One big question that it’s totally legitimate to ask is why I think I can help you in your transition. For a start, I’m a cis woman – what do I know about the difficulties of being trans? Second, who gets to define what it means to be feminine? Surely there are loads of different, equally valid ways of being a woman? Aren’t I just gate-keeping? Finally, why would you want to pay someone to tell you things that you can hear from friends and family?
I’ll work through each of those questions in order and hopefully by the end of this post you’ll understand why I think I’m in a unique position to be able to help you transition successfully.
But you’re cis!
Yes, I’m a cis woman. I’ve got a whole lifetime’s experience of womanhood behind me, and while I don’t think that gives me special abilities to ‘commune with mother nature and her essential feminine essence’ (I’m quite the sceptic), I do think it gives me an understanding of the myriad different ways that womanhood can look.
I’m not coming at this from a completely ignorant start, however. My closest friends are a group of trans women, two of whom I’ve lived with for around half a decade now. I’ve been in the very privileged position that they trust me to ask for advice on how they look, sound or behave, and that they know I’ll be honest and kind in my answers. That means I’m not going to tell them that they look beautiful and stunning if the truth is that they’re wearing or doing something clockable, but I’ll gently make sure that whatever needs to be tweaked gets tweaked so they can pass successfully. (Both of them are now in a place where this kind of input isn’t needed very often, but I’ve learned over time how applicable these lessons are for many people.)
So while I may not be a trans woman myself, I believe I have quite a unique and clear perspective on the difficulties that trans women sometimes experience when they start to transition, and can provide supportive, empathetic advice to help them counter those difficulties.
Aren’t you gate-keeping femininity?
Here’s an interesting question. After all, who gets to define what it means to be a woman? I don’t think that trans women don’t get any say at all in how to define (or redefine) womanhood, and I don’t think that every woman needs to be the perfect, Marilyn Monroe caricature of a fifties housewife in order to be somehow valid.
On the other hand, I think that femininity is something that you signal to other people. Gender is partly about how we feel inside, but it’s also about how other people perceive us externally, and even if you look 100% cis in your visual appearance, if your behaviour doesn’t match up to what the average gal in the street is expecting of a woman, then you’ll get clocked.
Society at large will gate-keep. We can talk about how things should be, but we all have to live in the world as it is now, especially if you’re trying to gain that ‘real life experience’. You might be entirely happy with an aspect of your appearance, and I won’t say you should change it, but society will make a judgement on it – and this is the information I’ll give you. I’ll reflect back to you what the world is likely to see, and you can choose to act on that in whatever way you want to, but at least it’ll be a deliberate choice.
I’m not going to tell you that you need to wear a pouffy skirt and eight inches of make up every day if your natural look is jeans and a slouchy t-shirt. But I am going to help you walk, talk and act in ways that mean that you give the signals you’re intending to give to the people around you. I’m definitely not saying that you aren’t a woman or that your gender isn’t valid.
So I wouldn’t call what I’m doing gate-keeping, more like opening the gate and providing you with a map to get you there quicker. Does that help?
Why should I pay you when my friends say I look great?
This is the big one, I think. After all, maybe it’s a bit cheeky of me to ask you for money to tell you how to do something I’ve never had to learn how to do (be a woman). Especially when, thanks to big strides in acceptance of trans folks, a lot of people now are lucky to come out into supportive, helpful groups of family and/or friends.
But here’s the tea. Your friends want the best for you, so does your family. And they’ll see that you’re struggling with dysphoria, and you’re in pain and distress. So they’re going to want (understandably) to do whatever they can to comfort you. It’s great to have people around you who want to do that, it’s a sign you’ve got a great support network, and honestly everyone needs a gang of cheerleaders around them sometimes.
Unfortunately, having cheerleaders isn’t very helpful when you’re keen to know – honestly – if you pass successfully. Your friends will see that you’re trying, and that you probably look very different from how you used to, so they’ll likely say that you do pass. And they’re not necessarily lying, but they might not give you that more concrete criticism if there’s something a bit off base, or you’re walking in a more masculine way, or if that dress accidentally emphasises your more masculine frame.
This is where I come in. I’m not going to be a harsh judge for the sake of being mean. I promise never to laugh unless I’m laughing with you about something. I promise to always be kind, but in my case I’m showing that kindness with my honesty. I’ll let you know if something doesn’t flatter you, or emphasises masculine features that you’re trying to conceal or tone down. I’ll point out when there’s something that needs a bit of work, and I’ll always make sure I find a solution with you, rather than leaving you to second-guess what you’re supposed to do about it.
After all, my goal is to make sure you pass as well as possible, that you feel comfortable exploring your female identity and that you are successful in your transition – it’s not in my interests to get in your way by not telling you the truth.
Interested in working with me after what you’ve read? Contact me for more details about how we can work together.