I’ve never been happier. I think I know why.

Happy... through pain ripens joy

Happy… through pain ripens joy

Sitting on the train to Nottingham last Saturday, barefaced and relaxed, I couldn’t help remembering how stressful I once found that same journey. I’d never done it without makeup before. If you are visibly transgender, being in public is a constant source of danger, paranoia and conflict. Humiliation, verbal and sexual abuse are common and physical violence is a real threat. Trans people are also more likely to be murdered. “Passing” in one’s preferred gender is about more than respect: it’s a safety concern. You can see why so many of us are obsessed with it.

My cisgender (i.e. non-trans) friends sometimes act surprised when I tell them this. If I’m trying to explain the situation to a man, I’ll ask him if he fancies walking down the road with my handbag on his arm. Wearing lipstick. Most realise that this will probably illicit sniggering, staring and, of course, increased threat of violence. Trust me. Other people really seem to care what colours we put on our faces, and the bits of cloth we cover our bodies with. If your choices don’t meet other people’s expectations, they soon let you know.

Over the years I have spent thousands of pounds, hours and tears in the quest to look female. Hair and nail appointments. Fake tan and makeup. Cosmetics. Epilation. Clothing. Everyone likes to look good though – right? True, but I spent that money – and continue to spend it – mainly to rid myself of the constant, nagging feeling of unease in public. To stop people staring. To stop them grinning. To stop them abusing me on buses, in shops… on the streets. I spent all that money, in fact, to feel how cisgender people feel.

Last Friday I popped to my doctors for a routine health check. I didn’t bother wearing makeup. After I’d seen the nurse, I decided to visit my nearest high street to check out the new hair salon. I couldn’t get a same-day appointment, so I popped to my usual salon in Stratford instead. Stratford is incredibly busy at the moment due to the Olympics. I went anyway, got my hair done, and stopped off to buy groceries on the way home. There was a time when I wouldn’t take the bin bags out without makeup on, but I felt completely comfortable all day. The sun has chased the clouds away, in the good life.

This is what £8,000, and pain, and slicing, can buy you. A feeling of invincibility. It’s given me a confidence boost, yes, but it has also, without doubt, made me look better – “better” meaning “more feminine” in this instance. Peace. I can get on the train and smile at the woman opposite me when her child starts singing. It’s a wonderful feeling, but I’m disappointed that I had to work so hard to experience it. It’s called passing privilege – or cisgender privilege, for those who take it for granted. The thing about passing privilege though, the thing that separates it from cisgender privilege, is that it is conditional. If for whatever reason I stop conforming to a particular look, any benefits I may have secured for myself will instantly disappear. Perhaps I’d care less, a second time round. Who knows? Still, it’s a scary thought.

I’m also subject to the male gaze more often, these days, which makes me paranoid. Unless of course it’s someone hot – then it just makes me blush.

We can’t change society overnight. Nor can we change ourselves so soon and, frankly, why should we? I’ve opted for a mix of both. We must remove the stigma of being trans. We must end the pressure to conform to other people’s ideas about how we should look. It’s hard to do this while also trying to fit in and live peacefully. But, so long as people still make life miserable for those who are visibly trans, pressure to conform poisons our capacity for creativity, expression and love. It is all-consuming. There are things we could, and should, be thinking about other than the way we look. I am able to think this, now.

I’ve never been happier. I’m sad to think why.


23 thoughts on “GOOD LIFE

  1. Alice Denny says:

    This blog sums up that wonderful “moment” of emotional transition when you feel completely at ease with yourself in the world and assume the privilege ( which it is) of being able to look at, comment on, talk to another woman’s child and share the delight a child brings to the world. To be honest, there are loads of such moments and not really to do with passing which for some of us is not an option, even with the vast expenditure of cash, time, effort and pain (none of which are begrudged.) Not feeling compelled to put on make-up just to get bread from the co-op ( or stay hungry) is such a relief. FFS, cosmetics and the like are fabulous ( well I think they are) but the bottom line is that we all need to feel comfortable in our own skin. Thanks Paris.

  2. “being in public is a constant source of danger, paranoia and conflict. Humiliation, verbal and sexual abuse are common and physical violence is a real threat. Trans people are also more likely to be murdered.”
    Thank you, I need that as a poster for some of my friends

  3. I can’t tell if I pass or that there is something in my eyes that make people think twice about saying something. I don’t look much different than before, perhaps I just look more ordinary, less of a party girl 24 7 so people are less likely to stare and thus find my tells.

  4. Amber says:

    A great read. Very well put.

  5. Tammy says:

    Thanks for sharing this story – it made me cry. Mostly it made me cry because my wife is trans and I am finally starting to understand why she went through the phase of not doing anything (including taking out the garbage or answering the door to the kids’ friends) without her make-up on, I realise I was not as understanding as I could have been and that I will never really get it because I am cisgendered. It also made me cry because I know how cruel the world is to trans folk and to those of us who love you (even if it is less so for us, it is there too) – I feel sad and sometimes a bit hopeless about the world and its assumptions about us because of what we look like…. I wonder, if you don’t mind sharing, how do you find the balance between activism and having a peaceful, happy life? I feel like we have spent so much time fighting for basic rights that were a given when we were on top of the privilege pile (white, hetero, married, middle class) that we hardly remember how to just have a happy peaceful life…

  6. Beatrix says:

    Like Tammy, this post made me cry. Thank you. As always, you’ve managed to articulate the inner struggle and anxieties of trans people so eloquently. I’m not as far along in my transition, and doing it somewhat later in life, so I doubt I will ever pass as well as you, Paris (nor look anywhere near as fabulous!) but I am at least getting to the stage where I don’t stick out like a sore thumb and get stared at constantly. I think people realise pretty quickly when they start talking to me, but I no longer feel the constant, implicit threat of harassment or violence when just walking around London. That, at least, is a huge relief. I’m now in a slightly unsettling phase where – though I know I still get ‘read’ quite often – occasionally when men stare, I don’t quite know whether they’re reading me or (according to my cis girlfriends) checking me out. One of those things I never really considered until it started happening! In the end I do believe that self-confidence is a huge factor, not so much in the ability to pass, but in how others respond to you. But building up that confidence, that is a massive struggle that all trans people have to face.

  7. Rachel says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience and reminding me (and the rest of your readers) how powerful cis and passing privileges are. While I rarely wear makeup and feel that no one should ever be compelled to do so to conform to a narrow beauty standard, it’s fascinating to see how it can help with transitioning and give you confidence to face the world and a valuable reminder of how much I do take for granted being cis. It sounds like you’ve had a long road to get to where you are now–I hope the sunshine sticks around and you can enjoy all the good things you mentioned.

  8. Abi Jay says:

    Thanks Paris for highlighting our plight and what we have to endure day after day. I to work in Stratford and brave the underground, the general public and the Olympic spectators every day. Its a case of just getting on with life and enjoying being who we were meant to be. So far I have not come into contact with any trans phobia, taunts or abuse, so I guess that make me quiet lucky. However, I still go around with my guard up just in case.
    I have been living in role for 2 and a half years and have also spent thousands on FFS and various treatments, which at least give’s me the confidence to go out. I also understand that some people are not so lucky and have to make do with what they were born with.

    In general, I get mostly, good days and a few bad one’s, but I found that by just smiling back at people helps, defuse any potential situation. My work colleagues seem to think that we are all brave and admire what we do and go through. I understand their sentiment but they seem to forget that for most of us, we do not have a choice. We just have to do it regardless of the danger.
    I am still tweaking my look to improve my female image and at least it is getting to the stage that I am “passing” without people really noticing. – That I am satisfied with, although I am realistic enough to know that I will never be quiet as good looking as most genetic females. (its just the voice that needs working on now)
    I am now totally at ease with my self and that somehow, seems to be projecting confidence through me and onto the general public. If that makes sense.

    Thank you for posting this blog and I wish you every success for the future. You look really gorgeous hun x

  9. The Goldfish says:

    That’s *such* a happy picture. So glad that you’ve got to this place, though it never should have been that hard. For different reasons, I know that “What does that look mean?” feeling all too well, only without nearly such a sense of peril. I hope your confidence continues to grow.

  10. Gill Butcher says:

    For some of us, passing is a non-starter, regardless of money spend etc. As long as people feel the need to pass, the vast majority of trans people will never be accepted, and many people will not bother to transition in the first place, living their lives in private agony.

  11. Lynn Jones says:

    As a Nottingham resident, if you can run the gauntlet between Station, Square and your destination, you’ve passed in spades.

    Congrats on sharing the little bundle of joy, BTW.

  12. Alice Denny says:

    Gill, some of us won’t “pass” ( a term I hate) but it doesn’t stop me enjoying being and looking as feminine as I feel, or trying to. And you know what? – I think that is what leads people to accept you , me , whoever as female , because they can can see that is the spirit we inhabit ( shut up Alice, you sound like a hippy) and then there are people who are d.d. gorgeous but who still have their own doubts- just like most women do- and even some who are giving and brave enough to “out” themselves and the rest of us get the acceptance benefit (naming no names in case Paris is abashed ) ( as if) xxx

  13. Lucy Melford says:

    That’s a lovely picture of you holding your baby cousin! £8,000 well spent, I’d say, Paris.

    Yes, we do all get obsessed about passing, and I can certainly remember feelings of terror as I darted between ‘safe’ places in the winter darkness of 2008/09.

    I’m not frightened nowadays, but neithr have I become especially feminine, and the possibility of meeting a transphobe is always with me. But you must get on with your life, and not hide, even if going out is a conscious decision with a risk attached.

    And as Alice says (hello, Alice, nice to be on the same blog with you) you can look gorgeous and still not feel right. Women never do, however pretty, because they may still not be the prettiest. Women are all insecure, never complacent, and always watchful. Just like any trans person in fact.


  14. Joan Heath says:

    Glad to know you feel happier. I do too!

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