home Beauty, GLBTQI, Society, Women Feminine presentation for trans women is a life or death issue

Feminine presentation for trans women is a life or death issue

My cisgender girlfriends tease me sometimes about the amount of time I spend perfecting my feminine presentation. They will also needle me about the lengths I will go to ensure it is as flawless as I can humanly make it.

But if they walked in my pumps for a minute, they would understand why I and other trans women place so much importance on looking as flawlessly feminine as possible.

I know how to apply my makeup to compliment my face and own a set of makeup brushes to do so. I experiment with new ways and various color combinations to create various looks. I own three makeup books for African American women that I refer to on a regular basis. One is written by Oprah’s Emmy-winning makeup artist Reggie Wells, another is by makeup artist Sam Fine, and the third is by Patricia Hinds for ESSENCE magazine.

I go to the nail shop twice a month to have manicures and pedicures done and keep a few bottles of my favorite nail polish shades at home to touch nit up between visits. I keep my eyebrows plucked, waxed and arched and do relentless maintenance on them. I ensure that any body hair that shows up on my legs, arms and underarms is expeditiously removed.

One of the first things I did when I started to transition in 1994 was spend countless hours and cash in my electrologist’s chair getting my face zapped. I’m planning to get laser done to hit the areas that stubbornly will not die when my cash flow improves.

In addition to stuffing myself in foundation garments, every now and then I indulge myself and get some of my bras and panties at Victoria’s Secret on sale (my inner Taurus still refuses to pay full price for them).

I get my hair done, and in between trips to the beauty shop I have a wig collection that is approaching Regine Hunter levels. My shoe collection is constantly evolving and expanding, and I can comfortably walk and stand in heels up to 3 inches in height. I do it so well that I once had a cisgender female co-worker ask me if I could teach her how to walk in heels.

I’m always on the lookout for fashionable clothes and accessories at reasonable prices to go with them.

And yes, I shop for pantyhose in various shades and styles to complement and complete my look.

Even though I’m 15 years into my transition, I make sure my feminine deportment and gestures are on point, that I’m speaking using a feminine speech pattern and maintaining a feminine pitch level.

Much of the rationale behind doing this is because of my speaking engagements, Trans 101 presentations and lobbying. I’m also considered a role model in the trans community as well, and the image I project to others is important to me and the community I represent.

Another reason is that I simply always wanted to be the best woman I can be and I enjoy reveling in my divatude. When you grow up in the wrong body, you tend to appreciate that suppressed femininity more when you finally get the chance to openly express it and live your life.

But one of the other reasons I’m so diligent about it is because in the back of mind, even though I’m consciously making the choice of projecting my evolving femininity in this way, I’m cognizant that performing my feminine gender presentation as flawlessly as possible impacts my life.

As a trans woman I have the same chance of getting sexually or physically assaulted as ciswomen do. The difference is that if the attacker perceives or discovers that I’m trans, the sexual or physical assault could quickly get excessively violent and put me six feet under my beloved Texas soil sooner than I want that to happen.

Fortunately I was born with a combination of features, a relatively androgynous voice, a body build and the looks that not only were enhanced by hormone replacement therapy, but allowed me for the most part to go about my daily life and be perceived as “one of the girls.” But many of my trans sisters aren’t so lucky. If you’re a trans woman that has a tough time blending in, it’s even more difficult.

That point is driven home by the fact that almost 70% of the Remembering Our Dead List memorializing fallen trans people is disproportionately made up of people of color.

It creates the imperative to make sure that you’re at your gender best at all times or face the consequences of interacting with a world that’s hostile to cis women and downright brutal to trans women.

6 thoughts on “Feminine presentation for trans women is a life or death issue

  1. still trying to own and overcome my own cis/white privilege; articles like this really help. i’m learning, slowly, i think. thanks.

    L

  2. Wonderful post, Monica. And even though it’s a shame you have to explain something like this to people, this piece provides an excellent retort to ciswomen (and especially to those cis womanists and feminists) who may not understand why many transwomen may be heavily invested in inhabiting and performing femininity.

    Those who subscribe to the point of view that femininity is a bad thing are missing out on the fact that, for many people, femininity can be something one can take pride and pleasure in or something that is deserving of equal treatment and respect as masculinity or androgyny. And highlighting the safety issues involved adds an extremely important layer to debate. This will be an issue until we live in a world where people will be able to express themselves in whatever ways they choose without a fear of violence.

  3. “Another reason is that I simply always wanted to be the best woman I can be and I enjoy reveling in my divatude. When you grow up in the wrong body, you tend to appreciate that suppressed femininity more when you finally get the chance to openly express it and live your life.”

    This is beautiful. I thank you

  4. It’s a shame that being so feminine feels like life/death to you.

    I lived with a girl as she was starting her transition (getting laser, changing her wardrobe), and she was very much a butch. I think she felt safer as a butch because if necessary, she’d just look like a boy who hadn’t quite hit puberty yet (the hairlessness). At least, she wouldn’t wear skirts in certain parts of town.

    Soon after we stopped living together, she started being more feminine. I think it was because she started living with a girly girl who could actually show her how it’s done instead of a tomboy like me 😛 I’ve only seen her a couple times since then, but she seems to have settled into a not-butch not-femme happy medium. Long hair, a little makeup & nail polish, but skirts aren’t a requirement. And I haven’t seen her since she left to get SRS two months ago.

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