The Cycle of Becoming and Un-Becoming
Femininity does not belong to cis women.
This is a misconception I feel in my day-to-day life as a trans woman. People assume my attempt is to conform to the way society wants women to behave and to contribute. But my aim is not to blend in. My aim to understand what it means to be a woman... to listen to my instincts and make up my own rules. The system is so fragile, words can unhinge it.
Gender is a made-up concept. It’s something that is seperate to sex and our physical anatomy. When this is understood, the precarious foundations of stereotypes that have been bullied into us begin to crack.
My beauty is a trans woman’s beauty. A rediscovered expression of femininity that was conditioned out of me as a child because I was Assigned Male At Birth. Like most people raised as male, I was expected to be masculine – quite strictly.
I refer to my transition as my “constant becoming”, and in my becoming I am also unbecoming. I am unbecoming the boy I was conditioned to be, and at the same time becoming the woman I’ve always felt inside me, but who I suppressed and attempted to forget. On my path of unbecoming I shed the false masculinity that I adopted, and on my path of becoming, I reconnect with my childhood desires to be feminine as well as discovering and embracing what my masculinity is as a woman. These traits I self-identify as masculine to feminine are desires to express what I was born with. Combined and mashed and projected out, this is my expression of gender.
Words and language must be flexible, or else they control us. I am a girly princess. I am hardcore tomboy. I am a wild animal. I am a tree. I am whatever my heart feels to be.
Too often trans women’s beauty is measured against that of cis women, as though our validity at being beautiful and being a woman depends on how much we can look like cis women.
Too often trans women’s beauty is measured against that of cis women, as though our validity at being beautiful and being woman depends on how much we can look like cis women. We’re often referred to as “passing”, but even this language implies that we are attempting to disguise our transness to appear cis. It is true that we are female, but our bodies developed completely differently to cis women's bodies. In many of us, testosterone was changing for most of our developing lives. We do not deny these changes that shaped of our bodies, our faces, our voices, our minds – we know them as only the beginning of our transformation.
Trans women share that history, but we each have our own paths toward finding ourselves in our bodies. The trans experience is not a list of boxes to tick. It is a personal quest to self discovery. In fact, this is universally human. It is not natural to be designed by someone other than yourself. We are our own projects. We are entitled to freedom. We feel the lowest lows, breakthrough obstacles and reach the highest highs to self realisation.
I identify as trans because I’m on this journey of transition. From understanding myself as male, something I was told and made to be, to now knowing myself as female. From unbecoming the conditioning to express my gender in a way that felt unnatural to me, to learning to embrace my feminine desires and unpacking in what ways masculinity is a part of me, as it is for us all.
For some trans women the unbecoming may involve surgery to change the impact testosterone has had on their bodies, but this is not an essential step in a trans woman’s transition. It is not a prerequisite for trans women to choose to medically or surgically transform their bodies to be comfortable in their gender expression.
I made space for myself to express in a more feminine way and became more confident. I’d borrow clothes from my girlfriends, and explored my self-expression of gender and sexuality through my style. Clothes have been a constant. To this day, dressing myself has been a tool for transformation. I use clothes to adorn and respect my body, and to celebrate my identity through the expression of my body. When I began identifying as female, clothes were the medium to emphasise my womanhood. Wearing skirts and dresses was a bridge in the relationship between me, my sexuality and my gender.
It changed the way I saw myself as well as how others saw me. My gender expression was not always welcomed by strangers in public, as is the case with most queer people beginning to express themselves outside the social norms of masculine male and feminine female. But it was recognised. I built up strength to resist the hate, and learned to love the diversity of bodies in my community, in turn learning to love my own.
The more prominent presence of trans women in mainstream media has been good in exposing the masses to our existence, but our representation is often manipulated to fit into a box that is hyper-feminine, sexy, beautiful – the conventional idea of what a woman is expected and conditioned to be. It doesn’t take into account our background, or the physical memories on our bodies from a testosterone-fuelled puberty. If we do not fit into the glossy magazine pages that determine the ideals, we are denied access to that space. Unless we fit into this box, we are not represented as women, and this encourages the toxic belief that if trans women are going to choose to identify as female, they have to conform to conventional standards of feminine beauty.
What the media is doing is highlighting a side of transness that doesn’t disrupt the gender conventions in society. It is a means of controlling, rather than embracing, something they don't understand. They are not celebrating the identity of trans women or our stories, but encouraging people to see trans women as people who can, and therefore should, pass as cis women, so that people don’t have to be confronted by the existence of trans people and the reality of how fragile the rules of society are.
If you want to truly celebrate trans women's beauty, reassess your expectations of us. Know that that we are beautiful because of our unique experiences of transitioning from our past to our present, from learning to embrace our desires and emit our own unique beauty. It’s not about how we look, it’s about what we’ve achieved. Celebrate who we are, not who we can look like. Not how well we fit into the gender binary of conventional male and conventional female. We are not, and cannot be, conventional. Our womanhood is somewhere else.
To my trans siblings, you are so strong to have admitted your desires to yourself and you are so brave in taking control of your life. The road can be hard when you are not born free, but realising you’re a prisoner is the first step to finding freedom.
Find your family and find yourself <3
If you’ve recently started unpacking your gender and require a community who can understand you from having similar experiences, Queerspace Youth is an organisation that runs regular events for Queer, Transgender and Gender Diverse, Intersex, and Questioning people aged 18-25.