When I first began to question my gender, I was uncertain about how lovable I would be as a trans woman.
I struggled with questions like “Will I be loved if I transition?” “Will I have a community of support?” and “Will people want to date, be friends, or hire me if I don’t look cis?”
Learning to love myself meant finding a pathway that allowed me to change things about my body and leave other things alone. Since trans women are told to focus solely on how they appear, this is a huge lesson to learn.
Over the years of my gender journey, I had very few examples of what self-love for trans women looked like. Most of the self-help books or resources on the topic felt inadequate for my struggles.
There was often a lack of transfeminist analysis in self-love strategies, and most of the “Love Your Body” rhetoric relies on women being innately seen as women.
For example, a self-love strategy for women that advocates for participation in No Shave November doesn’t consider the particular experiences and needs of trans women.
In conversations I’ve had with other trans women about not shaving, folks have consistently stated that this would be an incredibly dysphoric task and simply impossible for us to do because we’d be misgendered.
To be encouraged to do so when it means added risk and endangerment creates an environment where self-love materials aren’t centering – or even considering – us.
This particular advice around not shaving presents a double-bind situation: 1) If you’re a feminist woman, you will be hairy and fight back against the Patriarchy; 2) if you shave, you’re supporting the Patriarchy.
As a trans woman who loves her body hair, I would love to skip shaving! Except, when I’m not silky smooth and baby-faced, I’m misgendered.
In a transmisogynist culture that doesn’t respect or allow trans women’s agency over their own bodies, we are often pushed to make compromises for safety and respect.
That leaves me with the feeling of loneliness, of constantly having to re-define what self-love looks like for me. Consequently, I often feel lost, as if the roadmap to self-love leads to a treasure box filled with more unanswered questions.
So sometimes I shave, and sometimes I don’t. Both are acts of self-love because I am taking agency of my body.
Additionally, there’s often feminist pushes for women to be aggressive, outspoken, and unashamed. When growing up in a culture that forces you to be as quiet, small, and respectable as possible so that your trans womanhood will be validated, these messages often conflict and seem unhelpful.
I needed resources that understood transmisogyny, that spoke from experiences of knowing what moving through the world as a trans woman would be like.
Because strategies that didn’t center me, or my experiences, only created more confusion and frustration in my journey towards self-love.
What I need(ed), were resources by trans women for trans women that spoke about self-love.
Fortunately, I found many YouTubers, like Julie Vu who’s shared many vulnerable truths of her transition, and L’lerrét Ailith whose quote, “At the end of the day, you are a trans woman. You need to own that. […] You should love being a trans woman,” has stuck with me and became the catalyst for this article.
With this inspiration, I have four reminders for trans women:
1. Congratulations, You’re a Trans Woman!
Being trans is a gift. As such, you should be celebrated for coming into your own truths. Maybe it was weird to read the title of this section, and maybe you don’t think being a trans woman is something special or celebratory.
I respect that, and I am supremely proud of you nonetheless.
It’s a hard process to push back against the many voices that tell us we are not women, that we can never be women. It often takes months, sometimes years and decades, for trans women to finally accept ourselves.
After affirming our own gender, transmisogyny doesn’t stop. This process of unlearning is ongoing, and it’s totally okay if some days you feel more confident in yourself than others. I’m with you, too.
You are brave. You are courageous. And you don’t have to be out as trans to be brave or courageous.
If you’re holding your trans identity quietly and haven’t told another person, I am still celebrating you.
If you’re questioning or unsure and trying to figure it out, I am still celebrating you.
Every step in your journey is yours to take. It doesn’t have to look like mine, or any other trans women’s.
Because our processes to understand ourselves as trans women are so varied and unique, doctors and the general public debate to invalidate us – that our “claims” of womanhood aren’t real and shouldn’t be supported.
Yet through perseverance and self-determination, we trust in our selves that we know our truth nonetheless.
We connect with each other on social media, internet forums, and YouTube to see how others are surviving and thriving.
We resist, actively, every time we affirm ourselves. Every time you introduce yourself by a name you chose, every time your correct someone misgendering you (whether out loud or privately to yourself), you are actively affirming yourself.
Go you! You’re carving a space out in this world that doesn’t want you to exist. That’s amazing, and celebratory worthy.
2. We Redefine Womanhood for Ourselves
Once we understand ourselves as women, it’s easy to fall into sexist ideas of what a woman should be. Our media and culture is saturated with bullshit messages that adult women must be youthful, smoothly shaven, polite, kind, and caretakers.
These messages also state that a woman is supposed to be cis. I want you to know that you don’t have to be cis to be a woman.
You don’t have to be the white supremacist construction of a woman either – someone conventionally beautiful, thin, white, able-bodied, and “classy.”
These constructions of womanhood are meant to create an exclusive class of women, one that is virtually unachievable unless you were born into a wealthy white family as a cis woman.
This exclusive idea of a woman can be one source of people’s self-criticism. Skin lightening creams and double eyelid surgeries are white supremacy’s attempts at profiting off our desire to replicate white standards of beauty.
While holding that perspective, I also understand that there are obstacles that makes living difficult as a trans woman, but it’s often not one’s own actions that makes life difficult. It’s the way others treat, threaten, and perceive us that creates danger.
Because of that looming threat, I understand that we may choose surgeries that look like supporting white supremacy and the Patriarchy. But I can see that these choices can be heavily influenced by the need to be safe, to escape the marginalization trans women face.
I wouldn’t call these mindful choices anti-feminist; I’d call them survival skills.
Additionally, we can also resist white beauty standards by accepting our bodies and faces as trans women’s, by loving our transness in all its manifestations.
As Laverne Cox said in an interview with The Guardian, “Years ago, I wanted really highly invasive surgical procedures to feminise my face. All these years later, I have the money to do it, but I don’t want it. I don’t want it! I’m happy that this is the face that God gave me, and it’s imperfect.”
When trans women refuse to adhere to these beauty standards, blueprints are created for future women to see reflections of themselves. It’s a damn beautiful way of resisting messages of what we should look like.
However, transmisogyny continues to operate structurally through political (hello, TERFs) and medical denial (hello, gatekeepers) of our existence and voices. There can also be interpersonal experiences with friends and family that try to deny us our gender, but in the end, we define ourselves as women.
The only requirement for womanhood is that you identify as a woman.
It is never too early or late to transition. It is never too early or late to own your truth.
3. Our Body, Our Choice
Unfortunately, there is a lack of diversity in the media portrayal of trans women. Our bodies and the way they move through public space, whether online or offline, are intensely subjected to speculation by countless strangers.
There is a repulsive fascination with our bodies and what we want to do with them – namely, what surgeries and procedures we want to have to “appear” more womanly.
I want you to know (and to remind myself) that your body is your choice. You decide if you want breast augmentation, hormone replacement therapy, sexual reassignment surgery (vaginoplasty), facial feminization surgery, rhinoplasty, hair transplants, tracheal shave, fat transfers, and/or butt implants.
We can see these surgeries are discouraged in trans health care policies that will usually only cover HRT and SRS. The other surgeries are considered “cosmetic,” which is how both transmisogyny and femicide affect us on a cultural and medical level.
Our gender embodiment is seen as “cosmetic” when these surgeries are often the life-saving procedures to curb dysphoria or ensure safety in public.
Whether or not you choose to have these surgeries, you deserve safety and respect. You are no less a woman for refusing to have surgeries, and shouldn’t have to deal with gender policing for your choices.
There’s also discouragement of these surgeries from feminist communities that state women shouldn’t alter their bodies for the Male Gaze. They’ve insisted that the mere existence of these procedures are part of a Patriarchal culture, and women who choose to have these surgeries are doing so for men.
But they are wrong – these surgeries are personal choices. We can claim agency of our bodies. We can dream of having the bodies we want, then take action to make them possible.
Assuming that our goal in having surgeries is to appeal to men is sexist and heteronormative. Assuming that we should have surgeries to prove our womanhood is cisnormative.
All of these assumptions are unfeminist in their degradation of trans women, making it seem as if we’re reliant upon other’s approval and validation of our bodies.
We can choose and advocate for ourselves.
Our body, our choice.
If your ideal body aligns with dominant Western beauty standards, I support you. If your ideal body is what you currently have without medical intervention, I support you. If you are confused and not sure what surgeries you want (if any), take your time and be careful.
The most important question when it comes to your body, be it surgery or how you dress, is this: Will it make you happy?
It may sound like an oversimplification, but sometimes we lose sight of our own happiness when we’re drowning in messages of what we should do instead of being embraced in our self-determination.
4. Our Gender Is an Unquestionable Truth
No matter how you embody your gender, it is yours first and foremost. No one – not even other trans women – get to decide what makes you legitimate.
You are a trans woman. That does not need to be qualified with “in transition” or “will be someday” or “after _____ surgery.” You are a trans woman in your own right because you hold this as your truth.
You are a trans woman if others read you as male. You are a trans woman if you have short hair, facial hair, and no desire to have any type of HRT or gender-related surgery.
You are a trans woman because you say so. I will repeat this message a thousand times if I have to because I know too many TERFs want to tell you otherwise.
If nothing else, I am proud of you. Of myself. Of all of us who have made this journey to self-actualization. I am rooting for you, every day, because your existence is important to me.
I want to see a diversity of trans women. I want to see more trans women like Fallon Fox in MMA fighting and Koko Jones making music. I want to see trans women with undercuts, trans women swimming clubs, trans women video game marathons!
I want to see you exist in your truth, flourishing and thriving. Happy, fulfilled, and knowing that someone affirms you as you are.
During a time when so many of us are having our lives taken from us, I need you in this world. Other trans women need you, too. Your life is valuable, and your visibility makes another’s dream possible.
By being yourself, you allow other trans women to be themselves. Soon enough, we’ll find each other in our small towns, in grocery stores, perhaps getting our cars fixed or in the waiting room of a doctor’s office.
I live for us finding each other, having fun, and being cute. I live for this dream to come true. And I hope you’ll join me someday in celebrating all that we are.
Thank you for you.
Luna Merbruja is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. She’s the author of Trauma Queen, an intern at Biyuti Publishing, international sorceress of performance art, and co-coordinator of the 2014 International Trans Women of Color Network Gathering. She’s currently working towards her career as a sex and trauma therapist.