An old taboo?

This is inspired – i think that’s the right word – by Karen Gale: she of “My Transsexual Summer” fame. For she has recently been breaking with tradition (again) and quite happily offering up before pics on Facebook, as well as various versions of after. Karen blonde and… Karen deep brunette.

I think i approve of this… and not just because i’ve felt often a certain affinity with her. Same age, give or take twelve months. Started to transition around the same time. Under the knife within a month of one another and, by another quirk of fate, both of us shot by Tv documentarists legs up on the operating table: she about to be attacked by the suave and debonair Mr Bellringer, myself about to suffer similarly at the hands of the equally suave and debonair Mr Thomas.

We’ve met. We’ve chatted. There’s another of those intriguing trans things: if we hadn’t both chosen this path, then i doubt we’d ever have met. Our lives before were very different.

But i’ve noticed this before: there is a community amongst trans folk…strongest, in my experience, between trans women – though i can hardly speak for trans men. For all i know, they have much the same. Because whoever we were before, the things we go through: the pain, rejection, abuse, humiliation; all build a bond so much stronger than anything i’ve ever known.

So we are sisters, in a way we never might have been otherwise.

But here’s the thing. Karen has put up pics of herself before on Facebook. Typically, there have been three reactions:

– My, but you’ve changed!
– My, but you look prettier! or
– I fancy you both!

That’s nice. Also nicely democratic, as far as the last goes.

There may be one or two pursed lips among the wider community: after all, this is the sort of thing we are always telling the press not to do. But i think there’s a difference – and its an important one to boot.

For Karen owns her past. If she chooses to make it public, that’s her business. Too, she is proud of who she is now, and far enough from who she was to be able to put the two up side by side and compare.

I’m with her on that. Where the press so often fail on this is the way they run round in circles desperate to put up before and after pics pretty much on day one of transition. Because transition stories often break during the early stages of the process – and that means minimum distance, maximum embarrassment to the subject.

Sure, permission is sought and given. Yet this is where so many don’t spot the trap. Day one, often, the average trans woman is little more than a bloke in a dress. No hormones. Little real life experience. A lengthy catalogue of fashion and make-up faux pas. Its a cruel comparison. It contributes, too, to the popular myth that transition is ineffective.

A little like some of the cruel tweeting that greeted Sarah, also off MTS, during the first couple of shows.

So all power to Karen for doing this. I won’t. Not for a while. But i get the difference.

A year or two back there was still overlap, still commonality between me and the somewhat chubby middle-aged blokey body i inhabited. For a while, i didn’t even want to look at pics of him.

Now i can. I do with a sense of utter fascination. I’m not him: we are two quite different people and, if i have to say anything about the two of us, it is how proud i am to have moved on from there.

Transition has made a difference. I no longer mind people seeing.

jane xx

11 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Lucy Melford said,

    I was told by M— recently that I resembled Karen very strongly. Can’t see it myself – different build, different voice, different face. But I see what you mean about the common sisterhood.

    Not everyone enjoys seeing before-and-after pix. One or two trans friends find them upsetting. ‘I never knew you like that’ they say, ‘and I’d rather not know now’. One friend has destroyed all the shots she can of the old flawed person, even though she loves pictures of her new beautiful self, the version that should always have been. I entirely sympathise with her view, but I don’t apply it to myself. Like you, I am intrigued by how I used to look.

    So are many others. My hair stylist, for instance, has asked to see a couple of shots of how I used to be.

    Of course publishing such things blows stealth out of the water. But then you can’t be ambushed by mischief-makers. And it does, I agree, let you control your own image. Especially if you have a copyright notice embedded in each digital photo or scan of a film print.

    Lucy

  2. 2

    Alex said,

    I’m with on on this one, Jane (not that I’m not with you on many subjects you discuss here.)

    When trans people are proud of who they are, and are also comfortable with acknowledging their past it gives me a good, warm feeling. No longer are they living with that niggling doubt about whether they could be outed – it’s done and dusted and they are living life on their terms.

    Equally, though, I respect anyone’s decision to attempt to bury their past, at least from prying public eyes, as they simply want to get on with life in their chosen gender role. In fact, my best friend has done that and considers herself female, not a trans woman. The issue, as I see it, is a press that feels it has a self-appointed right to delve into individuals lives and rip them apart. And for what reason? To sell more papers, by feeding an ill-educated populace more prejudiced grist with which to satiate their ill-informed bigotry.

    I would be most interested to know whether existing privacy laws can be brought to bear on the press where trans people are concerned.

    Now, I know that children have certain privacy rights where photographs are concerned, but are there any equivalent rights concerning articles about them?

    However, I guessing that where articles concerning trans children are concerned it’s the families who have voluntarily exposed themselves to the press that gives the articles their legitimacy. But even then, what official safeguards are there for representing these people in a fair, accurate and honest way?

    I ask all these questions, because being ambigenderous I have no choice but to acknowledge my gender-variant status, unless, of course, I’m prepared to deny who I am. A course I feel, more and more, contains a crock full of faeces. However, whilst my two daughters have accepted my status they have been very choosy about which of their friends they’ve told, and if I go completely public I could, potentially, make their lives more difficult.

    Incidentally, I don’t expect answers, but asking questions, the right questions can lead to finding personal peace and that, I think, is the most important issue facing trans people – a difficult one and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer.

  3. 3

    sophia said,

    I’ve just put an old magazine photo of myself, titled ‘our founder’, up on the wall of my place. Because I still have people coming back after a gap of years and…if they’ve left it that long then they deserve a bit of confusion.
    Actually, though, I’ve got it relatively easy. I had a full beard for the best part of forty years so the before and after is dramatically different.

  4. 4

    Caroline said,

    You are quite right about finding friendship and understanding during our time in transit though we be from disparate backgrounds.

    I used to get paid for making photographs but have a strange attitude to personal photographs.

    I was a prize winning baby! Pictures were made then and a few each year at school and family holidays then in my teens I started to be interested in photography myself and used it to investigate what the rest of the world saw when they looked my way. In my late teens when I was told that I would never get the help I sought in this lifetime I destroyed them which I now regret.

    For the next several decades I avoided nearly every attempt to capture an image of the person I hated, my passport pictures showed a sad withdrawn soul, angry with the world, perhaps a terrorist…

    Then I finally decided it had to be life or death, I chose the hard path towards life and started to take occasional self portraits to track the changes. They are mostly mixed in with my general holiday snapshot files on the computer so I get the occasional surprise when one turns up. I recognise the person but as something like a distant cousin.

    Now as my partner has just confirmed, I quite enjoy being photographed. At last I have a place in society and though in late middle age I have missed all chance to have a picture of me as a great beauty I count myself happy with the results of my labour.

    Shall I ever post a before photograph? Not before Hell has frozen over.

    Caroline xx

  5. 5

    Bill said,

    This is not that new or groundbreaking an idea. Go on Youtube and search for “transition timeline” and you’ll see a ton of before and after contrasts.

  6. 6

    Ariel said,

    I will not be putting up “before” pictures on Facebook or anywhere else. I haven’t destroyed them, but they’re mine, and not for sharing. I would not want to show photos of a person suffering with a birth defect. That person was really deformed in a way, even though it wasn’t obvious, and in my mind it would be macabre to display that.

    My memories of my past, seen through these eyes and this brain, are the only ones that matter to me, and there is no photographic record of those.

  7. 7

    […] Jane just wrote a post about the trans taboo of ‘before and after’ photographs which is interesting becuase a couple of days ago I rediscovered an old flickr account i havn’t used in ages. The are pictures going back eight or nine years – it’s where i kept my online pics before i joined facebook. […]

  8. 8

    Sophie said,

    I untagged all photos of me where I was too obviously male, because I still think I look too male… it’ll be a while before I tag them again, I think.

  9. 10

    […] An old taboo? (janefae.wordpress.com) […]


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