By Amanda J.
In my last post – Sometimes, All You Can Do Is Laugh – I looked at some of the lighter interactions I’ve had with others when posting on public sites. Often, this life is challenging for us and it’s good to have the opportunity to see the funny side of situations that otherwise have the power to cause us a lot of anxiety. However, there is a serious side to posting & the resultant interactions and that’s what I want to talk about today.
Look at photos of trans girls, and particularly CDers, on any of the photo-based websites or read the wonderful accounts of acceptance here and it’s very easy to form the view that most girls have it all sorted out. They live their lives in a climate of support from those close to them and have this trans thingy well and truly nailed down. For those at the top of their game, it’s hard to believe either that they were not born female or are not taking active steps to transition. After all, they were born for this weren’t they? Their beauty would challenge all but the most beautiful natural born women, their clothing choices put most women to shame and they just look completely and utterly feminine.
And then we contrast that with our own lives. Even the basics elude us. We struggle to walk in heels, makeup is a dark art that we’ll never master. That wig that looked so good on the website just makes us look like the proverbial ‘bloke in a dress’. And the outfit that couldn’t fail to give us curves in all the right places just seems to give us bulges in all the wrong ones.
And that’s only the superficial stuff. We may operate in an environment of intolerance or total secrecy. We latch onto anything that could ‘cure’ us of our unhealthy thoughts – marriage and purging being favoured strategies – and despair as it becomes apparent that what we have is not only ‘incurable’ but is going to get worse as we get older. There’s only a certain amount of time we can continue to delude ourselves that they’re ‘just clothes’ before the realisation sets in that there’s a lot more going on than we either realised or were prepared to admit. After all, if they are ‘just clothes’ why do we feel so much frustration when we can’t wear them or so much grief when we get rid of them? And why do we feel so amazing when we do give into them?
I could carry on but I’m sure you get the picture. We see those amazing looking girls on Flickr or wherever with their sorted out lives and compare them with the disaster that describes our own. And then feel even worse because there’s no comparison. They’re just in a different league to us and, quite possibly, are inhabitants of a different planet.
Or are they?
Let’s deal with the basics first. Sporty and athletic types will inevitably be slimmer and more toned than those of us who’ve never felt the need for exercise to maintain our physiques. Practice makes perfect where makeup is concerned and no woman, genetic or trans, is born able to apply makeup perfectly, they have to work at it and the truth is that a CDer who’s been dressing for a couple of decades is going to be far more accomplished than someone just starting out. They’re also going to have a far keener eye for outfit choices, understanding what enhances their femininity and what should be avoided. We’re all different and it’s a fact of life that some guys have faces with more feminine features than the rest of us. But the bottom line here is that if we persevere, we will get better and the gulf between us and the girls we admire will no longer be as large.
But let’s take a deeper look. It’s easy to get demoralised looking at a photo of a beautiful CDer who appears to have her whole life under control but does the photo tell the whole story or, in fact, anything approaching it?
There’s a big limitation on photos – they’re necessarily two dimensional. The saying goes that the camera never lies but nothing could be further from the truth; camera angles, lighting and the distance from the camera to the subject all have a significant impact on what the photo depicts but what about the third dimension? Here, I’m not talking about putting on a pair of red & green specs but what’s going on ‘behind’ the photo. Is that a smile of complete & utter bliss, of relief or just forced for the camera? Does that photo taken out and about in the real world mean that the subject is out and living the dream or just capitalising on a window of opportunity to spread her wings in an otherwise covert existence in a hostile environment? We just don’t know unless we dig deeper. And, by digging deeper, I mean reaching out by leaving a nice comment on a photo or sending a message. A few girls are so self-absorbed that they’ll ignore the message or even block you for daring to contact them but most will thank you for your kind words and some will give a lot more. And as I started to participate more and post my own photos on Flickr, other girls did start to share their own experiences with me and I was quite surprised what I discovered.
I’m not going to mention any names here but I’d like to share some of the things raised by other girls during exchanges with them. The first one was from a girl with nearly 3K Flickr followers. She always looks absolutely beautiful on her photos with immaculate hair & makeup and outfits to die for. She frequently posts photos of herself out and about, interacting with genetic females and generally living life to the full. Surely, her life is perfect? Actually no, as she told me:
‘I am married and none of my family members know I am transgender or carry on like I do when going out. My wife knew about my interest a year after we were married but didn’t like it at all. She is very intolerant and I do love her but [she] is not able to cope with this part of me so I just keep separate in our lives.’
Moving on to another girl, this time with 7K flickr followers, who reached out to me after reading my profile in which I have documented the highs and lows of this side of my life. She very much straddles the gender divide and works part time as a female. Again, her photos indicate that she has her life well and truly nailed down but this is part of what she wrote to me:
‘I can tell that you’re struggling with how to live your life knowing what you know about yourself. I don’t want to tell you how to live your life, but I will say that much of what you wrote could have come directly from my mouth both 30 years ago, when I first decided to move to San Francisco in 1990, and four years ago, when I decided that I wanted to volunteer and work as a woman. The latter event, I sometimes refer to (with my wife and other loved ones) as my “nervous breakdown.”’
And here’s another one, again from a girl who always looks amazing and often posts photos of herself out and about:
‘I have a hard time reconciling what is necessary for me and abhorred by my wife. We went through a very rough patch some 20 years ago when my dressing came to the surface – my lie, her feeling she had married a liar and her feeling she had failed somehow. Long story – one we have never revisited as it is too painful. The result was me just burying my feelings even deeper. I work hard to find balance. With that said – the older I get (now 60) the greater my need to present as a woman – I often wonder and muse about the reality of transitioning. It continues to surprise me how quickly and easily I lose my sense of maleness when I choose to present as [my female alter ego] – it feels so natural and I feel such happiness and calm.’
That’s only three examples but I have several more in a similar vein. Dig into the posts here at Kandi’s Land and, in amongst all of the positivity, you’ll find snippets that lay bare the challenges that are faced. These are all girls in their 50s or 60s who seemingly have it all and yet all have encountered significant obstacles and many continue to do so. But in many respects, we shouldn’t be surprised – ‘by the way, dear, I like to transform myself into a woman from time to time’ is not high on a list of things the majority of wives want to hear from their husbands. And most of us often have the distinct feeling that life would be so much more straightforward if we didn’t have to contend with all of this. Not to mention the years, if not decades, that we spend in denial before finally being able to accept that we’re not like other guys and realising that the only route to any form of contentment is to embrace it as best we can given our particular circumstances.
But against this background, we have to look for positives and, when we find them, grasp them with both hands. Sometimes those positives are easy to find – for starters, Kandi’s Land is a goldmine of stories of acceptance and the joy that embracing this side of our lives can bring if we allow it to. But even the girls who I’ve quoted above can serve as beacons of hope to all of us, not because we may have a fighting chance of looking as amazing as they do if we practise for long enough but because they have navigated through choppy waters – the same choppy waters that we fear will engulf us – and found some equilibrium in their lives, fragile though that equilibrium may be for some of them.
It’s not easy but, crucially, no one pretends that it is. Practically every single one of us has a story to tell about the challenges we have faced and many of us have stories about the trail of potential destruction we have left in our wake when trying to bring it into our normal life. We didn’t ask to be like this but that doesn’t mean that we can’t integrate it into our lives in some shape or form. We may necessarily live a lonely existence as far as this side of us is concerned but that doesn’t mean that we’re alone. Far from it in fact, even though we may not realise it. For me, the reward is quite simple – to be able to look in the mirror and feel absolute elation about the person smiling back at me. This side of me is still very much a work in progress but I can confidently say that I could never have got even close to where I am now without the inspiration of others, both those who gently inspired & encouraged me to be the best I can be and those who reassured me by sharing their own stories and proved that we can triumph over adversity.
It’s not easy being ourselves but neither is it impossible!