The short version
As a trans person, you hear various compliments, and you might think, they’re probably just saying it to make me feel better, but they don’t really mean it. Look at me, this disgusting thing, what is likeable about it? They say nice things, but there’s no way they believe it.
Then, to you, I would ask, why don’t you believe it?
In a world where trans people are accepted and being trans is considered normal, these compliments are not strange at all.
Indeed, trans people can be beautiful, attractive, desired, hot, and other good things. Well, those traits in particular may not be good to you, but you can have your good traits that you want!
Rather, that I was suspicious, that I thought others were lying, says less about their credibility and more about how much transphobia I’ve internalized. After being constantly told I’m worthless and unwanted, of course these compliments would be hard to believe. It’s not just that I didn’t think I could be seen positively - I thought trans people in general were only seen as something lesser. Kind words directed at others, I rejected in the same way.
This baggage can be unlearned. Not overnight, but with time. When people say good things about you, they can and probably do mean it. Let’s show our trans siblings some love, and help them become their best self.
The long version
I am transfem, as are my girlfriends, and I preferentially hang around transfem spaces if I interact with the outside world at all, so I suppose it would be my domain of expertise. Common compliments include cute, pretty, and beautiful, and we tend to consider these to be good things. Not everyone gets dysphoria, but I do get it, and I can find it hard to see myself as beautiful. Being on HRT now, being free to explore without unwelcome influence, and having pretty much my only social interaction during the pandemic be with my very supportive girlfriends has definitely improved my self image, but it hasn’t always been this way. Back then, my body was a disgusting meatsack I hated being confined in. I liked the compliments, since they made me feel better about myself. At the same time, I rejected them. That this boyish thing could be beautiful, was preposterous. Someone said it, but surely they didn’t believe it? I’m sure many other trans girls have experienced the same. If the chains of “You’re cute! / No way, I can’t be cute!” are anything to go by, it’s a common experience.
What started this whole chain of events for me was not any real trans people, but some certain trans characters. The way they were portrayed, the way they were talked about, was very kind. At the time though, I was thinking something slightly different - that it was forced. Perhaps they masked their true feelings and told pleasant lies, so that other trans people could see what they said and feel better about themselves.
A change in perspective was a critical piece here. Imagine a world where trans people are accepted and being trans is considered normal. What then, of these compliments? Well, they’re… completely normal. Some casual praise around appearance and such is totally normal with cis people. Why should it be something weird when told to trans people? The language is a little different, but that basic form is the same. People think someone looks nice, they will bring it up, and they genuinely mean it. That applies to cis people, and it should apply to trans people too. The compliments don’t need to be lies.
Though I didn’t realize it at the time, not only do all these comments seem normal in this theoretical world that is okay with trans people, it actually feels as if the comments came from that world. More than just being kind, those comments talk as if trans people being a normal thing is a given, and they are respectful about trans bodies as if there was nothing unusual about them. One is led to ponder, perhaps this world exists after all? It is not our entire world, of course. We still have a long way to go collectively, and even the best places for trans people have a ways to go. However, people - individual people - have been getting closer to this ideal. For them, they are honestly speaking their mind. For me, who is not there yet, it takes effort for me to understand, and my initial reaction is suspicion.
All that said, what do we make of me thinking those comments were strange, or suspecting them of lying? It doesn’t seem like the comments are actually strange to the ones that said them, or that they were lies. The issue, then, is in me? Well, yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s my fault. It all comes back to internalized transphobia. When you are constantly told you are worthless, that your existence is wrong, that you should not exist… that poison seeps deep into your subconscious, influencing how you act and how you see yourself, and invading your thoughts. Transphobia because these ideas are transphobic in nature, internalized because it gets taken up as a part of you, difficult to remove and able to attack you from within. I confess, I have some negative knee-jerk reactions to trans people as a result of internalized transphobia, and toward many other groups due to other internalized bigotry. I don’t agree with those reactions, and I would delete them if it was that easy, but it’s difficult. Those knee-jerk reactions are some of the more visible products of internalized transphobia. Among the less visible products is a deeply held notion that trans people look worse and are less wanted. Again, not something I agree with, but that’s what it is. It is from there that the distrust comes. The compliments seem hard to believe when the established notion is that the opposite of those compliments should be true. In the end, what my suspicion speaks most on is how much internalized transphobia I have.
Internalized transphobia is a nasty problem, and not something that can be solved overnight. However, once we recognize it, we can do something about it. People may say nice things about you, and they mean it! I hope you wonderful trans folk out there learn to accept compliments better, and maybe see yourself in a better light. On the other end, please do validate and compliment trans people you meet, if you’re comfortable with it. We really need it. It does a little to counteract the background noise that always tells us all the reasons we are bad. Thank you for reading my story.
This is my story. It’s not going to be everyone’s story. People are wonderfully diverse, with seemingly an exception to every rule. I speak generally, which may give the impression I’m asserting this is how it is for everyone, but I do not wish for my words to be read as such. If I added a note to explain the nuances every time I made a general statement, this would be more of a book than a blog post. I hope this addendum will suffice instead. As for the post as a whole, I hope it will help some people. That would be more than enough for me.