The Quest for Becoming the Perfect Woman

Ao ar livre na Marina do Parque das NaçõesLet me tell you about my recent experiences with some of my friends who are in transition, or may even have completed them. I shall name no names, of course; and although I try to be neutral about these situations, I’m a biased observer. And I’m only going to cover MtF transgenderity. Taking those caveats into account, let’s take a look at some case studies:

The Closet Transitioner

Most countries in the world still require a ‘real life test’ before one qualifies for transition (although individual country legislation might vary — in my country, for instance, you can immediately change your name and gender once you begin transition, to make the real life test somewhat easier, in those situations where you require identification).

During the real life test, the person undergoing transition is expected to enact the gender role with which they identify — before hormones and surgery will change them forever in an irreversible way. For MtF transexuals, this means committing to living full time as a woman, 24h/7, without looking back, and going on with one’s life — proceeding in their job (or getting a new one), doing house chores, dealing with all issues as they appear, while presenting themselves as a woman, all the time. Of course, there is always help from psychologists during this real life test — they’re not abandoned at all! — but it is expected that they learn to deal with all the issues by themselves.

andreja pejic
Andreja Pejić at the Crazy Horse, Paris

The real value of this real life test might be questionable (and that’s why some countries, or at least some doctors, don’t require them). I have written in the past that I found it rather brutal: after all, unless one has been born with the body of Andreja Pejić, who was pretty much androgynous when she started her transition, most transexuals will look like ‘men wearing dresses’ (and very often, for late onset transexuals, ‘ugly old men wearing dresses that don’t fit’) for most of the time of the real life test, since the hormones, when they kick in, will not have much of an effect at the beginning — when it will be hardest on the transexual!

Therefore, many activists are in favour of abolishing the real life test altogether, or making it optional (and not mandatory).

There is, however, an alternative: instead of presenting themselves as ‘ugly men in dresses’, and assuming they have someone to take care for them, they just stay at home, hidden from everybody, while the hormones are making their magic. Sometimes this means spending 2-3 years at home, only going out of the front door for the regular consultations with the psychologists. Because, as far as I know, and unless they have some reason to suspect otherwise, psychologists will not really check up on people in transition — i.e. they don’t ‘follow’ them at home or at their job to see if they are doing what is expected of them — it’s not hard to live as a recluse for a while and only go out in public after years on hormones and a few surgeries.

This is a bit like cheating — but at the end you’re only cheating yourself. The reason for that has only been made apparent to me very recently. The real life test, even though it’s pretty much announced publicly to be ‘a test to see if the transexual is able to cope with their new role in society’, is actually about something quite different: it’s a test, yes, but to see if the transexual is able to cope with transphobia and discrimination.

Let’s be straight here. Psychologists care little if MtF transexuals know how to apply lipstick or not, or if they know how to sit at a table in a restaurant, or if they know how to walk on heels. Nothing of that is truly important for the real life test, ok? In the case of those transexuals (especially late onset transexuals) who had crossdressed well before they considered transitioning, knowing how to present in public as a woman is something that you can take for granted: those people have already done that, probably for years, and have a pretty good idea on what they need to do to ‘look like a woman’.

No, the problem here is that many MtF transexuals (I will not make generalizations) truly believe that they will ‘become women’ (in the physical sense; not in the identity sense, since they were always women) after transition. Some might even be bold enough to believe (based on the Likes they have on Facebook) that they already look like women, they just need a bit of hormonal boost to the breast & hip area (to stop using falsies) and some surgery on their plumbing to truly, utterly become the woman they always dreamed to be.

This is, by all accounts, never going to happen in 99% of the cases.

You see, people like Andreja Pejić are extremely rare. Only very few people assigned to the male gender at birth will have androgynous enough bodies to ‘look like women’ when going out in public. The rest of us, well, we’ll always be ‘men wearing dresses’ — and there is no amount of hormones and surgery that will change that, because we cannot change the skeleton beneath our skin and flesh.

Just being tall is a handicap. Tall women catch the attention naturally; they cannot be inconspicuous, because, well, they ‘stand out’ (literally!). So you cannot be a 1,80m tall trans woman and think you can evade being carefully looked at. You will be carefully noticed, no matter how you dress. You can have a good body figure, perfect hair, perfect makeup, and the best designer dresses in the world, and hope to evade the eyes of strangers in public — but you cannot avoid the simply fact that you’ll be large, and catch attention that way.

If you are exceptionally beautiful, with thin, delicate bones, and an androgynous face, well… even on top of 1.80m (plus heels!), you might pass. People might think there is something wrong with you, but they will not really know what it is. However, such transexuals are just a tiny minority. Yes, they are the ones that put videos on YouTube and have spectacular Instagram accounts wearing haute couture in fancy places. And that gives the rest of the transexuals the idea that they can also be like that.

Welcome to reality, dude. Or rather, dudette. In real life, not all women are beautiful.

They’re not ‘less women’ because of that, of course! But — and here is the point — no matter how ugly a woman might look like, she will still be a woman, and she will be seen and perceived by everybody as a woman.

While most MtF transexuals will look like… well, tall, ugly, old men wearing dresses (or pants, or whatever they wish).

So the real life test is mostly about dealing with that: understanding that no, you won’t pass all the time. People will know that you’ve not been born with a female body. They will notice. Small details, yes, but we humans are very good at picking up clues from very small details.

Yes, of course people looked at me, pointed at me, and whispered behind my back. So what?
Yes, of course people looked at me, pointed at me, and whispered behind my back. So what?

Most people, of course, will ignore you on the streets (because, well, most people ignore most people). Some will notice you, and giggle, or whisper behind your back. Kids will point at you and ask their mothers: ‘Mommy, why is that man wearing a dress?’ loudly enough for everybody to stop in their tracks and look at you. Conversations will suddenly stop when you approach people; others will become nervous in your presence and avoid you. And, yes, you will meet transphobes — people who will tell you in your face that they ‘hate perverts’. Some might threaten violence. Some might even perpetuate that violence. Of course you have the law to protect you — all cases of transphobia can be denounced and are treated as crimes in practically everywhere in the Western world. But that’s very nice to say when you’re at a supermarket queue and suddenly get yelled at by someone who insults you publicly.

So, yes, during your real life test you will be humiliated, exposed, yelled at, suffer from all kinds of transphobia coming from the most unexpected directions. These will not ‘go away’, even if you progress through many changes caused by hormones and surgery. In a sense, they might even become harder to bear: at the beginning, you might be expecting to be ‘read’ (because the hormones haven’t started to work their magic yet), and be a bit more tolerant. But as the months pass, it will become harder and harder to accept that there will always be someone that looks at you in an awkward way, which you will interpret as having been ‘read’ (and it will very likely be the case).

Many transexuals, during their real life test, simply give up because it’s too hard on them. It’s not really that ‘living as a woman’ bothers them. Scrubbing the floor might not be glamorous, but at least you will be doing it as a woman and not as a man; most transexuals entering the real life test will already be mentally prepared to do these things knowing fully well that the glamorous side of their womanhood will be just a tiny fraction of their actual lives. But what will be harder to face is the constant transphobia. You can look them up on Facebook — glamorous trans women, already having a perfectly female appearance, except… for one or two minor details… which they claim (and often very rightly so) that will make people ‘read’ them, and this means getting treated differently from other women.

The real life test is not quite about ‘learning to live as a woman’, because society will not really see you as a woman. The real life test is actually about ‘learning to live as a trans woman’, which means something different: it means being able to tolerate transphobia and discrimination every day, at many different levels, from simple eye contact to outbursts of violence — and these will happen every day, for the rest of your life. It matters little how many hormones you take and how much surgery you do: there will always be someone who will ‘read’ you, and if that person happens to be a transphobe (which is likely!), you will have to endure their humiliation.

Therefore, it makes little difference to face transphobia with or without hormones. Indeed, bracing yourself for the abuse and humiliation during the first days/months, and being able to endure that, means that possibly you will have it more easier by the end of the real life test, as the hormones are finally changing your body to resemble somewhat a biological woman. Probably. Possibly. You might just be unlucky and need more time. Or, well, there will be no amount of hormones that will shrink you, give you wide hip bones, and hands with fingers proportioned like a biological woman.

You have just to accept that.

Now consider the case of those who live in seclusion, either with their family, or in a ‘sisterhood’ of other transexuals, in a small, friendly, cosy, and most importantly, safe place, where you are fully accepted. You, as a MtF transexual in transition, decide to spend the first years mostly at home, letting the hormones work, bracing yourself for any eventual surgeries… but refusing to go out in public before you (and your friends and family) start seeing real changes on your body.

And, in the mean time, of course you will enjoy your life as a ‘woman’ — in your ghetto, of course — and spending 24h/7 in the gender role you identify with is pretty much all you wanted.

But finally, after some 2-3 years, you will believe that you’ve been magically transformed to a woman, and go in public just to face your first transphobic reaction — without the benefit of having done the real test correctly. So… it will come as a huge shock… after waiting for so long… taking so many hormones, waiting for them to have an effect… doing a lot of cosmetic surgery… prepping and preening yourself up… you still get ‘read’ and experience transphobia and discrimination??

No wonder that many start seriously to question what the heck they have been doing with their lives in the past few years!

Unfortunately, I know a few cases that are like that — and I have read about many more who did the same. They thought they could ‘evade’ the real life test, to ‘cheat’, to try to do it the easy way. They also believed that they could ‘look like a cis woman’, and their deluded perceptions made them believe that all those hormones and surgery truly and miraculously transformed them in the woman they always wanted to be. But that is not how others perceive us. They will know. Not all will know, but as the old saying goes: ‘You can fool all the people for a short time, or you can fool some people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time’.

The real life test is mostly for the transexual to stop fooling themselves. It forces them to look at the wide world exactly as that wide world will look at them: as a pervert who somehow has acquired a few extra secondary sexual attributes here and there to get better sex. That’s how most of the people will look at transexuals. Some will be tolerant, in the sense they will still believe you to be a pervert with a mental disease and a sexual paraphilia, but they will have absolutely nothing against it. Those people will treat you well. They still won’t accept/respect you totally as you’d wished them to treat. And, of course, a few will be educated and learned enough to understand what transexuality truly is, and be truthfully accepting and respecting you. But such people will be a tiny minority!

So — no cheating on the real life test, because you’re just cheating yourself. It’s far better to ‘fail’ the real life test — give up on transition, because you simply cannot deal with transphobia — and somehow rethink your options, than to ‘cheat’ and suddenly figure out that you’re not mentally prepared at all to face the world, not as the woman you are, but as the trans woman — the ‘fat ugly old man in a dress’ — that society perceives you to be.

Not everything is glamour

Recently, when going out with some friends, a few of which are starting their first baby steps towards transitioning, they appear at the spot presenting themselves as males. They usually have a few excuses for that. One, for example, said that she had a cold, so she didn’t dress as a woman (although she had some unisex items of clothing on). I said that half the population in the world routinely get colds, and they still go out presenting themselves as women. She understood that perfectly, but when she has to blow her nose, her makeup is ruined and she becomes as complete mess. Again, I told her that women have to deal with that all the time, and eventually they simply don’t put any makeup… Here my friend became defensive, and I decided not to push the matter further.

Others simply tell me that ‘they were in a hurry’ and couldn’t get dressed in time. Another told me once that she didn’t dress because she broke two nails, and so couldn’t paint them, and, as a consequence, she simply didn’t care to dress at all. I told her that when this happens to me I just wear false nails; at which she replied that she wanted to be ‘all natural’ and that wouldn’t work for her. Even explaining to her that the whole reason why women wear those false nails is because not everybody has ‘perfect’ nails (no, they weren’t invented for crossdressers and transgender people!) was of no avail — she simply refused to dress unless she was perfect in every detail.

Once I remember that a friend of mine came with her wig completely out of place, and I told her so. She got very angry, saying that she did her best, but she was in a rush, so she might have not put on her wig correctly. I told her that once she transitions (and, as a male, she already has male baldness which will not be reverted with hormones, so it’s highly likely she will have to wear a wig all the time) she might have to ‘rush’ a lot of times out of their home, but, as the woman she will be, she will nevertheless have to check that her wig was in place.

Of course it takes time to go out and look your best! But it's supposed to be *fun* :-)
Of course it takes time to go out and look your best! But it’s supposed to be fun 🙂

Another example: a friend of mine, also claiming to ‘be a woman’, and spending all her time at home dressed as one, once asked me how her makeup was. I told her in honesty what I thought: that as a mature woman (she’s 50-ish) she shouldn’t wear makeup in the way a 9-year-old does. I believe she has one kind of age fetish — that’s perfectly fine for me, why not, I have my smoking fetish, which is as strange to her as her age fetish is strange to me — but I nevertheless told her that if we were going out to eat on a public restaurant, she should be dressed and wear her makeup as a woman her age, not as a 9-year-old — in other words, if you want to go out with me, please leave your age fetishes at home. She got angry at me, telling me that her makeup was not a ‘child look’, but rather an improvisation of what she could do with the little makeup she had, and, once she got a good job, she could afford much better-quality makeup from the top brand names, and then her makeup would be perfect and everybody would look at her as the woman she is.

Well, that was just delusional of her, of course, so, again, I didn’t press the issue further…

A more typical case are friends of mine, who, when we walk around in public, either get angry with comments they get from males crossing us on the street, or, by contrast, get very, very anxious and ask me if I saw how they were pointing to us and whispering and giggling. To be honest, I generally do not pay that much attention, and often I can be truthful and say that I hadn’t noticed.

However, when I do notice that, I simply tell my friends that this is good practice for their real life test. Once that starts, they will have to deal with it every day. I think that many of them are still truly believing that they will become such beautiful women that their real life test will be easy-peasy — it’s just while they are still not taking hormones that they will attract nasty comments from guys and/or whispering and giggling. Oh well. I wish them good luck…

Another friend of mine also recently started her transitioning. She told me that she had deeply reflected over the issue, and decided that all her problems, including her depression, were caused by gender dysphoria (with which I would mostly agree), and so she was considering very seriously to do the transition. Since she is still quite young, and has a reasonably androgynous body, and a not-too-masculine face, she might have very good results. Also, she has a talent for fashion as well, which definitely helps a lot! So we went out and I told her that she would need to start practicing being in public, since sooner or later she might have to start the real life test and experience, in the flesh, what it means to present ourselves as female. She was both excited and terrified, mostly of what people were going to say. And yes, while we window-shopped at a mall, she was constantly looking at everybody else, trying to gauge their reactions, wincing when they giggled or pointed at her, and so forth (I was completely absorbed looking through the sales section so I honestly have no idea what people around me were doing or thinking 🙂 ). After 40 minutes or so, she said she had enough; it was overwhelming, too much, she wanted to go to a ‘safe’ place (by this she means a LGBT-friendly environment), which is what we did.

I think I have many more examples like these, and, of course, I’m pretty sure that I will come upon many others. Now let me be clear on a point: of course I’m self-conscious, and often anxious, when I’m in public (more on that on the next post!). And even though I usually am enjoying myself so much that I pay little attention to what other people are doing or thinking, sometimes, of course, I also catch people looking at me (or rather, looking up to me 😉 ) and not always with a kind, respecting look. I’ve no delusions about the way I present myself, and I know pretty well that I don’t ‘pass’ — but I also don’t care.

As said, I will explore this in a future article, but my point here is that if someone is seriously considering transitioning, it’s not enough to claim to ‘have always been a woman inside’, or to have a closet full of women’s apparel, and being masterful at doing makeup. All that is pretty much irrelevant when, well, you have to stand in a queue for the supermarket. Or, in my case, standing in a queue in the middle of the night to wait to blow on the alcohol meter during a police stop. You can ‘look’ as glamorous as you wish; but how do you react to others when you’re outside the comfort zone?

I think that the problem of many crossdressers-becoming-transexuals is that we tend to live in the world of glamour (remember Felix Conrad’s Glamourpuss theory on my previous post?). All the time we spend as women we are in our most lovely dresses, with our best shoes, in our fantastic makeup that took us hours to do, and so forth. We spend our free time in pubs, bars, restaurants, at the theatre, going to the movies, and so forth — in short, spending good time with our friends, mostly in places where we know we will be well treated. And, of course, we get a boost to our self-confidence, and a strong feeling that women have so much more fun than men (yes they do!) and that life as a woman is so much better than life as a man (no it isn’t!) that, well, we are pretty much convinced that we can live our lives as women as well as we lived our lives as men.

But when we start stumbling upon the ‘unglamorous’ bits of reality, it’s time to reflect if that’s really what we want to be. A woman’s life — like a man’s life, like everybody’s life in fact — is not all about glamour (except perhaps for Paris Hilton and the Kardashian clan — but nobody among my friends is at that level 🙂 ). It’s wonderful to be a woman when we’re surrounded by glamour — and there is no equivalent feeling for males in our society, so it’s perfectly understandable (for me at least) that many males simply prefer to ‘be women’ because women do, indeed, have access to experiences, emotions and feelings that are not available to men. However, for those who are in transition, it’s fundamental to keep reality in check: no, it won’t be a glamorous life all along. You will regret being in a mini-skirt and high heels with cascading long hair when you’ll have to replace your first tire — and no, you won’t ‘pass’ to be able to stop a kind gentleman to help you out. In fact, you might freak out anyone kind enough to slow down to help!

Women get colds, women get dirty, women have to do house chores, women have to go shopping, they have to go to doctors and appointments, and on top of that, they will also have to work. None of those activities (well, except for work in the fashion industry…) is ‘glamorous’. There will be no excuses for you, once you transition, to ‘look perfect on all occasions’, because you will never look your best if you have a cold and have to wash the windows and scrub the floor. Again, unless you’re Paris Hilton, and have a legion of employees to do all the dirty work for you, while you relish in a never-ending succession of parties, you will see that life as a woman is nothing like the moments you spend with friends in bars, pubs, restaurants, or going to a mall. There is so much more to it — and none of it is exactly ‘glamorous’.

‘Magic Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?’

Common to almost all crossdressers and some transgender people I know is the delusion that they will one day be the ‘perfect woman’.

Perfect? Who, me?
Perfect? Who, me?

After much thought, I wondered from where this delusion comes from. And I guess that it was a friend of mine, who routinely does workshops for beginning crossdressers, who pointed me in the right direction. She usually gives those crossdressers their first complete makeover. Many might have played around with women’s clothes, high heels, even worn a wig or two, but… the magic of makeup was an arcane art beyond their abilities to understand.

And here my friend is quite helpful. Being a crossdresser herself, she knows most of the tricks of the trade, and understands those ‘special requirements’ that people with a male body will need to disguise most (like the bluish undertone of the beard area…). She also has her house crammed full with all sorts of clothes and shoes in all sizes and formats, so there will almost always be something to wear for everyone.

She loves to do those workshops because of the results. In most cases, those crossdressers will not even recognise themselves on the mirror. Their reactions — she tells me — are varied: some start laughing hysterically and cannot stop. Others open their mouths in admiration and seem to become catatonic as it slowly — very slowly — dawns on them that, yes, this is really your face in the mirror. Some simply start crying — finally seeing in the mirror a reflection of the woman they always knew they were — therefore ruining their makeup, but that’s ok, because they can see their ‘inner woman’ finally becoming ‘real’. Others still cannot stop touching themselves, and the mirror, making sure it’s not a dream.

Whatever the reaction, the complete makeover, for the first time, is guaranteed to incite a reaction. And there is something that goes ‘click’ in their heads: women are beautiful, but with some magic, I can become a beautiful woman as well.

There is some truth in that. After all, the whole cosmetic industry exists explicitly for the purpose of making women more beautiful, or at least to make them feel pretty (which is not quite the same thing, but near enough to be easily mistaken!). As said before, the number of really beautiful women is not that high. Most, in fact, will be plain. Some will be ugly. Here is where makeup, the proper hairstyle, and the correct dress cut will help: disguising the bad bits and enhancing the good ones will truly make wonders. That’s the whole point! All women (and many men!) want to ‘look their best’. And they can achieve it with some tricks — sometimes, a lot of tricks. The good news? Well, most of the tricks that work so well on ugly women will work as well on ugly men!

I think that this is what creates the illusion that, given the right tools (which can go beyond cosmetics, of course; it also means hormones and surgery), anyone can be beautiful. In fact, I’m fond of quoting the very sexist (even misogynist) remark:

There are no beautiful and ugly women; there are only rich and poor women.

the point being that, no matter how ugly a woman is, with the right amount of money, they can ‘buy’ their beauty. This, of course, only works to a degree; nevertheless, it can work. You can do some miracles, especially if you start with reasonable attributes, or at least something that surgeons — and makeup experts — can work with.

As a consequence, some MtF transgender people also believe that this is a choice they also have. Well, as said, it’s true up to a point. You can look ‘good’ — in the sense that you can ‘show off’ your best features, and, through them, fascinate your audience — while at the same time downplaying your bad bits to a point that nobody notices them.

As always, I will bring up (yet again!) my mother-in-law as an example. She is not what we would call a beautiful woman. In fact, she is at the lowest grades of being ‘plain’; she easily slides in the ‘ugly’ category, especially when considering only her face. But that never stopped her to do some surgeries to become thin enough to be able to wear anything, dress exquisitely well, and have an impeccable hairstyle that enhances all ‘good bits’ of her features. And she has shoes to die for. (Sigh!) Combine that with a lot of charisma and high intelligence, and, even though she might not be a head-turner (if you look at her face), most people will instantly agree that she is an elegant and attractive woman. This is because you will perceive her as a ‘whole’ person, and not look at those ‘bad bits’ (on her face, mostly…) which show her plainness.

That’s one of the many reasons why she is one of my role models: she shows how even a plain-faced person can be a beautiful woman. It’s just a question to know how to pull it off.

Ogres can be cute and sexy too. But... they are still ogres.
Ogres can be cute and sexy too. But… they are still ogres.

So. Ugly women are nevertheless women; ugly women can also look sexy and great, it’s just a question of knowing how, and no, it doesn’t involve buying the most expensive clothes and makeup that you can put your hands on. But — and here is the point worth repeating — they are not ‘lesser women’ just because they don’t look like Uma Thurman or Angeline Jolie. Yes, it’s true that the mainstream media tend to overstate the ‘need’ to look beautiful — and this naturally makes the whole world believe that they have to work on ‘becoming beautiful’. After all, if you had a choice between Fiona the Ogre or Fiona the Beautiful Human Princess, which one would you prefer to be?

The truth is that many transgender people I know are still at the ‘ogre’ stage but they believe that somehow, as if by magic — a magic called ‘hormones’ or ‘surgery’ or ‘lots of makeup classes’ — they can become truly beautiful women indeed.

I’d say that half the population of the world, at some point of their lives, also thought that way, but soon got over it 🙂

Like all support groups, many MtF transgender communities are very affirmative — they encourage each other in pretty much all areas, not only in choosing clothes and applying makeup, but to learn how to walk in public in high heels without stumbling. As part of this encouragement and support, there are some ‘soft lies’ that are commonly exchanged across the community — like saying ‘you look great’ (when you, in fact, do not). It is meant to be a compliment to encourage others to come out of their closets, lose the fear of being seen in public, gain confidence and raise their self-esteem. And, yes, it is also an honest compliment when someone finally learned how to put their wig right on their heads, or mastered the art of walking on stiletto 5″ heels, or figured out that ‘less is more’ in applying foundation to their faces, and so forth. There are so many tiny little things to learn — which for half of the humans in this planet has taken all their lives to learn! — that mastering even just a handful is a big achievement for many. And such achievements — showing that it is possible to learn and progress towards becoming more feminine — ought to be encouraged.

But of course one has to keep a reality check. The face that is staring you out of the mirror, after the makeup techniques have been mastered, will still never be perfect. But that’s ok: half the population of the world has the same issue, too. MtF transgender people are not different. They just have to accept that!

Some, unfortunately, go a step beyond — they start truly believing that they are ‘just like a real woman’ and ‘truly beautiful’. Well, of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder; but there are still a few universals in aesthetics (like the many ratios that a ‘perfect’ face is supposed to have — and such ratios have been experimentally validated and hold true across ages and cultures). Such beliefs are actually harmful, in the sense that sooner or later there will be a huge disappointment, when the mirror stops reflecting our wishful thinking and show us as we truly are: people deformed by male hormones at birth who happen to have all the wrong ratios for a female face — which can be corrected to a degree (with hormones and facial feminisation surgery), but… there are no miracles. You either have the luck to have been born with a gorgeous androgynous face, or, well, you won’t be able to fool anybody but yourself.

Marilyn Monroe quoteInstead of searching for the ‘perfect woman’ in your own face, it’s far better to accept the face that is staring out of the mirror. That’s what three and a half billion human beings do every day. You can do a lot with your face to improve it (starting with a smile — as Marilyn Monroe so well put it). You don’t need to ‘aim for perfection’ but merely enhance what you have best, and downplay what you dislike. Half the world does exactly that.

The advantage of thinking this way is that one will never feel somehow disappointed. One thing that makes me cry, out of frustration, is seeing some utterly gorgeous trans women, who are a man’s wet dream (after they have transitioned), but who, somehow, for some reason, truly don’t feel comfortable in their new roles, and de-transition back… Yes, I know, I’m being very frivolous and superficial, after all being a woman it’s not only about looking great! But, on the other hand, these cases (and sadly many more) seem to be exactly about that: people who transition, having convinced their doctors that they suffer from severe gender dysphoria, to be able to enjoy their new lives as women… and shortly thereafter realising that living their lives as a woman is not what makes them happy at all.

ThirdWayTrans is a good example — his blog is very insightful, as he explains how a certain traumatic condition in his youth was incorrectly diagnosed as severe gender dysphoria. He transitioned at age 19 and managed to live two decades as a woman, but the feelings of gender dysphoria still persisted. Eventually, TWT figured out that s/he could never fully transform his body (no matter how many surgeries he’d have) and his female role was becoming more and more artificial. After consulting with doctors, the main reason for the feelings that were mistakenly diagnosed as ‘gender dysphoria’ were recognised as trauma, he got treatment for trauma, and detransitioned back to male.

Yes, being a woman also means spending a lot of time doing grooming...
Yes, being a woman also means spending a lot of time doing grooming…

Such examples show that the quest for becoming the perfect woman will utterly fail for those who are still reaching out for that impossible dream. There is a limit to what surgery can do, but more importantly, there is a limit to how much you can enjoy ‘being a girl’ if you truly aren’t one — even if you do look gorgeous, there will always be something missing. There will always be the dream of the next surgery that will make you wonderful. But somehow, that seems not to happen.

Consider the story of ‘Maria’, who wrote a few years ago about her experiences as a trans woman on Susan’s Place, a very popular (and ancient!) forum for transgender people. Maria explains how hard it is for her to live her life as a trans woman because she simply cannot pass (and after some failed surgeries she made things even worse). So after months and months of abuse, of trying very hard to pass, she frustratingly appeals to the community at that forum — because for her the only choice right now seems to be to detransition. She also claims that she knows of many MtF transexuals, some of which having done gender affirmation surgery, who simply ‘gave up’ pretending to pass as women and present themselves as men. Beneath their clothes they still keep their female body, which allows them to easy the feelings of dysphoria. But they gave up the dream of living as women; it was simply too hard for them.

In the UK, in spite of the tabloid media’s insistence to the contrary, detransitioning is actually a very rare event. Of course there are a few exceptions, and those are the cases that the media picks up. Overall, however, all transexuals who went through the UK’s National Health Service seem to be well-adapted to their new role in society, and are, in general, much more happier than before, in all aspects — even if they’re not exactly contestants in beauty pageants.

I believe that the reason for that is mostly because of good counselling and an extensive real life test. When looking back at the life story of ‘Maria’, something immediately caught my attention: Maria apparently went ahead with her surgeries and hormones, and then started her life in the role of a woman. Well, she never mentions what she did during the real life test. Did she have one? She claims to have ‘tried hard to pass’ for a whole of three years after transitioning. But wouldn’t it have made more sense to have started with her role as a woman before she had those surgeries? Maria might not be at fault and she’s probably just a victim of bad counselling. She seems to be a very intelligent person and most definitely had not plunged deep into the abyss, blind-folded. She claims having read a lot about the subject, of consulting many doctors, of asking the doctors’ patients about the results, and so forth. She made careful, well-informed choices. But at the end of the day, what she complains mostly about is that there was a big delusion, mostly coming from the community, that gave her the idea that she could ‘pass’, and, therefore, she could live a life as a woman. Not as a transexual woman, but as a woman.

While I’ve definitely not seen enough examples to be able to state an elaborate opinion on the subject, I have this nagging feeling that a lot of disappointment comes from this delusionary aspect that the community tends to create (with the best of intentions!) that we could ‘pass’ and have the lives of beautiful women after transitioning. Of course I’m not blaming the support and encouragement. I’ve seen how different my crossdresser friends look like after they had a more serious makeover, made by people who knew what they were doing — compared to their first times out in public. Some of my friends have a natural good taste in women’s clothing and dress exquisitely well — and therefore ‘pass’ so much more easier. Some have great figures (for women) and can pretty much dress anything, which also allows them a much wider range of choices, namely, choices that will not ‘stand out’ in public. Some, being looked at from the back, with their perfect hair, would very likely pass anywhere in the world, even on bright sunlight. But see them from the front and… well, it’s impossible to confuse them with cisgender women. They just believe very strongly in that fallacy; and even when some actually look at themselves in the mirror and are being honest to themselves about the way they look, they still believe in the ‘miracle of hormones’, that they somehow will turn them into the perfect woman. And, of course, the community encourages them to think that way.

I think it’s more than time to start being more honest with those who are in transition. Of course that all encouragement and support should be given — and we definitely need a lot of that! But we should also be careful in how much delusionary thoughts we put in other people’s minds. Unfortunately, in many cases (if not all!), we’re being delusional about ourselves as well — and that means we will fail to provide the right kind of encouragement to others, simply because we are too irrational and emotional about our own image in the mirror.

To conclude…

The other day I got to answer a question on Quora from someone who asked if she could be transgender at age 62. The most simple answer is one given by Jamie Young (an author of several crossdressing e-books): if you ask yourself if you’re transgender, you probably are. Cisgender people never question their gender identity; it’s only transgender people who question it.

I believe that it’s a huge step to finally accept that one’s transgender — I think that it’s one of our first, and most intense, struggles. It’s because it is a struggle with oneself, and which takes place inside us. It shatters us, it defies everything we have learned and experienced in society, and we rebel against the thought. But eventually we will have to accept that we’re transgender.

Then comes the next step, which is to ask what to do about it. Here, I think, we have both to blame and to praise the Internet. Information about transgenderity has never been so easy to access as nowadays, in many languages. Thousands of communities world-wide provide online resources and a way to get in touch with them if you wish to know more.

But unfortunately there is also a negative side to the amount of information. Although, compared to other fields, transgender issues are in general correctly described and explained (if you stay away from websites from religious fundamentalists, that is), there is a certain bias in the information as it is presented, because, even though a lot of hurdles and obstacles are described, they seem more trivial and unimportant than the end result — which is to become a supermodel or an actress or at least someone worth to be praised for their looks. This is what we constantly get from websites, blogs, YouTube channels, Instagram boards, you name it… we’re swamped in a world of beautiful trans women, who describe their transition in very brief two lines, while they go on ranting (and vlogging) about every new pretty dress or hair styling they did, in excruciating detail. It’s hard not to be fascinated, and believing that such a perfect image of a woman could be attainable by us as well.

This creates incredibly high expectations — so high, in fact, that a lot of transgender girls try to skip their real life tests, want to jump straight into taking hormones and doing surgeries, and, without even a second thought about how they will continue their day jobs as lorry drivers or construction workers, sign up with surgeons to get them breasts the size of watermelons.

There is nothing wrong that the access to all those medical procedures is much easier today, and, thanks to competition world-wide, the prices for surgeries has been coming down as well. However, I constantly see cases of people blindingly entering transition, sometimes without any real need, but most importantly without proper counselling — and their blogs, vlogs, or channels suddenly go silent after a while. It’s not only about regret — it’s just that the real hard facts of life as a trans woman finally catch up with the dreams, illusions, hopes, and expectations, and they shatter them utterly and completely.

At this stage, there are a lot of options. Those who had the benefit of good counselling, before and after transition, will simply embrace their new lives with open hearts, reduce their expectations, and deal successfully with all issues and obstacles, seeing them merely as challenges to overcome. By then they feel less the urge to be in touch with the community; in fact, many sever all links with the transgender community, because they don’t want to associate with them any more.

Others had not-so-good counselling, or tried to avoid counselling and used some loopholes to Get Transition Fast, and now suddenly start to understand that it’s not as rosy as the Internet (and many support groups) painted it. It’s tough if you’re not rich and androgynous enough from the start, so that you might end up not only with a gorgeous body, but will also have enough money to do all surgeries. Unfortunately, only a tiny number of transexuals are in that category — but they are, by far, the most vocal on the Internet. Not necessarily as activists, but rather as individuals attracting a lot of attention because of the way they look so great, which distorts the actual reality — which is that most trans women will never be treated by others as ‘women’ but merely as ‘trans women’. Some will accept that and go on with their lives. Others, by contrast, will not be able to deal with the transphobia and simply give up because it’s way too hard for them to present themselves as women in an intolerant society.

So I think that we’re doing everybody a favour if we lower their expectations. There is a fine balance between giving support and encouragement, and telling people how truly gorgeous they are, and how well they pass, so that they start to believe in that delusional dream. Sadly and unfortunately, transgender people are fond of praising each other. It’s very hard to find that balance. A friend of mine, for example, is very honest with the comments she makes about how other transgender girls look like. More often than not, they feel offended and never talk to her again. But my friend is actually right: she is simply being very sincere, but that’s not what transgender people want to hear.

MtF transgender persons only want to hear about how beautiful they are as women, both inside and outside. And they want to hear more about their transitioning choices that will make them even more beautiful, so that they can finally pass, be accepted, and continue their lives as the women they have always been. But sadly they are unwilling to listen to those very few who are sincere in their opinions, trying to pull them away from their delusions.

And it’s not just the community that does that. I have very often felt that even my psychologist would prefer that I transition as well — although she knows perfectly well that I can only start thinking about that once all my other mental conditions — especially depression — are properly treated and finally cured. The theory behind that, I think, is that transition is really helpful in reducing gender dysphoria, and therefore all other conditions (like anxiety and depression) that go hand-in-hand with gender dysphoria will simply disappear. It’s no coincidence that a lot of transexuals start feeling much better once they start with hormones — they become more relaxed, more easy, more happy — and this applies to both MtF as well as FtM transexuals, the latter being quite strange, since testosterone is supposed to make a person more aggressive, more irritated, and so forth. The only explanation is that there is a strong psychosomatic component associated with taking hormones, which is rooted in the idea that finally that person is ‘doing something’ about their gender dysphoria, that merely taking the first steps will go a long way in reducing symptoms.

At some point, however, transexuals in transition will need to face reality. And here is where their former preparation (counselling, real life test, etc.) will be put to the test. Will they be able to face reality and deal with it? The good news is that most transexuals are very well prepared for their future lives and they are able to deal with their new lives; in fact, we almost never hear the stories of those who, thanks to their counsellors, quickly realised that they weren’t in the right path. My friend Cristy, referred on my previous article, is one of them: one session of group therapy with transexuals in transition was enough for her to realise that this was not her way (and she could afford it if she wished!).

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