I’m 33 but my face is 2 years old.
No, I haven’t had a face-swap surgery like in that Nic Cage movie. I’m just a trans guy enjoying the magical touch of Testosterone. And magical it has been! I’m finally the rugged, bearded, square-jawed hunk of man I dreamed of being! Which is confusing, to be honest.
I came out to my grandma this week – after keeping my transition a secret at my mom’s behest. My mom was sure that my tiny 86-year-old pro-Putin Russian grandma would die on the spot if she found out. Wow, was she wrong. Grandma happy-cried, finally seeing me, alive and well, and on video no less, after 2 years of unexplained absence from phone calls and family photos. She marvelled at how handsome I was, and added that I still had the same smile. I told her, “yeah, I got the same bones underneath.”
And that got me thinking about how for 30 out of my 33 years on this planet, my face has been deeply unloved. Even though, apparently, I have always had this face – this handsomeness – inside me. In my bones. As the shapes of my body and face melted into a different configuration, it revealed the same damned face I’ve always had, the same bones, the same smiling eyes, but it also revealed how immense this slight change in configuration is, societally.
I look at this new-old face of mine. I admire it and shy away from it. I was raised a Russian girl, so liking myself has always been a BIG, shameful, punishable taboo, which I still have a hard time shaking off. I ponder, “what if I had worn this face the whole time, like this, this boyish handsome face – how different would my life have been?”
Well, I’m an accomplished digital artist, so I found an old photo and made a few adjustments, and this is what I would have looked like at 16-years-old if I’d actually gotten to be myself.
The differences are minor (no, you’re not getting the unedited photo, you’ll have to take my word for it). Seeing this awkward boy emerge from an image that used to give me the creeps was such a strange and unexpected catharsis. I really feel the ghost of my 16 year old self smiling through this image.
Back then, I was doing my best to earn my toxic-masculine place among my peers – a bunch of suburban Russian metalheads from around Jerusalem. I drank cheap vodka in parking lots outside metal concerts with the best of them (mostly the worst, though). I wore the threadbare Metallica T-shirts that all the other dudes wore, the same torn jeans and army boots, the “uniform,” as my mom used to call it. I was one of the guys, but I wasn’t. At the many concerts I went to in dingy little clubs in Tel Aviv, I was this invisible thing among the throng of uniformed metalheads. In the raging heterosexuality of the metal scene there were only two Lewks; and I was neither a lanky, tall dude, nor a skinny goth girl in a corset and leather pants. So I was just… there. Observing. Headbanging. Playing snake on my Nokia. Doing my damndest to drink more vodka than anyone else. And rolling my eyes at the sexist jokes.
One of the beautifully-maned assholes in those drinking circles was my best friend. He was everything I wanted to be; he looked a lot like me, but had a dick. I had a very painful, secret, pining crush on him. We were bros, you see, but I was a girl-bro, so his girlfriend – a conventionally attractive goth girl – deeply disapproved of us spending every day together.
But if I had been myself back then, we would have been full-on bros, and I would have been very gay for my bro. What beautifully queer memories I would have now. A metalhead longs for his best friend while they walk his dog, or watch Married with Children on his bed every evening, or as they lean over a notebook to draw mean comics about people they know. It would have been pretty fucking gay of my friend, too, when he’d tickle me on the bed for being too sarcastic, looming over me, breathing hard, never to do anything more.
And his girlfriend would never have said a thing…
But as things stood, the girlfriend did protest, and he friend-broke-up with me one day. We were sitting on his shitty sofa bed staring at the wall opposite us, a bootleg Megadeth CD playing on his system, and he suddenly reached out and held my hand. My heart beat insanely. Nothing this gay intimate had ever happened between us. He had a sad air about him. I didn’t look at his face as he told me, “listen, my girlfriend is being an asshole, she doesn’t want us to hang out anymore. I’m sorry. She’s jealous and she won’t listen to me.”
I stared at my hand in his. I said, with a feigned laugh, “Ha! What an idiot, isn’t it obvious that nothing would ever happen between us?!” It was obvious to me, and to him. I wasn’t the kind of “girl” he was into. He was a Conventionally Attractive guy, and no one would ever choose me over a Hot Girl.
And that was that. We stopped hanging out. He found other, more cis friends to headbang with, and I quickly put the pining out of my mind.
Fast forward 15 years, and I am the conventionally attractive dude getting hit on by awkward gay guys who expect me to think I’m better than them. I guess people assume you’ve always been attractive? It’s strange. I have spent most of my life in the “unattractive” category because of gender nonconformity, and being fat, and social anxiety. I know what conventionally attractive people look like from that position. They are elevated and revered, but also feared and hated for their unattainable power. Nowadays I recognize it as “pretty privilege” but most of my life it was just an abstract amalgamation of them being better, worthier, and more deserving of love and kindness than I was.
There’s a bitterness to “becoming” conventionally attractive, because the thing we’re all hoping to become once we attain “attractiveness” isn’t lovers, or status, really. It’s believing that we are worthy. Worthy of love, of empathy, of attention, recognition, and, yes, power.
Worthy to revel in our own cuteness without expecting witnesses to cringe or mock us.
And the bitterness of the glow-up is in the realization that we had deserved to feel this worthiness all along. We had the same bones underneath the whole time. We deserved it but were barred from it, even within ourselves.
I say fuck it.
This piece is written in conjunction, conversation, and constellation with HOT OR NOT? By Daddypuss Rex. The two work together on Just The T – a trans late night talk show, and are the bestest buds.
Words and images by Bard
Bard is a storyteller and animator, an existential loon, a poet, a tattoo artist, a party queer, and a transgender man. In the Beforetimes, you could find him performing stories, poems and comedy on the various stages around Berlin. Hopefully, this will happen again. Meanwhile you can contact him on insta to get a sweet tatt once it’s safe again.