“Do you believe I see a woman when I look at you?” – How self-perception is stronger than the view of others

It’s that time in the year when people rush to the South of France to watch tons of films that won’t be released before 6 months. Well, tons of privileged people, since the Cannes Film Festival is the only festival in the world that doesn’t accept self-paying visitors. Nevermind that, there are still very interesting films being shown there, and even though I can’t attend (never been even once), I still follow what’s happening, thanks to Alicia Malone‘s tweetline (1).

And one of her tweets particularly caught my eye:

Obviously (if you know enough about me), I was instantly interested about this film, Girl, directed by Lukas Dhont, and apparently, the French newspaper LeMonde also saw the film and gave their few cents on it. And now I am totally hooked. I know I have to wait until October to watch it in theatre, and I don’t usually review a prospect of a film, but there is a good reason I am hopeful: this is not a movie about transphobia (2). Most movie about transgender people deal with the hardship of being transgender because of other people being total assholes. This film is different. There is no debate about transgender people. We exist, it’s a fact, and in this story, every one is accepting of the trans girl. The family is loving, everybody is willing to help or at least they behave around her like she’s a totally normal girl.

The hardship is elsewhere. It’s internal. Even though people offer their help and support, we can’t move onward if we don’t acknowledge that this help is honest. It is best shown in this snippet of the movie:

At some point, the psychiatrist asks “Do you believe I see a woman when I look at you?” And he has to pull the answer out of her mouth. “No”. She says it so timidly. And for a good reason. It’s hard to tell someone you don’t believe them when they show the much needed support. And if we don’t believe it, it’s because we don’t see it ourselves. Therefore it seems impossible that other people see something about us that we only dreamt of for so long.

To me, it touches so close to home. I moved to Canada in January 2017, introducing to everyone as Élise, but people I was meeting randomly would obviously not see me as a woman. It took months of hormone therapy (I started in May 2017) and laser beard removal (since September 2016) before I could see any significant change. Since I never really enjoyed doing make-up that much or dressing overly feminine or girly, it didn’t help to be gendered correctly on a regular basis. That took time, and I saw it happen, first occasionally, then more frequently, until this month. Now It happens every single time. It downed on me last week in a bar where a group of guys on a bachelor party didn’t think twice about my gender. One even did a really corny move in my back, thinking I didn’t see. I can’t tell if they knew I was transgender, but if they did, they surely hid it very well.

But the switch really happened this weekend. I went with a friend to look at swimsuits. I haven’t done any scuba diving for 3 years and I miss it so much it drives me crazy. I had to go to the store, to build up the courage (wearing a push-up bra helped too). When I arrived at the swimwear corner, the saleswoman instantly greeted me with a “Madam” and asked me what I was looking for, and offered me to try some on. I switched. I stopped being afraid.

It was like learning a new language. You struggle for a long time with the idea that you’ll ever be able to speak fluently. And one day, it just happens. You feel it inside of you. You’re thinking in your new language and people understand when you speak. It’s what happened to me that day. I knew I was passing. Maybe not 100%. Maybe not if I stay in a conversation for such a long time that people get from the way I speak and behave that I’m trans, but it doesn’t matter. People gender me correctly at the introduction, and that’s 99% of the work.

For a long time, I felt like this young dancer in Girl. I couldn’t see what people were seeing. But now I can, and it’s such a wonderful feeling. I may be scared again, occasionally, but I know that most of the time, I can do it confidently.

On a side note, I love the interaction between the father and the daughter in this clip, it sounds so realistic:

So, Girl, please be as wonderful as people say. We need it.

 

(1) You can also read my review of her book Backward and in Heels.

(2) And I don’t mean film about transphobia are not interesting. They are, and they need to exist, at least as long as transphobia is a thing. But I wish we could have transgender characters in movies where they’re not here just to talk about transphobia. There are trans people out there living − almost − normal lives. Please talk about them or include them in your stories like it’s normal. That’s what we need. On this note, if you haven’t yet, you should definitely watch A Fantastic Woman (La Mujer Fantastica, by Sebastian Lelio).

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