When I disclose my transsexual status to someone unused to being around trans* people the second most common response I get is something like “Wow, really? I never would have known! You totally look like a normal guy!” The statement usually is accompanied by a shocked expression, but once in awhile it’s a condescending smile.
It is meant as a compliment, and it isn’t one. Ever since this started happening to me regularly I have tried to find an appropriate response. The person saying it wants to hear “Thank you,” since they intended it as a compliment. To be honest, that often has been my response, because it’s the easiest one. It gets the weird, uncomfortable, awkward moment over quickly. Other times I will try to brush it off with “Well, testosterone does that” but generally this only makes them restate the non-compliment again, so it’s incredibly ineffective. They think I’m being modest, while I’m actually incredibly uncomfortable.
A few times I have pointed out that statements like that aren’t really compliments. They indicate a few things that make me uncomfortable. The first is that there is something about appearing to be cis-gendered that is somehow better than looking like someone who is gender-non-conforming. This blog post from Writings of a Trans-Activist makes this point much better than I could, so I suggest you read it.
The most direct reason that I’m uncomfortable with this is pretty simple: complimenting me for looking like a cisgendered man feels like an insult against my trans* friends who appear more gender-non-conforming than I do. It makes it sound like I am a better transperson than they are. I am not. I am fortunate that my transition has allowed me to look they way I want to look – I like what I see when I look in the mirror. That isn’t something to compliment me for though – it is a combination of luck and time (9.5 years on T).
All of my trans* friends deserve recognition for the struggles they have, but I especially want to recognize those who go out into the world each day knowing that people will see them as different – perhaps even as a threat to their heterocentric cisnormative world. They have it harder than me, and it is they, not me, who should be getting pats on the back.
Don’t compliment me for having the easy route.
Feature pic is of my friend Chris W. Used with permission.