￼Photo by Diana Ruseva on Unsplash
I like it when friends ask me questions that I don’t immediately know how to respond to. “Do you feel pressure to be perfect, as a woman?”
Now here’s something I can sink my teeth into.
I came out as trans a little more than two years ago. Back then, every iota of hope I had was matched by fear. There were so many choices to make and so many maybes. Every time I tried to visualize what my real self would look like when she finally emerged, I tried to shake the image out of my head. I didn’t want to get stuck on an idea that might never be real.
What if there was a medical reason I couldn’t take HRT?
Would I be able to afford any surgical options?
Would I bare my feelings to therapists and doctors only to be invalidated?
I hated who I was, but I felt so far from who I might be.
I didn’t want perfection. I wished that I might survive.
And I have. I’m coming up on two years of hormone replacement therapy next month. I finally feel like myself even as I continue to change. And it’s that change that’s made me less fussed about reaching a particular ideal.
Cammila Collar already articulated what I’m about to say beautifully. You can consider this a “Seconded!” from my own experience.
I know there are more than a few people who would prefer I not exist. There are more than a few people who might count themselves as allies but still nitpick the clothes or makeup I wear as setting feminism backwards. There are more than a few people who think “I support you but I don’t understand you” is a compliment. Against that background, every time I draw on a little eyeliner or take an estradiol pill is a little rebellion. It’s a rejection of what I was taught I should want and movement towards what I want — and it doesn’t really matter whether you like it or not.
I’m still not used to the feeling.
For 35 years, I performed my identity according to the expectations of those around me. I tried to be a good boy, and a good man, and I felt like I always failed. I didn’t really like or get close to men. My wish to be a woman seemed impossible, reinforced by the fear of abandonment if I ever spoke this aloud. All the things I didn’t know and all the things I didn’t think were possible boxed me in, and it seemed I just didn’t fit in anywhere.
The few times I found a little glimmering something that perked my ears, like painting my nails or wearing makeup for a play or thinking about dying my hair, I felt like the shut downs came quick. Sometimes they came as commands, that I shouldn’t be curious. Other times, the cuts were more insidious. “Is this, like, a thing for you now?” Even as I strained to come out, taking some initial, shaky steps to explore what I wanted my identity to be, the reactions seemed to get worse — palpable embarrassment, the jokes about how I’m coding queer but couldn’t possibly be, the insistence that I didn’t belong in the confines of the man “box” met with being called a man more often.
I felt defensive. I felt like I had to explain and justify what I wanted to explore. That’s part of what shut me down. It didn’t feel like I could be free to try and experiment and literally try things on. If I were to do any of it, I’d need an Explanation. I’d have to have a name and pronouns and labels all set out like paperwork. How could I do that when I had so many questions still? I felt like I was living under a label that didn’t fit me, but I didn’t have all the solid answers about what should be different. The feeling like I didn’t really belong anywhere only intensified.
I haven’t felt that way for a long while now. That’s not to say that people have kept their shitty opinions to themselves. The “block” button is still a very useful thing. But transitioning requires practice at autonomy — how do I feel? What do I want?
I won’t pretend that I’m totally immune from the messages we’re constantly bombarded with about who counts as pretty. There are parts of myself that I sometimes look at and go “Bleh” before I ask myself why this pimple, stretch mark, or extra padding is a problem. But that’s the whole point. Now there’s the second part, the part that pushes back. The part that can say “Why does that matter?” and bring me back to feeling at home in myself.
The fundamental changes of transition aren’t just skin deep. You have to face who you are, how you wish to be, and what you’re going to do to get there. There’s a lot of push and pull. That internal tug-of-war is what underscores the fact that I am choosing myself. That I’m choosing how I want to live in my body and present myself to others. “Should” has gone out the window. If I listened to “should,” I probably wouldn’t still be here.
Early in my transition, before nationwide stay-at-home and mask orders, I used to wear deeply-colored lipstick every day. I really liked how the dark purples, blues, and reds went with my usually-black clothing, and it was another little touch that I could hold onto while I waited for my hormones to do their thing. During that time, a stranger stopped me at the grocery store and said “You know you really should try a lighter color…”
At the time, I said “But I like dark!” and kept walking. I was proud of myself for that. And I still am, even if I can concede that maybe this meddling stranger was technically right. I look at some of my old photos and think “Ok, that maybe wasn’t the best color combo there.” But the whole point is that it was, and is, my choice. It was something I wanted to try that made me feel better for that moment, now just a memory. I didn’t focus on passing. I didn’t consider what might make me look most acceptable. I did what made me happy, and able to say “No” with a smile.