There are three things about my appearance that are very evident at first glance:
1.) I am transfemme
It is perhaps the most obvious thing people notice about me. I do not “pass,” nor have I made passing a driving goal in my transition to this point. I may always look trans, and while that causes me some significant discomfort, it is an objective reality of my existence. No amount of griping over it will change that fact, nor will complaining about how I look more quickly afford me the gender-affirming procedures I would like to obtain.
Transitioning takes time, and I am highly cognitive of the fact that, for now, my only option is to keep moving through the world in a way that gets me clocked. The alternative, for the record, is to fucking die, and I will not give transphobes the satisfaction of my absence from their world.
I am here to participate in the world as myself. Nobody else will do, and anybody who has a problem with that can fuck right off.
2.) I am tall
I think this is the next thing folks notice about me because people, particularly those of short stature, often look up at me as though I am a building, and they are shocked by the scale of it. It is often uncomfortable and always results in dysphoria.
My height and the foundational scale of my body are never going to change, and that’s something I have to live with despite the intense amount of anxiety and dysphoria I experience when people want to discuss how tall I am.
3.) and I am fat
The dimensions of my body often seem to be what causes people so much pause. I have had thin cis women laugh at me as I shop plus-sized sections of stores. I have been treated as an intruder in dressing rooms, even once catching a skinny cis woman asking a dressing room attendant at a department store, “Why is there a fat guy in here?”
That I not only have the nerve to be trans but also fat? It pisses off enough people that I have grown somewhat used to being treated like I am emitting a foul odor in public spaces. People turn up their noses and glower, some folks daring enough to add words to their disapproval, to let me know that they see me as a man in a dress.
The fact that I am trans, tall, and fat are the three things people judge me for most harshly. And yes, I assume people are assholes when they stare. I have to. Projecting goodwill upon someone who has been frowning and hard-staring at me for a full five minutes is a practice of ignoring reality, and that does not serve me or keep me safe in public spaces.
I have been told that I deserve to burn to death.
I have been told that I am gross.
I have been pointed at, laughed at, bumped into with intent, touched without consent, followed to my car, screamed at, and threatened.
These things happen to me because the cross-section of who I am as a plus-sized trans woman makes some people mad enough to hate me as though I have wronged them. In cases where I have been touched, caressed or sexually brushed up against in public spaces, it doesn’t seem like hatred, but rather a misogynist public ownership over feminine bodies. It probably goes without saying, but every person who has ever touched me without consent was a cisgender man.
It’s worth noting that since I began transitioning and started dressing femme, I have experienced men intruding upon my personal space in a way that never happened when I pretended to be a man.
My sensitivity to shitty treatment in public is not the problem.
I am working on how to protect myself without sacrificing one of my greatest strengths to do so. My sensitive heart is a beautiful and fierce part of who I am as a person, and I refuse to feel shame because assholes use that fact to hurt me.
I especially hate the metaphor of “growing a thicker skin,” especially with the condescending manner in which this declaration is made. I do not need to “grow a thicker skin,” I need to develop a shield that protects my sensitive skin, something I can put away when I get home. Therapy facilitates this for me.
Can you imagine if a dermatologist told a patient that they needed to become rough and desensitized to protect their epidermis and the underlying dermis? Why not just remove the skin entirely and replace it with an exoskeleton? How much would I miss out on in life if I grew a permanent callus across my body that prevented me from feeling touch?
My sensitive nature is how I feel the world around me, and I am very, very done being told by people that my whole problem is that I am too sensitive.
My sensitive disposition is my greatest strength, and healing myself and growing as a person does not involve shrugging off my personality to better fit into a sick and toxic culture.
These are merely truths, not critiques of myself.
The thing is, when people stare too long, I do not always know why. I like to assume that it is because they are curious or think I am attractive, but so often, the intent seems to be to make me uncomfortable. I do not know if people are staring because they find me attractive or repugnant. I look to people’s faces when I see them stare, and so often, I sense hostility.
Sometimes it is overt and easy to diagnose. The guy yelling at me while I am wearing a pretty dress is mad at me for existing as a large trans woman, and even madder that I refuse to respond to him.
Often, cis women are uncomfortable with my presence because they regard me as a man and think that I am infringing upon their spaces despite being in my own goddamned dressing room or bathroom stall, not theirs.
Sometimes it is just generalized hatred of my existence, and people get mad at me for even being in neutral spaces like grocery stores. I am stared at and giggled at for buying “feminine products” like fruity deodorant or haircare or fancy yogurt. For being myself, many people automatically hate me, and some people attempt to shame me out of existence. All this does, however, is make me fight back harder for my right to exist without having to grow “thicker skin” or put on a metaphorical coat of fucking armor.
Because ultimately, every person on this fucked-up planet deserves to thrive and be loved for who they are, no matter what their fucking body shape is.
I face judgment every single time I walk out the door.
I am catcalled and giggled at and generally treated as though my presence is an inconvenience to others.
I experience scrutiny wherever I go.
Maybe avert your fucking eyes when finding someone’s appearance unusual. You have no idea what else they are going through, and even if your curiosity is relatively innocent, it is moreover objectifying and scary.
If you think you are showing support by trying to catch my eye, please understand that I cannot know if you are“one of the good ones” when all you do is stare. Support takes words, a small compliment of something I have control over, or even just a quick smile. It does not mean staring until I notice that you are staring.
Being stared at for looking different does not feel right. It does not feel good or flattering; it makes you feel naked, exposed, and judged. Even if the person staring intends to support, an inconsiderately long gaze may panic me to the point of needing to get out of that space immediately.
I have abandoned entirely full shopping carts more than once because the number of whispered insults and double-takes was too much to take. I would then go home and order whatever I needed from Amazon.
I am writing about this because it is not something I talk about often with cis people, and it feels important.
This treatment is a massive part of my existence and impacts the way I move through the world. I struggle with this every time I step outside, and I am so very, very tired of advocating for myself.
So I am telling this to you, a stranger, because I need allies to understand the reality of the treatment people like me face and why.
I can only take notice of what happens around me, as it does not serve my mental health progress to engage with people who stare. The most I will do is smile and make eye contact to disarm them and indicate that, yes, I have noticed that they are staring. Otherwise, aside from in the case of overt verbal attacks, I do not engage transphobes in public very often, partially out of futility, and at least somewhat out of fear. Medium is a better place to express this, as you cannot hide and block people in real life.
It feels essential to communicate to cis people and average-sized people that even in one of the world’s most trans-affirming cities, being clearly trans and fat is a steep path to walk. This world is fucking cruel if you look different or don’t fit a conventionally-attractive, cissexist beauty standard.
I am learning that I must openly identify and refer to myself as a fat woman because of how much this part of me is dispised and evokes derision in addition/relation to my transness.
My visibility in this world is so fucking hard. Still, I have to be who I am for myself and the generations before me who forged this path so I could have the relative privilege and the opportunity to walk through this world authentically. I walk this path for myself and the other trans people of my own generation who are struggling to come out and live their truths. I must walk this path for myself and the generation coming up now who need people like me to keep fucking existing.
To be clear, I have no solutions right now, only anger and hurt, and lots of fucking therapy. I am working hard to cope with the way people treat me because there is no way that I will ever be completely at peace with it. It will always hurt on some level, and I feel that if I can be candid and vulnerable about what it is like to be transfemme, not passing, and fat, maybe my allies will be able to turn my words into the action that I struggle to undertake alone.
Coping with a world that judges every dimension of who I am as a person is an ongoing journey, and I am sorry that I do not have better words of encouragement for those in similar situations. The truth is, I lack the wisdom and perspective of my situation to do that right now, and it would feel inauthentic for me to up wrap this essay in a neat bow of positive encouragement.
I will instead evoke the words of one of my sheroes, Tess Holliday.
“It’s all about accepting yourself the way you are. […] you’re okay just the way you are today.”
- Tess Holliday, The Today Show
I am working on it.
Fuck fatphobic, transphobic beauty standards.