Every week, I pay around £150 to lie on a table for two hours and have a procession of heated, electric needles jabbed into my skin. I’ve been doing it for about eight months now, and I’ve got at least another eight months to go.
Electrolysis permanently removes facial hair, but for me it’s exceptionally painful even after applying anaesthetic cream and munching co-codamol tablets: for financial reasons last week I scheduled four sessions in a week instead of my usual one, and by the end of the third session I was writhing on the table, weeping and asking the technician to stop.
I hate electrolysis and dread every session, but it’s a necessary evil. The world isn’t kind to bearded ladies, to people who don’t fit a gender binary; if like me you’re clearly trans rather than cisgender, you might feel that anything you can do to minimise unwanted attention is worthwhile for the sake of your mental and physical health.
I’ve found that there is no correct color of lipstick that will make people stop seeing me as a man in a dress. Whether it’s the stubble on my cardboard box of a jaw, my big hands with hair between each knuckle, or the way my shoulders test the limits of my clothes, something always gives me away. And despite my best efforts at invisibility — wearing a healthy coat of foundation and bra pads that would make a 13-year-old embarrassed for me — I have always been painfully attuned to passersby who can’t accept what I’m serving at face value; who are clearly trying to figure out what they’re looking at, not who.
That’s something I can really relate to: being seen as a thing, not a person. But where Diavolo lives, it’s more than just a look.
Strangers ask me if I’m a dude. They make lewd comments about me on the street and online. I once heard a stranger loudly tell his friend that I was his “favorite kind of boy in prison.” All of these comments mean the world I walk through is littered with eggshells, and my only hope of not stepping on them with bare feet is to somehow fly like a bird.
Trans women are regularly and loudly criticised by anti-trans activists for supposedly perpetuating feminine stereotypes (but also for not living up to feminine stereotypes – it’s as if they just don’t like trans women!). But for many of us, the stereotypes aren’t just about personal expression. They’re about survival.
If the world around us didn’t single people out for not conforming to the stereotypes, we wouldn’t try so damn hard to live up to them.
I hate electrolysis. I hate trying to change my voice. I hate feeling that in the days running up to electrolysis, when I can’t shave, I have to present as a gender I don’t feel comfortable in. But these things are necessary in a world that doesn’t like people who aren’t one thing or the other, that looks at us as things rather than people, that feels it’s okay for complete strangers to get in our faces and destroy our days. The closer we cleave to either gender binary, the more chance we have of strangers leaving us the hell alone.
As much as I never want to be clocked as trans again, I’m far too proud of who I am to give up because I can’t achieve full stealth. I’ve seen too many people spend decades in hiding only to lose the families, careers, and lives they built when they decided to finally come out.
Again, I can relate. I’m proud of who I am – but unlike Diavolo I can’t wear my transness as a badge of pride just yet; I can’t proudly flout gender norms and say to the world: “I am the gender ideologue the pope has warned you about and the burden the president can’t abide.” I’m just trying to make it through the days, and right now that’s hard enough.