Nice tits – shame about the face!

“Trannies” aren’t “real women”, can’t ever be “real women”. Yet bizarrely, those quickest to make fun seem, often, to be the most eager to demand trans women conform to a feminine ideal: to subject trans women to the same externally imposed fantasy that cis women have suffered from throughout history.

Is this just the same old, same old, only with trans now in its sights? And does this make the latest crop of attractive and downright beautiful trans women in the news something that needs to be treated with caution?

The myth of the “ugly tranny”

When you transition, espesh if its MtF, almost the first thing you hear from those who disapprove is that you are going to make a very ugly woman. My own encounter with this particularly charming trope was after my story was covered by the Daily Mail…and across the net I gathered in comment like “how come trans women always look like a trucker/the back end of a bus?” – as though neither truckers nor buses are capable in any sense of being aesthetically pleasing.

It’s the weirdest. As though they’re saying “We don’t like you, don’t think what you do is possible: but if you’re going to do it, we want you to look as pretty as you can for us”. That, of course, leads on elsewhere when someone succeeds – and is then denounced for being “deceptive” – to violence: but that’s another story altogether.

The problem with that particular accusation is that it is wearing rather thin. Take this list of top ten trans beauties, which seems to have attracted a great deal of online interest. Or the recent story that Jackie Green, who underwent grs on her 18th birthday, is now working her way through the heats for Miss England.

The comments on that story are interesting: far fewer overtly anti-trans. Far more just suggesting she “isn’t pretty enough”.

Right body, better body, best body

Of course, its positive to put the lie to one particular slur – but maybe there’s a price attached, depending, perhaps, on what drove an individual to transition in the first place. There’s a conversation happening on a forum right now around individual relationship to dysphoria: for some, it was just a sense of the wrong body. For myself, that probably wasn’t exactly the case: it always felt more like wrong gender (assignment) than wrong body – but because I wasn’t living the gender I was, the more I could adjust outward markers, from clothes to boobs (and beyond) the better.

Bizarrely, I suspect I am far more susceptible now to the blandishments of the fantasy and fashion brigade than some of those whose dysphoria was more blatant. I don’t just want rid of various surplus bits: I absolutely want the best body I can have, which means all manner of faff, from regular exercise and much more focus on diet and clothes than ever in my life before, through to a degree of hang-up over “my bits”.

Enough hang-up to go get cosmetic stuff done? I have no idea . Yet. All I would say is that to me, it feels like the near absolute distinction drawn by government in the recent PIP breast implant scandal, between cosmetic and medically necessary, feels incredibly over-simplified.

Some women really aren’t too fussed over looks: would never contemplate a boob job or, the latest fad, a labioplasty. Others would because they can: and yet others feel sufficiently impaired by how they view their body that the work shifts into the necessary category.

Body autonomy? Or internalised oppression, with the individual taking on board the values of (masculine) fantasy? It’s a debate that’s been going for some while: a debate that remains unfinished within feminist circles.

Ironic, therefore, if trans women now find themselves suffering from the same pressure. When, as in some widely-reported recent cases, hormones leave you underdeveloped, breast-wise, is your despair genuinely your own? Or is it increasingly something imposed on you by a society that, as it begins to accept that transition and transgender are not mere eccentricity, but utterly bound up with individual identity, now begins to impose on trans women the same pressures it has been imposing on every woman that ever was?

Does gender conformity mean new oppression?

I would certainly never condemn any of the individuals linked to or referenced here for wanting to be beautiful – or even just wanting a body that they feel comfortable with. After all, given a choice between a certain conventional beauty and “luck of the draw”, I’d go with convention every time. I’m very fickle in that sense.

Still, I wonder, as trans comes in from the cold – particularly as a rapidly growing cohort of young trans women begin the transition process – whether it is also not walking straight into new shackles, new impositions, from which hitherto it has been mostly exempt?

jane
xx

7 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Probably… Its a conundrum isn’t it? Cos definitely the likes of Lea T trigger a ‘oh well that’s alright then’ reaction from ‘normal’ people… And i’m definitely noticing that being accepted as female at work means being patronised by the boys, which is an irritant (specially as gender aside, i’ve been doing the job a lot longer than most of them have!) but needs to be dealt with as sexism rather than anything else. So yep, sexism is a thing, and now trans women can hope more to be just another woman, we have to then work out how to deal with the downsides…

    • 2

      janefae said,

      I was trying to get to the core of what i wanted to say, and as always, its only after you post that you do get there. And its this: women breaking through barriers for the first time in the workplace didn’t just have to be “as good as men”: a lot of the time, they had to be better. They ended up being held to a higher standard.

      Now, it may be that as trans women become that much more part of the landscape, we’ll just end up with much the same neuroses and pressures as cis women have always suffered from. What i was wondering, i guess, was whether the focus on body might not lead many trans women to being even more caught up in the body image/beauty trap than those brought up as women.

      Probably impossible to measure: however, i do think that things are changing in the public spotlight and some of the anti-trans opinion is slowly mutating back to old-fashiond sexism: “well, if they want to be women, then they’d bloody well better be attractive ones”.

      jane xx

  2. 3

    I think when I decided to transition, I accepted the whole package of being a woman, conscious and unconscious. I absorbed all those messages about fashion the culture was giving to young girls as I was growing up. I was 11 when Twiggy was the rage, and by the time I was 16 I wanted to be Ali McGraw. The trouble with growing up male is I didn’t have to live with those beauty myths in such close proximity that I would question them, until now, in my 50s. By 18 I knew, in my head, that beauty myths were damaging to my friends born female, but I didn’t learn the tools to challenge those myths when I felt subject to them. My partner and my current friends born female keep repeating the mantra, “Women come in all shapes and sizes and all are beautiful”. My therapist has been good at getting me to use a full length mirror and see my curves, and to see the beauty in everyone’s body.

    I think this is an evolution all women have to go through (and increasingly men). It’s inevitable we will be seen as objects and we may worry how “acceptable” we are – how we deal with that and maintain happiness and effectiveness is the evolution.

    I am very happy for Jackie Green. Her competition as Miss England is proof that trans doesn’t mean ugly. We know that the culture will fight back, because it will try to maintain the gender binary at all costs.

  3. 4

    […] Fae explores how the beauty myth impacts trans women. Such a fascinating read. (Headline is not safe for work. Via The […]

  4. 5

    Autumn said,

    Jane, I just wanted to say this was a fantastic, thought-provoking post. I’m a biological woman so have dealt with this crap in a direct way all my life, and I’ve resented it to the point that when I’d see trans women who seemed to be embracing the very things that were so difficult for me to do or “achieve,” quite frankly I sometimes I felt–well, yes, resentful. You’re casting this in a much more complex light, one I wish I’d had when I was younger. I wonder how much this resentment has come into play with the complex relationship between liberal feminism and trans women–certainly there are plenty of otherwise amazing feminists who haven’t been kind to trans women. And resentment/anger over the beauty myth is no excuse, that’s for sure, but it’s one I understand. In any case, the more voices like yours we have out there to examine the issue, the better off we’ll all be.

    I included this in my weekly beauty links roundup–thank you for the content! http://www.the-beheld.com/2012/01/beauty-blogosphere-12012.html

  5. 6

    Love the article, hate the background color on the blog. Too hard to read.

  6. 7

    Thanks for writing this. I get tired of being told I’ll never be a real man, yet being expected to conform to someone else’s notion of masculinity.


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