I take a lot of selfies. Like, a lot of selfies. I may be 33, but I have the heart of a young Millennial, posting a picture of my face on my way to or during all kinds of things. I love them. Is it vain: maybe. It helps me though. First off, it’s a confidence booster to put up a picture of yourself and get back a bunch of positive responses (good medicine for a day when dysphoria is particularly weighing on you). Beyond that though, I’m planning to do a transition video in the future and having that many images cataloged by date posted will give me a handy pool of pictures to show the timeline of little changes.
Occasionally, under certain circumstances, I’ll also post an old picture of myself pre-transition. Why? Well, because it’s fun to see people’s eyes get big as they shout “that was you?!“. I’m proud of how far I’ve come. I’m proud of how different I look now from when I presented male. I also know that before transition I used to look up other people’s before and after pictures to get an idea of what kinds of results I could expect from hormones over time and I want to give that same opportunity to others. Now, I don’t show those pictures to just anyone. Seeing an old picture can be a trigger for some trans people and for me it depends on the people I’m with. If I’m surrounded by people who know me as Faith and respect my identity, I have no problem showing them. If I’m around people that still want to refer to me by my old name and pronouns, looking at those pictures is depressing.
Earlier today I was on a makeup group on Facebook. I’m not the only trans woman in the group and occasionally one will post a before and after. It’s a really good group for the most part and most of the responses were pretty positive. Still, when you put that kind of information out there to such a big group of people, you’re going to get an array of responses. One that I kept noticing (and finally said something about) amounted to various forms of being hurtful without realizing you’re saying something negative. Comments like “you were so hot as a guy!”, “I would have totally dated you before”, “you look good as a woman but looked better as a man”, etc.
It baffles me that people think these are okay responses. The whole point of posting a before and after is to let people marvel at the transformation. When you uphold the past as being more desirable, you send a message that the trans person made a mistake. You also show that you see their transition as being something for you, not them. Transition is not something done for the benefit of others. It’s a selfish act and I mean that as a good thing. For transgender people, actually transition and living authentically is the ultimate act of self-care. It’s often done at the expense of friends, family, jobs, and even homes. That kind of sacrifice isn’t made for the benefit of others. In fact, living for others is what keeps a lot of transgender people in the closet in the first place.
Another thing to note is that these kinds of responses are a desire for a person that never actually existed. Remember, physical appearance never ever dictates gender identity. I don’t care if the trans woman you’re talking to looks like Jason Momoa; if they say they’re a woman, they’re a woman. Showing preference for the past photograph is to pine over a fictional character. That person never actually existed. They just pretended to be what they looked like to please an uncaring world. Saying you miss someone’s former identity is to tell them you want them to go back to pretending, go back to being miserable so you’re life can be improved on an immeasurably small level. It’s an asshole thing to do.
Finally, show some damn respect. Sharing a before picture, especially on social media, is a tremendous act of bravery. They didn’t owe you that. So often transgender people get asked for before pictures and it’s incredibly rude. You have no right to see how someone used to look, no claim to that information. When someone shows it to you, it’s as an act of pride. They want you to be amazed at how far they’ve come. It’s no different than sharing before and after pictures of weight loss. Would you tell someone “I liked you better fat?” Actually, scratch that. I actually have seen people say that and it’s just as creepy. If someone’s happy being heavy, awesome; more power to them. But if they want to make a change you should compliment the results of the journey, not lament that it was ever taken in the first place.
This is my before and after. It’s something I’m proud to show because I’ve come a long way. I like knowing it can serve as a source of hope for other transgender people not as far along as I am. I’ve been told before that Joe was a good looking guy and I’m inclined to agree. It doesn’t matter though; he didn’t exist. He was a masculine shell I was trapped in so I played the part and tried to make it normal. The picture on the bottom is real. The picture on the bottom is what should get the attention. Before shots are just a marker to show how long the journey has been. If you’re looking at them with any kind of longing or disapproval of the change, you’re doing it wrong and insulting the transgender person opening up to you.
So please, I beg you, don’t be an asshole if a transgender person chooses to show you their before picture. Take it as the tremendous honor bestowed upon you that it is. Be humbled by the act of bravery you’re witnessing. And, for goodness sake, don’t ruin the moment by implying the transition was in any way a mistake.