#TransIsBeautiful is one of the most used trans-related hashtags on social media. For many of us, beauty means completion, passing as a man or woman worth knowing. As trans people, we often correlate safety with being easier for other people to understand, easier to hold. We have to call ourselves "beautiful" before anyone else calls us something else.
According to a 2015 survey from the National Center for Transgender Equality, 47% of trans and nonbinary people experience sexual assault at some point in their lifetimes. When putting together an anthology full of letters that fellow trans and nonbinary sexual assault and domestic violence survivors wrote to their body parts, Written on the Body, contributors most often asked me about “enoughness.” Am I trans enough to write something? Passing enough? Am I survivor enough? Am I a burden? Who would even want to read this?
Is my body beautiful enough to write a letter to? Is it worth knowing?
To be a survivor, to be trans, is to be tricked into believing your body is inherently a burden, in the way of a destination that someone else decided on for you. Named with a gender that was never mine, my body was put in places it didn’t want to go. I have suffered the most when other people find beauty in the wrong things.
For too long, I thought it was my responsibility to make life easier for others. I thought that framing my life in clear steps would relieve the problem and I would become beautiful: I will find a life partner and will never be assaulted again; I will take hormones and get The Haircut; my PTSD flashbacks will be gone; I will no longer use the name Lexie, even if I like it, in exchange for something more boyish. I’ve tried to save myself by fabricating a happy ending — I told myself that “only then I can share bravely and beautifully.” “Only then I can organize this book project for fellow trans survivors.” It’s only then that I can help others “feel better.”
The truth is, I’m afraid to grow out my hair because I don’t want people to think I am “de-transitioning.” I’m afraid to wear dresses because what if someone is relieved to see my hips and calls me beautiful in a way that I don’t identify with. I’m afraid to wear makeup because I will disrupt how they understand the word “boy.” I’m afraid to tell someone not to eat Peanut M&M’s before kissing me; I will disrupt how they understand my “it happened when I was 9.” I’m afraid to tell anyone about the assault that happened around the publishing of Written on the Body. I’m afraid to say that I love them. I’m afraid to say that they never called me beautiful once, and I took that as a good sign.
Some call me a failed boy. Some call me a failed girl. I will never be fully healed. I was afraid to tell anyone what happened some nights because they couldn’t be paired with #TransIsBeautiful. It is not a beauty easy to consume.
Did you know that I’m growing out my hair now? Did you know that I still use the name Lexie? Did you know that I had a nightmare last night? Did you know that I have three dresses left in my closet?
As the organizer of Written on the Body, I do feel afraid that my non-passing transness and seemingly never-ending history of assault will never make my sharing conclusive enough to be beautiful or “inspirational.” I did not make this book to feel better. Beautiful does not mean better, because no body forgets. I made the anthology to allow myself and others to feel real, bringing together people who are in totally different places within identity and healing. I made it to offer a reminder that we carry trauma in our hair, fingertips, and all the other places we decorate, just as much as we do in our assumed genitals. I made it to remind myself that one day I can sign a letter to my back with love, and on the next page there is patience, and on the next page there is fear, and they can all exist within the same body and the same body of work.
To be a “beautiful” survivor, to be a “beautiful” trans person, is to have a story that isn’t mine. I have fears. I don’t have an ending point. I just want to be healthy, in community; I want to remember where I’ve been without judgement about where I’m going. As said by one of the contributors of Written on the Body, Dānní Hú-Yáng, “The most rewarding part of transitioning is learning about myself, learning about how I want to express myself, when do I feel comfortable, when do I feel anxious, and in what way do I want to connect with others.” No matter where you are, your sharing is valuable because it’s yours. That is why we say #TransIsBeautiful; we are ongoing and worth knowing.
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