Trisha Paytas and the problem of individualism

Roman Long
Writer

Controversy has emerged after Trisha Paytas came out as a female to male trans person, with some of the trans community claiming it was all an attempt at clickbait: however, should someone’s sexuality be denied or questioned so intensely?

Earlier this month, Trisha Paytas published a video to her popular YouTube channel entitled, I AM TRANSGENDER (FEMALE TO MALE), wherein Paytas affirms that though she was “born female” and considers herself “girly”, in truth she identifies fully as a transgender man and would prefer to be known as “Tee”. For Paytas, the overtly traditionally feminine approach to style and character is instead a version of drag, for which the use of makeup, wigs and clothing is more performative and does not reflect the reality of her day-to-day life. Naturally, many have reacted with trepidation as to the infamous troll comedian’s confession, with many viewing Paytas’ identity as misled or simply intentionally provocative.

The question of self-identity is a difficult one. Recent conversations around gender identity have centralised the importance of an individualist approach to gender performance, the argument being that each individual has the right and the capacity to explore gender, independent of the traditional models of binary sexuality. In fact, the NHS Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) outlines two of their core values as “freedom of expression” and “curiosity”, through which a main tenant of support for the trans community is expressed as the intention “to support young people and families to express themselves more freely”. Surely then, for anyone who purports a support for trans people, we must also find support for Paytas and her self-identification as a trans male drag queen.

However, the problem remains that this kind of blind support relies on two presuppositions; that Paytas is sufficiently informed and educated on the expression of her gender identity and also that Paytas is not deliberately misleading her audience for clout. Of course, these suggestions are challenging and perhaps the first reaction of the left would be to bury such questions for fear of suppressing individualism or engaging in acts of oppression of gender expression. However, Trisha Paytas is no ordinary case. Paytas self-identifies as a troll, i.e someone who posts deliberately provocative “clickbait” content in order to circumvent the truth to accrue views, which she has done masterfully for over 10 years, including such classics as Do Dogs Even Have Brains?; I’m getting MARRIED next week! (actually); HOW TO SQUIRT!!!; MY ETHNICITY HAS CHANGED; or I AM A MOTHER (MY BIG SECRET REVEALED). It is worth noting that Trisha has since acknowledged that she is aware dogs have brains, she has not been married, her ethnicity has not changed, and she is not a mother.

Many members of the LGBTQ+ community have expressed disappointment or trepidation towards Trisha’s behaviour. Drag queen Vicky Vox writes, “using gender identity as clickbait is a privileged act of violence. I’m not gonna stand for it. I don’t care what it’s actually about. The headline and photo used cannot be serious. Trans people are murdered for quietly trying to live their life”. YouTuber and trans rights commentator, Kalvin Garrah, released an entire response video expressing his concern as a transgender man; Garrah responds “Trisha, girl, I’ve seen what you’ve been through, I love you, I’m here for you, but I do not think you’re a transgender man”. Garrah notes that many of Trisha’s reasonings behind identifying as male were in fact offensive to the trans community and, in reality, typified a dangerously misinformed understanding of trans identities. Importantly, Garrah also points out that the stereotype of the trans individual as confused, wherein Trisha predicates her trans-ness, is unfounded and in fact the majority of trans individuals obtain great clarity and assurance through diagnosis and treatment of their of gender dysphoria.

The diagnosis of gender dysphoria is far from the same as a questioning of gender. Dysphoric individuals experience distinct disassociation from their mental gender identity and their physical gender expression. It is here the term “trans” is applied to represent a movement in physical gender expression to align with the mental gender of the individual and thus attempt to satisfy the sense of dysphoria. Here, again, it is difficult to align Trisha’s experience with that of a trans individual. Paytas has not expressed any desire to align her physical expression with her male identity, her name is still Trisha on all social media platforms, she still refers to herself as she (hence my choice of pronoun throughout this article). In day-to-day life, Trish makes concerted efforts to present as female and she continues to use presenting as male as purely performative: see her tribute to Zac Efron in Bet On It Remake | High School Musical 2.

It must be said at this point that one’s gender identity is far from defined by physical expression. There are many instances of people being socialised and consistently perceived as expressing a certain gender while identifying on the contrary, such is the nature of misgendering; but in almost all cases, trans individuals experience discomfort or offense at such misgendering, something completely lacking in Paytas’ elaborate drag performance. Additionally, it is worth noting here that for most drag performers, day-to-day gender remains separate, with some identifying as cisgender men outside of their performance attire, and others identifying as nonbinary people, or transgender females outside of the performance. Either way, a distinction remains between the performative gender of drag and the personal gender of the performer. This is another thing Paytas misrepresents as, for her, the act of drag, which she understands as wigs and makeup, is a day-to-day reality of her personal gender expression. Paytas seems to be under the impression that her non-performative life also falls under the umbrella of drag, whereas in my experience of drag acts, once that cheque has cleared, the uncomfortable stage attire is being swiftly removed.

All in all, as ever, any open and honest exploration of gender identity should be applauded, but the community of trans folk that have fought hard for their right to lead conversations about their humanity and their rights are owed much more than blind faith in an individual who has been consistently shown to drum up controversy for financial and professional profit attempting to align themselves with the movement of gender expression.