Austen Crowder

Question of the day: pride, shame, and beauty

Filed By Austen Crowder | March 03, 2010 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: self-image, trans, trans pride, Tumblr

I wrote this post on my personal blog a few days ago about an art photography project by the wonderful Molly Landreth. I didn't want to post it here, and I'm still not going to post the essay entirely; it's too personal for these pages. However I did want to pose the concluding thoughts and questions to everyone:

Seeing these photos makes me wonder: when someone says that I'm pretty, is it becuase I make a good looking girl, or is my body - with the breasts and hips and big bones and broad shoulders and square face and brow ridge and penis and all - is that combination itself a thing of beauty? I also wonder, idly, if photographs of me show the same confidence, the same intense sense of a tangible identity, or if somewhere in between the occasional thoughts of Shame and passing privilege my eyes instead show deep struggle.

Is it possible for everyday people to step outside the male-female binary and see us as beautiful just for who we are?

Read the whole post here.

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Personally - and I hope I can say this without being offensive to you or to others, so please let me know if I'm about to commit a taboo.

You were a handsome boy. You're a very attractive girl. In that kinda awkward stage in between? You were still pretty. Period.

I don't say that just to be nice either. I'm sincere. I've always thought you were a very handsome/pretty person.

That's not a taboo thought: I was inviting that kind of answer with the question. The whole point is to identify whether standards of beauty are based on gender or on the person involved.

And thank you. I'm very glad that you feel that way. ;)

"The whole point is to identify whether standards of beauty are based on gender or on the person involved."

I don't think they are, at least not for me. I don't know how other people perceive beauty, but things like symmetry and proportion are not really about how well someone conforms to a gender norm.
The love of my life is trans, and he was beautiful when I first met him (id-ing as a Butch lesbian), and if he attracts more flirting from other folk now post-transition, I think it's more because he's more confident and comfortable, and those things are sexy.

My former therapist, who's worked with trans and gender variant people for nearly 25 years in a city that has a lot of them had the following observation:

She said virtually all the MTF people she's dealt with had intense issues about the way they looked and even after transition was over (whatever that personally meant to them), continued to have those issues. She said that virtually none of the FTM people she's dealt with had those same intense issues (even if some wanted to be taller, have more hair or be in better shape). She's not a person given to hyperbole.

You could say that's a function of trans women attempting to conform to rigid societal standards of womanhood or, perhaps, the messages society gives about transwomen are very different than what society gives out towards transmen.

I don't care about beauty so much (although I'm a very self-critical person). Perhaps that's a function of being in my mid-50s... most women in my age group are ignored anyway. What I do care about far more is looking female and, at the same time, NOT having lingering aspects of male-bodiedness. This has been one of the hardest aspects of my transition... actually accepting those parts of me I can't change like my height, shoulders, hips, the size of my feet.

People are under the mistaken impression that one has SRS and/or facial surgery and *poof* body issues disappear, but that's so wrong (in my case). My body is a reminder of the "way less than perfect" aspects of transitioning. How it often feels like a make-do solution. Yes, I'm extremely grateful I've been able to do the things I had to do my transition, but when people say gender dysphoria and gender issues vanish when you've transitioned, I can say they haven't (although it's a lot more tolerable). I get to live as a woman and as a person who's perceived as a woman by others and interact with others as a woman but there are still aspects of me I suspect I'll never be satisfied with and continue to mourn the loss of what might have been. Not healthy, but there it is. So my goal for the next part my life is to work on self-acceptance which is easy to talk the talk but a hard walk indeed.

I just want to also clarify issues of beauty vs. gendering are rather different. I've met trans women who didn't fit most of societies criteria for beauty/prettiness who, nonetheless, looked altogether like cis-expectations of female and I can honestly say I'm both happy for them and envy them. I've also met trans women who were very noticeably beautiful but still quite gender variant looking. Some of those women were okay with that while others were similarly screwed up about it as I am.

Everything you say in this post is similar for me. Things are far, far better for me than before surgeries/transitioning, but I still hate pretty much every aspect of my body, even those parts that I have modified, as they may be closer than they were, but to me personally are a just a very crude approximation and a poor substitute for what they should be. And of course the things that can't be changed at all--height, broad back and shoulders, deep rib-cage, narrow hips, large bones, and all that, are even worse. I am pretty bitter about it, and feel that some really cruel punishment has been laid on me. Hopefully in my next life, if there is one, my sense of who I am and my body will fit together better.

I very much envy trans women who are satisfied with how they look post-transitioning (I have even met some who are very proud of how they look, most of whom consider themselves 'hot'), but I doubt that I will ever be one of them.


When I look at who society considers beautiful, it is often people with a mix of the masculine and feminine.

For instance... women who are taller, thinner and have an elongated face are often considered beautiful. These are masculine characteristics that are associated with higher testosterone levels.

Men who have boyish faces, smooth skin, and a full head of hair are often considered beautiful. These are feminine characteristics associated with lower testosterone levels.

What I have found, is that if I was particularly physically and or emotionally attracted to someone before he or she started transitioning I remained attracted to that person through that process. But my concept of the person changes an example is that I may think that someone is a beautiful guy and then he transitions and I think that she is a beautiful girl. And that moment of a paradigm change about that person and his or her gender identity alway catches be unaware and I realize later that my mind has conceptually transitioned where this person is concerned. And for people who are not particularly identified as male or female and like it that way I don't specifically identify them as one or the other and if I find that person attractive it doesn't live in my head the same way that an attractive girl or guy does, would be the most polite way to say it. And if I am not particularly attracted to a person transitioning has no effect on that.
I can't know what everyone thinks when they say that you are pretty. I can say that if I say it chances are I would think that no matter your gender or even blend of gender at any point.

I feel much the same way. I also realize that the transition doesn't stop with surgery, but continues as we grow and learn about our inner and outer selves! You can stop your transition, but it would be to your detriment rather then for your good as I see it. Kori


I don't want to speak for Austen, but I don't think her post is about detransitioning, more about lingering feelings of shame being trans and self-esteem issues about her looks and how those were positively impacted by seeing the photos by Molly Landreth.

Btw, talking about the photos... it does bother me how "queer" (as in Ms. Landreth's beautiful photos) so often seem to revolve about FTMs, transmasculine, butch and drag rather than trans women. As I've often observed in the Queer community, there remains a real discomfort with transwomen who don't look especially gender variant (or who more closely resemble assigned female at birth queer women). I see nothing liberating about that and, in some ways, is just as fetishizing of certain looks as tranny porn.


My observations and experiences lead me to the opinion that transwomen are in general the least accepted of all the members of the GLBT community, both inside the community as well as outside it.

And I kind of have the idea that transwomen of color prolly have it the worst of the worst, tho I don't have much first-hand experience with this...~


That is an excellent point. I was moved by the photo set, but at the same time there was a definite bias towards trans masculine characteristics. I have theories, but those'll just have to wait for another day and another essay. :D

ShipofFools | April 1, 2010 8:36 AM

Hi Austen, please write that text about your thoughts on trans masculine characteristics. I'm ftm and I'm thinking about that a lot at the moment. I'd really like to hear about it form your side of things

Austen, I'm glad to see you highlight Molly Landreth's work. She's a friend of mine, and my partner and I have been photographed by her for her project. It was an amazing process, and unlike any other when I've been photographed.

It's also another instance of how ridiculously small the world is.