‘Big deal; is this a momentous and consequential event or am I just being ironic? I’ve heard both reactions in response to Giuliana Farfalla’s cover shot on the cover of German Playboy magazine this month. Giuliana is certainly stunning; a lady with 219k of Instagram followers and clearly well liked by her many fans. Ms. Farfalla is the epitome of classical female beauty but also the subject of transphobia. Press articles and published comments are awash with praise but also disgust. The use of male pronouns by some commentators make it quite clear they consider Giuliana to be a man. If I’m being ironic, Giuliana is clearly a beautiful sexy woman but so are many other models, is it such a big deal that she’s on the cover of Playboy? What’s all the fuss about?
Giuliana Farfalla has clearly always been unhappy with her assigned birth gender. She is reported as having felt female from an early age, trapped in the wrong body. I too felt trapped, imprisoned to be more precise; hostage to a midwife who took one quick peek and pronounced me male. I grew up presenting as a girl when allowed and a boy when compelled to by others. I lived the uncomfortable half life of many transgender teens; passing easily and treated as female on occasions, bullied and beaten up on others. There was no male privilege but neither was there acknowledgement of prettiness or beauty, just the pain of wanting it all resolved. Growing up trans, you tend to live in your head. You dream of being a princess, of being beautiful and admired, of being in love and being happy. Small wonder if Giuliana aspired to be a catwalk model and to be complimented for her beauty. I felt just the same.
High profile Trans Women inevitably come in for their share of transphobia. There has been much of it in the press recently. Transphobic reactions seek to legitimise bigotry by emphasising the bizarre or by making it into an issue about the rights of women or of children. Other girls are apt to cry foul when someone they see as male wins a beauty contest. In the end, no matter how beautiful or complete a trans woman may look it is seldom sufficient to ensure acceptance. So while this is indeed a positive step for Trans women there is a catch. In celebrating beautiful Trans women, we try to counter the myth that Trans women are not really women. Giuliana is undoubtedly beautiful and were she not to have revealed her gender status most of us would be none the wiser. Yet being a woman is seldom just about being beautiful.
I am a Transgender Erotic model whose images have appeared in UK and European magazines. I was never overtly out as transgender in those features. I was wary about setting myself up as any sort of role model for young trans women to follow. To me, I was just lucky. Models are not everyday women: Winners of a genetic lottery we just happen to conform to a widely held ideal of female beauty. Many Trans women don’t have the good fortune to look that way. If you have the bad luck to conform to the public perception of ‘awkward man in a dress’, you will struggle for acceptance. Moreover you will also be the subject of deep humiliation and suffer being seen as a freak and disgusting.
No matter how wonderful it is for Giuliana and Trans Women to be celebrated in this way, womanhood is so much more than being classically beautiful. My lived experience of trans womanhood has included; struggling with teenage depression; becoming a single Mum; a classroom assistant; a young person’s counsellor, a successful businesswoman, wife to a loving husband and working in the legal sex industry. Most of these roles are anything but glamorous. They are nonetheless valid. Through it all we encounter our share of misogyny. We’re treated in much the same way as other women; variously admired, coveted, dismissed, condescended to, groped, put on as pedestal or passed over for promotion. What is missing in our portrayal of Trans women are real life stories. They are seldom exceptional. They are striking solely for their close similarity to the experiences of many other (natal) women. In truth, we need Trans role models of a more everyday nature. When Trans women are identified as exceptional mothers, partners, teachers, health workers, business women and many more we will have provided a breadth of achievable examples for young trans girls to emulate. While the role models are only in Playboy and Vogue we run the risk of setting up the same unattainable standards for Trans women as we do for every other female.
Huggs, Jane xx
Huggs, Jane xx