By Amanda J.
I was recently exchanging messages with a good friend when she told me of the devastating impact that seeing another girl who seemingly had it all, had her own self esteem and it brought back my own memories of my early steps into our world and a path I took that ultimately threatened to destroy me.
Whether a full blown transitioner or occasional CDer, one thing perhaps bonds us above all else – a feeling that life would have been so much more straightforward if we’d had two ‘X’ chromosomes rather than the mixed bag we were actually born with. We deal with nagging feelings that we don’t understand but seem to go away when we step into a pair of heels, only to return when it’s time to put them away. That’s not to say that, by default, we necessarily want to cross the gender divide permanently – there’s a raft of difference between wishing one had been born female and actually wanting to take steps to become female – although of course, for some, that is the right option.
Many of us have suffered in silence & isolation for years, if not decades until, out of desperation, we have turned to the internet for advice. And we find websites dedicated to people like us. Websites with galleries showcasing the very best of male to female transformations. We gaze open mouthed at the beauties before us and think ‘no way’ and ‘surely that’s not a guy’. We perhaps even dare to think that, one day, we may achieve something approaching those heights of femininity and people will be looking admiringly at us in the same way that we look at these girls.
And then we look in the mirror and the bubble bursts.
The makeup that was supposed to transform us into a goddess just makes us look awful. The wig which couldn’t fail to knock a decade or two off us just highlights the careworn and testosterone ravaged visage it frames. And the clothes that were going to give us curves in all the right places just give us bulges in all the wrong ones.
At least the shoes look good.
It’s a crushing disappointment and the whole ritual which was supposed to give us relief from the frustrations we feel in our normal life has just made us feel ten times worse. How on earth are we ever going to reach the heights that the girls in the online galleries have achieved? How are we ever supposed to compete with them?
There’s a long answer and a short answer to that question but both start with words to the effect that this is not a competition. The short answer goes on to say things like some girls are just lucky, practice makes perfect with the makeup brush and many girls use professionals for their makeup. A level playing field, it often is not. But the truth is that that is little consolation even when all we want to do is to look in the mirror and see a pleasant looking woman smiling back.
The long answer, as I’ve already mentioned, also starts with something like ‘this is not a competition’ but then goes on to say ‘but sadly, too many girls think it is’. For example, girls on flickr breathlessly proclaim ‘OMG ONE MILLION VIEWS!’ and we start to see that as an aspirational figure. And whether we’re secretly hoping that we’re going to get two million views and beat her or just set ourselves a target of getting one million views ourselves, we’ve just unwittingly entered the competition. And all of a sudden, rather than indulging our feminine side for our own pleasure, we’re now starting to worry whether others will appreciate our efforts and, if so, how many.
If only that was the end of it but, of course, it’s only the start. Now that we’ve joined the competition, we start to obsess about ‘passing’ which all too often is equated not only with being indistinguishable from a genetic female but also a beautiful one. Now, the subject of ‘passing’ (which most definitely has little if anything to do with feminine beauty but let’s run with it) could fill several posts here on its own but there are broadly three ways by which a guy can achieve that level of feminine beauty on photographs. The first is by being incredibly lucky in the looks department. The second is by practising & perfecting their makeup skills over a period of years (or by seeking the services of a professional who’s done all the hard work for them). And the third is by cheating by using one of the ‘apps’ such as FaceApp or YouCam to digitally enhance the photo. What these apps can achieve is mind-blowing and, with a few taps on a smartphone screen, you magically become the woman of your dreams. Post an image like that on Flickr and see an almost immediate uplift in the number of ‘faves’ and comments. You’re rapidly moving up the field leaving others in your wake!
Except you aren’t. I know from bitter experience that the pleasure from posting doctored photos is only transitory and very short lived. The attention feels good for a while but is quickly replaced by the realisation that the adulation is for the image and not you, the underlying person. And to make matters worse, others get unwittingly drawn into the fray as I found out when, as a result of posting an ‘apped’ photo, I received a message from another girl lamenting that she’d never achieve the dizzy heights I had (or to be more precise, she’d never achieve the dizzy heights that a completely faked image of me had). So now, not only was I up to my neck in it, trying to compete for all I was worth, I’d also conned others into joining in too.
I wish I could say that that was the point I had an epiphany and came to my senses but sadly not. I did gently explain to my correspondent that the photo was faked by an app and also stopped using FaceApp shortly afterwards but, otherwise it was business as usual, posting on Flickr and then checking every few minutes to see how many faves, follows and comments I’d got. And then the bubble finally burst – the expected flurry of activity from a post just didn’t happen and emotional meltdown followed. All told, it took me four weeks to pull myself back together and the truth is that whilst many of us strive to keep this side of our lives separate from our normal day to day lives, when it all goes wrong that’s no longer possible. A breakdown in ‘her’ world is a breakdown in ‘his’.
Let’s make no bones about it, it’s hard not to try to compete in an environment where vanity is almost seen as a virtue but the truth is that the long answer to the ‘how can we ever compete’ question is exactly the same as the short answer – it’s not a competition. Full stop. Period. Nature has dealt us a challenging hand but, as a consolation for that, she has also given us something else – a means to truly find ourselves and experience unimaginable joy when we do. Why should we taint that by worrying what others think or, even worse, spend that precious time when we can fully express this side of ourselves in a state of disappointment because we don’t think that the resultant photos look good enough to post? Why let the achievements of others demoralise us when they can inspire us? Who is more important here – you or a collection of anonymous individuals who will move onto the next person when they tire of you?
Of course, it’s nice to have the validation of others telling you how nice you look or how you were born to be a woman but, in truth, you only need the validation of one person and that’s yourself. If you can set the inner woman free and experience that feeling of unadulterated ecstasy, you should not give anyone the opportunity to take that away from you, whether intentionally or not.
And this story has a happy ending. Both the friend I referred to at the beginning and I are in better places, accepting ourselves and not comparing ourselves to anyone else. I learned the hard way to view the online community as a place to be inspired by others, not to expect my fragile feminine ego to be fed by them.
But best of all, when I look in the mirror and see a familiar woman looking back, she – I – can’t stop smiling. That’s all I need, nothing more. Life can sometimes conspire against us and we’ll pick up knocks and bruises along the way but as long as we learn from them, not let them rule us, we’ll end up in the right place in the end.