During the past weeks, I’ve been having my “At Seventeen” moment about 37 years too late, which has been a bit crippling and one reason you haven’t seen me out at shows. I’ve hesitated to write about it, because it seems so… damn adolescent. I’m talking about my looks, or lack thereof.
I’m not talking about sexy. The stage has taught me how to turn the sexy on when I want to. I’m not talking about beauty. The various “we’re all beautiful!!!” ad campaigns and body positivity affirmations have ended up really talking about how everyone is valued, how everyone is worthy of love, etc. Although, it’s telling that for women, all that gets lumped under “beautiful.”
No, I’m talking about pretty. And not everyone gets to be pretty — it’s simply statistics. A few of us are ugly, most of us are average, and a few pass the cis-het bar of being considered pretty or handsome.
Me, I’m coming to grips that I’m plain.
The head understands this, but the heart, and especially the gut, aren’t rational. It had gotten so bad that I couldn’t bring myself to attend some of the burlesque shows I really wanted to, because the wormtongues kept whispering in my ear: “They’re all so pretty — and I’m not.” I couldn’t even bear to see photos from the shows. I haven’t been able to bring myself to debut a new number that all about loving your body, because I feel like a fraud. I’ve even flirted with the idea of quitting burlesque.
I know I’ve written about my body issues before, but now it’s more about how the goalposts have shifted. Now I’m feeling the full weight of being a woman in a woman’s body being measured up against the beauty myth.
ETA: It’s not that I didn’t feel many of these pressures during the year I spent living as a woman outside of work to socially transitioning. But back then, there was the psychological defense mechanism that “not bad for someone whose male-bodied.” I blended in as a woman far more than I’d ever expected to. On stage, with stage makeup, I could be joie laide — unconventionally beautiful — I could make audiences feel I was sexy. But ordinary life isn’t on-stage, and now that I’ve got a woman’s body, that crutch of “not bad for someone whose male-bodied” has been taken away.
They don’t tell you about that when you’re thinking of transitioning. As the story goes — as least for those of us who feel the need to modify our bodies — you make the physical changes and your body dysphoria goes away. If only…
While I’m far more comfortable in my skin than I was three years ago, free of discomfort that I wasn’t fully aware of at the time, my body still misrepresents me in ways that no amount of self-love can change. I still get “sirred” at least once a week. It’s no longer the dagger in the heart it once was, but it’s yet another in a series of a thousand cuts. A reminder that I wasn’t blessed by the androgyny fairy and I’m still seen as a man at least part of the time.
Trans people have a remarkable ability to handle cognitive dissonance about our appearance. To look in the mirror and see, not the reflection looking back at you, but who you really are. To know that you’re not really “passable” and yet tell yourself that you are. It’s necessary if you ever want to leave the house.
For years I’ve had an image in my head about what the “real me” looked like. But post-surgeries, it’s been coming to grips that I ain’t her, despite the enormous blood and treasure spent over the last three years. So I’ve been having a bit of a requiem for a dream.
On top of all that there’s the new and improved Body Dysphoria 2.0 in the same ways that virtually all cisgender women feel about their bodies. I thought I understood this pre-transition, thought I understood the pressure society puts on women about their appearances, but I vastly underestimated it. It’s one thing to understand, it’s quite another to live it.
It’s also an odd thing to transition to living as a woman at an age when women become invisible. I know many women welcome that after a lifetime of unwanted attention, but for me, there’s a sadness that I was never seen as a woman, a young woman, with those who called to say “come dance with me” and murmured vague obscenities.
It’s especially hard in the burly world, where most of the other performers are two, even three decades younger than I am. Aside from not having the beauty of the bloom of youth, time and various injuries over time, mean that my body simply can no longer do the things they can.
That constant reminder that I’m not a young woman, that I’ll never have been a young woman, is the hardest of it all. It’s a reminder of the all the years lost. I’m so envious of the trans kids today who will be able to live out their full lives as themselves. In the words of Mama Rose, I feel like I was born too soon and started too late.
I am getting better. Part of the emotional root canal I’ve been doing my therapist is finally let myself *feel* and grieve for all of this. To feel the anger about being cheated out of four decades of my life. The frustration about what testosterone did to my body.
I have to let myself work through it in order to work past it. To lance the boil and let out all that which aches like tetanus, all that which has been festering underneath my consciousness. Perle Noire’s “Healing Through Seduction” online course is also helping me find ways to love my body and myself.
I’m not there yet. I’m not yet at the point where, as friend advised me to do, I just say “fuck that shit.” But I’m working on it, and that’s the important thing.