CW: small amounts of transphobia, and references to chasers and surgery
Women's bodies are deeply and constantly sexualised. We're shown through media and general treatment that how we look is more important than what we do or say. This... isn't exactly a bold statement.
It's pretty jarring to go from this being a concept you understand intellectually to something that affects your sense of self-worth and impacts you almost every day of your life. It's something I've spoken about quite a bit with a lot of my non-male friends, cis or trans. One of the things that began to dawn on me when talking about this was that the difference between how this impacts trans and cis women is much more dependent on the person than the fact of being transgender or cisgender.
Most of the time we will have a series of specific insecurities. Things that we feel are somehow 'wrong' or imperfect about our bodies. It's different with most every person I've spoken to. Some people may be insecure about having a pot belly. Or their breasts being too big. Or too small.
A lot of the time, we dress around this.
One of my biggest insecurities, especially early on, was that my breasts developed fast, but the rest of my body remained very straight-and-narrow. When you transition later in life, your hips don't widen, adding to the insecurity that even with a relatively small bust, I was worried I looked comically top-heavy. Over time as fat redistributed this changed a bit, but it's still an insecurity of mine.
This insecurity may be pretty firmly related to being a trans woman who transitioned at a later point in her life, but that doesn't mean it's unique to trans women - and certainly not to me.
One of my friends is naturally shaped much like that. Narrow hips that always made her a bit insecure and bustier than she was comfortable with. So she learned to dress around it - and that was something she taught me. When I first tried dresses, I had no idea what I was buying. I got a few random cheap dresses on special from cheap stores, vaguely fitting my measurements.
Thanks to her and other people I spoke to, I learned that fit and flare dresses would make me feel less insecure. Which cuts would accentuate or de-accentuate my bust.
There are, of course, insecurites and concerns mostly unique to trans women - many of us, whether we want to "pass" for cisgender or not, are at least conscious of how doing so or not affects how safe we are in public in certain places.
When I began to use dating apps, whether they were queer-centric or not, I noted that I was trans in my bio. It felt pertinent.
What I began to notice was that a large number of people who swiped to match with me on those services either didn't read my bio and I had to come out as trans to them during our initial conversation... or that they had read it, and that was part of the reason they swiped right (for interested).
I remember matching with a woman who said, "So, like, you look like a chick but you can fuck me like a man?"
Then there was what became of my Twitter, Facebook and Instagram message request inboxes. It varied from platform, but a good number of the time messages from strangers turned out to be men fetishising me.
Being objectified is always uncomfortable and gross, and in most forms (such as cat-calling on the street) it usually smacks of an attempt to exert dominance. But when it comes in the form of sexualising your body because you're trans (and the person at least presumes that means you have a specific kind of genitalia) it has other long-term effects that it's taken me a few years to process.
Being sexualised, consensually, by a partner, can be a wonderful experience. It can make you feel full, happy, powerful, desired and a thousand other things that many of us never fully felt before we medically transitioned.
When I was sexualised by partners before I transitioned, it felt deeply uncomfortable, even if they did or said everything "right". Or rather, they couldn't say anything "right" - because most anything they said to sexualise me before drew my mind to my body, which I was never comfortable in.
Most of the time now, that isn't the case. But as a trans woman who has not had lower surgery and isn't fully comfortable with that fact, it puts limits on me.
I found myself quite envious of other trans women who love their genitals and feel comfortable using them - whether or not they had to have surgery to reach this point or not.
Early on in my transiton I was absolutely sure that lower surgery was the right decision for me to make, and it was simply a question of "when". When I could afford it. When I could take the time off work. When I was able to work myself up to it. When I could get a booking with the surgeon of my choice.
Over time I began to realise that I was no longer absolutely sure... but neither was I sure that the alternative was good either. It's very hard to tell precisely whether I will ever be comfortable with my body the way it is, and part of that reason is how it's fetishised.
With my inbox and sometimes my comments or @ mentions on twitter periodically peppered with gross men (and it is almost always cis men) objectifying me for my body the way it is, it means that whenever I try to get comfortable with my body as it presently is, all I can think of is that fetishisation. It makes me feel uncomfortable and gross, like there is no way for me to enjoy my own body without thinking of these people.
Their pushy way of constantly reminding me of their existence means I never forget them, and even though the majority of queer partners I've had care little for what configuration of genitals their partners have, it's hard to not have my brain flit back to these fetishisers far more than they deserve.
Continued objectification can make us feel 'separate' from our bodies. I am a person, but I am also whatever that man who screamed gross sexual things at me saw when he drove past in his WRX saw. I am a person, but I am also an abstract idea that a lot of people sexualise and fixate on, despite the fact that only a tiny part of my life is ever focused on sex.
I've spent some time thinking about just how to excise trans woman fetishists from my brain, to little avail. They're lodged in there good, and I wonder how many other trans women find their sense of comfort in their own body impacted negatively by these people.
The normalisation of all manner of different body shapes and types is important. So few people fit media narratives of "perfect" female or male bodies, even before you get to gender non-conforming folk. There are movements to stop all manner of body shaming, and to help people feel sexy in their own body, whatever shape that body is.
But for those of us with aspects of our selves that are fetishised in some way or other, it can be difficult to move past that uncomfortable emotional tether and into full acceptance of our bodies.