Well, I Do Declare!

During today’s session, my speech therapist had me experiment with using a character voice as a way of getting out of my usual speech patterns.

I broke out the “Southern belle” voice that I’d developed for m y stage persona — and I do declare that my voice improved dramatically!

The slower pace of a Southern accent helped me avoid pitch drops that occur when I’m speaking faster. It improved the legato between syllables and words (which women typically use more of). Most surprisingly, I was able to raise my pitch almost an octave without straining — taking my voice from the top end of the typical male pitch range, solidly into the typical female pitch range.

(I’ve been frustrated in recent months because my pitch had dropped back down as I was focusing on the other vocal characteristics that typically differentiate women’s voices from men’s. Pitch and resonance are the big ones, and the only ones that are physiological, but there’s half a dozen others, most notably, huge differences in inflection.)

My homework is to practice switching into my Southern belle voice and dialing it back into my normal California-accent voice, while retaining the vocal improvements.

So if y’all hear me slipping into a drawl, now you’ll know why.

Hair, Not-So-Long Beautiful Hair

I’m grateful that the second round of hair transplants started growing in far sooner than expected. The transplanted hair goes into “transplant shock” and falls out because the follicles go into their dormant cycles, and typically it doesn’t regrow until about three months afterwards, i.e. for me, the end of June. But a few never fell out, and the there was some regrowth starting as soon as a month after the transplants. The bulk it did start regrowing in the past t month. But it’s growing extraordinarily fast — my acupuncturist, who hadn’t seen me in two weeks, remarked on what a different there was.

There’s still a long ways to go, but:

  • It’s covered the lengthy scar running across my forehead from the facial surgeries in January.
  • I now have enough of a “typical female” underside down U-shaped hairline (i.e. no more male baldness recession on the temples) that I’ve been able to start wearing my hair pulled back when I want to.

Still short, and still thin. But time will take care of that. So glad I did it.

Ally Is A Verb

Appreciative of all the cisgender allies who’ve stepped up during the past 24 hours, in the wake of Trump tweeting that he was banning trans people from the military (and presuming booting those currently serving). Especially those who worked to educate others so that trans people didn’t have do 101 labor on a very trying day.

“Ally” isn’t a noun, it’s a verb. It’s also a title that’s not self-adopted, rather it’s an honorific for meritorious service, bestowed by the folks on whose behalf an ally is acting on.

Klinger Was Not A Trans Solider

I say this more in sorrow than in anger, but I just had to unfriend someone on Facebook who I’ve known for a long time over that damn Klinger photo, and his doubling and tripling down on it.

I don’t care if Klinger was your childhood hero, he’s not an appropriate poster child to oppose the ban on trans people in the military. Why insist on using a fictional character who wasn’t trans, when you could use photos of actual trans veterans, such as Carla Lewis.

I know you’re trying to be supportive on what’s been one of the roughest day for many of us trans people in a long time, but….

Klinger wasn’t trans. In fact he was donning the dress to get a Section 8 discharge from the Army for being mentally unfit for service. I.e. someone who was actively trying to get out of the service, rather than someone fighting to serve as their authentic self.

Equally important, that photo reinforces the notions that 1) trans women are just “men in dresses” and 2) that trans identities are something just casually put on and taken off at will. Both of which are used as justification to discriminate against us.

It’s inappropriate comparison to trans members of the services and trans vets at all times, and right now, it’s just salt in the wounds.

I’m serious about this shit, don’t try me.

The Nose Knows

Going on estrogen re-wires your entire body, and one of the changes is that your sense of smell becomes more sensitive (on the whole female humans have a better sense of smell than males).

That was really brought home to me earlier this afternoon during my stop in Carson City. There have been thundershowers today and the petrichor (the smell after it rains) was so strong that it was pungent at times. Never had that happen before.

A Detente With My Armor

 I Like Armor I've my thing

Looking at my Armor
Still shiny but battered and worn in places
Covering me from helm to sabaton
Forged decades ago
Long before I realized I was trans
Long before I even knew what trans was
Protecting me from a world that too often
Felt harsh and lonely
 
Feeling my Armor
Piece added by piece
Layer built up upon layer
Moving stiffly, moving all too carefully, under its weight
These days feeling too tight
A steel carapace tight-corseting me
 
Speaking to my Armor
I honor you for protecting me all those years
I would not be here today without you
But I’d like to lay you down for awhile
Although I know you’ll always be there if I need you
 
Armor speaking to Me
She agrees she’s also a bit weary
And could use a rest as well
She worries for me
But knows it’s time for me to move more freely
She assures me she will be always be there
Should I need to beckon her back to the front
 
Negotiating with my Armor
A roadmap of progressive milestones:
I can lay down my armor when I choose to, and when we both feel safe
I can lay down my armor when I choose to
I can lay down my armor
We hug and agree to terms
 
Still far from fully unencumbered
But my soul feels lighter already

Terms Of Un-endearment

There’s a lot of folks in the burlesque world who need to take a hard, hard look at themselves and their behavior right now.

From seeing a people defend an alleged sexual predator who’s been accused sexual assault and inappropriate behavior by dozens of women, to seeing people defend a venue/owner host who used racist and ableist language (especially since said venue has past racist incidents on stage), I’m not exactly feeling the sparkly sisterhood right now. In fact I’m disappointed and irate.

WTF is so hard about it?! There are simply words that don’t belong to you.

  • Unless you’re Black, the N-word doesn’t belong to you.
  • Unless you’re intellectually disabled, the R-word doesn’t belong to you.
  • Unless you’re LGB, “faggot,” “homo,” “dyke,” “queer” don’t belong to you.
  • Unless you’re trans, “tranny,” “shemale,” “he/she” don’t belong to you.

You don’t get to reclaim them — only those targeted by those terms can, if they decide to do so.

If those targeted don’t feel anyone outside the group has a right to use them, guess what: YOU DON’T GET TO USE THEM!

It’s not hard, and neither “being a good person,” nor “good intentions” ultimately make a damn bit of difference.*

If you step on my toes, and I say “that hurt me, please don’t do it again,” the normal human reaction is to apologize and not do it again. Doesn’t matter if you stepped on my toes accidentally. You don’t try to excuse yourself because you’re a good person, or you had good intentions, or you just wanted to spark discussion.**

Same thing if you’re friends of the person who stepped my toes. Nor do you accuse me of a “witch hunt” for speaking up about the fact someone stepped on my toes (or my friend’s toes). If you’re a good friend, and the toe-stepper is refusing to own their actions and apologize, you should be pulling them aside and letting them know why that’s fucked up. If the toe-stepper is going around and intentionally stepping on toes, then you need to condemn their actions and disassociate yourself from them.

Get with the program, this shit ain’t hard.

* Yes, I’m aware there is a difference between intentional malice and oblivious disregard, but I wanted to drive the point home because white, hetero cisgender get so hung up on “intent.”

** Being able to treat other people’s lives as a philosophical question to be debated is an ultimate expression of privilege. Just saying….

I’m Not the Type Of Girl For You

An interesting interpretation of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Your Type,” where it reads the song as being about a trans woman who’s in love with her best friend but she will never say anything because she knows that her friend isn’t into trans girls.
“I’m not the type of girl for you
and I’m not going to pretend
I’m the type of girl you want more than a friend”
 
is the kind of line that speaks directly to the fear every trans girl has while attempting dating, especially if she’s stealth — that disclosure will lead to an immediate lack of interest, that no one could be into us for our true selves, that the only people who will ever “love” us are chasers or clients….
Many trans girls have felt the pain of “I’m not the type of girl for you” when attempting to date, whatever the other person’s gender. Conversations abound, especially in queer community, about whether it’s problematic to “not be attracted to” trans girls. It seems like we all have stories about being rejected upon disclosure, or never even being considered if we don’t “pass.””
I think the vast majority of trans people who transition decide the sacrifices (or potential sacrifices) involved. A friend of mine decided she was willing to sacrifice being an up and coming actor, if she could live her life successfully as a woman.*
 
In my case, it was accepting that I might never date again.
 
Partly it’s simply statistics. While men are fun to play with, and I wouldn’t rule out a possible relationship with one, I’m emotionally attracted to women. So that automatically narrows the dating pool to about 5 percent of the population. Then looking at the subset of lesbian/bi women willing — let alone interested — in dating a trans woman and the pool gets very narrow indeed. (It’s one reason it’s not uncommon for trans women to be in relationships with other trans women.)
 
Partly it’s a similar problem that LGB folks face when they see someone of the same sex that they’re attracted to (outside of queer spaces) — because odds are that they’re heterosexual and you don’t know how they’ll react. As the author says:
“All trans girls have rules when it comes to dating. Some of us never disclose until we absolutely have to, some of us are super “out.” I almost never hit on anyone or express romantic interest because I’m tired of being disappointed, and am afraid of a negative reaction. We always have to be careful and follow the rules, because you never know what will happen when you don’t — the reaction could be harsh, even violent.”
Partly it’s being a femme, and facing the problem many femmes face in lesbian spaces, where we’re ignored because people assume we’re straight women crashing the party.
 
Partly it’s me having to get over the feeling like I’m seen as “damaged goods.” Being the trans woman that chasers want to fuck — but not be seen with outside the motel room. Being trans, being a trans woman who don’t always “pass,”** being fat, being a women of a certain age. It’s hard not to internalize at least some of the negativity society expresses toward each. As a wise friend said, it’s hard to swim in a sea of poison and not swallow some.
 
Partly it’s been not having the time or spoons to be in a relationship, to deal with rejection — whether it’s because I’m trans, or for other reasons.
 
Despite all that, I still yearn for that feeling of being loved, of being desired. I’d like to feel that there’s *someone* (or someones) out there for me. It may be a long journey to find them, but it’s time to take that first step come what may.
 

 
* I’m happy to report that years later she’s started acting again and recently earned accolades for her co-starring role in her first big screen debut, in a movie that won a best in category award at the LA Film Festival.
 
** “Passing” is a term I hate — I much prefer blending — but I’m using it here because it’s used in the article, and because “passing privilege” has a long and history important history as a sociological concept.

I’m Not The Girl

I’m not the girl who’s ever featured on a show poster
The girl who’s invited to do private burlesque gigs
I probably never will be
I don’t have “the look”
I’m not the droid they’re looking for

But when I’m on the stage, I can be beautiful
I can seduce my audiences
I can make them love me
Even when I’m not the droid they’re looking for
Even if it causes weird boners

I’m not sexy despite looking like I do
I’m sexy because I’m unconventionally beautiful
Jolie laide” as the French would say — “beautiful ugly”
We jolie laides have to work twice as hard for half the recognition
Make ourself so unforgettable that we can’t be ignored

Our sexuality, our self-confidence, and most of all, our self-love
Has to be thundered to beyond the back row to even be heard
In a society that shames us for not being “pretty enough”
Not having the “right” curves, not having the “right” equipment in our panties
In the face of all that, there’s many times when I feel more ugly than beautiful

Fuck that shit

Yes, I’m an acquired taste
And if you can’t handle me, you need to acquire some taste

On Being “Beautiful Ugly”

Not everyone gets to be beautiful, and I’m one of them. That isn’t self-hatred, it’s statistics — a few of us are beautiful, a few of us are ugly, and the rest of us are some degree of what society deems average looking.

This is the part where I don’t say: but that’s OK. Because I’m not yet OK with it. But I’m working toward it, and the French concept of jolie laide is giving me hope about being beautiful on my own terms (more about jolie laide a in bit).

Now I hear you protest, but, but, everyone is beautiful just the way they are.1 Lots of body positivity movements use that sort of language, when what they really mean everyone can, and should be, worthy, desired, valued. It’s a reflection of how 50 shades of fucked up our culture is that even these sorts of messages, by women, for other women, get ensnared in the beauty myth.

No, what I’m talking about is “beauty” in its narrower, more traditional sense of the word: “A combination of qualities, such as shape, colour, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight. One that is beautiful, especially a beautiful woman.” Or as Soul Coughing’s “Screenwriters Blues” described aspiring Hollywood starlets: “Aesthetically pleasing / In other words: Fly.”2

(While we’re thinking of Hollywood, can we stop pretending that beautiful people aren’t beautiful? “Ugly Betty” was probably the frumpiest that network TV has ever allowed a woman to be. But underneath the braces, the hideous glasses, the garish clothes, America Ferrera was, and is, a gorgeous woman. It’s beautiful pretending to be ugly — a kind evil, anti-jolie laide)

Nor am I talking about the sort of “oh, I’m so ugly” bonding that all too many women engage in, nor the sort of body anxieties all too many women fall prey too. I’m no saint here. With the right wig, the right make-up, the right camera angle, the right lighting, I can feel beautiful. But I generally detest casual photos of myself. Especially when I’m in photos with other women. I invariably feel like a hulking Princess Fiona ± only without the the benefit of a tiara and green skin.

Like all too many other women, I’ve stood in front of the mirror are cataloged what society sees as my flaws:

  • Statistically, my height and size are at the far, far end of the chart. My hands and feet are all too big — trust me, trying to find size 13 shoes is a constant reminder of how off the chart I am.3
  • I wasn’t blessed by the androgyny fairy — I’ve got the bulky body type that runs in my family all the way back to the babushkas built to survive long Russian winters.
  • I’m not an hourglass, I’m V-shaped. While estrogen is now giving me a booty, it won’t ever give me hips to balance out my broad child-bearing shoulders, I’ve got big biceps. I’ve got an apple belly just like my mother. (Any plus-size fashion designer wanna give some love to us apples?)
  • I’ve got an average-looking face with a Karl Malden-nose (thanks Mom! <sigh>). I’ve got a gap-tooth grin and my open-lip smile often looks odd.
  • While estrogen is starting to give me breasts, I’m still a member of the itty bitty titty committee.

I’m unbeautiful. Not ugly. But unbeautiful.

In short, like a lot of trans women, by many objective measures I’m not terribly close to the cisnormative, heteronormative “feminine ideal for women in our culture. Very few of us look like Janet Mock, Carmen Carrera, or Laverne Cox. When Cox says, no matter how well-intentionally that “I am not beautiful despite my big hands, my big feet, my wide shoulders, my height, my deep voice and all the things that make me beautifully and noticeably trans. I am beautiful because of those things.”4 it rings a bit hollow for me, well because it’s easy for her to say, she looks like Laverne Cox.5

Another big factor is that, ironically, is that the burlesque world probably has made my body dysphoria worse than it might have been otherwise — since I’m seeing (and comparing myself) to lots of sparkly nearly-naked women. Who I’d argue, on the whole, are probably more attractive, with “better” bodies, than the general population.

While burlesque does talk a lot of about being a body positive space (which it is to a greater or lesser degree depending on the area), it definitely does help boost one’s confidence if you’re closer to cisnormative, heteronormative standard of what’s considered beautiful. So there is a bit of self-sorting that goes on, as far as who even attempts it. Even many (self-described) fat performers often have very pretty faces. Not in the sense of “oh, she’s got a pretty face” as a euphemism for “fat,” rather faces that fit the mold of what’s conventionally considered “beautiful.”

(And just an aside, mad props to those who aren’t the stereotypical burlesque performer – a skinny young (white) woman with a pretty face and big boobs – and who still get up on stage and own it. Especially if you’ve got a face that’s not “pretty” and/or a body that’s “unconventional.” That takes a fuckton amount of courage.)

A final factor is that I transitioned into being a woman “of a certain age,” that age where at best one’s beauty’s is considered fading, that age where women become invisible. I hear about other woman having to deal with unsolicited dick pics and most of me rages with them — but a small part of me is bothered that I don’t get them, like I’m not even pretty enough to merit sexual harassment. Which needless to say is a feeling that’s fucked up six ways from Sunday. But there is it.

Honestly, it all can feel a bit crushing.

But other cultures don’t have such a narrow concept of beauty. There’s a French phrase, jolie laide, which literally means “beautiful ugly,” but is more commonly translated along the lines of meaning oddly beautiful or unconventionally beautiful.

Opinions differ in interpretation. At one end of it’s the flaw that punctuates perfection, for example supermodel Lauren Hutton and her famous gap-toothed grin. On the other, it’s sometimes offered up as a homely woman, whose personal magnetism overcomes her looks, such as the celebrated 19th-century diva Pauline Viardot, who was described by a contemporary as “the kind of ugliness which is noble.”6

However, more commonly it refers to a woman who’s seen as beautiful not in spite of — but actually, because of — her unconventional individual features. Anjelica Huston, whose “regal asymmetry defies the norms of magazine ‘pretty’”7 is often cited as an example. (Benedict Cumberbatch is a good example of the male equivalent.) It’s more of an earned title than a compliment.

But there it’s more than just features that come together in an unexpectedly pleasing way — it’s often described as women who are “not conventionally beautiful but radiate a kind of magnetism that goes beyond their features,”8 a woman who “draws you in in an entirely different and unique way. You can’t take your eyes off of her, but you often don’t know why” and “her allure and perfection comes from a presence of an inner life that informs her outer appearance.”9

Although I personally like an earthy version of it that I heard: “I’m an acquired taste; if you don’t like me, acquire some fucking taste.”

When researching the concept of jolie laide — and there’s a surprising dearth of articles on it — I ran across three quotes that eloquently summarize my feelings:

“I love the idea of jolie laide because it suggests that we do not need to be cookie cutter beauties to be attractive. Suddenly features like tiny eyes, a jutting chin or a prominent nose could actually be deemed attractive. That these features need not be ‘corrected’ by plastic surgery in order to be considered beautiful. The motto of jolie laide is ‘work with what you’ve got,’ and that is very refreshing indeed.”10

Jolie laide offers hope for the rest of us. It opens up the democratic possibility that a woman can be beautiful because she thinks she is, in spite of her oddities. She loves herself, and that love shines through in how she carries herself, in how she expresses herself to the world. Others who would not otherwise be drawn to her looks are yet enchanted because of who she is.”11

“French women are attractive, yes, and stylish, yes, but the mystique and appeal that they wield as a whole isn’t located in [dare I say] mere perfection of proportion. They believe in their beauty, and so convince the rest of us. We should take a lesson.”12

And one final quote from Anjelica Huston herself: “I remember overhearing a conversation between my mother and father… to the effect that Anjelica wasn’t going to be a beauty. My way dealing with that, even then, was I’m going to make myself beautiful. I might not have physical perfection, but I’m going to think myself into being beautiful.”13

Likewise, I may never — make that, will never — be a paragon of cisgender, heteronormative ideas of “beauty,” but I can still be beautiful.

I am fucking beautiful. And if you can’t see it, it’s your fucking loss.


 
1. Which is a phrase that’s really off-putting to trans people with body dysphoria. See Sam Dylan Finch’s excellent “I’m Transgender And I Need Body Positivity, Too”
 
2. Yes, it is 5 a.m. and I am listening to Los Angeles.
 
3. Although obviously there are other women out there who are my size, otherwise I’d be running around naked and shoeless.
 
 
5. Admittedly, Cox is trying to make the point that “trans is beautiful” and that is shouldn’t matter if someone is “visibly trans” as so many of us are. (And she acknowledges it took years for her to reach that sort of self-acceptance.) She’s also acutely aware not all trans people can, or want to, embody this ideal, nor should they. See: http://lavernecox.tumblr.com/post/120503412651/on-may-29-2014-the-issue-of-timemagazine
 
 
7. “What French Women Know: About Love, Sex, and Other Matters of the Heart and Mind” by Debra Ollivier
 
 
 
 
 
 
13. I’ve seen the quote appear on various websites, but never tracked it back to a source. But if it isn’t true, it should be.