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Op-ed: Trans Is Beautiful, Even Without Annie Leibovitz

Op-ed: Trans Is Beautiful, Even Without Annie Leibovitz


Many embraced Caitlyn Jenner because she personifies the female beauty ideal. What if she wasn't so glamorous?

By now you, like everyone else, have seen the incredible "after" Vanity Fair picture of Caitlyn Jenner. Then again, if Annie Leibovitz was photographing me, I'd probably look like Eva Peron.

Her picture points up two uncomfortable truths about being a transgender woman.

First, for the most part, we look different. If you're a trans man, you can counter many of the more unfortunate effects of estrogen by taking testosterone: growing body hair, getting a deeper voice, having bigger muscles.

It doesn't work the other way around. Once you have a deep voice, a six-foot frame, and wide shoulders, no amount of estrogen is going to undo that.

Which is another way of saying that by denying us hormones and at least hormone blockers when we're young, society sort of allows us to be poisoned by our own bodies. Society doesn't even have to do anything -- it simply has to not do anything. Which is currently the experience of the vast majority of us. Which is why most of us do not look like Caitlyn Jenner.

You can address some of the facial effects through feminization surgery, getting a nose job (guilty as charged), Adam's apple shave (ditto), cheek reshaping, and sanding down of heavy eyebrows (nope).

But the basic fact of transitioning from male to female is that your body's basic chassis is going to stay pretty much the same.

Which brings us to the second uncomfortable truth about being a transgender woman, which is we have allowed ourselves to be thoroughly colonized by cisgender aesthetics. We let cisgender women set the standards by which we are judged and often judge ourselves. If Caitlyn ends up looking like Lea DeLaria, I doubt she gets the pinup cover photo on Vanity Fair.

We grow up marinated in a culture that despises transgender bodies and tries its best to teach us to do the same.

Well, few of us are born hoping to look genderqueer. Yet in the 1970s, African-Americans were able to challenge the dominant white aesthetics of straight hair, light skin, and tiny noses through campaigns to declare that black is beautiful!

But decades ago, when I transitioned, people still complimented me by telling me I looked "just like a real woman." And that hasn't changed very much.

At a national conference of executives last week, one attendee went out of her way to explain she had "never suspected " I was transgender. This, of course, was high praise.

Looking transgender was apparently some kind of failure. Certainly she would have been dismayed and insulted if I'd told her that I had suspected she was trans.

Cisgender people pull this kind of crap all the time, and they will continue until we start pushing back. As a movement we've waited far too long to mount a full-on frontal assault on cisgender aesthetic standards and the constant pressure to let them colonize our bodies and minds.

There are many kinds of beauty in this world, and transgender women are a part of it. Not every one of us will look like Caitlyn or Janet Mock. But we don't need to.

Next time a cisgender person tells you they "never suspected" you were transgender, tell them with a smile: "Get your standards off my body. Hey, trans is beautiful!"

Riki-wilchins_290_0RIKI WILCHINS is an author and speaker focusing on transgender issues.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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