The Race To Enlightenment

By Amanda J.

I was recently exchanging messages with a good friend when she told me of the devastating impact that seeing another girl who seemingly had it all, had her own self esteem and it brought back my own memories of my early steps into our world and a path I took that ultimately threatened to destroy me.

Whether a full blown transitioner or occasional CDer, one thing perhaps bonds us above all else – a feeling that life would have been so much more straightforward if we’d had two ‘X’ chromosomes rather than the mixed bag we were actually born with.  We deal with nagging feelings that we don’t understand but seem to go away when we step into a pair of heels, only to return when it’s time to put them away.  That’s not to say that, by default, we necessarily want to cross the gender divide permanently – there’s a raft of difference between wishing one had been born female and actually wanting to take steps to become female – although of course, for some, that is the right option.

Many of us have suffered in silence & isolation for years, if not decades until, out of desperation, we have turned to the internet for advice.  And we find websites dedicated to people like us.  Websites with galleries showcasing the very best of male to female transformations.  We gaze open mouthed at the beauties before us and think ‘no way’ and ‘surely that’s not a guy’.  We perhaps even dare to think that, one day, we may achieve something approaching those heights of femininity and people will be looking admiringly at us in the same way that we look at these girls.

And then we look in the mirror and the bubble bursts.

The makeup that was supposed to transform us into a goddess just makes us look awful.  The wig which couldn’t fail to knock a decade or two off us just highlights the careworn and testosterone ravaged visage it frames.  And the clothes that were going to give us curves in all the right places just give us bulges in all the wrong ones.

At least the shoes look good.

It’s a crushing disappointment and the whole ritual which was supposed to give us relief from the frustrations we feel in our normal life has just made us feel ten times worse.  How on earth are we ever going to reach the heights that the girls in the online galleries have achieved?  How are we ever supposed to compete with them?

There’s a long answer and a short answer to that question but both start with words to the effect that this is not a competition.  The short answer goes on to say things like some girls are just lucky, practice makes perfect with the makeup brush and many girls use professionals for their makeup.  A level playing field, it often is not.  But the truth is that that is little consolation even when all we want to do is to look in the mirror and see a pleasant looking woman smiling back.

The long answer, as I’ve already mentioned, also starts with something like ‘this is not a competition’ but then goes on to say ‘but sadly, too many girls think it is’.  For example, girls on flickr breathlessly proclaim ‘OMG ONE MILLION VIEWS!’ and we start to see that as an aspirational figure.  And whether we’re secretly hoping that we’re going to get two million views and beat her or just set ourselves a target of getting one million views ourselves, we’ve just unwittingly entered the competition.  And all of a sudden, rather than indulging our feminine side for our own pleasure, we’re now starting to worry whether others will appreciate our efforts and, if so, how many.

If only that was the end of it but, of course, it’s only the start.  Now that we’ve joined the competition, we start to obsess about ‘passing’ which all too often is equated not only with being indistinguishable from a genetic female but also a beautiful one.  Now, the subject of ‘passing’ (which most definitely has little if anything to do with feminine beauty but let’s run with it) could fill several posts here on its own but there are broadly three ways by which a guy can achieve that level of feminine beauty on photographs.  The first is by being incredibly lucky in the looks department.  The second is by practising & perfecting their makeup skills over a period of years (or by seeking the services of a professional who’s done all the hard work for them).  And the third is by cheating by using one of the ‘apps’ such as FaceApp or YouCam to digitally enhance the photo.  What these apps can achieve is mind-blowing and, with a few taps on a smartphone screen, you magically become the woman of your dreams.  Post an image like that on Flickr and see an almost immediate uplift in the number of ‘faves’ and comments.  You’re rapidly moving up the field leaving others in your wake!

Except you aren’t.  I know from bitter experience that the pleasure from posting doctored photos is only transitory and very short lived.  The attention feels good for a while but is quickly replaced by the realisation that the adulation is for the image and not you, the underlying person.  And to make matters worse, others get unwittingly drawn into the fray as I found out when, as a result of posting an ‘apped’ photo, I received a message from another girl lamenting that she’d never achieve the dizzy heights I had (or to be more precise, she’d never achieve the dizzy heights that a completely faked image of me had).  So now, not only was I up to my neck in it, trying to compete for all I was worth, I’d also conned others into joining in too.

I wish I could say that that was the point I had an epiphany and came to my senses but sadly not.  I did gently explain to my correspondent that the photo was faked by an app and also stopped using FaceApp shortly afterwards but, otherwise it was business as usual, posting on Flickr and then checking every few minutes to see how many faves, follows and comments I’d got.  And then the bubble finally burst – the expected flurry of activity from a post just didn’t happen and emotional meltdown followed.  All told, it took me four weeks to pull myself back together and the truth is that whilst many of us strive to keep this side of our lives separate from our normal day to day lives, when it all goes wrong that’s no longer possible.  A breakdown in ‘her’ world is a breakdown in ‘his’.

Let’s make no bones about it, it’s hard not to try to compete in an environment where vanity is almost seen as a virtue but the truth is that the long answer to the ‘how can we ever compete’ question is exactly the same as the short answer – it’s not a competition.  Full stop.  Period.  Nature has dealt us a challenging hand but, as a consolation for that, she has also given us something else – a means to truly find ourselves and experience unimaginable joy when we do.  Why should we taint that by worrying what others think or, even worse, spend that precious time when we can fully express this side of ourselves in a state of disappointment because we don’t think that the resultant photos look good enough to post?  Why let the achievements of others demoralise us when they can inspire us?  Who is more important here – you or a collection of anonymous individuals who will move onto the next person when they tire of you?

Of course, it’s nice to have the validation of others telling you how nice you look or how you were born to be a woman but, in truth, you only need the validation of one person and that’s yourself.  If you can set the inner woman free and experience that feeling of unadulterated ecstasy, you should not give anyone the opportunity to take that away from you, whether intentionally or not.

And this story has a happy ending.  Both the friend I referred to at the beginning and I are in better places, accepting ourselves and not comparing ourselves to anyone else.  I learned the hard way to view the online community as a place to be inspired by others, not to expect my fragile feminine ego to be fed by them.  

But best of all, when I look in the mirror and see a familiar woman looking back, she – I – can’t stop smiling.  That’s all I need, nothing more.   Life can sometimes conspire against us and we’ll pick up knocks and bruises along the way but as long as we learn from them, not let them rule us, we’ll end up in the right place in the end.

16 thoughts on “The Race To Enlightenment”

  1. Amanda,
    I love the way you summarized it all with the words: “in better places, accepting ourselves and not comparing ourselves to anyone else”.

    Life is very hard, and only as we mature and experience the many lessons that come our way can we finally reach the point of “accepting ourselves”.

    Your wonderful and helpful writing is a big comfort to me, and I’m sure to thousands of other women.

    Thank you dear friend.

    Jocelyn

    1. Jocelyn, thank you for your kind words. Sadly, what many don’t realise is that this whole trans thingy is a double edged sword; thanks to the internet, we have legions of supporters only too happy to encourage us but it’s all too easy to be seduced by that encouragement and then feel destitute when it all goes wrong, for whatever reason. I checked this morning and I’ve got 878 followers and have blocked another 137 – that’s a total of 1,015. The mistake I made for a long time was thinking that that meant that I had 1,000+ supporters who would be enthusiastically waiting for my next post. The reality, of course, is that most of them clicked the follow button because of what I am or what I’m wearing. I would guess that probably only 2% to 3% of the total had a genuine interest in the person behind the image – the 137 who I’ve blocked certainly didn’t because if they’d bothered to read my bio, they’d have known that their photostream content or group memberships went against my values and would have moved along pretty quickly!

      That realisation is a hard pill to swallow but the good news is that once it has been swallowed and the side effects endured we do end up in a far better place.

  2. Throughout what I guess I will refer to my emergence (not like a butterfly, more like a cicada – except it has taken more than 17 years!) I have faced the same struggle as each of you. That is, trying to get the outside in synch with the inside. And like most of us, I was hyper-critical of myself, from head to toe. Yes, I wanted to pass. Mostly because I hoped I might be more comfortable out in public if I thought I could be mistaken for a biological woman. As it turns out, I had the process backwards. I had to get comfortable with myself, then I gradually reached the point where the combination of clothing choices, physical adaptations and makeup clicked. I still don’t “pass” at least not close, critical inspection, but honestly, the people I encounter seldom subject me to such inspection. The people who recognize me as a transwoman almost always respond with a smile.

    1. Kim, thank you for joining the discussion. Your point about passing is a very good one and is probably top of the list of insecurities in this community. But as your experiences, and those of Kandi and several other ladies here show, once self-acceptance kicks in, the insecurities diminish and there are some amazing rewards that are there for the taking. From my viewpoint, acceptance is far more important than ‘passing’ (whatever that means and I could write a whole post on that particular point – maybe I will!!) and that comes from fitting in. We don’t need to change the definition of ‘woman’, just conform to what society expects.

      There’s a woman who works in my local supermarket who I suspect is trans. I’m perhaps more tuned into the signs than most other people she encounters in her working day so I guess that practically everyone she encounters either views her as a biological female or, like me, wonders for a second or two and then thinks ‘so what?’. There’s no blueprint as to what a woman should look like, just societal norms that most conform to to some extent.

      Of course, I have to declare that I’d love to be mistaken for Kate Middleton but, at 61 and with XY chromosomes, I’m resigned to the fact that it’s probably never going to happen!

        1. Jocelyn, I hate to tell you this but whilst Kate and I do enjoy a similar taste in stilettoes and, when she’s 61, she will almost certainly be drawing inspiration from my creative genius with the eyeliner, there is a side to me that she may not be quite so enthusiastically wishing to emulate. Prince William may also have something to say if she was to decide to go down that particular route, as may the British public, given that she’ll almost certainly be Queen Kate by that stage!

  3. Amanda,
    I do understand where your comments are coming from because I’ve lived the scenario for a while . The problem is you are having to compare with other trans/Cders because your situation hasn’t given you the full opportuntiy to live totally in the RW . I know you state it probably won’t happen but I didn’t discover all the answers until I had gone down that road .

    I admit it was a learning curve for me when I went full time , my basic criteria was to be accepted as near a female as possible . So I took a good look round at the women of my age group and found I was dressing too well and applying too much makeup . For a while I copied until I found my own look and style . For everyday I still apply too much makeup compared with most women but then most women don’t have to cover male traits . I now dress what I feel is appropriate and like most women I sometimes get it wrong but that is the joy and challenge of being a trans woman .

    When I look in the mirror I’m happy if I don’t see the obvious man but to get this in context how many women look in the mirror and don’t like what they see . To take that comment a step further consider F/M trans people who don’t want top see the obvious woman .

    Take care when comparing yourself to other trans /CDers not all the pictures are real besides very few women in the RW look like catwalk models , attempting to copy them doesn’t help to pass in the RW it makes you more obviously a CDer or a man in a dress . It’s also important to remember some people like the act of dressing and being read as a crossdresser , there is no harm in that , they enjoy the “High ” for a few hours and then happily slip back to join their male friends for a pint at the local . We are driven by different needs , I want to integrate into my community as Teresa ( or Terri to most ) and it’s so good to say it’s happened .

    1. Terri, thanks very much for taking the time and trouble to comment. I count myself lucky that I have learned the lesson, albeit with a few bumps and bruises along the way, but sadly many more haven’t. You’re absolutely right about not all of the pictures being real and, in fact, it’s a problem that’s getting worse. Notwithstanding the fact that we’re 3-4 times their age, there are many similarities in attitude with the teen/young woman community where places like Instagram are now chock full of filtered photos. I had a debate with a female member of my staff who’d responded to my request for a head & shoulders photo for our website with an Instagram special – we’re a healthcare provider, not a modelling agency! What I couldn’t get through to her was how much better she looked without the photo trickery and, despite numerous requests, I never did manage to get her to submit a natural photo. She ended up resigning for an unconnected reason.

      But taking that analogy a stage further, I know from my daughter that Instagram ‘likes’ and followers or YouTube/TikTok view numbers etc. are badges of honour. Great when you’re getting a lot of them but pretty disheartening when there’s no interest. As far as I’m concerned, there are two time-worn expressions that sum the situation up – firstly, I should have been old enough to know better and secondly, I had to learn the hard way!

  4. Amanda,
    Some may call me old fashioned or possibly worse but I choose not to join social media sites , I’m not convinced they really help . I much preferred to join real social groups , I found it so helpful to chat to others face to face and more importantly to chat to their wives or partners . It was a great insight into how they accepted the trans situation . It also helped me to gradually adjust to being with open society and at the same time show society we are normal people and nothing to fear .

    1. Terri, I think not joining social media sites is very forward thinking, not old fashioned! There are situations where they can help but they tend to be a hotbed of narcissism, fuelled by a seemingly endless stream of people only too happy to tell you what you think you want to hear. Interactions are important, whether in the real world or in cyberspace, but the interactions I have here are worth far more to me than any number of faves & follows on flickr, most of which have been prompted by fascination with the fact that my appearance doesn’t match my chromosomes!

  5. Amanda,
    My experience with FB is short lived , in fact I joined without realising it . I was checking out a wig supplier who’s website was down so they were forwarding enquireries through their FB account which meant an account had been opened without my knowledge . Within a week I had so called friends and relatives from all corners of the World , my son saw my account and told me in no uncertain terms to cancel it . I explained the circumstances and added I was only too glad to delete my account , thankfully no pictures had been copied over from a CDers forum I was a member of then . That’s now water under the bridge as all my family have met me so I no longer have to play cloak and dagger games .

    Being old enough to know better , well I guess we’re from a generation with different values but I also admit I’m still learning some lessons the hard way .

  6. As with everything you say, this is very insightful and thought provoking, Amanda. So much good information for a girl like me to absorb in your message and in the comments. I feel like I’m often just observing from a distance what so many of you ladies experience in real life. I hope to be able to put in practice what I’ve learned from people like you and these others who have contributed or commented and thus learn from the mistakes of others without having to experience all the same mistakes myself before I am comfortable living as myself in the real world. You and these others are my heroines and I am so thankful to absorb the wisdom you all have to share. Thank you so much!

    1. Liz, thanks for your kind comments.

      Firstly, I would say that you’re a lot closer to the epicentre than you give yourself credit for. You’ve grasped what far too many others in your position still haven’t and that’s that you can participate and interact with others in the community without the risk of either this side of you being revealed to people you don’t want or rejection because someone may think that you’re not far enough along the trans spectrum to be taken seriously.

      Secondly, I think you’ve got a really interesting story to tell. You’re still fresh to all of this and having experiences for the first time and that will resonate with an awful lot of people, particularly if they’re cowering in the shadows wondering how they’re ever going to break free. It’s important to remember that whilst we can be inspired by others, we can also inspire too. It’s about finding one’s niche. I’d love to be out and about like the other ladies here and each time I read about their experiences, the urge to do so strengthens. Sadly, my home circumstances make that difficult so you’re probably not going to read about me volunteering at a museum or taking dance lessons or having a cup of tea in an English tea room anytime soon. But I like to think about things. Why was my makeover so transformative? I got three posts out of that one! Why did my confession to my wife go so catastrophically wrong? That one was a five-poster! I’ve been a serial purger, an enthusiastic (ab)user of FaceApp and driven myself to a nervous breakdown. I make all the mistakes so you don’t have to!

      But there is a serious side, too. Because I can’t be out and about like others here, writing is my way of belonging. My mistakes, insecurities and, from time to time, triumphs are my ticket to the party. Actually, that’s not true as this is a party you don’t need a ticket for as all are welcome – you just need to turn up!

      And here’s a final thought. Why don’t you talk to Kandi about posting something here? As I said above, I think you’ve got a great story to tell and, let’s face it, if she allows a soon-to-be-62 English floozy post her ramblings here, you should have no problem!

    2. Liz,
      We all make mistakes , it’s part of the learning process . I’m so glad you made the comment about the support some of us give , we are out there flying the flag and spreading the word so when it’s your turn you will enjoy it all the more . Society is getting better , perhaps moreso in the UK , most of our fears reside in our heads and many of them prove false fears .

  7. Amanda, you have a lot more confidence in me than I do in myself. The thought scares and thrills me at the same time. It would almost be like going out public for the first time, exposing my vulnerabilities. Kandi has already shared some of that story here that I shared with her, without using my name as I was still pretty shy about it at the time. I didn’t think I was experienced enough to really have anything meaningful to share, yet you ladies here seem to think so, even if it’s for other upcoming girls in the trans world. I’ve never personally interacted with other girls like us, and I think it would boost my confidence to do so. Everything I’ve done I learned on my own, mostly from tutorials and advice like what’s available on sites like this one. It would be good for me to step outside my comfort zone and try new things. The worst that could happen is I might get criticized or ridiculed, but those are just words. I know the greatest personal growth and confidence comes when you are willing to push your boundaries, after all how can you improve and change for the better if you’re only willing to do those things that make you comfortable? As you know, I am into flying and I can compare it to that. There are many phases of training that were very uncomfortable and nerve racking such as crosswind landings or flying solely on instruments. It takes intense focus to get it right but after you’ve pushed yourself and done it a few times, it becomes much easier and more natural. Thank you for the suggestion. Maybe it’s the push I need to expand my horizons while maybe even being a benefit to others. Believe me I’ll think long and hard about it and maybe even come up with something worthwhile and then maybe talk to Kandi about sharing it.
    Thank you so much!

  8. Teresa,
    How right you are. Often we’re our own worst enemy. But I’m so glad to have others like you and Amanda that are willing to share with us their trial and error, emberassing as it might be, to help pave the way for others and keep them from making many of the same mistakes. Yes, things are getting better for many of us here as well, but there is an activist class that is ruining so much of it with their insanity, by acting completely crazy. I think it is a turnoff for most actual genuine trans people that the activists think they’re standing up for.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *