By: Lorelei Erisis*/TRT Columnist-
Can I ask you about plastic surgery? I’m thinking about getting some work done and I have issues with surgically constructed beauty. The concept of having some surgeon cut me open to make me acceptable to view is sickening. I’m hoping that you can put some perspective on the reality of plastic surgery for me. I need to have some but I can’t quite get over my own personal belief that it is gruesome and misogynistic. What is your take?
A. As a transwoman who is also an activist and who grew up in pretty progressive circles, I think about this a lot. The simple answer is that plastic surgery IS gruesome and misogynist. It can also be beneficial and life-saving.
Like life itself, as I am often fond of saying, the real answer is fairly complex.
“Plastic surgery is gruesome.”
Yes it is. I’ve been considering getting some plastic surgery procedures for years and as a person who likes to be as informed as possible, I’ve looked at a lot of different procedures. Pictures and video and such, and it’s frankly terrifying!! I’m admittedly pretty squeamish, but we’re talking stuff that would make an avid reader of Fangoria magazine faint!
Okay, fine, surgery is like that generally. The results though are also often as gruesome as the procedures. Body parts and major physical features are blown up or shrunk to sizes out of all natural proportion. Faces are altered beyond what our brains recognize as normal and human.
This happens for a variety of reasons. Sometimes simple addiction makes people pile one procedure on top of another until their appearance becomes something entirely alien. Go Google “The Cat Lady” if you want to see a “purrrfect” example of this.
More frequently though, and this is certainly tied into the previous example as well, plastic surgery allows people to physically emulate the often absurd and completely unrealistic ideas of beauty that permeate our modern society. Everywhere from fashion magazines and billboards, to so-called “serious” news outlets and even in our own homes from the people who love us, we are confronted with unhealthy and often unnatural standards of “beauty.”
This is not new. We have been painting, squeezing, cutting and stretching ourselves for centuries to fit our social standards of presentation. It’s just that plastic surgery allows us push even farther in physically impossible directions than ever before.
Plastic surgery is also a miracle! It can help those who have been in disfiguring accidents lead “normal” lives that would have been impossible in previous centuries or even decades. Victims of serious burns, violent assault or dumb “sporting” ideas, can all be made acceptable to our judgmental eyes again.
It can help boost self-esteem by fixing physical defects both major and slight. A hare-lip or a crooked nose can be “fixed” to allow a person to look in the mirror and easily love the person they see.
This is where we intersect with trans people. For trans people, plastic surgery is the “modern miracle” that allows us to alter our bodies to fit our gender. SRS, Sexual Reassignment Surgery (or GRS, Genital/Gender, Reassignment Surgery) is essentially a series of plastic surgery procedures. Penises are fashioned into vaginas for MtFs; Vice-versa for FtMs. Breasts are removed or augmented depending on the direction of transition.
Also available for the transperson wishing to become more “themselves,” are a wide variety of other procedures. For transwomen, eyebrows may be raised, hairlines lowered, chins softened and cheekbones heightened.
Is it misogynistic to expect women will subject themselves to all manner of surgical procedures just to achieve a certain standard of beauty? Almost certainly the answer is yes. But like it or not, we live in a fairly misogynistic society and not everyone is willing to be a martyr for the cause.
I lie awake at night wondering if things I am doing in order to be perceived as the woman I am by a judgmental society are insulting to other women or reinforcing negative stereotypes. Some things I choose to fight. It’s true for instance that if I were less assertive, I would be more easily “passable” as a woman out in the general public and I might even get a date with a guy more often. But I believe women have every right to be as assertive and strong as men are raised to be. So I try as best I can to put my beliefs in front of my comfort level.
On the other hand I dress pretty aggressively femmy sometimes. It’s not that I think women should have to wear dresses and makeup; it’s more that I get tired of being “Sir’d” sometimes and wearing a skirt helps to clue people in that despite my height or the slight cleft in my chin, I am a woman. And trust me, some people need more help than others.
For me, as for many others of my trans sisters and brothers, plastic surgery is a choice I am prepared to make to feel not just more comfortable with myself, but more at one with my own physical being. It’s a choice I make to feel sexier, happier and more feminine.
Ultimately though, it is MY choice as it is MY body. No one can tell me what to do with my own body. And no one should be able to tell you what choices to make with your own body, Beautiful Hideous. If you decide to go ahead with plastic surgery, do it for yourself. Do it because it is something that YOU want. For whatever reasons are acceptable to you.
Or don’t. The choice is yours.
*Lorelei Erisis, former Miss Trans New England, can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.