Social Media is a mixed bag for Transgender people when it comes to our perception of self.
It is no secret that we live in a society that is more connected in just about every way than any other time in recorded history. While in the past, we may have called a friend or a relative once a month to check in with them and see what was going on in their lives, we can now see the lives of total strangers in minute detail in a day-to-day fashion. If we watch or follow someone for long enough, we can learn a tremendous amount about them through observation alone- we can see what kind of coffee they like to drink, notice clothing items that they favor, if they have a preferred angle from which to take a selfie, if they have a desk job, and other intimate aspects of their lives that we would never have had access to just ten years ago. Both our habits of recording and displaying our lives and the extent of which we are connected to each other puts all of this information on each others’ screens on a daily basis.
We are able to meet both cruel people that the world would be better off without, or wonderful, like-minded people with stories similar to ours. We can see and celebrate the things that make us different as well as the things that make us unique. Sadly, with few exceptions, most choose to cherry pick the perfect, positive things that they wish to share, and keep the hardships and stresses perfectly hidden. I prefer to be more on the transparent and real side, but there are plenty of those who do not. This creates a biased lense in which the observer can develop a skewed view of others’ reality versus their own, even in transparent people whose positives far outweigh the negatives. Within a span of a week of following someone on social media, we can easily go from saying “Hey, that person is like me and I relate to them. I like them. This is neat.” to “That person is so far beyond me, has a seemingly perfect life, and I feel like less of a person because I’m not like them. This bothers me” or vice versa. It can go both ways, but because of our innate competitive human nature, it often ends up being the former.
This pattern takes on a whole new twist for those of us who are Transgender. Not only are we right in the middle of the rat-race that is our world both in and out of Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, and Twitter, but we also seek a form of validation and self-assurance that this kind of connected-ness can cast a very unique light upon.
It is in our nature as people to be accepted. To be seen as worthy or deserving of praise, time, accolades, and success. We all want to feel valid and be assured that we are normal or that there is “nothing wrong with us” but yet we want to stand out and be seen as exemplary among our peers. Not necessarily better- but we typically enjoy feeling that we are able to bring something unique to the community table.
When you are Transgender, all of the above applies but few things are more important than acceptance of the gender in which we identify and strive to express. We hope that we are seen as valid, respected, that our preferred pronouns are used when addressing us, and quite often, the holy grail is our ability to “pass” as the gender we identify as in society, and if passing is not an option, that we at least can blend in and not be seen as a sort of flaw in the overall system that must be singled out, either by ourselves or others.
Through the miracle of social media, we can meet and see Trans People from all over the spectrum of life. We see those that Transitioned in High School, those who transitioned later in life, and everyone in between. We also see those with seemingly unlimited resources with which to pour into transition. It becomes easy to both identify with those like us and feel somewhat alienated from those who seem so much further than us because, uniqueness aside, reaching those higher “levels” can feel unattainable, especially those who seem to be able to have every surgery imaginable in the span of a years’ time.
My experience with Social Media as Transgender person has been no different. Some of the most beautiful and inspiring souls imaginable have been found online. I can pick the brains of those who have been on hormones as long as I have been or longer, to compare journeys and experiences. I can ask for advice from my peers regarding how to keep a relationship alive through transition, and overall I have found an extended family that I never knew I could have. This proved immensely helpful in the early days of Transition, with so much uncertainty and unknowns- just to hear others say that things can work out and that they believed in me was beyond valuable.
I also struggle with not only comparing myself to others, but I am now susceptible to the barrage that all women experience daily- we are expected to look, act, carry, present, etc. a certain way or else we don’t measure up. While I have my days where I am proud to be on the more muscular, amazonian side, and I can see my progress over time having been made in leaps and bounds- I still have times where I feel like I just can’t quite get to where I am supposedly expected to reach according to society and social media.
It is easy to say “we are all on our own journey, and we are all able to be our own kind of beautiful”, but it is not always so easy to put into practice. I doubt that I am not telling you anything that you don’t already know, but I do want to tell you that if you are Trans (or Cis!!) and struggling with this, that you are not alone and that you are perfectly valid the way you are. There is nothing wrong with striving for self improvement, and it is very much ok to pursue whatever goals you have- be it surgery, hormones, a particular diet plan, needed to alleviate the dysphoria or feeling that something isn’t quite the way it should be, but we do need to realize that at the end of the day, the things that make us unique can often make us beautiful. I have several surgeries in mind as goals for the future, but even though I haven’t reached the point in my journey where those have become reality it does not mean that I am “behind” others who have already passed similar milestones.
I know it is hard to look at where others are on Instagram or Facebook, and forget that they started somewhere else and are on a journey just like we are. It is important to realize that we need to give ourselves time to travel on that same journey, even if ours takes different paths or moves at a different pace. I have said that I would give anything to have transitioned at an earlier age- not only could I have so much lost time back, but also I could possibly avoided many struggles by avoiding a male puberty. But my journey involved my waiting until I was 33 years old to start down this path. I started when I was meant to, and it is no less valid. I do have goals that I want to reach, but I can’t allow social media to hammer it into my mind that I am unworthy or invalid until I have a handful of surgeries or look a certain way. That same goes for all of us.
We should be celebrating the freedom to live in or express our gender rather than only gauging our ability to look the part. I think that in my case, I exchanged one gender role for another so fast and with such breakneck speed that I often forget the sheer scope of meaning behind it. For too long of a time, I felt unable to cry or express emotion, I felt that so many forms of simple self expression via body language or how I carried myself were off limits because I would be derided, or that I couldn’t partake in certain activities because I was expected to “be a man”. I have so much freedom to be myself now and how I look is only one piece of a much larger puzzle that is the journey into womanhood.
As a community, I feel that we as Transgender people have placed far too much focus on the superficial exterior part of the journey. We are bombarded by before/after pictures, gorgeous trans models who had every surgery imaginable, and people with endless wardrobes who never seem to wear the same garment twice. But this journey is not only pertaining to our outsides- only a part of it. I am all to familiar with the classic mantra of being Trans- the goal is to make our outsides reflect our insides. This is true, but we are also striving to develop our sense of self, or own identity, and often let our guard down so that we can come out of our shells just for the sake of being true to ourselves. In my case, being able to cast aside the bro-laugh, the stern eyes, and the puffed up pecs and exchange it for a soft smile, a giddy giggle, or the ability to just feel vulnerable or pretty INSIDE.
On a closing note, I will say that Social Media can be a valuable tool but we must also approach it with a guarded sense of mindfulness. It is thanks to technology that you are able to read this and hopefully my journey on various platforms has inspired others. I am sure that someone out there has compared themselves to me or you and felt the same way that we have felt ourselves when we look at our peers in the community. This is something that I have been trying to be increasingly mindful of and I encourage each of you to do the same both for the benefit of the community as a whole and for our own peace of mind. It sure becomes hard to grow or appreciate our journey if we spend every waking moment watching everyone else’s at the expense of our own.
If you are interested in my story, you can follow me on Instagram under the user “avidlyallie”. I have taken the approach of leaving my entire pre-transition life up to the present visible. If you look back a ways, one can see every back and forth, up and down, subtle hint as I came to understand and admit who I was and take my first steps down the path to my current journey of self discovery.