I dated someone who transitioned from female to male, and while he was in the most difficult part of transitioning, we had a lot of long talks about the process and how it felt. I call it the most difficult part of his transition because he wanted more than anything to “pass” immediately, but he was still waiting for the effects of testosterone to kick in, and he hadn’t been able to get top surgery yet. However, he was living socially as a man, and it often made him feel especially raw and open to the world in a way that his introvert soul hated.
What stuck with me the most, however, was one night when he mentioned to me that he struggled with the idea that people not only saw him as a woman, but as an ugly woman. In hindsight, it made a lot of sense; no one wants to be seen as unattractive, and having been raised under a huge pressure to be an attractive young lady, some of that still lingered for him. He didn’t want to be an attractive woman, mind you; he wanted to be a man, and hopefully an attractive one at that. He confessed at one point that this fear of being ugly had delayed his transition more than anything else.
It made me wonder how many people focused on this when considering transition. I’ve seen posts where trans men compare their pre-transition pics to themselves now. While I have yet to meet someone who regrets transitioning solely because they were pretty as the wrong gender, there are a lot of trans guys who recognize and joke around about how hot they were, and what a pity it wasn’t a body/gender they IDed with.
I chatted with a few of my friends who went from male to female, and their beauty fears were similar, but with a different focus: they were concerned about being an ugly woman when they finished their transition. It seemed like this was something the trans community could all relate to; the last thing anyone wanted to be perceived as was an ugly woman. And I think that stems from sexism and misogyny, in advertising and in our culture. There is so much pressure on women to be beautiful, and not so much on men. A lot of trans men express a sense of relief from that pressure when they transition, and a lot of trans women suddenly feel that pressure as overwhelming and depressing.
As a non-binary person, I’d like to think this sentiment has skipped over me, but I’m vulnerable to it as well. I realized recently that one of the things keeping me from pursuing hormones or top surgery was that I worried I’d look ugly. I grew up ugly (braces, frizzy hair, overweight, acne galore), and while that actually made me less obsessed with my looks, I’ve abruptly hit a stage in my life where people think I’m pretty, and I’m not really ready to give that up. When I first came out and started cutting all my hair off and dressing in a way that felt comfortable, I overcame that first fear of being hideous. Honestly, it was an ugly duckling stage, but I was too deliriously happy finally being myself to really care. Now I’ve settled into a style that looks good on me, and part of me wants to stay in this “attractive androgyne” persona. However, the need to feel comfortable in my body is slowly becoming a stronger pull than the need for other people to find me attractive. Eventually, the other will win out, but in the meantime, I guess I’ll just continue to be anxious?
I imagine this is how a lot of people on the edge of physical transition feel like. What if it looks terrible? What if it doesn’t work and people perceive me as the wrong gender forever? What if I change my mind?
When I see stuff circulating about the most gorgeous trans men and trans women, I feel self conscious all over again, but I also think about other trans men and women who aren’t these pinnacles of human perfection. Why are we so focused on these images? Are we setting our community up for self esteem issues?
I hope as time goes on, trans will become just as normal a descriptor as “left-handed” or “brunette” and we won’t feel this pressure to be so pretty. Until then, all the love to people in their awkward stage right now; it really sucks to have to think this hard about your looks while dealing with dysphoria.