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