Positivity Means Fixing What’s Wrong: How Body Positivity Fails Trans People

There are a lot of good things to be said about the body positivity movement. Encouraging people of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, and abilities to feel beautiful and valuable despite not fitting into their society’s narrow mold is a transparently good idea. People deserve to not feel insecure or ashamed of their bodies, especially when the source of that insecurity isn’t much bigger than marketing. There is a darker side to constantly proclaiming that people should accept themselves “just as they are,” however. Some people’s problems with how their bodies are shaped aren’t a matter of trying to live up to an unreachable beauty standard, and shouldn’t be treated as such.

Transgender people face continuous, intense opposition to everything we are and everything we do in much of the world. One of the forms that this aggression takes is proclaiming that trans people shouldn’t want to reshape our bodies to fit with their genders, and should accept our deviant shapes “just as they are,” all couched in the language of body positivity. To undertake aesthetic, medical, or surgical interventions to change appearance is, in this view, to succumb to social pressures that we should instead be resisting. By their logic, a trans man should strive to be content with growing breasts he never wanted, and a trans woman should embrace the androgenic baldness that awaits her if she doesn’t take hormone replacement therapy, because to do otherwise would be insufficiently “positive.”

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Positivity Means Fixing What’s Wrong: How Body Positivity Fails Trans People
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Zero Wake

It’s the understatement of the century that my life hasn’t gone the way I imagined it would. By now I should have been a year into a postdoctoral fellowship, with my eyes on professorship opportunities in some other city and a steadily growing academic resume. I should have been building a research program around the seven years of work that became my doctoral dissertation, extending it into new directions, new species, and new theories to fit with the interests of my postdoctoral supervisor. I should have been teaching lecture courses, as a guest or full-time, and developing my teaching credentials. I had a plan.

Thinking about it makes my hands shake.

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Zero Wake

Single-Malt Workohol

Despair is a heavy burden, and I bear its weight by working out.

I am not diagnosed with depression or anxiety, but there are days when I wonder whether I should be. Hints of how I deal with anxiety are scattered throughout my writing, but depression is a rarer visitor. I’ve avoided any real accounting of my depressive symptoms of episodes because of one peculiar fact: they’ve been incredibly useful to me.

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Single-Malt Workohol

Flamboyán Al Fin

He hoarded his Christmas gifts. We would get him cologne, ties, shirts, tchotchkes from our travels, treatments to soften his overworked hands, and they would all find their ways into drawers and cabinets, untouched for years. His clothing had to wear to nothing before he would discard it and start the next one’s slow disintegration. New, untouched things are a treasure to save for when they are needed, not an indulgence for in between. Scarcity is behind every shadow and over every hill, and a good hoard is insurance against doing without. It’s a habit my father, my grandfather, and I all share, to each other’s bemused frustration. They tangled with Communists, I grew up autistic, and we all hoard.

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Flamboyán Al Fin

Ask Alyssa Anything

This week, I expanded my blogging horizons by giving my readers the option to ask me questions they’ve been curious about. The result was a mix of questions about me and things they hope I write about at greater length in the future, and it’s been fun to read and to contemplate.

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Ask Alyssa Anything

Sizing or Bust

Bra sizes are a notorious quagmire. Like everything else in feminine clothing, it relies on a close match between specific items and specific wearers but isn’t priced or made available in a way that actually enables that kind of tailoring, and the end result is that different regions, times of day, brands, weather patterns, and Pokémon swarms all seem to influence how well a particular bra fits. Getting one’s bust sized is as much art as science, and that gets messy for bra wearers whose proportions are at all unusual and/or who have reason to be wary of or insecure around common sources of this information.

I’ve been on estrogen for seven months. I have experienced breast growth since before that, during the month I was on spironolactone alone. My bust is currently substantial enough that I’d need a binder or similar tool to hide it, or a heavy coat in whose fluff it could vanish. It even clearly looks like something in a (padded) bikini, when most bathing suits reduce one’s apparent heft fairly dramatically.

Getting a handle on my bust size has been a long-term challenge. One problem is fairly obvious: I’m still growing, and very well might be for a year or two to come. Another is that, between being a two-puberty transgender woman and having mild kyphosis, my upper back’s shape and proportions are somewhat confusing for me, let alone for erstwhile sizers. But growth is an incremental process past the literally-overnight that got me started, and even my curious posture isn’t that much of a mess for standard bra patterns.

So I’ve gotten sized. A bunch of times.

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Sizing or Bust