Standards of Beauty

Do you ever wonder what Medusa saw when she looked into the mirror for the first time? Did she admire her snake hair? Did she think that her eyes, which can turn onlookers into stone, were pretty? Did her snakes ever drip poison onto her shoulders, or was Medusa invulnerable to her own powers?

She was considered an ugly woman by the Greeks and the mythical hero that slew her. Her head eventually ended up on the shield of the goddess Athena, presumably to terrify her opponents.

I feel like I can relate to Medusa’s story. My body has also been feared.

There are so few studies on transsexual health that I cannot ask a doctor for information on how to take care of myself because the doctor will reply, “I don’t know how to help you.” It is only within the last decade or so that consensual studies have even been conducted with female-to-male transsexuals.

It is important to acknowledge that many of the studies conducted on male-to-female transsexuals were done with alarm on the part of the researchers (check out Dr. Viviane Namaste’s work for more information on this, or take one of her classes here at Concordia). The researchers were worried: why would a man want to give up his privileged position in life to become a woman?

I’ve had people studiously stare at me, trying to determine my gender. When I catch them staring, I stare back. People usually turn away in embarrassment. But sometimes they keep looking, judging the lines and curves of my body, glancing at my long thin hands and my pierced ears. Sometimes, I feel disappointed that my glance doesn’t turn onlookers to stone.

It’s not just me and my gender shenanigans that attract stares. It’s anyone who does not adhere to the white, assimilated, urbane, middle- and upper-class, monogamous, able-bodied, heterosexual Standards of Beauty as Defined by Dudes.

Those who look conventionally beautiful, adhere to gender roles and earn a “respectable” living can pass by, unremarked. But for those of us who don’t “pass,” who don’t get a “get-out-of-jail-free” card—where does that leave us?

In the book Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness and Liberation, Eli Clare, poet and essayist, writes, “The body as home, but only if it is understood that bodies are never singular, but rather haunted, strengthened, underscored by countless other bodies… The body as home, but only if it is understood that place and community and culture burrow deep into our bones.”

I feel like I spend a lot of time here in this column/blog/thingamajig defining what I am not: “No, I’m not a woman but high heels aren’t that bad. Yes, I’ve transitioned to male (or something) but I don’t really use he/him/his pronouns except when I need or want to.”

And I could define who I am, but it’s a long list. It’s an ever-changing list. I could tell you my queer quirks, except that I suddenly find myself disinclined to talk in public about how and whom I have sex with. Is that a turn-off for you, as a reader of a column about transgender issues?

Think about it, though: my parents could read my column. My friends read my column. Potential employers could read this. The only people that need to know about my sex life are me and my partners.

And my gender identities? Because surely I have more than one word to describe myself.

My gender can be reduced to “female-to-male transsexual”—and is, by my doctors and surgeon. But that makes my gender sound static and stagnant.

I have grown from there, gained stronger teeth and sharper nails, wandered from gender to gender, playing with boundaries, toeing the line then hopscotching over it, back and forth all my life. There and back again—and in other directions entirely.

At this point, I’m not even sure who I’m angry at. Gatekeeping psychologists? The patriarchy? Systems of privilege that allow and encourage oppression and poverty and suicide?

I don’t care to be held to cisgender standards of beauty defined by men. I shall be pretty for myself and no one else. And if that makes me a scarred Medusa, then at least I’ll go down waving my own flag, asserting that I am here.

P.S. This is my last column before I go for top surgery. I will not be writing for at least two weeks. Have a splendid reading week, everyone! Thanks for reading my column!

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