For many transwomen, pictures are the magic.
They approach the world in a visual way, rather than auditory or kinæsthetic. Imagining images, plucked from fashion and erotica, creates the dreams of their trans expression.
Pictures can be manipulated, capturing a tortured moment and throwing away what doesn’t reflect your desires. For so many transwomen, projecting onto the mirror is all they need, not looking for flaws but self embellishing, taking the cartoon and seeing it as real.
As a gateway to fantasy, many transpeople collect pictures which portray their fantasy world and enliven their own auto-eroticism.
With the eye of a film director, Jill Soloway is very much concerned with the power of images in the second season of “Transparent.” Not only do we see the family in shifting light, we also see the two primary trans characters history manipulated.
Both Alexandra Billings’ Davina and Jeffrey Tambor’s Moira have their early pictures digitally massaged to repaint them as girls. “Imagine what it would have been like if they could have been there that way,” one of the Pfefferman children suggests.
As a nod toward the issue of trans kids, this is important. The trans content of the second season mostly exists as nods, telling moments that reveal the challenges of transpeople in the world, issues like suicide and finding healthy romantic relationships, rather than in the wider story. The trans content is present and sparkles a bit for that, but it is not the main narrative that carries viewers.
The biggest trans related story is themed in the relationship with the lesbian world where Ms. Soloway has clearly spent time. The feminazis conflate and emerge, as Rush Limbaugh might say, and Moira has to find connection and affirmation for her emerging self where she can, away from the armour which, in the past, lead her to choices she now regrets.
As someone who hasn’t really engaged and indulged their visual side, I find the emphasis on looks baffling. My trans journey has been about my voice, not really about my appearance, which is probably why I haven’t felt the need to see a trans appearance in the mirror; my very trans, very femme voice is always, always in my head.
I am much more interested in re imagining our stories than in altering our images. To me, essence is in the voice, not the clothes and the pose. It is hard for me to imagine the power of images without an audience, though I know the process of creation is key for many artists. While I do visual — I was great with a camera when I was young, showing an eye — I never focused on the image.
As powerful as words are, being very verbal is an approach that can leave me at a disadvantage in a very, very visual world.
Most women would rather be pretty than smart because most men can see better than they can think. -- Ann Landers, 1975
I know of many women who want sexy pictures made when they are young. “I want to be able to prove to my granddaughters that once upon a time, I was this hot!” they laugh.
I pass women in the store and know that their current appearance is just the best evocation of the look they wore when they were younger and shinier. Of course, that’s not something I will ever get to do, because my expression was always fragmentary and most of all, clouded by the crap around trans which was so much thicker back then.
Building an effective trans image just felt impossible to me, so I resigned myself to just play from the start of my explorations. My one attempt at padded hips, for example, so critical to many silhouettes, left me feeling like I had taken a dump in my girdle. That experiment didn’t last long, no matter how good it looked.
The faster our culture moves, the more impact images have. Today, we judge everything by its cover, often a package so cleverly designed that we don’t even understand all the cues and symbols the designer invokes to stimulate our emotions. It is possible to use words to examine the effect of words, but the power of images that drive instantly into our subconscious are usually beyond our rational understanding without doing lots and lots of analytical work.
I have missed my shot at being picture perfect, flawless and fabulous to look at. I never followed the visual patterns that so many transwomen did, focusing on image change as the key to becoming new. I also never followed the visual patterns that so many women did, creating and owning their own style, to express and polish through the years.
Personally, I can’t imagine what reprocessing the few pictures that I have of me would do. They wouldn’t change my history, wouldn’t change my view, wouldn’t be images I would feel honest sharing. My life cannot be photoshopped, only my image can, and I am not my image.
I am the shadows that my words cast, the meaning I strive to place into the words I share, this I know. It would be nice, though, if I understood how others saw my image, how I might manipulate and trust it in a way that made me more confident in such a visual world.