(Trans)Women, diversity & the impossible beauty standard

Just a few weeks back this image was ragingly popular across social media, mostly accompanied by thousands of likes and positive, light-hearted comments. I absolutely don’t mean to spoil the party but, I found it interesting that my immediate reaction to it was not one of similar joy or cheerfulness.

So I asked myself why. And got to these conclusions.

If I can say something about this is that I am not sure whether messages like this do trans women justice or not. Of course I appreciate the positive message this is supposed to convey, but I can’t help reflecting on how this is being conveyed.

These women are all incredibly beautiful, they are all to different extents in the mediatic spotlight and many of them are models or actors. These photographs are clearly taken from professional photoshoots which have been created with the help of stylists, make-up artists, professional photographers and digital enhancement programmes. What I’m trying to get at is that the reality for most trans women (just like for most women as they are represented in the media) is that we do not look like this, and many of us, added to the impossible beauty standards imposed upon women in general, also feel the additional burden of having to ‘erase’ our masculine/androgynous features (when we do have them), in order to better fit in and ‘be beautiful’. What all these very beautiful women have, regardless of their open status as trans women, is a form of ‘passing privilege’ for their adherence to western hegemonic beauty standards, which are misleading, restricting and cause a lot of suffering and feelings of inadequacy.

And I am not interested in debating – at least not in this post – whether ‘passing’ is a thing, whether it should be relevant or not to trans people – and trans women in particular. The truth is that ‘passing’, whether one likes the concept or not, affects us ALL (and by us I mean people within the transgender community) in very tangible ways. And we are still judged upon the same old aesthetic standards, with the added burden that, if we fail to pass, we can incur in all sorts of discriminations and it does make our lives harder. What I would like to see would be the real diversity that is present in the community of trans women, because we are all different. I would like to see more pictures of us, not only our ‘public’, ‘media-palatable’ face. And I would like to see a message of positive inclusion or appreciation next to these diverse pictures, which include a wide range of us, with all of us being encouraged to feel confident in our beauty, or that we are somehow desirable, or even just likeable. (discussion on how our perceptions of our own beauty are linked to social appreciation and to the number of people who would potentially date us is sadly material for a different discussion)

And I am saying all of this from a very privileged position myself, which has come after years of painful discrimination as a gender-variant individual. But in my mind, and in my heart, are the looks and hopes of many of my friends who really suffer because of this, who are haunted by feelings of inadequacy all the time.
And I am sick of messages that impose impossible standards on us, intentionally or unintentionally implying that, in order to be accepted, successful or desirable, we need to be flawless, above average, ‘perfect’. This is so damaging on so many levels, this can literally break you. Personally, I’ve been broken by this, and I am still in the process of finding the bits and splinters and trying, with a little patience, to glue it all together again. I really want this to change.

Gabriella, or gender nonconformity revealed

Q: How did you become aware you had a different sexual orientation or gender identity?

A: Well, it wasn’t that hard.

At three I walked past the gates of my nursery school for the first time and saw the girls and the boys. They looked so different to me, and I thought ‘Who am I going to play with now?’ I went back home and asked my grandmother for a doll (which would shortly afterwards become the first victim of innumerable and unforgiven doll kidnappings) to go and play with the girls – I was incredibly popular among them, a true Princess and heartbreaker.

When I was five I used to spend my days planning extravagant fashion shows using towels and scarves I would find at home. My favourite act was ‘the Bride’. Total white, très chic.

At six I would jump all around on the sitting room sofas twittering to the astonishment of casual guests: ‘Oh, please, call me Gabriella, Gabriella!’ An inexorable doll by my side – Maria, my Caribbean doll.

I was a tall, skinny boy with matchstick legs, pale, freckled skin and shiny black hair trimmed in a bowl haircut. But I liked my name that way, Gabriella.

#ddl405 (draft bill 405) to support of trans* and intersex rights in Italy

In occasion of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphbia and Transphobia, we are launching this video to support a new draft bill (ddl405) for the rights of transgender and intersex people in Italy.

follow us!
Blog: http://disegnodilegge405.blogspot.it
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ddl405
Twitter: http://twitter.com/ddl405

sign the petition now! http://goo.gl/HINmWI

Ddl 405 to support the rights of transgender and intersex people
We are campaigning to:
– stop forced surgery for transgender people to enable them to legally change their name and gender;
– ease off the bureaucracy and relieve the expenses of transition;
– prevent the unconstitutional annulment of marriage in case one of the spouses changes their legal gender;
– end mutilating surgeries on intersex infants.

What ddl405 entails in a nutshell:
– easing off the bureaucracy of transition, making the whole judicial procedure for the legal gender and name change unnecessary. Submitting an official document certifying the condition of gender dysphoria to the local authority will be sufficient to allow a legal change;
– providing a guardian for transgender minors to support them in the necessary legal procedures to obtain access to surgery and legal gender/name change. A guardian would also be provided in case parents oppose the minor’s stated intention to transition;
– ruling that the legal gender change will no longer entail the immediate annulment of an existing marriage, which will happen only according to the will of the spouses;
– banning mutilating surgeries on infants born with atypical genitals (intersex infants);
– making transition cost-free and launch a programme to raise awareness on gender identity issues among providers of public health services.

Currently transgender people in Italy are forced to undergo surgical sterilisation to obtain a legal change of gender and name. Many married transgender people are denied the right to remain married to their partners after they get legal recognition of their new gender. Hundreds of Italian intersex babies undergo mutilating surgeries each year, to conform the appearance of their genitals to society’s binary gender expectations. We are campaigning to stop all these violation of our rights. Help us by raising awareness, and supporting our petition http://goo.gl/HINmWI

Late conversations on Tomboy

I’m not surprised in the least that such a film might be considered troublesome, even more than other openly “political” or militant films. It is the truthfulness of its story, that reaches beyond any superimposed ideology of gender/sexuality, that makes it so dangerous; a sheer narrative, free from mystification, of what might be anyone’s childhood, with its endless experiments, its desires and ambitions regularly censored by adults, its need to “fit in” through cherished games and pastimes. All these aspects of childhood merely shown for what they are, in their beauty, complexity and sometimes even their contradictions. This why I think critics of the film who reclaim it as an “identity politics” story, trying to determibe who or what Laure/Mikaël is, might be or would become as an adult, completely miss the point. And this film is most dangerous precisely because of its blithe disregard of any form of identity politics, in that it suggests that our identities are fluid – and are validated both through what we feel “inside” of us and through the recognition we get from others. This fluidity, I believe, is what most unsettles certain heterosexist premises that aim to convince people that identity is monolithic, immutable, preordained and suggesting the contrary is perversion, sin, aberration… epithets vary according to the censor’s ideology. In truth, these heterosexist premises push people to give up their individuality and conform to expectations (from holding certain beliefs to buying certain products), stop wondering and asking questions, giving up to others the power to decide who we are, and who we wish to be.