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It’s Not Easy Being Ourselves

It’s not easy being ourselves but neither is it impossible!

By Amanda J.

In my last post – Sometimes, All You Can Do Is Laugh – I looked at some of the lighter interactions I’ve had with others when posting on public sites.   Often, this life is challenging for us and it’s good to have the opportunity to see the funny side of situations that otherwise have the power to cause us a lot of anxiety.  However, there is a serious side to posting & the resultant interactions and that’s what I want to talk about today.

Look at photos of trans girls, and particularly CDers, on any of the photo-based websites or read the wonderful accounts of acceptance here and it’s very easy to form the view that most girls have it all sorted out.  They live their lives in a climate of support from those close to them and have this trans thingy well and truly nailed down.   For those at the top of their game, it’s hard to believe either that they were not born female or are not taking active steps to transition.  After all, they were born for this weren’t they?  Their beauty would challenge all but the most beautiful natural born women, their clothing choices put most women to shame and they just look completely and utterly feminine.

And then we contrast that with our own lives.  Even the basics elude us.  We struggle to walk in heels, makeup is a dark art that we’ll never master.  That wig that looked so good on the website just makes us look like the proverbial ‘bloke in a dress’.  And the outfit that couldn’t fail to give us curves in all the right places just seems to give us bulges in all the wrong ones.

And that’s only the superficial stuff.  We may operate in an environment of intolerance or total secrecy.  We latch onto anything that could ‘cure’ us of our unhealthy thoughts – marriage and purging being favoured strategies – and despair as it becomes apparent that what we have is not only ‘incurable’ but is going to get worse as we get older.  There’s only a certain amount of time we can continue to delude ourselves that they’re ‘just clothes’ before the realisation sets in that there’s a lot more going on than we either realised or were prepared to admit.  After all, if they are ‘just clothes’ why do we feel so much frustration when we can’t wear them or so much grief when we get rid of them?  And why do we feel so amazing when we do give into them?

I could carry on but I’m sure you get the picture.  We see those amazing looking girls on Flickr or wherever with their sorted out lives and compare them with the disaster that describes our own.  And then feel even worse because there’s no comparison.  They’re just in a different league to us and, quite possibly, are inhabitants of a different planet.

Or are they?

Let’s deal with the basics first.  Sporty and athletic types will inevitably be slimmer and more toned than those of us who’ve never felt the need for exercise to maintain our physiques.  Practice makes perfect where makeup is concerned and no woman, genetic or trans, is born able to apply makeup perfectly, they have to work at it and the truth is that a CDer who’s been dressing for a couple of decades is going to be far more accomplished than someone just starting out.  They’re also going to have a far keener eye for outfit choices, understanding what enhances their femininity and what should be avoided.  We’re all different and it’s a fact of life that some guys have faces with more feminine features than the rest of us.  But the bottom line here is that if we persevere, we will get better and the gulf between us and the girls we admire will no longer be as large.

But let’s take a deeper look.  It’s easy to get demoralised looking at a photo of a beautiful CDer who appears to have her whole life under control but does the photo tell the whole story or, in fact, anything approaching it?

There’s a big limitation on photos – they’re necessarily two dimensional.  The saying goes that the camera never lies but nothing could be further from the truth; camera angles, lighting and the distance from the camera to the subject all have a significant impact on what the photo depicts but what about the third dimension?  Here, I’m not talking about putting on a pair of red & green specs but what’s going on ‘behind’ the photo.  Is that a smile of complete & utter bliss, of relief or just forced for the camera?  Does that photo taken out and about in the real world mean that the subject is out and living the dream or just capitalising on a window of opportunity to spread her wings in an otherwise covert existence in a hostile environment?  We just don’t know unless we dig deeper.  And, by digging deeper, I mean reaching out by leaving a nice comment on a photo or sending a message.  A few girls are so self-absorbed that they’ll ignore the message or even block you for daring to contact them but most will thank you for your kind words and some will give a lot more.  And as I started to participate more and post my own photos on Flickr, other girls did start to share their own experiences with me and I was quite surprised what I discovered.

I’m not going to mention any names here but I’d like to share some of the things raised by other girls during exchanges with them.  The first one was from a girl with nearly 3K Flickr followers.  She always looks absolutely beautiful on her photos with immaculate hair & makeup and outfits to die for.  She frequently posts photos of herself out and about, interacting with genetic females and generally living life to the full.  Surely, her life is perfect?  Actually no, as she told me:

‘I am married and none of my family members know I am transgender or carry on like I do when going out. My wife knew about my interest a year after we were married but didn’t like it at all. She is very intolerant and I do love her but [she] is not able to cope with this part of me so I just keep separate in our lives.’

Moving on to another girl, this time with 7K flickr followers, who reached out to me after reading my profile in which I have documented the highs and lows of this side of my life.  She very much straddles the gender divide and works part time as a female.  Again, her photos indicate that she has her life well and truly nailed down but this is part of what she wrote to me:

‘I can tell that you’re struggling with how to live your life knowing what you know about yourself. I don’t want to tell you how to live your life, but I will say that much of what you wrote could have come directly from my mouth both 30 years ago, when I first decided to move to San Francisco in 1990, and four years ago, when I decided that I wanted to volunteer and work as a woman. The latter event, I sometimes refer to (with my wife and other loved ones) as my “nervous breakdown.”’

And here’s another one, again from a girl who always looks amazing and often posts photos of herself out and about:

‘I have a hard time reconciling what is necessary for me and abhorred by my wife. We went through a very rough patch some 20 years ago when my dressing came to the surface – my lie, her feeling she had married a liar and her feeling she had failed somehow. Long story – one we have never revisited as it is too painful. The result was me just burying my feelings even deeper.   I work hard to find balance. With that said – the older I get (now 60) the greater my need to present as a woman – I often wonder and muse about the reality of transitioning. It continues to surprise me how quickly and easily I lose my sense of maleness when I choose to present as [my female alter ego] – it feels so natural and I feel such happiness and calm.’

That’s only three examples but I have several more in a similar vein.  Dig into the posts here at Kandi’s Land and, in amongst all of the positivity, you’ll find snippets that lay bare the challenges that are faced.  These are all girls in their 50s or 60s who seemingly have it all and yet all have encountered significant obstacles and many continue to do so.  But in many respects, we shouldn’t be surprised – ‘by the way, dear, I like to transform myself into a woman from time to time’ is not high on a list of things the majority of wives want to hear from their husbands.  And most of us often have the distinct feeling that life would be so much more straightforward if we didn’t have to contend with all of this.  Not to mention the years, if not decades, that we spend in denial before finally being able to accept that we’re not like other guys and realising that the only route to any form of contentment is to embrace it as best we can given our particular circumstances.

But against this background, we have to look for positives and, when we find them, grasp them with both hands.  Sometimes those positives are easy to find – for starters, Kandi’s Land is a goldmine of stories of acceptance and the joy that embracing this side of our lives can bring if we allow it to.  But even the girls who I’ve quoted above can serve as beacons of hope to all of us, not because we may have a fighting chance of looking as amazing as they do if we practise for long enough but because they have navigated through choppy waters – the same choppy waters that we fear will engulf us – and found some equilibrium in their lives, fragile though that equilibrium may be for some of them.

It’s not easy but, crucially, no one pretends that it is.  Practically every single one of us has a story to tell about the challenges we have faced and many of us have stories about the trail of potential destruction we have left in our wake when trying to bring it into our normal life.  We didn’t ask to be like this but that doesn’t mean that we can’t integrate it into our lives in some shape or form.  We may necessarily live a lonely existence as far as this side of us is concerned but that doesn’t mean that we’re alone.  Far from it in fact, even though we may not realise it.  For me, the reward is quite simple – to be able to look in the mirror and feel absolute elation about the person smiling back at me.  This side of me is still very much a work in progress but I can confidently say that I could never have got even close to where I am now without the inspiration of others, both those who gently inspired & encouraged me to be the best I can be and those who reassured me by sharing their own stories and proved that we can triumph over adversity.

It’s not easy being ourselves but neither is it impossible!


15 Responses

  1. I loved this post. It faces the reality that so many of us face. I am older , retired, widowed and , because I live alone can dress whenever I want. Yet I still struggle with questions of Identity, and how I want to engage with the world, in the limited time I have left. I have decided that happiness, while not guaranteed , is at least a choice of how to proceed. The first step is gratitude for what one has, even if that’s not much. after that, step by step, the journey unfolds.
    Thank you for your wise words.

    1. April, thanks for sharing your thoughts. We only get one shot at life and deserve to be happy and if that means that we just have to be ourselves, that’s pretty amazing. The best lesson I’ve learned as I’ve struggled with all of this is that ‘Amanda’ is just a label for me, not a person I become. I may put her clothes away for most of the time but she’s such an intrinsic part of who I am that ‘her’ existence is impossible to deny. All too often, we allow our head to rule our heart but our heart is the one we really need to listen to. I hope your own personal journey brings you the happiness you so obviously deserve.

  2. Amanda, I can see myself in so much of what you and those other women have said. I am in my mid-50s, have dressed in secret for decades, but only started going out in public with wig and makeup in 2016. My wife does not like my hiding and is upset when something else pops up that I have not yet mentioned. So I keep my clothes and accessories out of sight and do not dress when she is home. This has certainly limited my time as we still work from home and she does not drive. The equilibrium we strive for is so precarious but also so precious to our lives.

    Hugs, Tina

    1. Tina, you’re absolutely right about our equilibrium. It’s an absolute tragedy that we have to keep all of this hidden; I’m sure my wife would like Amanda if she was anyone other than her husband and I’m sure you feel the same about your situation. So much of what we do is misunderstood by those closest to us and I would dare to suggest that how we are makes us better husbands as a result – both from the aspect of having a greater empathy towards female issues and from trying to compensate for something we know our wives hate.

    1. Christina, thanks for saying so. Knowing that others understand is the whole reason I write all of this stuff!

  3. Well said Amanda. We can learn from others and take comfort from the encouragement we receive. But we have to know that the lives of others should not be the life we lead. Nor is the “look” of others something we should strive for.
    I am comfortable looking as “plain” Jocelyn, and being the woman that I am. I can’t be like someone else, and I have realized I don’t want to be/look like someone else.
    Thanks for your wonderful words of insight.

    1. Jocelyn, thanks as always for taking the time and trouble to share your thoughts. You’re absolutely right that we have to lead our own lives and not try to lead the lives of others. The right sort of interactions with others keep us grounded in as much reality as our existence permits but others, whilst well meaning, can be toxic. I’m a graduate of the University of Flickr where high heels, higher hemlines and liberal quantities of narcissism are de rigeur. But in the end, it’s a fantasy world and sooner or later the shine comes off. That’s why I like it here – it’s just about everyone living their own lives, not trying to be something they’re not.

      And, as for ‘plain’ Jocelyn, I think adjectives like ‘everyday’, ‘genuine’ and ‘the real’ are far more fitting! Your posts are inspirational for the pure and simple reason that anyone like me reading them just thinks ‘I could do that’. It’s not about me trying to be you, it’s about you showing me how to be me.

      1. Amanda,
        You are too kind. I have never thought of myself as inspirational. I’m just a girl trying to get by. You are the deep thinker who is great at expressing excellent ideas.

  4. Amanda, a great post and there is no doubt for trans girls, nothing comes easy.
    I speak from one who lost their marriage in part to my identity.
    Now alone I do have the freedom to be me about 80 percent of the time
    However I would give anything to not to have been trans and stayed married instead of the loneliness I feel many days
    Don’t get me wrong I very much have embraced my feminine side as I live my life more fluid if I’m not full en fem and it really works for me.
    I’m not one of those gorgeous t girls by any means but I must admit I do wish I could look as beautiful as they do many days but I’m happy just being me.

    1. Rachael, thanks for sharing your thoughts and for being so candid about your feelings. Being able to feel good about ourselves is a wonderful feeling but it does carry a high price. Like you, I would have far preferred to not have been this way but it’s thanks to the honesty of people like you and the ladies I quoted above that we can draw strength from the knowledge that whilst things are a long way from ideal, we’re not alone in our struggles.

  5. Great post beautifully written Amanda.. to add to your point re smiles. I find it very hard, in fact almost impossible to make or hold a smile for a picture. This means that in the vast majority of my pictures I am either not smiling or have a pretty awkward attempted smile. When I am Becky I am the happiest girl on the world, I am loving every moment, but it does not reflect in my photos.

    I also want to add that we always need to remember that a significant number of women don’t have a perfect hourglass figure, many have big hands, large shoulders, flat hips, big legs, bold chins, hairy arms, I even know a woman who is nearly bald.. so yes we are striving to look like the perfect typecast woman and hide any maleness, but many women have to do this too on a daily basis.

    1. Becky, thanks for the compliment!

      I think a photo where there has been no attempt to smile is far more telling. If we’re happy, then there are small ‘tells’ in the eyes and a slight upturn of the lips. Makeup enhances that and that’s probably a factor in why its use has persisted for centuries.

      And very true about women coming in all shapes & sizes. The trans community, particularly CDers, has a tendency to obsess over facial appearance and ‘passing’ but often, with even just a little effort, the differences become blurred to the point that what we worry about giving us away are not seen as anything out of the ordinary by the world in general.

  6. Amanda ,
    I’d like to take up the point about photography , I am now retired after thirty years as a professional photographer so had to learn a few tricks in order to flatter . Does the camera lie ? The answer to that is we can use them to manipulate what we see , I’m talking here of pre-photoshop . The choice of lenses and how we light subjects is the important part but then that is what we are paid for and what is expected of us . I do keep banging on about this but selfies from the camera on your phone are the usually pretty bad for the simple reason they use wide or very wide angle lenses . I always used a lens of double the focal length of a standard lens for portraiture because it’s more flattering , it suppresses the nose and chin and puts more emphasis on the eyes . Lighting can be used to cast shadows in the right places again reducing the nose and creating scuplting shadows across the cheek bone .
    If there was a defining moment it would be back in my forties when I managed a reasonable effort on my makeup and I wore a wig for the very first time , the subsequent pictures were mind blowing , the guy had disappeared and Teresa came into being . I knew there was no going back I had to find a way forward , all those years of knowing something was wrong began to evaporate away .

    1. Teresa, thanks for sharing your experience. I have to confess that I don’t understand the selfie obsession, particularly as there then seems to be an equal obsession with apps & filters to fix all the resultant issues.

      A lovely memory of your defining moment too, thanks for sharing it with us.

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