(I apologize before-hand that what I have written may make it seem like all transgender women think or feel or experience themselves and their world exactly the same, or exactly as I do. The story I tell here, which is mostly my own, has a great deal in common with many transgender women. However there are many exceptions to any aspect of shared experience for us just as for any experience women or even people in general often have. I have kept thing simple here so that the narrative could be shorter and to keep it from losing force. Also, as more and more people take the courage to open up about their experience of gender, we learn that there are many more genders than just male and female. I’ve not talked about them also for simplicity’s sake, and because I am no authority on other genders. Out of respect for people of other genders, I will let them speak for themselves; as I become aware of blog posts and articles written by those who are, I will post links to them in this blog. )
When you see a transgender woman who is an adult in the ‘otts, you will likely see a woman whose body has been ravaged by testosterone. I say “ravaged” because the *person* inside the body feels vastly different about who she is than her body may look to you as well as to her; and even *feels* vastly different to her than she feels about herself.
The look of this body and the way it feels because of the male hormones she lives with, may often cause her to feel a truly awful chasm between who she *is*, how her body looks and feels to her, and how others may generally perceive her.
This does not mean than she is less of a woman than other woman are. It does not mean that she less of a woman than you are, if you are a woman; even if she does not look the way you think she should or do all of the things you think she should do to “look more feminine,” or to “look more like a woman.”
After all, what does a woman “look like?” When is any woman not a woman because of the way she “looks?” When are you not a woman because you of the way you look? Not a woman because you do not have the right bone structure, the right kind of hair, the right skin tone, the right age, the right manners, or because you have not performed all of the feminizing cosmetic regimen prescribed to you by our infinitely wise and all-benevolent culture, media, and politicians? When do conditions outside of your sense of who you are make YOU not a woman, or not a man? Why would you think she is any different?
So, why doesn’t she do more to “look feminine?” For one thing, she almost certainly knows something that you probably also know, but may need make yourself consciously aware of: that is, that *no matter how many things she does to “look feminine” or how much money she spends on products to help her with this never-ending task, you and others will still nearly invariably and unthinkingly judge her as *not having done enough* to convince you she is a woman. There will always be something more she could have done, or less, or other. Most adult transgender women who are currently transitioning know we will always lose the battle to “look like a woman enough to convince” many, many people–perhaps most. So, we have to choose our battles, and we have to know when to let go and do something more important.
If you’re not convinced I am a woman, then it’s not me that needs to do any more work; it’s you.
It takes a woman who is transitioning to presenting female quite a lot more time and effort to do these things than it does you, because she is learning as an adult and not from age 3, as you probably did. She is also building a wardrobe from scratch, learning and buying makeup; she has to shave before she can begin to think about makeup, her eyebrows will need more plucking than you can imagine, her face will mostly still look that way no matter what makeup she applies, and anyway she has poorly developed motor skills and a vacuum of information when it comes to makeup application, hair and wig care, moisturizers and skin care (which she probably hasn’t been doing all these years,) etc.
And we won’t even go into how she may very well (as I am) be living with chronic pain and/or chronic fatigue or any number of other disabilities that other women also live with.
Then there is the matter of how, being transgender, she probably got fired the moment she came out, and can’t get hired anywhere, not even McDonalds, so, yeah, all that stuff society tells women to buy and apply so we can “look more feminine?” All that “feminizing, anti-aging” stuff they pay women less at work so we can pay more to buy? Well, how is a woman who is trans going to buy that stuff–and also spend *thousands* and even tens of thousands of dollars, and years of her life on painful facial hair zapping and feminizing facial surgical reconstruction and genital reconstruction, all so that after that you will *still* call her a man? You do the math; let’s compare our totals. I get nada, how about you?
Most of us will never have time or money enough to convince you we are women; but you can do the job simply by updating your mind. It will take time and mental practice, but you can learn to accept my femininity if you *choose* to.
What about clothes? Do you look at the body of a woman who is transgender and think that she looks less than feminine in them than other women? She’s on a steep learning curve when it comes to clothes as well, building an entire wardrobe from scratch; for work, casual, play, formal; all on the meager budget of a transgender woman. I still don’t even own a pair of women’s sneakers that fit me, or a women’s tee-shirt.
When a trans sister does find things that are affordable and her size, even then, most of these items still look terrible on her shape; and the ones that don’t look too bad will still feel awful, because they have been designed for bodies that are shaped differently. Women’s bodies, you will say. Yes, I reply–they were designed for some women’s bodies. Certainly not for the bodies of all cis women, even. And virtually never are clothes you can buy of the wrack designed to highlight the femininity of transgender women.
Your mind may very well at this point reply (in spite of your conscious effort to be empathetic–your mind was after-all socialized in the context of a world that consistently denied the existence of trans women while simultaneously ridiculing us non-stop, 24/7 in the media, showing you how *ridiculous* we are. You may not realize this, but we watch and we’ve seen this. You can always is always a joke about us on some channel day or night,) your mind may say, “the blouse or dress does not fit because you are a man.”
Please try this for me; ask your mind, “who am *I*?” Are you a woman? A man? How do you know? If everyone in the world became convinced tomorrow that you were not a woman but a man, or not a man but a woman, would you stop being the gender that you know you are today? If not, then why not? Because you know you, right? You know how you feel about your gender.
Your feeling sense of you doesn’t change just because someone else decides you are not the gender you know yourself to be. You are what you are. You are you.
And She is also she. No matter what the shape of her body, no matter what the shape of her face, etc. Even the testosterone she has lived with up until she got medical help with that noxious toxin (if medical help was available to her) could not convince her that she was not herself, *because she is she*. (And trust me, she is very probably highly allergic to that hormone.)
When I encountered the word “transgender” for the first time at age 46, I said immediately, “this is me” And then I found a counselor and spent 4 years trying to psychoanalyze my femininity away. I wanted very much to convince myself it was a thought-problem, and not real.
During that time I also researched the lives of transgender women and men, found out about all the things you deal with in order to transition, all the things you a have to learn and do, and everything other people do and say to and about you. I tried to scare myself straight, is what I’m saying. And this didn’t work either; nothing worked. I was staring straight at the end of my marriage, my job, my life, and I could not do anything but go forward.
So I thought I had convinced myself after 4 years of therapy that I could live pretending to be a man in spite of my inner sense of my gender. I said so to myself, my therapist, and my wife. But then 6 months later I literally could not prevent myself from coming out at work and starting transition. In spite of the fact that I knew I had no plan for how to live on my own, I separated from my wife who had made it clear for the past 20 years that she did not want to be married to a woman, and began a process transition that I knew was a grueling and perilous 24 month slog.
The first week after I changed my email name at work to a feminine one, I was warned that I would be let go if I couldn’t meet a productivity goal that I had not been held to for 5 years. This was my welcome into womanhood. Not a stain of blood in the crotch of my jeans that I would have vastly preferred and welcomed. You may think they are equal; perhaps they are.
So yeah, I knew what was going to happen, and in spite of that I could not deny the reality of who I am. That is how powerful this sense of my gender is. This is how I know who I am. Because nothing I or anyone else has tried or threatened has ever been able to change my mind. So many of us have felt and done the same. For those of us who have, that is how we know who we are.
So when you see a transgender woman, the person you see is a woman. This woman will have risked and endured things that you cannot imagine. You probably have too; some of them will be different, some the same, but please understand she is not riding rose-bowl float into womanhood. She working and struggling, trudging and scrambling and scraping, just as so many of us women do. Society doesn’t make it any easier for trans women than it does for any of the rest of us women.
A woman in transition will have risked her life, will daily risk her life to show you who she really is. She will also have saved her life by finally taking that risk to become authentic, in expressing her true gender in the face of unimaginable pressure not to. So many women in this world have died for being honest about their gender–so very many more of us have killed ourselves because we could not see a way to tell the truth about ourselves and live as the women we were in this world that we have to live in.
So please consider that the way you choose think about us, how you perceive us and, yes, even how you relate to us, is one of the most feminizing things that can be done, and one of the easiest.
When you see a transgender woman–when you see me–please take responsibility to remind yourself, however often you need to, however many times necessary, that the person you are looking at is a woman, no more and no less. She is not a stereotype of a woman or an approximation or a pretension of a woman; she is not a male mental patient with delusions of femininity; she is not a joke. She is not a man in a dress. (How would you like to be called that, not once, but over and over and over?) She is just a female human being. A woman who just wants to live in the world as herself–as you also want to do.
What I’m telling you that when you see a transgender woman, the woman you are looking at is one of the fiercest women you will ever meet, and everything you know about women, all that we all go through, feel, live, experience, wish for and wish to avoid or escape, all of this is about her as much as it is about you or any other woman. You may not think so, but if you get to know her, if she lets you get to know her, you will find out that this is so.
When your mind objects to this idea of recognizing the femininity of your transgender sister, you might also ask yourself; would you ever wish to grow up constantly having your body shaped, your mind and heart colored and fueled by testosterone? How many of you would wish to live with that hormone, the experience of which I can only describe as sensory and emotional deprivation for a woman.
This, testosterone in the wrong body, is a woman’s issue too. Please add it to your list. And then look past it to the woman who endured it.
She is no different than you, after all. She’s not out to take over the world. She just wants to live as herself.
So see her.
There’s nothing about birth or social status. Anger toward social injustice will remain until the goal is achieved. It has to remain.
—His Holiness the Dalai Lama, “The (Justifiably) Angry Marxist“
(Currently looking for an image to go with this post; preferably a painting. Any suggestions of art, your own or someone else’s who you think might be willing to allow it’s use for the blog, please message me here or at azurerain4076 (at) gmail (dot) com)