When I Say I'm Pretty

 [Image description: close photograph of thin overlapping wings of steel. They are worn and rusted at the edges, with small holes.]  Zsolt Palatinus / Creative Commons

[Image description: close photograph of thin overlapping wings of steel. They are worn and rusted at the edges, with small holes.]

Zsolt Palatinus / Creative Commons

A trans woman’s beauty is forged through fire. It has a gleam like steel rather than a sparkle like a gem, for it is a beauty that is shaped by hand to become both a precious creation and a dependable ally. Through years of experience, we hammer out the self-doubt and reshape ourselves from a lump of raw material into something sharp that slays.

I began creating an image of who I wanted to be when I was a teenager. People around me always said I acted mature for my age and it went to my head. Convinced of my own superiority, I logged online at 13 years old.

The persona I created for myself sounded convincing to me. I was a 22-year-old law student at UC Berkeley — a brilliant student and a beautiful girl.

Whenever I developed a portrait of an ideal self, I strove to be a girl. The aspirations were physical. Long and luxurious hair, a well-proportioned body and a nymph-like smile. I could be whatever else that idealized the situation: a kind and magical elf, a devout and skilled knight, an excitable high schooler or a slick and savvy politician, but the physical description became my modus operandi.

Writing men baffled me. I didn’t want to portray or depict any men. I didn’t understand how I could portray or depict any of them. Writing of myself as male became alien to me, and I soon found acting male itself was an alien experience for me.

I started hanging out on Chan forums when I turned 16, and I started sharing photos of myself once I hit 18. I was one face in a crowd of many, but I enjoyed being a “camwhore” while it lasted. There were three main boards within tranchan, a board dedicated to trans and crossdressing “camwhores”. First there was /cd/, the cross dressing board, for men who wanted to post images of themselves dressed as women. The board I mainly posted on was /tg/, the transgender board dedicated to trans women who wanted to show off. Finally, there was /traps/, a board dedicated to “camwhores” who could be mistaken for cis women.

I took that self-image I made and tried to emulate it in flesh, showing what I could. Through smokescreens and makeup, I attempted to recreate myself in the self-image I desired. But Chan boards don’t care who you want to be or who you really are. They want to break you down and mold you into an aggregated ideal. You can be who you are on your own time, but on those boards you have to cater to that composite of expectations before you’re awarded the seal of approval.

As they used to so eloquently say: TITS OR GTFO

It was all about how you could entice people on the boards. Having popular interests in music and video games helped in being yourself, but if people didn’t care about what you liked, all you had left in your arsenal were your looks and your willingness to be an exhibitionist.

There was an inherent hierarchy among us. We vied to look convincingly female, upholding a standard of porn-star beauty. I sat somewhere in the middle of the pack among the posters in /tg/, but I looked up to the posters in /traps/.

“Traps” remains in the lexicon today, largely ruled problematic for its toxic connotation of demeaning trans people of “fooling” other people into believing they are a gender that they physically aren’t. Linked to transphobic “panic defenses” and denying an unconditional acceptance of one’s chosen gender, it is a word that should no longer enjoy any acceptance.

Yet, for me, over a decade ago, the title was something I aspired toward. I wanted to be seen as a woman by everyone else, and a beautiful one at that, but referring to the aforementioned requirements, I was eventually ordered to “get the fuck out.” My refusal to post nudes earned me a reputation as a largely nice but boring girl, and with no explicitly sexually thrilling images I was summarily told to leave. My threads were deleted and I became a ghost of a memory to some of the people I used to hang out with.

It wasn’t until I was in my mid-20s that I became comfortable with who I physically was. I am a woman, and a pretty one at that. Regardless of the beauty standards set by others and regardless of the fact I might betray I am obviously a trans woman, I radiate my own brand of beauty. And while self-doubt continues to be sown in my thoughts, I can usually push past it all to keep telling myself and others: “I’m pretty.”

Maybe it was hormone replacement therapy, maybe it was coming out to everyone, maybe it’s a series of emotionally supportive girlfriends, but the bravery and strength I built for myself now empower me.

It’s become true because I said so, and now more people than ever have fallen under my spell of finding me attractive.


Chiaki Hirai is a trans lesbian writer and translator working out of San Francisco. Primarily a beat reporter for the Japanese American Nichi Bei Weekly, her writing has also appeared on Anime Feminist and Tofugu. In her free time she screams about her kinks and urban development on Twitter