As an incognito trans woman with little liberty for self-expression, it’s hard for me to find ways to see myself as I want to be seen. For reasons both cultural and personal, I can’t keep much makeup on me, dress as I would like to or live freely as who I am. Being comfortable in my own body and with my own appearance was something I had to work on, and still strive towards every day. I was at least fortunate enough to have inherited my mother’s looks and am able to keep my hair long enough that I recognize the person I see in the mirror.
Very few trans women actually get gender confirmation surgeries; certainly there are many who want to but can’t, but many for a variety of reasons do not wish to, either. This is similarly true for hormone therapies and, to some extent, even clothing and make-up.
Most trans people experience gender dysphoria in some way – the feeling that they do not belong in their bodies, that they are ‘off’ somehow and meant to occupy something different. Dysphoria is different for everyone, but it exacts the same mental toll. I am lucky enough to not have to deal with it every day, or even on most days, but the sensation is always there in the back of your mind, threatening to rear its head at the slightest provocation.
Existing in a vessel that doesn’t really feel like you gets exhausting, no matter how much you don’t feel a need to change your body or always present as yourself. You can train yourself to deal with it as much as you like, but the trauma of a mislabeled existence and the sheer impostor syndrome of feeling like a stranger in your skin adds up.
The internet actually provides an unlikely but effective refuge. Not just in the sense of providing the anonymity and community that queer people rely on so heavily to be themselves, somewhere in their lives – but also in how modern apps, accessible cameras and image software can help alleviate dysphoria by making you look more like “you.” Everyone knows the power of a perfect selfie – with the right angle, expression, lighting and sometimes filter, you can virtually transform yourself.
This also applies to how masculine or femme you want to appear. For the pictures I display online I almost always prefer to be clean-shaven, as do a lot of transfeminine people I know, though a little stubble is certainly not far from fetching. It depends on your comfort with it.
It also helps to be well-lit, not just because it can make your skin appear smoother, but also because it can wash out shave lines and five o’clock shadows.
It’s not the fanciest way or even the most efficient way to feel more like myself – but I do what I can with the tools that I have.
Even in situations as constricting as the ones I find myself in, these pictures and the friends who I share them with enable me to escape the dead names and uncomfortable treatment that follow me everywhere.
Unlike when I was a teenager — forced into bowl cuts, unable to recognize the boy I saw in pictures of me — today’s apps let me see myself: not perfectly actualized, but as a beautiful trans person nonetheless.
I have two lives, one online and one off, and I’m happy to be able to look like myself in one of them.
It’s an imperfect solution to an imperfect problem. It sucks that I still need to make myself appear a little closer to a cis feminine idea of ‘woman’ to feel better; I am quite happy with how I look. I doubt I’d want the affirmation if the world didn’t keep telling me I have to look a certain way to be a woman. It feels untrue in some ways, even as it soothes my soul and mind and makes me feel cuter.
Because even as I feel prettier, I realize that my self-worth should not be tied to how cis I can make myself look. But I know that it works and I know that it keeps the dysphoria at bay, so I am content for now to keep putting forward this version of myself.
I hope that we can reach a point of acceptance of trans people and the trans community that doesn’t require us to always look how feminine people are ‘supposed’ to look. True acceptance is when we recognize and appreciate the range and diversity of trans people and their beauty.
It’s time we started talking openly about our mental health. Join the conversation on Bell Let’s Talk Day, January 31, and help end the stigma around mental illness. For every text message sent and mobile or long-distance call made by Bell Canada and Bell Aliant customers, Bell will donate five cents to Canadian mental health initiatives. The same goes for anyone sending a tweet using #BellLetsTalk, watching the Bell Let’s Talk Day video on Instagram or Facebook, or using the Bell Let’s Talk Facebook frame or Snapchat filter. But talking about it is just the first step: Visit letstalk.bell.ca for more ways you can effect change and build awareness around mental health.