Blogathon: 13th Hour


Exhaustion definitely setting in.

The rain has stopped. The clouds have parted. But now the sun is beginning to quietly nestle under the horizon.

I’ve taken my hormones and had a bit of chocolate. I may need some aspirin, though, if the headache returns.

On the plus side, though? 13 is totes one of my favourite numbers.

Here, have a flattering picture of me:

I originally took this a couple weeks ago or so for a hashtag Paris Lees had initiated on Twitter called #WhatTranssexualsLookLike

The thing was some late night chat host or another had made some awful joke to a guest saying that she “looked like a tranny”.

Amongst the usual criticism offered by the trans community to a majour media figure casually making a transphobic remark (criticism that seems to gradually get stronger over time, and hopefully will soon have the effect of discouraging these jokes before they’re made), Paris and others offered the extremely valid question of what, exactly, does a “tranny” “look like” anyway?

Usually when people claim a woman “looks like a tranny” they mean to suggest that she has certain kinds of masculine features, or that she’s possessed of an exaggerated and/or “fake” looking feminine presentation. But truthfully, trans women have a vast and diverse range of appearances.

Taken as a whole, as an aggregate perception, a trans women’s overall appearance can tend to be slightly distinct from that of the “average” cis woman. But in addition to the fact that, as mentioned in the previous post, the idea of a “normal” woman is illusory anyway, if you isolate given, individual traits for a trans woman, they don’t fall outside the range for cis women nearly as often as one might think.

In addition, there’s LOTS of different traits that comprise a human appearance. And there’s a tremendous degree of variety in how those traits appear in an individual trans woman. Even if, on average, we often to look a bit “distinct”, how we vary from the imagined norm is incredibly diverse. Trans women represent an extremely broad range of possible phenotypes, to such an extent that even if speaking strictly of visibly gender variant trans women, trying to imagine a “normal” or “average” trans woman, “what a tranny looks like”, is completely absurd.

What DOES she look like? Big hands? Prominent brow bossing? Strong chin? Beard shadow? Adam’s apple? Large nose? Broad shoulders?

All those traits taken together… that’s something quite rare amongst trans women. So how do you pick and choose which she does and doesn’t have? Already it would start to break down.

And imagining this “normal” trans woman, “what a tranny looks like”, what race is she? How old is she? How does she dress? Has she had any surgeries? Which ones?

Do you see what I’m getting at?

As anyone who regularly reads this blog probably knows by now, trans women are often completely visually indistinguishable from cis women (and often also indistinguishable in our voices and mannerisms… and one of the cool things about HRT is that it makes us smell exactly like cis women do, as well as our skin having the same tactile feel). How does THAT factor into “what a tranny looks like”?

If one of the possible types of appearances a trans woman can have is one that is not in any meaningful way distinct from a cis woman, what meaning does “look like a tranny” even have? And truthfully, a “passable” trans woman doesn’t “look cis”. What she looks like is one of the ways that trans women happen to look. It is only people’s ignorance, treatment of cis as the universal default condition, and failure to account for the fact that trans people are a part of the world, that leads to such women being interpreted as cis.

What we call “passable” is just one of the ways trans women sometimes look. Actually… it’s not even “one of the ways”… it’s a whole vast range of ways trans women can look that circumstantially overlaps with the range of ways that cis people can look.

That overlap, by the way, is very, very large.

There is no “way” that a trans person looks. A cis woman CAN’T “look trans”. It’s about as silly as saying an asian person “looks white”.

Try imagining “what a cis person looks like” and you might get an inkling of the absurdity here.

What we look like is only ever, and exactly, ourselves.

The great thing about Paris hashtag was scrolling through the pictures and observing the amazing, beautiful diversity of #WhatTranssexualsLookLike. As a group, we look like humanity. Which is really, intensely beautiful.

I suppose, in that sense, it could be taken as a compliment when someone says you “look like a tranny”. It just means you look like a human being. A beautiful, individual human being.


  1. sjrosewater says

    The resemblance between that picture of you and your avatar is really uncanny. Same angle and everything. Your avatar seems to be smirking slightly more than you, though.

  2. Happiestsadist says

    You are incredibly pretty.

    Also, 13 is a pretty nifty number. I was way too excited when we moved to a place on the 13th floor of my building. (And it’s actually the 13th on the elevator and the numbers! No 12A nonsense!)

  3. Bia says

    I’ve always thought the following video was fascinating. Warning, Nina does use language that could be Triggering. I know she isn’t liked by many in the community because she doesn’t PC her language but she makes some interesting points regarding sexual attraction and how men are erotically attracted to women that don’t exist in nature.

    Nina Arsenault on sexuality and the “natural”.


  4. says

    As a group, we look like humanity. Which is really, intensely beautiful.

    I love this. Being human is a right, not a privilege. And that comes with the right to be beautiful.

  5. says

    Hi Natalie,

    My girlfriend has been sharing your blog posts with me and I’ve been immensely enjoying them. However, this line deeply troubled and angered me:

    “It’s about as silly as saying an asian person “looks white”.”

    This line is ignoring and brushing off long, difficult, tough histories and politics about passing when it comes to race. An Asian person can definitely “look white”, for much the same reasons that people think there is a way to look “trans” or “cis”. Race is a social construct and part of that construct is deciding what features conform to a specific racial type.

    Passing as white has been a major topic for non-White people in terms of obtaining privileges, being let into other people’s racism because they think you will agree with them, being cut off from your own community because you’re unrelatable. So much Asia-based media uses Eurasian personalities because they pass just enough for “white”. Mixed race people (and not exclusively them) deal with erasure of their identity when one facet is emphasized over the other.

    There is a lot of baggage around the concepts of racial passing, and to dismiss it all as “there’s no way an Asian person can look white by definition” is to ignore the massive privilege you have of never have your race being called into question, dissected, assumed, acted upon on assumptions rather than your actual identity, feeling like you can’t claim your identity anyway because you look too much like some other thing.

    • says

      I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for that line to come across as dismissing the complex issues of “race-passing”.

      You’re right, I could have worded that much better. My apologies.

      I am, however, at least somewhat aware of those issues, and my mistake wasn’t one of simple ignorance.

      Basically, the point I was trying to make wasn’t that all people who are Asian (within their own individual definitions of identity) are distinctly visually identifiable as such. That WOULD be a really stupid thing for me to say. My point was more about how anyone actually saying that, (“you don’t look Asian”) TO someone would be themselves demonstrating an extremely ignorant idea of what race is and means.

      In other words, I wasn’t saying it’s impossible for an Asian person to “look white” in terms of being read as white by others, but that it would be silly for someone to behave as though Asian-ness and White-ness are concrete and stable and visually distinct physical conditions or qualities that a person either has or doesn’t have. You know what I mean?

      The nuances you’re describing are actually sort of part of my point: an Asian, Latina, Black, First Nations, Middle-Eastern or mixed-race or otherwise non-white person being read as white doesn’t actually mean they ARE white, or mean that they’re any less “legitimately” a member of whatever race or ethnicity they belong to. If being read as such is consistent enough, they may have some conditional “light-skinned” privilege, which is another very complex issue all in itself (that I’m NOT really qualified to speak to, nor is it really my place to do so), but the line between one race and another is never a simple and “objective” issue of how much melanin is in someone’s skin, or how dark, straight or nappy their hair is, or whether they have the epicanthic fold on their eyelids. It is, as you say, a question of social constructs, and the lived experiences, and privileges or disadvantages, that go along with them, and along with their historical legacies.


  1. […] While the “passable” trans women of the support group are played by trans actresses, Bree, so as to appear “trans” enough to film her struggle to achieve the (not exactly a thing) goal of “passing” as a “real, non-artificial” woman, is portrayed by cisgender actress Felicity Huffman adorned in prosthetics and make-up deliberately contrived to make her “look trans” (also not exactly a thing). […]

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