Face Off, Musings on Facial-Feminisation Surgery
My mother keeps making anodyne comments about the societal pressures faced by women: “society puts so many unfair expectations on women to conform.” It is her defence mechanism to justify the toxic attitudes she has internalized about growing older. My mother is beautiful at 60, as beautiful as she ever was, but at 20, she fit those social pressures. I usually reply something like, “I’ve noticed; I have eyes!” But she always reminds me, usually while telling me how many more pounds she’s lost doing keto, and how she feels like her “true self” again. I don’t have the heart to unpack that. Her invocation of essence has dark implications for her 30-something trans daughter. Hell, my cis sister struggles under the weight of my mother’s self-inflicted body torture-shaming. There is no point in saying anything, she just sees it as an unassailable feature of the world. Perhaps she is correct, but then again, when do trans people ever have the choice to just accept things as they are, even when our aspirations are the most perfunctory — read, normative.
In queer-world, we have better ways, or at least I tell myself this. At the very least, we have noble impulses toward more diverse inclusivity. In reality, we probably don’t. We have our butches, bears, nonbinary mascs, drag kings/queens, twinks, otters, futches, etc., but they all tend to fall into aesthetic parameters. Gay men have some of the strongest tendencies toward body-shaming. Maybe this has gotten better since I hung out with all the fags back in the day. Gay women fair better in this regard, but there are dominant looks. I remember my first day in graduate school for gender. It was one of those meet and greet days, and as I stared at my feet — the only trans feminine person in the group — I noticed, to my mild amusement, that I was the only one not wearing Doc Martins. In the end, after sitting in a circle on the floor, we were each asked to say something before closing the day’s activities. To which I quipped, “I had better buy some Docs!” I now own three pairs.
The trans corner of aesthetics is a mixed bag of strict demands and impulses. I was saying to a friend the other day that I would appear a little more fem/butch if I weren’t 6’2 (189cm). I remember shooting up past six feet as a teen and being celebrated by some of the sub-six-footers in my family (which is all of them) as if their average heights were some kind of deficit. If only I could have given them some. My transition worked out well considering my height and age (late 20s-early 30s), but when given a chance to get top surgery, I ultimately chose to. Not because I was unhappy with the B/C cup breasts I developed, but because I knew they were small for my frame. God knows how large they are now. In the consultation (fitting) room, for my surgery, the doctor asked, “so, what do you want?” I shrugged and said, “proportionality.” He helped me slide into mould forms until we both agreed on the optimum figure that appeared in the mirror. I said, “yup, that’s about right.” And that was that. Don’t get me wrong, I love them, but they were not important to me like my bottom surgery was. And yet, my top surgery has had a much larger effect on my gender presentation. They also take me away from that more neutral queer aesthetic I might have gone for, had bodies been different — more malleable. Still, I am not complaining. I’m just reflecting on the complexity of social demands placed on to trans feminine people. I don’t care about passing as a virtue unto itself, but I do fear being harassed in this increasingly depressing world we live in — we live in the Mirror Universe.
Then there is the face. Again, I like my face. I was approached multiple times by modelling scouts and agencies in my early 20s. I was tall, and had sharp, almost-feminine features. Not a twink, but atypically pretty. These features have served me well in transition. They balance out my size to a degree. But what if I could make it better, to situate myself more towards those amorphous, but ever tangible, social pressures.
Currently, facial-feminisation surgery (FFS) is de rigueur for trans femmes. Do I want it? Not really. But all the trans girls that I think are pretty, that have (had) a je ne sais quoi, to them opt for it. Hari Nef, for example. Sorry dear, you are still gorgeous, but in the way that cis women models are. In this context, when all the Youtubers you like and the handful of visible trans femmes in the media are opting for this cut, often before anything else, the pressure becomes intense. I get it. Wanting to pass and look cis is understandable, but I feel like the option to not do that is closing — only the normative trannies get through. I don’t want to be the only one holding the “aren’t we pretty enough already?” card by herself. So, should I give myself that edge?
It doesn’t matter, I don’t have the 10k €. If you are lucky enough to have health coverage for transcare, FFS is even more depressingly scarcely covered. This is unfortunate because, for many, it is one of the most crucial surgeries for inhabiting the world in a way that feels comfortable and safe. But for me? Do I want it? Or am I trying to keep up with the proverbial trans-Joneses?
I don’t think there are good answers to these questions. I figured I’d spit this out because whenever I’ve tried to approach this topic with others, either in the flesh or in digital spaces, I tend to get a bunch of young girls listing their surgery Christmas wish lists . Or, the other camp sees it as heretical. Both responses are missing the point of the anxiety: Where are these pressures coming from? Should I submit? Do I want it? I just want to move in the world more easily and be myself. And then there is another impulse: surgery is like tattooing. Am I just desiring my inevitable next one? Am I being seduced by the ecstasy of body transformation? Am I a David Cronenberg film? Am I just doing this out of FOMO, social pressures, to look more cis? How do I differentiate between myself, dysphoria (which is a complicated concept), and body dysmorphia?
See Mom, I get it. I always got it. I see the pressures put on other women and the extra layer put on trans feminine people to conform to an even narrower path, where wandering even a toe length astray sees us tumbling to our doom. At the end of the day, I just don’t want to internalise more transphobia. Maybe my face is good enough. Unless I find ten-grand. Then that little bitch is coming off!