So tomorrow at 6 a.m. I go to surgery to claim the breasts that testosterone denied me.
No, anatomy isn’t destiny, and being able to do breast augmentation doesn’t make me more “real” than other trans women who can’t afford to, or chose not to do so.
But it is addressing something that’s been a major source of my gender-related body dysphoria.
It’s hard to love your curves when you don’t have any. (Well, except for the beer belly that makes me look male.) Much of the language body of language falls flat for me because I’m not the “right” kind of big-bodied. I don’t have hips, period, let alone ones that would balance with my wide child-bearing shoulders. Hormones added a bit of junk in trunk, but I still don’t all that much back there. I can’t change them; I can only learn to love them. (Right now we’re still in the detente phase.)
But breasts… breasts are something I can change. They’re something that unequivocally signals “woman,” even in the absence of other signals from the rest of my body.
It’s not that I hate my body, rather it’s that — as Sam Dylan Finch put it in his excellent essay, “I’m Transgender and I Need Body Positivity Too” — I hate “the way it tricks others into seeing me as something that I’m not. And no amount of self-love and validation can change the fact that, when I step out into the world, my body precedes me and erases a very important aspect of my identity.”
So I’m changing it. Because “sometimes modifying our bodies can be our greatest act of self-love.”
See you on the other side.
On the anniversary of transitioning to living as a woman full-time, rather than celebration, I’ve mostly been feeling the “is that all there is?” blues.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret transitioning, not for a second. And I did it being well aware that transitioning (hopefully) resolves your gender issues, but you’re still you, and you’ll still be left with your other issues.
Partly it’s the season. I probably have a touch of Seasonal Affective Disorder, and the short days and long nights just make me want to hibernate.
Plus it’s the holiday season with all the pressure that puts on people to feel joyous, even when they’re feeling far from it. Especially for those of us for whom family reunions are more stressful than celebratory. To be honest, for various reasons each year, I haven’t had a joyous holiday season in at least a decade, and this one I’ve been both stressed out and sick once again.
Partly it’s looking back and realizing that 2017 has really sucked due to some pretty severe nerve pain problems. Both the problems in themselves, but also how they’ve kept me isolated.
But a big part of it is now that my #1 challenge has been resolved, it’s allowed other issues to surface.
In some ways I’m now less comfortable in my body than before. The contrast between who I am, and what my body is, have become sharper. As Sam Dylan Finch said in his excellent essay, “I’m Transgender And I Need Body Positivity Too,” it’s not that I hate my body per se. Much as it can be frustrating to live in at time thanks to some chronic health issues, it’s otherwise served me well. Rather, as Finch says, “It’s about hating what my body has come to symbolize… the way it tricks others into seeing me as something that I’m not.”
I’m exceedingly thankful for the my new face, courtesy of my my surgery in Argentina last January. I can look in the mirror now and see a woman’s face. It’s at the point where my face in pre-surgery photos is the one that looks a bit alien and “not me.”
But the rest of my body…. There’s some parts that I’ve mostly made peace with. Mostly. I will never have hips that balance out with my wide child-bearing shoulders. My hands and feet will always be big, making it difficult to find jewelry and shoes that fit. I continue to need to do facial electrolysis twice a week, with no end in sight.
And now that breast augmentation is at the “so close, but yet so far” stage — hopefully I’ll be having it done early next year — my body dysphoria about that has gone through the roof. I still feel more caterpillar than butterfly. I’ll get there, but there’s that surgery and another next July, the latter with a tough recovery that’s going to sideline me again for the latter half of 2018.
I’m also really starting to feel the financial pinch of doing the things I need to do to make my body congruent with who I am. When all is said and done, it’ll cost me more than $100,000, with a good chunk of that coming up next year. It will be money well spent, and trust me I know how privileged I am to have the financial resources to make it happen. But still…. It’s wiping out a lot of savings, when I’m at an age where one starts thinking about having enough money for retirement down the road.
But probably one of the biggest issues is dealing with the loneliness in my life. Much of it my own doing — for decades I distanced myself from others because if I didn’t let anyone in, they couldn’t hurt me. I’m working on letting the armor down, but it’s harder to make friends in your 50s, especially out in the suburbs. Harder still when the people I am friends with are 30+ miles away up in SF and Oakland. Also, despite all the talk of sisterhood, burly friendships can be a mile wide, and an inch deep. (I’m grateful to the folks who did reach out when I was sidelined.) And yes, I know I need to force myself to get out more. That’s in the plans, and hopefully health problems won’t sabotage that again.
There’s also recent work with my therapist, that’s made me realize there’s things about my own ways of interacting with other people that need to change. Tired of being the long-suffering friend, the long-suffering co-worker, of always ending up having to be the responsible adult. The person who’s always there for others, but not necessarily there for herself. Growth is good, but sometimes it’s also a bit painful.
All that said, while I may be having All The Feels at the moment, things will get better. Changing some of the problematic parts of my life may be challenging, but at least I know that they need changing. I’ve been through worst. I’m high functioning and I’ll power through things. I’ll just keep dancing. If that’s all there is.
But yeah, I’ll be happy to see 2017 go, and not a moment too soon.
So I’ve started interviewing surgeons to do breast augmentation. It’s honestly the part of my body I feel most dysphoric about, more than my face was, more than my nether regions.*
Not having them** bothers more than I’d even realized. One of the surgeons had an opening in late December, and I wanted sign up for it right then and there. Hell, I was ready to go under the knife the following day.*** Aching was the best way to described.
I realize there’s other women who are unhappy with their breasts, but in my case Teh Tranz adds an extra level of discomfort.
As Sam Dylan Finch said in his excellent essay, “I’m Transgender and I Need Body Positivity Too,” it’s not that I hate my body, rather:
“It’s about how invisible my body makes me feel — the way it tricks others into seeing me as something that I’m not.
And no amount of self-love and validation can change the fact that, when I step out into the world, my body precedes me and erases a very important aspect of my identity.”
This is where the language of body positivity — e.g. “you’re perfect just the way you are,” “you should ignore society’s messages,” etc. — falls flat with me, and with other trans people.
Because, as Finch says, sometimes modifying our bodies can be our greatest act of self-love.
I’m not looking forward to the next two rounds of surgery in the coming year — nor the months of after-care after the second one — but I am looking forward to the changes they’ll bring, to them helping what’s on the outside feel congruent with what’s on the inside.
There are prices to be paid physically, emotionally, and especially financially — since probably none of the renovations will be covered by insurance. But peace of mind is priceless.****
*Standard caveat about how if you’ve met once trans person… you’ve met one trans person, and every trans person feels differently about their body
**Thanks to hormones, I’ve actually developed what’s probably are probably A+/B- sized breasts. But given my frame, they look tiny by comparison.
***I didn’t, much as I wanted to, because he’s a celebrity surgeon and his price was far steeper than I’d expected.
****I’m fully aware that I’ll still probably face the same sort of body image issues that most women in our society face — in fact I’m already dealing with them. But it won’t be with the extra dose of gender dysphoria.
TFW when the woman at the next table, who you’ve been chatting with, compliments you on your voice and asks if you do radio work.
She was right in a way… as a man I had a deep and resonate voice — think of the DJ from “K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies” in “Reservoir Dogs.” Consequently, I’ve spent the last two years working with a speech therapist to change it.
My voice is still one the things I’m most self-conscious about, and it’s still one of the things that causes me to be misgendered — it’s a given that I’ll get referred to as “sir” when I’m on the phone with someone who doesn’t know me.
Unfortunately, with everything else that’s been going on this year, I just haven’t had enough time to practice to really get my voice where I want it to be. I’ve more or less gotten the change from chest resonance to head resonance; on a good day my pitch is an octave higher where I want it; and I’m able to do the 180-degree change in inflection between men’s speech and women’s speech. But it still takes conscious effort and all too often, the latter two slip a bit.
So it’s nice, really nice, to know that sometimes it all comes together.
“I’m not the type of girl for you
and I’m not going to pretendI’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.””
“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.”
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
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.
So I got “sir”ed again tonight… It’s happening several times a week, and although it always appears to be unconscious and unintentional, it’s still a bee sting to the heart every time it happens — and enough bee stings can kill you.
It’s usually people who I’ve never met before — store clerks, restaurant workers, etc. — so clearly it’s reflecting their first impressions. Whenever it happens, my reaction is: FFS, I’m wearing women’s clothing and shoes, women’s jewelry, make-up, painted fingernails, and sporting a pair of D-cups — what the fuck else do I have to do to get people to realize I should be gendered as a woman?
As you might imagine, it’s fucking disheartening. I’ve spent an enormous amount of money, time and pain over the past year reshaping my body, and still it happens. Don’t get me wrong, the vast majority of people treat me like the woman I am, and yes logically I know that I shouldn’t let a small number of people get under my skin. But the heart and the gut don’t think rationally.
There’s practical concerns being a trans woman who — like most of my trans sisters — who wasn’t blessed by the androgyny fairy, and who probably will never look like the “typical” woman assigned female at birth, and who won’t always blend in as one. Probably the biggest concern is safety, particularly since I like to travel, and the vast majority of the nation, let alone the world, isn’t nearly as trans-friendly as the Bay Area. (Right now, even the U.S. there’s a number of states that have become no-go zones for me.)
But more than that, the incidents have been kicking my body dysphoria into high gear lately. It’s just a constant low-level reminder of the gap between the body I have, and the body I wish I had, but never will. Just I’m reminded whenever I try to look for size 13 shoes, extra large sizes in rings, necklaces and clothing, dresses that always 2-3 inches shorter than intended. Or when I’m in photos with other women and look hulking and towering by comparison.
I agree with Laverne Cox that I should be able to love my large hands and feet, my height, my lower than average voice because they’re beautiful, because trans is beautiful. But — and I mean no disrespect toward her own long struggle towards self-acceptance — it’s much easier to love these things when you have a body that’s otherwise considered extremely attractive according to hetero cisgender standards.
As Sam Dylan Finch says in his excellent essay, “I’m Transgender and I Need Body Positivity Too” my body
“tricks others into seeing me as something that I’m not. And no amount of self-love and validation can change the fact that, when I step out into the world, my body precedes me and erases a very important aspect of my identity.”
I’ve been working with my therapist to shrug off this sort of misgendering, to maybe not love my body as it is but at least reach a detente with it. But it’s a hard place to get to right now.
(And before anyone chimes in with comments like “you’re perfect just the way you are,” or “love your body, no matter the shape or size, exactly as it is,” fucking read Sam’s essay about why those sort of comments are more than a bit… off-putting… to many trans people.)
Yesterday was my 150th hour of electrolysis, and today was the first Saturday (more about that later) that I haven’t felt the need to shave.
My electrologist says I have some the thickest and most stubborn hair she’s ever seen, the only good side is that they’re practically transparent — while it makes them harder to find and kill, means they’re not very visible.
Which is a really good thing, since my electrologist needs two days of growth to be able to find them, and the stubble drives me crazy. I’m doing three hours of electrolysis a week on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, so Saturdays have been the only day I can shave and not have to feel the stubble, which is really gender dysphoric for me.
But this week we’ve been hitting the remaining patches of untouched facial hair, hit them hard. My throat is dotted with tiny electrolysis scabs bearing witness to the battle.
So when I felt my face this morning, it was largely smooth. There’s scattered hairs here and there — it’s amazing how sensitive one’s fingertips are to being to feel an isolated hair.
But it was smooth enough to forego shaving today without feeling dysphoric (although I may regret the decision tomorrow), and it will help on Monday when I go back under the needle again.
Will some of the hair grow back? Undoubtedly. (Fortunately when the hair follicle is partially dead, it becomes finer and downier.)
But it’s clearly the beginning of the end. I’m not sure how long it will take to get there, but I can’t tell you what a relief it is to know there is an end in sight. Because with everything else going on, personally and politically, I could definitely use some hope.