How good of an impression can you do of yourself?
Go on and try. See how good of a you, you can do. Think you can make it convincing? You probably think I’m talking crazy, right? You think there’s no such thing as doing an impression of yourself. After all, if you’re doing anything, it’s as yourself, right? Well, I can do one, and after years of practice I’d say I’m getting pretty good at it. As a transgender woman, I do an impression of myself every time I interact with someone. It’s an exhausting and mentally taxing thing to maintain, but for transgender women it can be a necessity.
This probably sound counter-intuitive to the pro-trans arguments you’ve heard before. But Faith, I thought the whole point of coming out as transgender is to not be pretending to be someone else? Well, that’s not what I said. I spent years pretending to be some guy named Joe. What no one wants to talk about is how coming out of the closet doesn’t mean you stop pretending, just that the way you have to pretend changes.
Let me explain. If I’ve ever talked to you on the street or on the phone, you heard me doing an impression of my own voice. See, unless I’m home alone or it’s just me and my partner, I don’t talk without first tightening my throat and putting extra air behind the words to raise the pitch of my voice. I’ve gotten really good at it over the years, to the point where it doesn’t take nearly as much physical and mental effort as it used to. But it’s still a conscious step I have to take between thought and speech. Here’s the point I’m trying to make with that: the voice I’m producing when I take those steps is my voice (or at least as close to it as I’m capable of). The much deeper, baritone-range voice that naturally comes out of my throat isn’t my voice. I don’t identify with it. It sounds foreign to me. That’s what dysphoria is all about: what you see in the mirror or hear when you speak doesn’t match your identity.
What’s the point I’m making in all this? Well, just imagine going through your entire day every day consciously doing a voice that doesn’t naturally come out of your throat. That can seriously mess you up, and it’s something I always think about when some troll on the internet posts juvenile, anti-trans statements like “you can’t change biology”, or “you’ll always physically be a man.” Their 4th grade understanding of biology and psychology aside, they’re somewhat right. Nothing is ever going to change my chromosomes. If I want to keep producing a voice that matches my identity I’ll have to consciously make the effort each time.
The entirety of the transgender experience is about pretending; you’re either pretending to be something you’re not on the inside or trying to look like something you are on the outside. Take makeup for example. Ask just about any trans woman and she’ll tell you that makeup is more than just a fun accent to your look, its a camouflage necessary for survival. This can be especially true if you’ve not been able to get your facial hair removed. I still remember how freeing it was to reach a point where I felt comfortable going out without makeup again. When I first transitioned, I did full-face makeup no matter where I was going or what I was doing (and let me tell you, that gets expensive!). It took a lot of time and energy, but I didn’t have a choice. Makeup is something our society codes as feminine, so having it all over your face gives you one more layer of protection between you and some transphobe being able to tell you’re not cisgender.
It’s not just makeup either. I know a lot of cis women who like to wear jeans and a hoodie when they run errands or are just hanging out with friends. Sounds simple, right? Not when you’re transgender. Androgyny can be terrifying when you’re trans (unless you don’t identify as a binary gender in which case it’s awesome). It means pulling back from the extremes of gender expression and making yourself more susceptible to being misgendered. Even if I just wear jeans and a t-shirt when going out, I make sure the shirt is tight enough to show what little breast growth I’ve managed thanks to the hormones I take. Boobies mean female. Boobies mean I get called ma’am by strangers and can safely use the bathroom. Boobies mean no one thinks I’m a man.
These are all just aesthetic choices made before I leave the house, but they all mean something much deeper when you’re transgender. I love girls clothes and makeup, but it takes some of the fun away when they move from indulged interest to survival necessity. What about days I would just like to wear a hoodie and no makeup? If I’m getting dressed up when I don’t feel like it, aren’t I still, in some way, living as someone I’m not? And remember, this is just talking about how other people see me; we haven’t scratched how it affects me personally. I still have some of my old boys clothes buried deep in my closet (which makes for an apt metaphor: i.e. it’s HIS turn to hide back there). The very thought of ever putting them on terrifies me. It’s not that I think it will take my identity away, but that it will keep me from seeing myself as a woman in the mirror. Androgynous clothing messes with my dysphoria enough, so putting on on actual “boy” clothes would be almost catastrophic for my mental state. I’ve worked very hard on my appearance, and each time I look in the mirror I see more of Faith and less of Joe. Between hormones, laser hair removal, diet, and exercise, I’ve spent months crafting my body to as close a representation of my inner self as I can. But the confidence I’ve built as a result is fragile, and I worry that wearing or doing anything masculine will destroy it.
Here’s the point I’m making in all of that: I don’t hate boy’s clothes. In fact, now that I’m not forced to wear them all the time, I’ve grown a new appreciation for some of them. There are times I think it would be fun to put on a shirt and tie again. Does that make me not transgender? No. Does that make me less of a woman? Hell no. There are plenty of cisgender women out there who like to wear boy clothes sometimes, be they formal or casual. It doesn’t take away from their identity and it doesn’t take away from mine. My problem is this: if I put on a suit and look in the mirror, will I see a woman wearing it or a man? That’s what scares me. That’s what keeps those clothes at the back of the closet. That’s what makes me keep “pretending”.
I don’t have a general poignant statement to make in all of this. Sometimes this blog is just a space for me to get my feelings out of my own head. If you’re trans and know what these feelings are like, it can be nice to hear someone else speak to the same experiences. If you’re cis, I hope this gives you at least a little insight into what it’s like to have dysphoria. Strictly speaking, pretending never goes away when you’re transgender, just the manner in which you pretend changes. I’d much rather change my outside to match my inside than go on acting like I’m really the boy the world always saw me as, but that doesn’t make it easy. That doesn’t take away the constant effort it takes to maintain that image.
So, if you open your mouth to speak and hear your own voice come out, congratulations. Cherish the synchronization between mind and body you’ve been blessed with. When you look in the mirror and see yourself, enjoy it. If you’ve never once had to wonder if the stranger you’re talking to is seeing you for you and not the person you’re trying to convince them you’re not, I envy you.