Updated: Feb 24, 2020
"You're fine the way you are."
"Beauty is on the inside."
"You already pass just fine."
Any of these sound familiar? These are reflexive phrases that are often spoken when a trans person informs friends, family, and even other trans folks about their transitional desires/plans. It is meant to reassure the person that they are beautiful and perfect to the other already, and that they are not judged. But it often comes across quite differently. This isn't as often the case with medical (hormonal) transition as it tends to be with surgical procedures. But either way, it still hurts.
The Problem: Folks think they know what's best, or they seek to reassure.
This blog doesn't address those who are just plain hateful or ignorant. We know why they decry transitioning. However, others think they know best, or look to reassure. Those who aren't "in the know" don't seem to have much concept of the physical changes that occur with hormone-only transition, which would explain why they don't behave in this above-mentioned pseudo-complimentary manner as often when faced with hormones. After they find out, then they do, though. But most folks certainly have a picture in their mind of what they think post-surgical transition will look like. And so, they say these things and think they are helping be body positive. But body positivity doesn't work here. You can't be positive about something that doesn't belong, or that isn't there in the first place.
Stop for a minute. Can you imagine if every cisgender woman who wanted a breast augmentation done was confronted with this? And true, sometimes they are, but their privilege is that people for some reason just assume that cisgender folks know what is good for their bodies and their self-image, and so they don't need outside reassurance or guidance/recommendations. It's very weird. Why wouldn't a trans person know what would be in their best interests? Why don't we trust them the same? We trust people to know what foods they like and hate. Which hand is their dominant hand. Whether they are artistic or athletic. But not this....
I know, I know. It is the permanency of the transitional change that worries people. While a cisgender woman getting bigger boobs seemingly only "enhances" her natural female attributes, a trans woman will be adding something perceived by others as altogether "alien" to her birth gender. This is a common misconception and is so very hurtful to the trans person. A trans woman is just that. A woman. She just doesn't have breasts yet. And some would say, why bother? Well, let me throw another example at you to help clarify what this means to a trans woman (I know I'm focusing on trans women and not trans men, but you get the gist of this rambling of mine I hope).
A cisgender woman goes all her life and into her early forties, and then suddenly gets diagnosed with breast cancer. Now she needs a double mastectomy. And everyone swoops in and surrounds her with support. "Rah rah! You can do it! You can beat this! Who needs boobs anyway? You're alive!" But after all of the treatments and passionate support fade, she is left feeling somehow "less than." Why? Because a large part of a woman's identity often gets wrapped up in her physique. That is not meant to say that one is wrapped up in being a beautiful perfection, but rather to say that they feel a woman should have a certain look about them, a shape. Boobs, hips, more delicate facial features, etc. So when you take away something so central, it can damage the person's mental health to an extreme degree. Certainly some go through it just fine, usually those women who are older and have moved on from that perceived womanly concept of body. Their experience gives them the wisdom to cope better.
Now also, for example, take the 20 year old cisgender female with hypogonadism, who never enters puberty due to a deficiency in her brain chemistry. Puberty just never kicked off. She is often mistaken at a distance for a young boy. And she hangs around friends who have fully developed and are enjoying their female attributes, dressing up, flirting, having others eyeball them. A lot of that seems unimportant, until it's you. And different people deal with things in varied ways. There is no right way. The key here, is to ask that if this can be very hurtful to cisgender people, then why not transgender people? Trans folks have NO hope of developing the secondary sex characteristics that reflect their gender identity without some sort of outside help, such as hormones and/or surgery. They can socially transition, and this is enough for some, but not the majority.
In the above mentioned cisgender examples, people would likely tell those two women that they are fine, they are beautiful in their own way, and that they don't need body parts to give them relevancy. And that may be true to a point, but the issue isn't whether or not they are valid or relevant, it is whether they are able to accept themselves and live freely and happily. This is a deep issue, nothing superficial. If I took any cisgender male out there who is of average height and weight and suddenly gave him breasts, he would likely lose his mind over the loss of his manly identity. This actually happens to men at times due to medications or physiological conditions, although the breast tissue is usually minimal and never reaches much farther than an A cup. And. They. Hate. It. It drives them into severe depression. Same with trans folks, except they have had to look at themselves for their whole lives as not reflecting the gender they know they are inside.
The Solution: Be supportive, not complimentary.
A person's desire to transition should not prompt people to reassure them that they already look fine. That was never why they decided to transition. They would have decided this because they will never feel right or whole without it. So by telling them they already are fine, you are reinforcing to them that their physical/mental discomfort isn't real or isn't to be taken seriously. Trans people already have a 41% suicide rate. Forty-one percent! I'm sorry, but that is some kinda damn problem, and it is nothing that saying "You're fine the way you are" is gonna solve. They need support.
So say, "That's great!' or maybe, "What can I do to help?" They really just need you to be there for them and be supportive. I know, and they do, too, that people mean well when they say that they are okay as they are, but that doesn't stop it from hurting all the same. And the more they hear it, the more isolated they feel.
So the next time someone comes to you and says, "I've made an appointment with my doctor to see what my transition options are"............What are you going to say?
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