There’s a superb piece in Vox by Emily Todd VanDerWerff about the costs of being a trans woman. I found myself nodding in agreement with a lot of it.
I’ve done exactly this, albeit not quite so expensively: I’m more of a Boots No.7 person.
The thing about self-acceptance is that when you’re just getting used to it, you become an easy mark. The first time I went to Sephora, I spent way more on makeup than I ever thought possible, because the salesperson who helped me made me feel so good about myself. From the second she learned my name, she called me Emily, even though I was in full guy mode. She used she/her pronouns. She told me I was pretty. I plunked down $250, and I would have spent well over $300 if she had managed to talk me into a $70 foundation. (My wife saved me on that one.)
To be clear: None of this is the salesperson’s fault. None of it is my fault, either. This is just how society is designed to function, and to come out as trans later in life is to suddenly start careening downhill into a newer, truer gender, without some of the guardrails that snap into place when you grow up cis and figure out the ways society tries to exploit you on the grounds of gender.
Something I think some of us wrestle with is the conflict between being proud of who we are and being unenthusiastic about getting our heads kicked in. On the one hand we know that we’re being suckered into the same bullshit standards of beauty that cisgender women have to battle against, but on the other we know that if we don’t, if we proudly stride around as ourselves and let stereotypical gender presentation be damned, we’re likely to get screamed at or worse.
And, as VanDerWerff explains so beautifully, there’s an element of wanting to uphold those stereotypes because they’re still so new to us, because we’re chasing after something we could never have.
Maybe I run so hard toward becoming that idealized girl because I know I can never be her, due to the circumstances of my birth. Maybe if I run hard enough, I’ll get there and suddenly wake up a suburban mother of two in Omaha, Nebraska. Maybe I wear so many dresses because I really love wearing dresses. Maybe I’m just overthinking it.
This is one of the reasons I really hate the current anti-trans abuse that plagues social media. Reading this article, so many things were “yeah! I get that!” and “I hadn’t thought of it that way!” and the like; these are conversations I know I could have with other trans and non-binary people I’m connected to online but can’t because of the all-too-familiar and entirely reasonable fear of trolls. There is a small but obsessive contingent of people who monitor what trans people and our allies post online, circulating it to their equally obsessive followers (in many cases, to audiences much, much larger than our posts were published to) to malign, mock and in some cases encourage attacks on us. It would be foolish to give them any more ammunition.
Here’s an example, albeit an extreme one. Yesterday, the BBC Scotland “The Social” channel – which has around 100,000 followers – re-shared a video it had made featuring a poem by Gray Crosbie. I know and love much of Gray’s work, and this poem was typically wise and interesting: it’s about the difficulties of getting a haircut when the barbers tell you you’re a girl and the salons say you’re a boy.
Piers Morgan came across it and shared it disgustedly with his seven million, one hundred and fifty thousand, two hundred and twenty followers. Many of his followers sought out not just the BBC Social account but Gray’s personal Twitter account, which has 139 followers, and those people have spent the last two days posting abuse to it. Crosbie, who earlier this month posted about the negative effects on their mental health of social media, has been forced to lock the account to prevent any more abuse.
It’s targeted harassment, but Morgan – who this week was crying crocodile tears over the death-by-media of Caroline Flack; many of the people posting abuse to Gray were posting “Be Kind” memes just days ago – is cunning enough to maintain plausible deniability. He didn’t specifically tell his millions of followers to go and attack someone. It’s just something that happened, and which has happened many times before, and which will happen many times again, which he pretends he has no control over, and for which he will never suffer any consequences.
As Emily puts it in another context:
the world is already cruel, and being trans only ramps up that cruelty… The border between my safety and something horrible is so tenuous, and societal norms dictate that I am the one who’s asked to enforce it
As ever, the people who are really being silenced are the ones you aren’t reading in the papers or seeing on TV.