In spite of being shot in the face with lasers multiple times and later being jabbed with a tiny cattle prod at the base of every hair follicle until my face swelled up to resemble that of a shaved gorilla, I still look in the mirror every morning and have to wonder if that is a woman or Magnum P.I. staring back at me. Maybe Ned Flanders; I was never cool enough to pull off a ‘Magnum’. At best I see your Italian Grandma, and that’s on a really good day. The reason for this, even though a scant few follicles are left alive (many less than Gramma Cippino, or even Snooki), is because I am body dysmorphic. As a trans person, it comes with the territory.
While I consider myself a woman, I’m OK with calling myself a trans woman, at least for now, wholly and completely for the reasons behind this dysmorphia. Any trans woman will tell you this starts at an early age. Even being raised to believe we are boys and such, part of us knew different and didn’t exactly experience a swelling of confidence upon hitting puberty and suddenly sporting a hairy set of testicles. Sorry to get gross on you, but no matter who you are, having to dry off a set of hairy balls after the shower does not make you feel feminine in the slightest. Sorry, that’s not an image anyone really needs in their head. Almost as distressing is the advent of body hair, facial hair, Adam’s apple, canal barge size feet, wide shoulders, and the unchangeable bane of us all, big meaty hands that look like they can just grab Gallagher by the head and pop it like one of his melons. Hormones are responsible for all of this, well, except the balls.
In the teenage years it’s pretty bad. When people called me “handsome”, I thought they were just being mean, or at best trying to make me feel better. When I looked in the mirror I saw a pimply, dweebier version of McLovin looking back at me. I didn’t date much because in my mind, who wants the discomfort of McLovin in their face trying to figure out what they are doing Saturday night? My one teenage relationship was with an especially aggressive friend of my younger sister, and I can say without reservation, she was one frustrated girl. I simply couldn’t get over my teenage boy appearance long enough to even attempt acting like a teenage boy. Pretty sure she thought I was gay.
As we get older, we learn to cope with this a little better, at least for a time. Kind of, I never quite mastered the appearance of a lack of body anxiety. As if all the rest of it wasn’t bad enough, I started going bald very quickly right after I turned 25. Like Air Force basic training wasn’t bad enough with the confined quarters, communal bathroom, and worst of all, showering with 50 guys at one time all pressed together because we had exactly 6 minutes and the spigots were 8 inches apart. Ugh! When the guys had their peach fuzz growing in and proudly comparing in the mirror, I stood alone, examining my barren scalp muttering, “What the fuck is up with this?” Of all things, I think this is the one that kept me in denial for so long.
After a while though, and it takes some of us longer than others, the dysmorphia gets bad enough that we have to do something, because age really isn’t helping. Yes, the final clarity of realization of our gender identities brings us to the point of transition, the body dysmorphia is what drives the need for all the really shitty procedures we go through in order to feel more like ourselves. In a perfect world, maybe I could feel just as feminine sporting a 5 o’clock shadow, Larry Fein haircut, flat chest, and proudly displayed package, but it’s not, and I can’t. I may never be pretty, but if there is something I can do to inch just a tiny bit closer, well, I’m signing right up.
One of the comforting things about having trans woman body dysmorphia is that most women have a touch of this anyway. It’s the reason something fitnessy sounding like ‘Women’s Health’ will have 11 different ads for Botox. There is just something not right about that. Page 23 has a nice little article on how to avoid food poisoning, and the very next page advocates having that very same life threatening bacteria injected right into your face. It’s also the reason that 112 pages of the rest of the 150 page magazine is filled with ads for products for things that promise to unnaturally make you look naturally you. I eat all of this up, and so do you probably or they wouldn’t be wasting their money trying to sell you on schmearing your lips in fish scales to make them more kissable.
I have resigned myself to the understanding that I’m never going to told I could be a model or even have a washboard belly. It doesn’t mean I’m not still trying mind you, because doing something always feels better than doing nothing. After all, 3 billion women can’t be wrong, even if some of us do look like Magnum P.I. in drag, at least in our own minds.