That fucking ‘p’ word

August 15, 2010 § 1 Comment

I was kind of enjoying an article on Slate.com about a summer camp for kids who fall outside of the gender binary. It seemed openminded, hopeful – and fun. Until it got to this sentence:

The undisguisedly pretty gender-queer girl with the magic marker mustache and goatee poses with her long-haired, cis-gendered (that means normal) sister.

Leaving aside, if we can, the use of the word ‘her’ and ‘girl’ with a kid that the author concedes may not have decided on a fixed gender identity, or the use of ‘normal’ for ‘cisgender’. It was the ‘pretty’ that really struck home.

I’m glad Bedford Hope wrote this article, and I think it’ll open a fair few eyes to the challenges faced every day by (young) trans people. But one of the worst challenges I’ve faced, from being a tiny person onwards? Being called ‘pretty’. And having those around me decide that pretty must always and forever imply femininity.

I know that it sounds rude. We live in a society that rewards beauty, and god knows I’m no different from most in wanting to be considered beautiful. But ‘pretty’ never just means ‘attractive’ in a neutral sense – ‘pretty’ always comes with a price, a question, a statement – from strangers, lovers, friends, family – people that hate you or people who claim that they love you:

You’d be such a pretty woman

How could you possibly be transgender? You’re so pretty.

You’re too pretty to pass as a guy

Take testosterone? Ruin a pretty face like that?

How could you mutilate yourself when you’re such a pretty girl?

It’s such a waste when you’re so pretty

You’re hardly a usual tranny. You’re too pretty

‘Pretty’ was the reason I ever wore drag – to please the people I loved who thought it was a ‘shame’ and a ‘waste’ not to, to win their approval at the expense of my own self-respect. ‘Pretty’ is why some closet cases think they can make an ‘exception’ out of me – masculine enough to turn them on, ‘pretty’ enough for public approval and to stave off their fears of queerness. It’s a constant undermining of identity, a ‘we-know-better’ smirk – a ‘why aren’t you grateful?’ question.

That word – for me – it turns my face, that unbelievably personal part of the body, into a direct enemy of my identity. It would demand that I be divided against myself. And what should I do? Break my nose a couple more times? Have surgery I can’t afford and don’t want to have to become some stereotype of masculinity? Plenty of men, cis and trans, have large eyes, high cheekbones, curved lips. So do plenty of intersex people, cis and trans women, trans people of no particular affiliation. It shouldn’t mean a thing. And the only time I can ever accept that word is from someone that knows me so well, that loves and respects me so much that I know it means nothing more than a summation of those characteristics – nothing more.

But in general usage? I wish people would show a little more heart. It’s not a compliment to rob someone of their individuality. Don’t pretend that that word isn’t a judgement of some kind or another. Please don’t seek to divine someone’s soul by describing their ‘pretty’ face.

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§ One Response to That fucking ‘p’ word

  • Shea says:

    I know this is a terribly old post, but it really hit home for me and I wanted to thank you for writing it. I’ve only recently started exploring my own gender identity and started to live a little truer to myself, and it feels like that word is thrown as a weapon nearly every time I show my face in public. A few days ago I went out presenting fairly masculine (albeit not in the “standard guy uniform” that’s everpresent in this town, which seems to involve having your crotch where your knees should be) only to have some woman come up to me pointing at my newest facial piercing and exclaiming “But you’re so pretty! Why would you do that to your face?!”

    It’s hard when this happens not to go home and hide in defeat. I’m hoping it gets easier, but somehow I don’t think it does.

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