I was scrolling through Instagram last week when a post by Hillel at UCLA showed up on my feed. It was a photo of eight men, this year’s Mr. Hillel contestants, in tutus, posing as a group. Upon further investigation of Hillel at UCLA’s Instagram account, I saw an IGTV video of the contestants in the same tutus. They were representing Disney princesses.
The posts received nothing but positive comments. Clearly they were meant to be light-hearted. I am sure that their intent was not to hurt or offend anyone. However, intent and impact are two different things. The actions of the Mr. Hillel contestants in their promotional content were transphobic. They were also ignorant of cross-dressing individuals.
A man dressing in a feminine way is not inherently bad. There are people who cross-dress, meaning they do not identify as female but they occasionally or frequently wear feminine clothing (the term “cross-dressing” also would apply to someone who does not identify as male but dresses masculinely). They can do it for a number of reasons, but ultimately it is because it feels right to them.
Things take a turn when a man dresses in a feminine way for a light-hearted, even humorous purpose, especially when promoting a “night of comedy,” as Hillel at UCLA described it on social media. It is as if the contestants were saying, “wouldn’t it be funny if a man were to dress in a feminine way?”
I invite you to think about the situation from the perspective of a transwoman, who is an individual that was declared male at birth, but identifies as female. Let’s say this transwoman appears male, but is considering dressing in feminine clothing. If the transwoman were to see the promotional instagram posts at hand, how would they feel?
One might argue that the transwoman may feel empowered seeing men freely dressing in a feminine way. However, it is clear that the contestants were dressing in a feminine way because they thought it would be silly and because there was a “night of comedy” coming up that they needed to promote. This would likely be invalidating or offending for that transwoman, as they are seeing their physical and emotional process being not taken seriously, or even being laughed at.
There are so many already vulnerable populations who might also feel this way. For example, a cross-dressing person or someone who is considering cross-dressing may share these feelings. A transwoman who appears, acts, and dresses femininely might also feel this way. I could go on but ultimately, there are so many groups of people who are already at risk of persecution and judgement by society that might feel invalidated or offended by the acts of the Mr. Hillel contestants, that I felt compelled to write this article.
Some people might read this article and think that my argument is a reach, and that I am overreacting. However, if even one individual reads this article and feels some sense of validation, it is completely worth it.