we can’t all be pretty: dangerous tropes ahead.

it’s dawned on me of late that one of the reasons i end up with such trouble in trans space is that i break a lot of tropes that the “trans community” (which, in this case, refers to trans women who serve as gatekeepers to trans-inclusive social space…) is deeply dependent on to justify its existence. they use a lot of “helping” language, saying it’s things like “passing tips”, but that’s kind of how female abusers often work: they make their abuse insidious, and impossible to avoid as a condition of presence.  i’m an abuse survivor and i can tell you that the way that the “community” eats newcomers is not entirely unlike how my mother justified years of abuse.

these include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. You have to be pretty to “pass”. this is offensive for a bunch of reasons, not the least of which is that it’s just not true. not all trans people care about passing, anyways; i sort of have to because i don’t come from many positions of privilege and passing privilege is one i certainly have in spades. (someday, if i get rich, talk to me again…) the reality is, at least if you ask me, that it’s a lot easier for “plain” girls to pass because nobody’s looking at us as sexual objects. either way, as the wonderful Natalie Reed put it on Twitter last night: The “passability = beauty, beauty = passability” trope needs to die a horrible, painful death. I couldn’t agree with her more, and there’s a lot of us out here trying to kill it in our everyday life.
  2. You have to be skinny to be a woman. i feel like i missed this memo. maybe it’s too much feminism, maybe it’s the reality that women come in many shapes and sizes, maybe it’s that something as ridiculous as “fat trans women always look like men”  (<—this came from Reddit, people), or maybe that we’re often denied safe medical access based on weight before we even get to the lack of safe medical access for trans women generally. again, it often feels like this memo didn’t make it to cisworld; our bodies as fat women are policed, yes, and often treated with disdain, but our gender isn’t invalidated because of the size of our asses.
  3. You have to be able-bodied/minded to be a woman. brb, going to ask my friend’s women’s wheelchair basketball team how this is working out for her. again, being a disabled woman comes with a kind of policing and often an assumption we’re not sexual (ha ha ha), but it’s not used to invalidate our gender wholesale except in the “trans community” and its handmaidens of hell, gatekeepers. for those of us who are disabled, this is especially annoying, since it’s so mind-numbingly stupid that it barely deserves comment; it implies that there’s something wrong with being disabled and that’s just…disgusting, ableist, and downright stupid. and, remember, folks, stupidity is not a disability.
  4.  Only other trans women will tell you the truth about your appearance. …because the outside world, which provides daily cues as to what you’re doing, both good and bad, doesn’t. oh, wait…they *do*. i get reminders about what i’m doing right and wrong every day, as do most people, from “your hair looks great!” to “that’s an…interesting…top.”   i mean it might not always be the politest feedback but it’s a lot better than what you get from the “community”…according to the “community”, i require $60k+ of facial work to pass. according to the rest of the world, that doesn’t seem to be an issue at all. sure, facial surgery could make my nose smaller or the folds on the sides of my eyes “normal”, but…my face is my face. it’s pretty enough for me, thank you very much, and i don’t want any other one. this may change, but the decisions we make about our bodies are ours alone and should involve the input of lots of people. that said, since this is always a fiery topic: if you choose to get facial surgery i am behind you 100%. if you choose not to get facial surgery i am behind you 100%. no exceptions.
  5. You’re too tall. It doesn’t matter how tall you are, you’re too tall. i’m a little south of 5 feet 10…probably close to three quarters of an inch south, but i round up because i’m an optimist. number of times someone has said my height must mean i’m a man: 0.  number of times someone has said something complimentary about my height: about every other day. sorry, world, i see a lot of trans women online believe that their height is a barrier, and i’ve been told by the “community” upon trying to enter its space that i’m just “too tall to pass” and…i love how tall i am, thank you very much, and most of the world seems to agree.  this was a special added bonus section inspired by the six-year-old girl standing behind me in line at the supermarket just now, who told me she wanted to grow up tall and pretty like me…i guess maybe sweatpants, a ponytail, and a t-shirt flatter me more than i thought?
  6. Trans women have to be femme to be women, or seen as women. i hate this because it’s super-insulting to everyone, from femmes to butches to all the people in between. it creates an environment of expected compulsory femininity (not entirely unlike what existed for all women prior to about 1960), which diminishes the identity of trans women who choose to be femme as well as invalidates those of us who aren’t. in other words, like most forced expectations, it wounds everyone. this expectation prevents people from being able to choose to be themselves and is often a very large part of formal and informal gatekeeping alike, two things that often are used to exclude trans people, especially trans women, from access to medical, social, and legal resources to assist in building their selves.
  7. Trans women have to be (this) or do (that). reality check, people: all these toxic tropes only support the patriarchal construct that is the same thing that HBSers, wadfems, and the patriarchy itself all conspire to do: claim that you are not good enough and keep their boot on your neck. there are a lot of insecure people out there in “the community” just like there are in the outside world, and behaving in ways that invalidate yourself to validate their existence and hegemony. i know that feminism has a colorful reputation in trans space, but for a lot of us who grew up exposed to both academic-formal and social-informal feminism, we see great common strands in that female self-empowerment helps change our lives, change our laws, and change our possibilities. i believe equally that trans female self-empowerment will help change our position, both as disdained in queer culture and as outsiders in our own worlds, but we have to actually do it and we need our allies to stand behind us and let us get together and figure out what to do next. it won’t be Seneca Falls, but it will be the beginning of the fall of the people who strive to keep us on their chain.

just think about what you’re enforcing, people. don’t engage in behavior that you can justify being okay for a trans person that would never pass muster if done to a cis person. remember that though our backgrounds and realities are different, we’re all people and deserve that much basic respect regardless of what the kyriarchy says we deserve…you might find, HBSers, wadfems, and “i’m not transphobic but…” types…that the kyriarchy doesn’t think as highly of you as you believe it does.

and no, before some HBSer claims it: i’m not bitter because i’m not pretty. as Ani Di Franco once put it, in words that resonated the second i first heard them in 1995 and words that i live by to this day:

i am not a pretty girl
i don’t want to be a pretty girl
no i want to be more than a pretty girl



One Comment to “we can’t all be pretty: dangerous tropes ahead.”

  1. Thank you, thank you for this post.

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