Only skin deep?

This could have been another of those posts i have gotten into the bad habit of making: all about new experience, and how wonderful it all feels.

My first real hair-do, in case you’re wondering. Glorious!

You can take it for read that i am just basking in the many and varied new experiences i am having now, and move on to something a bit more puzzling.

Jealousy. After the joy of getting my hair done, and fiddling around with ear rings and nails and the 101 things i manage to obsess about nowadays, i found myself watching some ads on TV.

Not just watching, but – i caught myself doing this – measuring myself against the women in the ads. Going green with envy at the beautiful luxuriant hair that two models had.

Then i realised i have started to do this a lot lately: eyeing up fashions, clothes, hair-styles and growng resentful of things that will never be for me. In part because i am coming to this process late. In part because i will always look awkward, out of place.

There’s at least two things going on here. Its age, and the inevitable coming to terms with the fact that i am no longer young and never will be again. Yet – living as a male – that never bothered me.

Now, it hurts. It hurts like anything.

Because there is something else as well: this comparing of myself to how others look. This focus on the physical. What’s that about?

Is that “just me”? Or is it “gendered”: another of those things i hadn’t quite realised that women have to live with? Its a genuine question. Not that long in – and already i am defining myself in ways i would never have contemplated doing, a few short weeks ago.

I can see the why to it. I can also see the effect it has, making me that much more vulnerable to comments about how i look: loving the compliment; wilting before any sort of put-down.

It adds a new dimension to the demand, from medical professionals, that us trans women should learn about “passing”. Ye-es. If i understand what i am feelng now, its sort of like they have worked out what it is that makes ordianry women vulnerable – and us trannies don’t get to pass their test unless and until we learn to be just as vulnerable too.

Ironic, how ordinary everyday women are trying to teach their daughters not to fall into this trap – yet the experts insist that trans women should walk head first into it.


P.S. Since i am feeling particularly teenage and vunerable right now, this track seems about right:

3 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    kathz said,

    I don’t think that comparing yourself to other women and wondering where you fall short is an experience that’s gendered at the level of innate biology – but I think it’s very heavily socialised. Of course, I’m basing this on my own experience as a woman. For much of the time I forget about how I look as it’s more interesting to look at other people and enjoy the way they look. I can also, like most women (probably most people) enjoy the experience of feeling I look good in a particular outfit, have a nice of pair of shoes or whatever. And of course it’s nice when other women – and occasionally men – notice and comment on this, It’s also good to comment on other people’s experience when they’re looking good, have a new hairstyle or outfit. (I’m not brilliantly observant about this.) But when I read certain articles in women’s magazines or in newspapers (the Daily Mail is particularly bad), I realise that, as a woman, I’ve fallen short of some totally unachievable ideal which requires me to be young, thin, well-dressed, always wearing exactly the right amount of skilfully-applied make-up. The accepted look is an impossible cross between a porn star, Princess Diana and a pre-pubescent girl. Even reading feminist books on the subject doesn’t stop the level of anxiety this can produce – almost crippling on bad occasions. I notice that my daughter, growing up with this, is far more anxious about her appearance than I am or ever was, although she’s very attractive.

    I don’t know exactly how this applies to your trans experience but it’s possible you haven’t been as deeply aware of these standards of impossible perfection before – and feel less able to achieve them. I can at least look back to the way the women’s movement did its best to celebrate the diversity of female appearance – and I really do like the way women look different from one another, rather than achieving some plastic perfection. Does it help to think that what you are experiencing stems in part from discomfort at the idea of women’s bodies and appearance? Certainly, like most women who aren’t entirely servile (and some who are), I’ve been abused as “ugly”. It’s like being called “frigid” and “mad” – it goes with the female territory.

    It’s in women’s interests that acceptable actions and appearance for women be as varied as possible. I don’t see why trans women should adopt the standards, appearance and behaviour of the 1950s housewife on film – there are lots of ways of being a woman. I’m a woman who is no good at housework or clothes and who avoids the hairdresser. I like literature, politics, wine, real ale and fencing epée. I don’t see why you shouldn’t have all the female interests that suit you – and you should be able to be happy with your own appearance. You should also be able to dress and behave as you wish. By all means enjoy hairdressers, skirts, etc. if that’s what you like – but I don’t see why you should be less able to live as a woman if your sense of style suggested you shave your head and wear a boiler suit or dungarees – some women do. The important question is one of choice.

    I’m afraid this is a bit of a rant and I don’t have time to edit it all. But I hate to see women imprisoned and made vulnerable by the expectations of others – and I hope you’re able to escape that trap.

    • 2

      janefae said,

      Thanks, Kath. I wouldn’t call it a rant. Well: it is. Sort of. But its a useful one for all that.

      I hope you won’t be offended if i say i am still trying to pin down specific memories of yourself from all that time ago. The joy – and the curse – of Facebook is how it reconnects us to our past, and we are left scrambling to catch up with people we haven’t known for so long. I do have memories of you: but impressions, rather than specific ones.

      I seem to recall you as someone very sensible that i used to love chatting to. Please don’t diisillusion me on that!

      As for this beauty trap thing: i think you’re right. i wasn’t making any argument as to whether it was social or biologic in its origin. Merely that i suddenly find myself far more defined by it than i ever imained possible.

      Rational me says: i’m a 50-somethng trans woman; what the hell do i expect?

      The other, less rational me, just wants to rave against the unfairness of it.

      i always loved the janis ian song. now, though, i can see that i sort of liked it from the outside. something interesting, sentimental, poignant that didn’t quite apply.

      now? Now it applies, both as sentiment and because yes: the hormone thing really is like being teenaged again. So much new. So much to try. and already, so many limitations.


      P.S. i’ll get over it: i always do.

  2. 3

    KO said,

    Hi Jane

    Okay, honesty time here!

    I’m wondering whether the whole female-as-walking-appendages thing is more biological than people in gender crit would normallly go with.

    Despite ‘cross dressing’ from a very young age indeed (I believe it was trans behaviour), as you know, I am tiny. I was brought up to believe that my place was to be the little woman, to look nice for men and to let them take charge. Because this generally made me scared stiff of them (interesting in light of the other poster) I was labelled as both ‘frigid’ and ‘ugly’, or to be more exact ‘mong’ – which obviously also has connotations of disability, and indeed people assumed that I had learning difficulties, despite me being in the top streams.

    I found that as I grew up, a number of older men attached themselves to me (euphamism a go-go) in a way that other females I knew who were not apparently made so aware of their biological sex did not experience. I had a Lolita-ish reputation tht I do not feel I deserved. I was freuently told that my size and build was the basis of the attraction.

    Nowadays, I dress largely the way I feel and it certainly isn’t what many would class as sexy for a ‘female’ (I decided long ago that I’d never pass longterm if I tried to transition), and I’m comfortable with that. However, sometimes I still find that older men immediately talk to me in a feminizing way, and I’ll immediately feel that pressure to conform to the arm candy status, to bitch about other women’s cellulite etc. I’m wondering if the trick is to reassert yourself twice as hard.

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