hi Paris

    Having spent many nights in transexual clubs around the world and being involved in the ‘community’ via girlfriends and friends, I am still dumbfounded at how little the entire community itself still is unable to understand itself. It is grossly unfair to blame the general public (I know you are not doing this) for having mixed and irrational thoughts about what is a drag queen, what is a transexual, what is a tv..and so on and so on and so on…when the community itself literally has no idea and people within it have wildly different ideas from one person to the next.

    Although transgender-related issues are mentioned in the press a lot more these days, and awareness is growing, with terminology usage of the general public improving, i feel that it will always be this way.

    As long as acceptance grows, and tolerance improves towards transexuals, even if understanding is flawed, I am a happy man.

    Keep up the great work by the way, I genuinely look forward to your posts now.


  3. A point very well raised. At the heart of all gender diversity is that it confuses, and it only confuses because we all continue to be educated that gender means sex and the fundamental purpose of sex is procreation. But we all know how to find a mate without being taught the male/female binary; we all know how babies are made and what bits are important for that. Until education includes the premise that gender identity isn’t a stereotype for procreative processes, we are stuck. We have come to accept in most western societies now that homosexuality is not about procreation but a sense of self, and are finding some successful ways of incorporating family into that. When we educate for and allow free gender expression too, we shall lose that nexus for trans people, and allow all kinds of cross-dressing, dual genderedness, and transsexuality without being confused about presentation and sexual function.

  4. I thought they must be a trans woman when they appeared to get upset at being “one-upped” with the tampon, which was cruel. I don’t understand why a Drag Queen would care about that.

  5. A woman who is also a Transsexual person. says:

    Personally I’m fed up with being classed as ‘Trans’ or ‘Transgendered’. I am a woman who also happens to be a Transsexual person. I am NOT Trans, I am NOT Transgendered. Never have been, never will be.

    Believe it or not, I was even asked once “Are you Transgendered?” Err, NO.

    I’m sorry, but blogs like this really don’t help, especially when you appear to co-op us all into some mythical ‘Trans community’. I am not a member of any such community thank you. ‘Transsexual’, ‘Trans’ and Transgendered are NOT synonymous. Please remember that.

    End of rant. . . .

    • Sophia says:

      So to you then……….What is the difference between a transexual, trans, and transgendered and to what extent is it so imprtant to not claim to be part of that ” community ” or to be excluded from it? For me I AM transgendered, pre-op ( to me means wanting to become the opposite gender in every possible form and definition) . I thought I was simply transexual ( which to me means prefering to have sex dressed as the opposite sex regardless of partner) for years. Are you making the mistake assuming that because we are referring to MtF in the column that others are excluded? If so you are clearly taking the article out of context. It is no more an exclusion than not mentioning directly that a famous person is white or black when referring to a topic that implies it. I do not feel that she should have mentioned any/ all “versions” of the community in general since it is irrelevant to the article and seems to prey on symantics over usefulness to the intended conversation .Inculding yourself into a conversation simply to say you want to be excluded from it does nothing to help either hon.

  6. Alex says:

    None of these subtleties will matter when the world populace gets to the stage where it collectively says, “So what?”

    I’m just not holding my breathe ’til that day arrives.

  7. […] ears? Did male pronouns really seem like the right choice? I’ve said ti before: the public make no meaningful distinction between the myriad trans identities that we in the community have come to know and cherish. As Roz […]

  8. misy says:

    A pantomime dame does not ‘believe it’, that’s the difference.

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