[N.B., this post is a former page that I wrote in 2009 and as I no longer want it to be a page I am putting it up as a post. These are my views from nearly four years ago, but I would still hold to most of them. It is not the best written of articles, I was a member of an online trans forum in 2009 and a new member asked questions about female and male shapes and I promised to write down thoughts I had been working on for a while. I then cobbled together this page, not post, in a couple of hours. The second word has been changed from “page” to “post” and the original closing paragraph deleted as it was merely an unfulfilled promise to update the page.]
This post is not about beauty tips, and if you meet me in real life you will know why I would not be a good style guide. Being entitled Beauty the page is aimed towards the male to female section of the trans community. It is not that the issues do not relate to trans men (although that statement will come as news to many trans women), its just that being women, we get more concerned about our looks (rather than our muscles). In online forums for trans women there is an obsession with the topic of passing and being read. Passing means the ability to go about dressed as a woman and to be treated as a woman and not as a transwoman. Being read is when an individual sees through the mask and reads our biological origin. Before going further I have an interest to declare, or rather a lack of interest: I do not worry about passing and have no intention of ever going deep stealth and pretending that I never had a male existence. In part that is accepting the roll of the genetic dice that I have to live with, it is also a refusal to accept the gender policing of society that requires me to fit a certain image of what a woman should look like. From that political perspective, I have no interest in passing, but a very strong interest in the subject of passing.
I do not want to have to conform to those prescribed views of how a woman should look, and this is not just a trans issue, it is a feminist issue. Yet taking a feminist issue on fashion and beauty can lead to being flamed on a trans site. One particular personal example was when I was assailed (virtually) for having the affrontery to maintain that the purpose of female fashion is not to attract sexual partners. After all, married women do not spend the rest of their lives walking around naked, so presumably clothing has relevance to those who are not looking to attract a new mate.
The notion that female fashion is not designed for male viewing will not come as a surprise to most natal women, but there is an element missing from the lives of most transwomen that tends to make this more challenging- they have never been teenage girls. Many of the more transsexual among them might have felt inwardly that they were girls, but few would actually have been dressing solely in female fashion in their teenage years. That means that they missed out on the gradual exploration of clothes, make-up, and hairdos with teenage friends, and were much more likely to have grown up gazing at the girls with the other boys, but with confused feelings, as I had, as to whether they fancied the girl or they fancied being the girl. Most transwomen spent their teenage years viewing female fashion under a male gaze, even if the purpose behind their gaze was different to the other boys. It is maybe not surprising then that the notion of fashion as a feminist issue, of challenging the notion of clothes and make-up as for the benefit of external viewing, is not welcomed by many transwomen.
That view is reinforced by the abuse that so many transwomen face in the street from those who regard them as a man in a dress, and so we are back to the fixation with passing, but now with a view to personal safety. Yet here too that lack of teenage girl experience can play a role. Those who have grown up as boys will have been given all the messages from parents and schools about stranger danger, but in their teenage years, boys are given a freedom to roam the streets that is not as readily given to girls because though the name changes from incest to rape, for girls the danger remains (and not just from strangers) in the eyes of their parents. Trans women, particularly transvestites or transsexuals who transition to living as a woman in later life, can tend to assume that personal safety is about passing, but around the globe, passing successfully as a woman is certainly not a passport to feeling safe walking alone at night. This is the most poignant part of fashion as a feminist issue: in the words of a Rape Crisis Scotland campaign, “This is not an invitation to rape me.”
I mention that the concern for passing was in part related to not being accused of being a man in a dress and therein lies another preference for many trans women that is out of kilter with the rest of the female population. Certainly in the UK and Ireland, wearing dresses or skirts are for special occasions or because a workplace dress code requires it. Yet I have been criticised for wearing jeans most of the time, even when they are definitely girly jeans, and my clothing preference is hard-wired into the rest of the female population. If passing as a woman is such a concern, why not dress like a woman?
I promise that this lengthy reflection on trans women viewing beauty from a different perspective from those who have been brought up female is leading somewhere, honest it is. It is a long run-up to deal with another aspect of the beauty industry – namely cosmetic surgery. There is an understandable concern for many transwomen that testosterone has moulded their bone structure in an irreversible way that gives them away as having a male biological history. You get a lot of talk on transwomen sites about FFS – Facial Feminization Surgery. It is very expensive and usually has to be self-funded. It is therefore more than a little disturbing when you read of those who have had FFS, or are saving up for it, declaring that no one can pass without make-up on until they have FFS. As this surgery costs the equivalent of three years of some people’s annual salary, that is a dangerous and class-ridden assertion. Most of us would need to be saving for many years to be able to afford it, so to insist that others need it, is to fall into that trap so common among wealthier transwomen, and assert that to be a transsexual you need to be well endowed (in the financial, not the other sense of that term).
The FFS promoters will go through a list of things that differentiate male and female facial features, relating to brow shape, jaw line, nose shape, etc. All of this can be altered in various ways by the cosmetic surgery industry, but with transsexuals generally being on lower (or often no) incomes, they could not possibly support that industry. So guess what? That means that natal women are supporting the industry, and if they are supporting the cosmetic surgery industry that means that they also had these features that supposedly only result from the ravages of testosterone. What you are actually dealing with here is a definition of beauty cobbled together by the fashion and cosmetic surgery industries, claiming that is there ideal type of a white Anglo-Saxon woman that the entire female population of the globe must aspire to. If you want to see how racially determined this all is, just get yourself to an ethnically diverse metropolis, sit down in a café near a window and watch real women walk past. Sooner or later you will realise that by the standards of FFS promoters, a high proportion of natal women do not pass, including many of the white Anglo-Saxon women.
This also goes back to that lack of a teenage girlhood. That brings with it a lack of growing up with your girlfriends complaining about how they do not fit the look, and no amount of make-up can hide the features that they hate, and as soon as they get a good job, they are going to get surgery to correct the defect. Furthermore, as trans women gather in support groups or online forums they tend to repeat what they have heard or read from others and a tradition of trans women beauty views develops with its fair share of fundamentalist defenders. They need to get out more, as in out observing what real women look like.
© Mercia McMahon 2013