Beauty and Transness

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.

Six steps to make sure you NEVER have any Non-binary friends:

Are you the kind of person who wants to be able to easily sort your friends into guy or girl categories? Do you accept trans people, but only if they come in genders you approve? Are you that guy who stares openly at people in public in order to determine if they’re a guy or a girl?

Well, I’m here today to make sure your friend circle stays as un-diverse as possible. Because why get a confusing bunch of friends when you can follow these simple steps to make sure that non-binary people know you won’t be a supportive friend?

  1. Use terms like “men and women” or “both genders”; this makes it clear that you consider gender to only come in two flavors, which will stop any non-binary person from assuming you’d even know their gender exists. This is especially effective if you use these kinds of terms in circumstances where you really don’t need to. For instance, at a social event, instead of saying simply “welcome” or “welcome everyone” say “welcome ladies and gentlemen!”
  2. If you ever talk about transgender people and transitions, make sure to make a point of discussing it as a point A to point B phenomenon. Bonus points if you refer to other trans people as “used to be a girl/boy” or reference their surgeries as the point when they “became a girl/boy.” This shows non-binary people that you’re more focused on outward appearances and birth sex than how the other person identifies.
  3. Refuse to use neutral pronouns. Sure, you’d use they/them in a singular instance if you didn’t know someone’s gender, but using them all the time for someone whose gender you do know is exhausting. Besides, what better way to remind your non-binary acquaintance that you’d be a terrible friend than calling them by whatever pronouns you think most match their appearance? Bonus points if you make their pronouns about you and how you can’t perceive them as a neutral gender.
  4. Ask them about their genital status; if your ignorance on the difference between sex and gender wasn’t apparent before, asking a near stranger if they’re intersex will shine the brightest of spotlights on it. Disclaimer: this action may cause the incidental loss of intersex friends. Proceed with caution.
  5. Definitely nitpick anything your non-binary acquaintance does that isn’t androgynous. Do they want to get pregnant? Well, that’s a lady thing, and they shouldn’t be engaging in it if they want to be seen as neutral. Did they grow a beard? Well, how do they expect people to know they’re NB if they do something like that? The more unsolicited your opinion is, the better.
  6. Finally, use the word “transtrender” liberally. Apply it to anyone you think isn’t performing gender correctly while identifying as trans. This doesn’t just have to be NB people, you can direct it at feminine trans men, masculine trans ladies, drag queens, and de-transitioners. Just make sure your social circle knows you use this term to denounce anyone who doesn’t meet your standards.

Well, those are the steps I know of that have sent me running for the hills. What about you guys? Any solid suggestions?

Transness and Sexism: My Bros are a Little Misogynistic

I have like, a shit ton of guy friends. Not sure exactly why, because I’ve always considered myself better at being friends with girls, but now that I think about it, most of the “girls” I befriend end up realizing somewhere mid-friendship that they’re trans, and abruptly become my bro (which is pretty cool, because I get all their old clothes most of the time. Score.) There was a point in my life where I was actively trying to attain more girl friends, but I’ve since come to realize that I’m just drawn to masculine energy, regardless of the gender attached.

However, the downside of being non-binary and being friends with a whole lot of guys from different walks of life is that I encounter so much casual sexism directed at women. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not friends with a bunch of douchebags or something. I have pretty great taste in people, if I do say so myself. However, I’ve been in groups of trans men, where the discussion turns to how they knew they were men because they’re so brave, strong, capable of manly things, etc, etc. Having grown up an avid tomboy, I identify with these things a little bit; I wanted to play baseball, camp outside, I chopped off all my hair when I was nine, to the horror of my mother. When it comes up among trans men, though, I’m instantly reminded of all the tomboys I know. The women with unconventional interests and hobbies, with short hair or a masculine attitude; they’re still women, regardless of these “manly” habits, but they’ve faced all kind of criticism for those behaviors. Can’t women be strong, brave, sportsy, and butch without being…well, men?

Now, that might sound like a really particular, unique kind of issue, but bear with me. With the continued exposure of trans celebs, we find ourselves in a time where more and more people are learning that transgender is a thing. Which, I gotta admit, is pretty damn cool for people who might have otherwise just wondered what was “wrong” with them all their lives. However, with the prevalence of transition stories, I’ve heard more and more trans men and women start making assertions that any person who’s gender non-conforming is a trans man or woman still in denial. Butch lesbians, for instance, are often mistaken for young trans men, such as a friend of mine who’s happily female (and gay), but wears a lot of cargo shorts. I’ve seen the argument “Well, if they want to look like and behave like men so much, why don’t they just call themselves men?”

A lot of that, I know, stems from a sense of insecurity; if someone’s life journey can look so similar to a trans man’s journey, only to have them be cis, that’s got to feel a little invalidating (and it brings up the argument that if that person is content in being a masculine woman, why couldn’t this trans man be that content? Why did he have to get surgeries, change his name, or lose friends and family? Why endure all of that hardship?) And it also brings up a bit of visual confusion; I’m sure we all try not to stereotype, but it’s always a bit exciting when you think you see someone who’s also trans. I always get super excited to meet new trans people, just because it’s a unique struggle and it’s the fucking best to know someone who shares some of that experience. I’ve also made the blunder of assuming someone is trans (This is that moment where I should kick young me and remind them to ASK pronouns before assuming!) But the beauty of having such an array of gender presentations and roles is that we don’t have to personally understand someone’s journey, and we certainly don’t have to match up with anyone else.

When these kinds of discussions happen, I’m generally the only non-man in the room, however, so it puts me in an interesting spot. People generally expect me to stay neutral, since I’m neither, but I’m pretty quick to jump in. Normally with some snide remark like “aw shit, I like those things, am I a man now?” which serves as a pretty good reality check for the dudes I hang out with. However, in the wrong company, I find myself shoehorned into being a women’s advocate, a role I would normally enjoy, but it comes at the cost of my own gender. There’s just this idea that since they’re men, they’re even further away from being women than I am, so I’m the next best thing to discuss women with. Again, mildly awkward, but generally, I’ll bite.

It comes down to something like this: are we defining our genders by the things we do and the things we like? As a trans man, are you taking a toxic idea, like science being a male pursuit, and using it to “prove” your manliness? That you were secretly a dude all along? Does your high school “phase” of being a baby butch lesbian make you assume that other butch lesbians are just on their way to realizing their “real” gender?

Basically, what it comes down to, is that a lot of trans men seek to transition without challenging any of the restrictive gender roles that they hated growing up. And that’s totally normal, because it takes a lot of introspection to realize that you’re doing that (I had to question myself on that front when I started identifying as NB) and it doesn’t make anyone a bad person. It’s so easy to fall into that way of thinking, especially when so many people challenge your gender as a trans person. I just hope transgender becomes something as boring as describing yourself as a pisces. You know, like “Okay, that’s nice Gregg, but that’s some pretty useless information because I don’t care about that stuff.” That way, no one will have to feel like they have to cling to a certain role to prove themselves. Oh, and then I can enjoy my gaggle of guy friends without having to call out sexism so much. Maybe.