Some opinions on facial surgery

Like many issues in transition, especially those involving being accepted as female, opinions tend to be very strong.

I was astonished when I started getting angry letters from people for stating that your physical appearance will improve the quality of your life. While I agree we should live in a world where people could express themselves as they wish, we don't live in that world. There are a lot of hard words to hear in transition. Some of these people would rather kill the messenger than listen to the message.

I get a lot of letters from people who disagree with my emphasis on facial surgery and being accepted as female in general. Common responses:

You are trying to pretend you are a non-TS woman.

I am out at work and out to my friends. I am happy to discuss my TS stuff with people when it comes up, but I also know that the only reason I did not have a career setback and am often able to experience life as a female is because I am accepted without question or suspicion in almost every case. If I had not undergone facial work, my experiences as a woman would be very different. They certainly were before I had surgery.

Here's a reality check on how most of America views TSs. I worked at a major newspaper prior to my own transition. We had a security guard who was transitioning, and the unguarded comments made by others about this woman to me when I was living as a male were very eye-opening. I look back at that time as one of the greatest lessons I learned in transition. You can make people refrain from saying what they really think about visibly gender variant TSs, but that won't stop them from thinking it.

K___ writes of her experiences in a similar work situation:

When I came into work today, someone had left torn out pages of [an executive's profile from a trade magazine] in my chair.

At first I thought she looked a little like a guy and then after examining the other photos on the other pages I saw the side profile of the jaw. It looked just like the jaw of a woman, or the work of someone like Dr. Ousterhout. It didn't really matter to me and I read some of the article before placing it on the side of my desk.

Later on in the day, my manager, came over to my cube and suddenly said, "This looks like a guy!!" Oh no!! Then she started looking through the other photos and said yet again, "I think this is a guy.. Look at these pictures." So I looked and said, "She looks normal to me." Then I got this look that said, "What the hell are you thinking?!?!"

It didn't stop there. She then took the article and decided to ask the only gay person in the group. I was shocked that she even suggested to immediately get his opinion. I was starting to get angry. Then she started saying all sorts of things while reading the article:

"Look at the hobbies she has listed... Weightlifting??... Look, it says that she was born in Philadelphia and when she was 25, she left home to go to Wall Street (yeah, after the change) and it broke her parents heart (yeah, I bet it did)... I bet she shaves every morning before work!!" At that point I was nearly coming out of my skin and could not believe that they were making such a big deal out of it. And on top of that, my face was still red from yesterdays 4 hour electrolysis session. So then I added, "What's the big deal?? Does it really matter??" Then my manager said, "If this is a guy who wanted to be a woman, that's fine, but I think she should have at least done a better job trying to look more feminine. I think that's why they photographed her hand in the first photo, so you would think twice."

I thought it was over, so I managed to grab the article and put it in my bag. Then an hour later, Karen walks over and says, "You still have that article, I want to show someone else.... Hey!! Come here and look at this." Let's just say at this point I was not too happy at all and it showed. "What's wrong?? Why is this making you angry?? It's no big deal, I just want to get her opinion." Then while showing her the article, they were swapping stories of run-ins with transsexuals they all have met. One actually knows a couple of people. Funny, as far as I can tell, I don't personally know anybody.

So while tomorrow is another day, it is a precursor of what's to come. Someday they will all remember this day and understand why I was annoyed at their reaction. I am sure they will all be shocked and might think twice the next time they decide to make an issue out of it. All the signs are there, they just need to put two and two together.

You can choose to fight bigotry and discrimination as a visibly gender variant TS, but for many people your message will not carry as much weight. I feel the message has to come from a messenger with whom people can relate and feel comfortable.

For more on this, read Arianne's excellent comments on my self-acceptance page

You make it seem visibly gender variant TSs are inferior.

I am not better, just luckier in many ways. I do not think that they are inferior, but I do think they generally face greater discrimination, harassment, and danger.

I don't think I am accepted as female all the time, and I don't think I ever will. However, I am accepted as female on the street, in day-to-day situations, and even in most social settings. For me, that's all I could ask for. I'm OK with being out right now, but it's nice to know that if I really wanted, I could probably move and get a job without anyone knowing. I'm not sure I'd like living with the fears that accompany being stealth, but the option is nice!

Arianne van der Ven writes:

You put the most relevant questions out there in a clear and succinct manner, and you dare crack the hardest nut of all in the TG community: IT IS NICE TO PASS. I think it is part of being a TS, that is that we cannot change mentally without also changing physically. Every step that I have done on this road has been lighter with every bit of progress towards passing. Passing is not a mental thing for someone with adequate reality testing skills.

The reason I do not post this on the newsgroup is that these are such hard words to hear for those who cannot afford expensive surgery. Those of us that do not pass may be the darlings of the queer theorists for whom all gender is performativity, just another fun activity. But to a large extend our most deeply human experiences do not come from performing but from being, and being (that man or that woman) in a relationship, in a job or alone. And being a man or a woman makes a hell of a lot of a difference.

You advocate expensive surgery that most cannot afford.

This surgery is expensive, but I went to one of the best. Similar surgeries are available from other doctors, but I felt this was a more important investment than even SRS. What I advocate is for people to think about what is really important for them in transition. If being accepted as female is your primary goal, facial surgery might be more important than SRS, certainly on a day-to-day basis in non-intimate situations. It might be better to spend your money on face work and deal with SRS later.

You make it sound as if it will answer all of a TS's problems

Actually, I take great pains to say that facial work and even transition itself will not solve your problems. See my page on self-acceptance for more.