Sunday, December 11, 2022

Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah.., ARE YOU SEXUALLY DESIRABLE - OR NOT!!!

coveteur |  Every so often, I’ll receive the occasional you’re so lucky comment from a fellow trans woman. The sentiment is usually in reference to my body or my looks and their proximity and similarities to that of a cisgender woman. In other words, it’s usually in reference to my ability to “pass” in a cisgender world. At first, that comment, you’re so lucky, made me viscerally uncomfortable. It was easy for me to comprehend how passing privilege is a gateway to survival for many trans people, and while it isn’t a privilege afforded to all of us, words like “lucky” or “easy” left me thinking. Thoughts would race in my mind, a feeling of guilt would weigh on my heart, and I would wonder if my attractiveness or “passability” negates how difficult it is to exist as a trans woman in a cis-normative society. To counter my discomfort, I would often reply to such comments with a self-deprecating joke, as if to minimize the existence of my attractiveness as a privilege. A privilege I did not earn nor work for.

I suppose you can say the word “lucky” had become a sore spot for a while. Uncomfortable with looking at the ways in which I benefit from my looks, I was adamant to prove how I wasn’t lucky. After all, at the end of the day, I will always be transgender and that comes with its own prejudice and discrimination, right? To acknowledge the unearned advantages of physical attractiveness felt as if it would undermine everything I had to overcome to get to where I am. I mean, how lucky could I actually be?

In my search to validate how I was feeling, I stumbled across the opposite: Pretty privilege.

Pretty privilege is the concept that pretty people benefit in life from being perceived as beautiful. Studies have shown that pretty people will more than likely receive higher earnings or better grades. But what is beautiful? Like the saying beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, what we find attractive is often thought to be subjective. However, society inherently bases value on certain attributes over others. Those attributes are often based on whiteness, able bodiedness, leanness, straightness, and cisness, to mention just a few. Pretty privilege is much like how being white or being male provides people with unearned advantages in society.

Pretty privilege benefits and hurts all types of people, both cis and trans, across all races and sexualities. The intersectionality of our existence must be addressed when speaking to the topic. Kelsey Yonce refers to intersectionality perfectly in their 2014 thesis, “Attractiveness Privilege: the unearned advantages of physical attractiveness.” Yonce states “intersectionality refers to the idea that different areas of privilege and oppression do not exist in isolation from one another; instead, they overlap and interact with each other in ways that create unique experiences of privilege and oppression for each individual.” For example, the privilege and oppression experienced by a trans woman of color will look very different from the privilege and oppression experienced by a white trans woman, despite both experiencing the stigmatization and oppression of being transgender because of the inherent societal hierarchy towards race.

When speaking to pretty privilege in the context of cisness, it could be argued that the barrier for entry to such a privilege is more difficult for a transgender person because that hurdle is our very sex assigned at birth, my “maleness.” It’s the belief that in order to achieve such a standing in society it would require a distancing from, squandering of, and rejection of our transness as a whole. This reinforces the false reality that in society, a transition is deemed “successful” only when one is conventionally beautiful by cisgender standards. When in actuality we all know the real value a transition can bring to one’s life is more than mere aesthetics or looks, but rather living more fully and freely. Suddenly, it began to feel like not addressing my own pretty privilege head-on would be disadvantageous to what my mission is, and that's to uplift and advocate for all transwomen.

Having defined it, it has become shockingly easy to see how I benefit from such a privilege. In hindsight, pretty privilege in the context of cisness wasn’t something I was always presented with and might be why it has felt so obvious. I haven’t always existed in the world looking like this. While I can acknowledge how I’ve always benefitted from certain privileges like whiteness, able bodiedness, and leanness, benefitting from my “cisness” was a very foreign thing for me. I started my transition 21 months ago, and only two years ago started hormone replacement therapy, followed by a recent facial feminization surgery. As my body and features began to change and become more cis-passing, I had started to witness peoples’ treatment of me change—it was almost as if one day people saw me differently, they started smiling at me as they walked by, doors were held open, and drinks were being bought for me from those who simply wanted my attention. These are only a few small examples, but at first it all seemed unnatural and uncomfortable because my experience in the world had been different for nearly 30 years. The exact moment where it changed is hard to pinpoint, but looking at my transition in its totality, it’s jarring and impossible for me to not see the difference. It is now my responsibility to swallow my guilt and acknowledge that such experiences are not afforded to everyone and I have benefitted from the unearned privilege of assimilating into a cisgender society because of my pretty privilege. This has, in fact, made my transition easier than most but not without its own challenges.

 

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