Contrary to the photos in the media, most transpeople are not pretty.
Of course, that’s true about all other humans too. The images editors pick are most often designed to be pleasing to the eye and that means they tend to be pictures of pretty people. Pretty & shiny is an easy way to use conventional standards of beauty to lure people in with looks that have been shown to work, usually meaning young, thin and stylish.
I hope that this notion that people are often selected for their looks rather than their character doesn’t surprise or shock you. If you have grown up judging books by their cover, using only eye appeal to decide what is good, relying on visual cues,
“Men see better than they think, which is why most women would rather be pretty than be smart,” goes one old saw.
Most people construct their gender expression more to attract partners than to show their deep inner nature. On some level they understand that gender expression is advertising (1999), delivering messages about our training, our desires and the role we are ready and willing to play in relationship.
For transpeople, though, gender expression is not as relational, instead being a message of personal knowledge, an attempt to express something we know deeply inside that doesn’t fit easily into the assumptions and conventions written onto our history & biology.
This content makes trans expression confusing to many. Where women wear miniskirts to attract the attention of men, for example, crossdressers who call themselves “straight” wear them for a personal sort of attraction.
“Who do you want to go home with anyway?” used to be a common question when I went to a gay bar. Lesbians saw me as in drag while gay men looked at my sensible shoes and saw me as a lesbian, leaving me falling into the dark cracks between the expectations.
Nobody asks me that anymore, as they can tell I am old and fat. I’m not even close to pretty.
When people shop for potential partners, they often make judgments on the package. Visual appeal isn’t just one of the things they look for, it is the most important thing. Who looks like my fantasy partner, who has the shape and size that best matches my fantasy, making me hot or making me comfortable?
Feminine hearted people do tend to look deeper, working to identify who would be a good partner, but that often means finding people like them, people who will affirm and reinforce their expectations rather than challenging them.
No matter how much transpeople try to fit into types, each of us has a passing distance. When you get close enough, our story is visible in our mindset or our biology, enough so that we bust through comforting assumptions.
Many transwomen, for example, have taken a hit when their trans nature becomes visible and their partner blames them for failing to pass. We may know that his rage is about his own secret desire being revealed, an expression of his own fear and self-loathing, but that does not stop us from being the target of aggression, slammed and hurt for his buried shame.
Politically, every transperson is bisexual. This isn’t necessarily because we have fluid desire, looking beyond conventional sex/gender assumptions, but is because we require our partners to love all of us, even where we cross those projected boundaries. Our story moves beyond binaries and into an individual truth that we need to embrace rather than be ashamed of, rather than trying to hide part of us because of shame or fear.
“How can anyone ever imagine being with someone like you when they have never met anyone like you?” a friend asked me years ago.
I see lots of people coming together in relationship and I think it is sweet. Whenever people commit to caring for each other, a human heart is warmed.
That doesn’t stop me from wishing that one of those people was me. No matter how big and brave and bold and brazen and individual I appear, my human heart craves affection and affirmation, wants someone to care for and about me. I want someone to share the driving, a person who will know and cherish me as much as I know and cherish so many others. Creating a shared world sounds divine.
“If you weren’t so damn scary, I would kiss you!” said one guy who I helped get out of a scrape.
I wasn’t willing or able to play a conventional part just to stay in relationship, though, like so many transpeople try hard to do in their youth, so there is no way I can possibly go back into a neat and tidy tin to fit the expectations of a potential partner now.
How do I convey the beautiful & brilliant content of my character to people who are focused on the prettiness of my packaging? How do I achieve intimacy without meeting the physical or cultural stereotypes people have programmed themselves to search for?
I walked around a pride event yesterday, heard TBB wonder why big lesbians can find each other but she can’t find a partner, heard others talk about the limits of their dates with people who just don’t seem to get the joke.
Everyone wants to be the apple of someone else’s eye.
Some of us, though, have had to settle for being the captain of our own heart instead.