How Can Trans Folks ‘Do’ Body Positivity?
When I think about how the mainstream body positive movement offers up liberation, I and so many other trans people ask the question: Is this for me?
I’ve always loved those beach campaigns, where bodies of all sorts are hanging out in swimsuits. But it’s a privilege in many ways to be able to wear a swimsuit without dysphoria or revealing your surgery status. I can’t participate without exposing myself in ways that would trigger dysphoria.
I can’t proudly display my body in fierce and fearless tight clothing, because showing off my curves is the exact opposite of what makes me feel secure in my body and gender. Revealing my body in all its chubby and lumpy glory might be liberating for me, except hiding my curves in my clothes is what helps me to survive a body that doesn’t align with my gender. Exposing it is not empowering for me at all.
Changing my attitude, instead of my body, will not address the dysphoria I experience. Quite simply, it’s not just about body hate or internalized fatphobia. It’s about the anguish that comes along with feeling alienated by a body that doesn’t make sense to me and, in its current form, never will.
I can’t really love my body right now, because sometimes as a trans person the trauma of being in a body that feels wrong means that the best we can do is call a truce. Even that is hard enough and, for some, impossible.
I’ve been asked before how I can call myself a body-positive transgender person in a mainstream movement that isn’t exactly built with trans people in mind. And it doesn’t surprise me that it’s so difficult to visualize a body-positive movement that still speaks to trans people — especially when the most visible campaigns do a terrific job of ignoring the complicated relationships we have with our bodies as trans people.
To be empowered and liberated as a body positive trans person doesn’t necessarily mean unapologetically owning or showing off our bodies; it doesn’t always mean resisting the need to change our bodies; it doesn’t mean simply loving ourselves as we are or accepting our “flaws.”
There’s a place for all of this, of course, and I’m not here to rain on someone’s body positive parade.
But a movement that centers around the idea of embracing what is, exactly as it is, can only be a movement that was designed for cisgender people who have everything to gain by loving their bodies as they are and have very little to lose.
But since writing those pieces, a lot of transgender people have asked me why I still call myself body-positive at all — and what I’ve had to gain.
Here’s what body positivity did teach me: To push back on internalized oppression and body ideals that tell me that my size makes me less worthy, less desirable, less valuable. To foster a loving relationship to my body, which involves self-care, seeking out media that represents me, prioritizing my mental health over false promises made by the diet industry and making choices around my body that are informed by wellness rather than punishment.
And body positivity taught me to eat the damn ice cream and call it a fucking day. Which, in my opinion, is a super valuable lesson.
I don’t criticize body positivity because I think it’s a waste. Totally the opposite, in fact — I critique this movement because I love it, because it has offered me a lot and because I believe in its importance.
It’s one hell of a party and I want in on it — and so do countless transgender people who would otherwise benefit if it were packaged as “let’s take care of our bodies and fuck the systems that discourage us to” instead of “just love your body and all your problems will be solved!”
And here’s the thing: I have consistently pointed out that transgender people have been doing body positivity for a long time. We have, in the face of a society that wanted us to remain the same and fall in line, manifested our identities through our bodies and/or expression, cultivating both our own kind of self-love and better psychological health in the process.
To me, that’s body positive — and while it may not be the brand of body positivity we’re used to or recognize, it’s just as valid and just as powerful.
So how can transgender folks do body positivity? Well, we’re already doing it. The real question is whether a mainstream movement can tune in and realize that we’ve been here all along — and that we not only want to be included, but we deserve to be.
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