Trans Documentary: “Line in the Sand”, Vanity and My Personal Struggle With Gender Dysphoria

Line in the Sand
This short documentary by University of Rochester student and talented filmmaker: Hayden Freedman, explores being transgender in a society that doesn’t quite understand “transgender”. Trans woman: Natalie Robin shares some of her experiences in coming out, gender roles/expectations and discusses a rather questionable suggestion from her therapist.

Also included are interviews with my friend and mentor: Jeanne Gainsburg, Education Director for the Gay Alliance, and another trans woman you may be familiar with: me.

Natalie has a YouTube channel and Tumblr blog where she shares her transition progress, thoughts and feelings. I encourage you to check out her offerings and maybe send her a little love and support in a thoughtful comment.

Painful realities that are difficult to share
Rather than rehashing what the documentary covers (and rather well, I might add), I’m going to take this opportunity to talk a little about gender dysphoria and share my personal struggle living with it.

When it comes to speaking publicly, photo ops, and the occasional request for a video interview, I’m more than willing to put myself out there and do what I can to further transgender awareness, educate and make a positive difference. This often includes letting go of any control I have over how I may end up looking in photos and recorded video, which isn’t easy for me. I want the world to see me as I see myself in my mind’s eye and in my heart.

Gender dysphoria can be crippling and agonizing
Gabrielle portrait b&w, Nov. 30, 2014Scattered throughout my online offerings are frequent mentions of the fact that I look fairly passable in my carefully selected, publicly shared photos, and how I’m far from passable in person. It’s something I’ve only ever scratched the surface of until now.

I take selfies all the time. It’s an attempt to capture my beauty and essence in visual form. It won’t last forever – no matter how much I diet, exercise and cake on layers of makeup.

The photo to the right was taken before I headed out to shoot my portion of the documentary interview. It’s not one of my better photos, but doesn’t look terrible after applying a high-contrast black and white filter. At least I look female in the photo. Seeing myself “look female” helps me to feel more female; more like myself. It matters.

Most of my selfies never get shared because I don’t look quite right; I don’t look like the me I see and feel in my heart. More often than not, I end up looking like a “man in makeup”, which is how I generally appear to the rest of the world in person. I get mis-gendered frequently enough (referred to with male pronouns) to remind me of that, and not in ways intended to be disparaging or mean-spirited.

With the right lighting and seen at just the right angles, I look very female, from head to toe. I look exactly how I feel – feminine, beautiful, strong, and filled with enthusiasm, gratitude, love and joy. The problem is that most of the time, I have no control over lighting or the angle at which people see me.

Don’t get me wrong – I look pretty damn good! All that exercise, dieting and meticulously applied layers of makeup pay off, and I appear (by my own estimate) maybe about 95% female. It’s that 5% of me that doesn’t look female that’s the problem. Much of it is in my face – the first thing people see and main point of focus during social interaction.

For your eyes only
It may sound odd, but just posting this documentary on my site was difficult. I know the risks when I give up control over how I’m captured and shared in recorded media. My personal discomfort takes a back seat for opportunities to make a positive difference. I know what I look like and don’t have to watch the videos or look at unflattering photos others take of me. They’re not for my eyes, anyway.

The main purpose of this site is to educate, dispel negative myths and cliches, and empower people to be true to who they are. It’s also served as a means for me to present myself as a passable, truly female-looking trans woman, to the rest of the world. Doing so, has allowed me to feel just a little more true to who I am inside.

Sharing this documentary takes that away to some extent, and it hurts. I don’t want anyone to see or think of me as a “man in makeup”. It’s part vanity, but cuts far deeper than just an ego-based insecurity. It’s something that only transgender people will every truly understand, and only a percentage of trans people experience such profound discomfort.

Some knowledge can only be felt and not explained in words
I apologize for my failure in finding better words to explain what this aspect of (my) gender dysphoria feels like. Feelings loose so much of their meaning when one tries to reduce them to a series of words and intellectual arguments. The words will only make sense to others who have similar feelings with which to compare them to. Even then, it’s a matter of subjective projection.

Gender dysphoria isn’t just about how we see ourselves in the mirror
We’re barely scraping the tip of the iceberg of this immensely complex subject and this post is already rather lengthy. For now, revealing and sharing how I feel about my less-than-female appearance is just another step in my personal growth process. I intend to transform my body to match my heart, mind and energy as much as possible in the years ahead. My life depends on it, quite literally. Again, people who suffer from gender dysphoria will understand. Cisgender (non-trans) people seeking a better understanding of what it’s like to live with gender dysphoria will be better served by spending time with and getting to know people who deal with it day to day.

The silver lining
I’m insecure about my appearance, well beyond just vanity. Gender dysphoria manifests in a variety of ways, many of which I’m powerless to do anything about today. Transitioning is incredibly expensive (think: mortgage), it’s not covered by my insurance and I lack the means to finance it… for now.

There is strength and freedom gained in sharing this openly. I feel empowered by revealing my less-than-flattering appearance in the documentary. People see me in public all the time and I feel the eyes upon me. I don’t like it, but I’m used to it and more important: I really don’t care what anyone else thinks of me. I’d rather they stare at me than some other trans person who may not be as comfortable.

Reaching out, speaking out and growing along the way
As I continue to work in outreach programs as a member of the Gay Alliance Speakers Bureau and other personal endeavors, additional photos and video of a less than 100% female-looking me will continue to emerge. I may choose not to look at them, but I don’t care what other people think of my appearance. It’s all about my love of humanity, sharing, learning, growing, making friends and empowering people to live authentic lives.

Two days ago, I took part in a transgender panel at the Wegmans School of Pharmacy at St. John Fisher. This coming Monday, I’ll be on another transgender panel at Shepherd University in West Virginia, followed by 4 more opportunities this month to get out, share, engage people, raise positive awareness, and open hearts and minds. This includes an opportunity to return to my home town school district and co-facilitate breakout workshops for staff and administrators, which I’m particularly excited about.

Positively optimistic
I’m filled with optimism and positive feelings about the future – for myself and the beautiful world I am grateful to be a part of. I hope that you are also filled with hope, optimism, love and gratitude for all that you have in your life. We all have our struggles and lessons to learn, and we’re all in this together.

I Am Love
Thank you for taking some time to watch “Line In the Sand”, and read about my ongoing struggle with gender dysphoria and self-image. I hope the underlying message is clear – there’s nothing easy about it, but there is so much to be thankful for in life, and so many opportunities to work together and make it better for everyone, which in turn makes it better for us, too.

Struggles, pain and difficulties are part of life. It’s what you do with them that matters. Use the experiences to strengthen and empower yourself. Take the initiative to grow beyond your social conditioning and become the person the universe intended you to be. It’s not easy, but it’s SO worth it!

“The only limits you have are the limits you believe.” — Dr. Wayne Dyer



One thought on “Trans Documentary: “Line in the Sand”, Vanity and My Personal Struggle With Gender Dysphoria”

  1. What a wonderful peek into the life of charming young woman who is very nice and very normal. I don’t think that anyone who looked at this film with an open mind could view Natalie any differently than I have and realize that she is just a normal young person of today doing what she enjoys. What great ambassadors of good will both she and Gabrielle are for all of us. Thank you for sharing this with us.

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