Female beauty standards are a double-edged sword for trans women. It is a never-ending balancing act, getting the "right" combination of feminine and masculine in our appearance to align with society's impossibly narrow criteria in a way that offers us safety in passing as our true genders — and that line is very thin. Sometimes I know I’m a real woman because everyone has an unsolicited opinion about my appearance.
“Passing” is the term the trans community uses to describe those instances when others assume we are the gender we’re presenting as rather than our assigned sex at birth, and it can be especially critical for the safety of trans women. In our society, beauty, especially for women, is based entirely on cisnormative beauty standards, and the concepts of “passing” and “beauty” are often conflated and can even be internalized by trans women.
“I was confused by this for a long time. I sort of assumed that it was necessary to 'pass' before I could aspire to be considered ‘beautiful,’ " explains Alice, a 37-year-old trans woman from Chicago, who transitioned four years ago. “Now, of course, both of these things are subjective estimations and they're both, to varying extents, ascribed to us by others rather than experienced ourselves. But I have learned to cultivate a sense of myself as beautiful that is somewhat independent of social expectations, that simply has to do with how well I meet my own expectations for my appearance and presentation.”
Finding that sense of self within an endless litany of societal expectations can be fleeting for trans women, as it is for any woman. If we weren’t "too trans," we’d be too heavy, or too broad-shouldered, or not white enough.