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A version of this article appeared in Transliving Magazine.
I am an avid reader of many trans-related publications, and I also spend a lot of time online supporting trans people and organisations. It’s a great way to build up a community of friends that can be relied upon, and who have been through similar situations. One of the things I enjoy most is seeing people being who they really are. You only have to look at the pictures to see happy people being themselves. It is truly a wonderful sight, but for me it is often tinged with a sense of sadness because, as many older transitioners will tell you, you will never be the person you could have been if you had transitioned as a young person. Not that I am complaining – it’s just a fact of life.
There is, however, often a little voice in my head saying “nice picture, but that’s not me”. Let me explain. I am tall and broad-shouldered and although I have been on hormones for more than a year, I will never be terribly feminine. By that I mean the “classical” female figure, wearing a lovely dress. Although I do wear the occasional black dress for a nice dinner or a special occasion, my normal habitat is not really conducive to wearing a dress. I spend most of my spare time outdoors and I am lucky to live in a part of the world where I can easily hike and mountain bike in the summer and ski in the winter. This means I tend to live in my sports or functional clothes. Think of an older, less attractive, much taller “Sporty Spice”.
For many trans women there is a tendency to think of femininity as having great makeup, looking hot, wearing great clothes, beautiful nails, and so on. Partly, I imagine, this comes from the misconception that to be perceived as a woman you must be overtly feminine. I can understand this – I have been through various phases while trying to understand who I am. As I wrote in a previous article, I often dressed in clothes that were not ‘me’ in an attempt to be what some parts of society believe is ‘feminine’. Unfortunately, there are many people in this world (both cis and trans) who seem to be believe that this is a requirement to be a woman.
I also suspect that this insistence on being overtly feminine comes from excessive gatekeeping by, for example, Gender Identity Clinics. Every trans woman hears stories about not being accepted for hormone treatment because the trans person did not wear a skirt to the meeting. However, the idea of having to be perceived as overtly feminine to be female is simply not true. Next time you are out, take a look at what women wear, and what they are doing. I would expect that, outside of special social situations, the vast majority of cis women do not meet the stereotypical view.
The issue as I see it is that online or in magazines we rarely see photos of trans women wearing trousers, let alone getting covered in mud while riding a mountain bike. When trans women are featured in magazines or other media, the focus tends to be on glamorous trans women, who are as far removed from the average woman as most of their cisgender counterparts are. Sadly, this is the only image of trans women that many cisgender people see, supporting an illusion of an outdated male-dominated society.
Of course when a trans woman does post a picture looking – how shall I put it? – less than glamorous, we are immediately jumped on by the media for not being feminine. We’re told we’ll never be able to pass. But why should I have to pass? Why can’t I just be me? Why does society insist on conformity in dress and appearance? This doesn’t just affect trans people, but cis people as well.
As for me, well, whilst I love the dresses and ball gowns, I gravitate towards jeans and T-shirts. The shoes may be bright red, but they are still trainers. Yes, I do have some heels, but they don’t work well in mud and snow. I do wear makeup, mostly to hide the slowly-disappearing facial hair, and perhaps slap on a little lippy over the sunscreen. But most of my makeup sits idly by, to be used perhaps once a month if it’s lucky.
I can make my hair look great given time, product, and state-of-the-art straighteners, but most of the time it’s swept back into a ponytail so I can put on a warm hat or wear a cycle helmet. I get back from a walk, do a quick dry shampoo, and I’m off again. My nails break from the continual abuse they receive, indoors and out. My last long nail broke doing some DIY, so now I keep them short (with perhaps a bit of polish if I have time). I am just not the perfectly manicured type.
So perhaps you can now understand that little voice in my head, when I see beautiful trans (and cis) women in amazing dresses and outfits. You look absolutely fantastic and I am envious, but I really don’t see myself like that. I am just not that kind of woman, and surely that is the point. We aren’t trans (or shouldn’t be) just because we want to compete to see who is the most stereotypically feminine. This is about being who we really are. You only have to look around to see cis women of all types, so why not expect the same diversity of trans women?
So, next time you’re heading out to that nice country pub for a romantic dinner for two in your lovely dress and heels, do be aware of the older, ponytailed woman zooming by on a mountain bike, covered in mud and wearing her stretch cycle pants and crop top. Remember that this is another vision of womanhood, just as valid as any other, and that you have a lot in common with each other. Perhaps you could even have a beer together sometime?
I promise not to get too much mud on your dress.