It’s 3.34 am. I’m stripped down to my boxers writing this. My apartment is sweltering. Berlin is currently in the sweaty throes of a “heatwave.” It’s mid-August, in the middle of #LeoSeason (my Leo rising is LIVING!) and we are ¾ of the way through one of the wildest years on record. I love the heat, I can never have it too hot. Or too sunny in fact. I was #Blessed with all this melanin, so I may as well put it to good use. I’m Black with a capital ‘B’ (please remember this tidbit, it will come in handy for the rest of the story). I should also point out that I am trans and medically transitioning. For the record, being trans is amazing, it’s other people who unfortunately make it less so :/
Since I started hormone replacement therapy (HRT) a little over a year ago, I’ve noticed some… well… changes. A quick search for “effects of testosterone” brings up two very different sets of results. The first set is aimed at (presumably) cis men who are naturally low T and/or bodybuilders. The second set is mainly geared towards female-to-male (FTM) transgender folks. Although I am neither F nor M, it was the second set of results that I was after. There is an absolute abundance of information on the physical changes that occur with testosterone, but there seems to be very little discourse on changes in self conception, and the recalibrated relationship to the mainstream. For all intents and purposes, testosterone (or T if you’re down with the lingo), has more or less turned me into a handsome dude. Tl:dr – The effects of the hormones on my features and on my body has rendered me “conventionally attractive.”
Ok, lemme dial this back. I was disfigured in a pretty traumatic childhood accident. It was the early 80s, and my parents — young, Black, Sierra Leonean immigrants to South London — couldn’t quite afford the best dental care that “Great” Britain had to offer, so they went with what was available to them. That decision resulted in me looking like Jaws from the James Bond franchise ( i’ll wait while you google it…). After the accident, I developed a speech impediment as well as some serious introversion and I suffered from heavy duty “smile shame.” Many people felt compelled to tell me how ugly I was, on the regs, whenever I opened my mouth. Kids, teachers, their parents, strangers, hell even my own mother joined in the “fun.” Their opinions were also often accompanied with other slurs, being spat at, people throwing trash, rocks, and other objects readily available to them. I eventually came to expect threats of violence on at least a semi-regular basis. The message was received LOUD and CLEAR – I was ugly and not deserving, not worthy of even a modicum of kindness or care. Overall, I would rate my formative/teenage years 2/10 – definitely would not recommend. The message stuck to me like chewing gum underneath a high school desk. While the evidence of my ugliness may not be empirical, the anecdotal proof felt pretty undeniable.
In my mid-teens, my teeth were “fixed” to something less “offensive” to other people’s feelings. I don’t believe there are any photos of me during this time and this was a time before the internet (wait, what? @covenberlin got a Boomer to write an article? Dafuq?! I didn’t sign up to their newsletter for this kind of content!). By the time they were fixed, the lasting, psychological damage had long since settled in. I had internalised a shit ton of misogynoir + another shit ton of self-loathing (talk to me about body dysmorphia!) and well, my senses of self-worth and self-love were in shambles. I did a lot of fucked up shit to feel loved and desired. I put up with a lot of “shenanigans” (let’s just call them that) because I didn’t think that I deserved any better.
Fast forward to my 20s. I struggled constantly with the concept of desirability. From what I understand from my un-empirical research, many Black women/femme-identifying folks do too. The simultaneous hypersexualisation, the dehumanisation, and the demonisation of the Black woman is a mighty sharp double-edged sword that only the mightiest can wield. I tried, failed, and subsequently stopped trying. Black women are fine to fetishize, but Godx forbid that a Black woman ask for you to see her, treat her, and care for her like an actual human person full of beauty, marvel, and wonder! I had resigned myself that I was never going to be desired through a “traditional” eurocentric lens, nor would I be desired in a way that would make me feel whole, so I decided instead to develop a false sense of confidence (I believe the scientific term is “fake it till you make it”).
After what felt like an eternity of compulsory heteronormativity, it wasn’t until my early 30s that I began to see myself as desirable, in an empowering albeit objectifying way. The catalyst? I’d started working as a stripper, in a club in Brisbane, Australia. I hadn’t originally set out to be a stripper when I moved down under; I’d answered an ad for a cleaning job. I was casually told beforehand that “Mike” would offer me to dance at one of his clubs. I scoffed at the idea. But lo and behold, after trying on the dress and the infamous stilettos at the “interview,” I found myself a couple of days later, on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, in a yellow VW beetle with a perfect stranger on my way to dance in his strip club. It all happened so fast, but as soon as I hit the stage I knew that it was the rightest decision I had made in a long time. I was informed, after my first time dancing, that I didn’t have to be fully nude. I scoffed. I didn’t backpack all the way from London to end up halfway across the world and not get naked up on that pole! I’d never felt more sensual, more powerful, more ‘me’ than I ever thought was possible (boy, was I wrong about that). Me, the little kid with the Bond-villain-esque smile, seen as attractive, desirable, alluring?
But waaait! What does any of this have to do with my transition? Well, everything.
Since medically transitioning and passing more and more as cis male, I’ve noticed a sharp uptick in people being nice to me. They hold doors for me, make space for me, and give me free stuff, without me even having to open my mouth. Not only am I cis-passing, but according to my boyfriend I’m “above-average” attractive (he’s clearly biased) and I’ve recently been signed to a modelling agency. While the evidence of my attractiveness may not be empirical, the anecdotal proof feels pretty undeniable. So you’re telling me that all it took was 3 weeks of T gel + 26 shots of Testosterone-Depot + 2 shots of Nebido – 2 boobs for me to feel and be seen as desirable? That math doesn’t quite sit right with me…I was never born in the wrong body. I was born into a society whose values are so deeply entrenched in white supremacy, capitalism, and perfectionism that anything outside those narrow margins is treated like an abhorrence, a monstrosity.
I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that my new, rapidly-changing container is forcing me to reexamine and to readjust the way that I am navigating the world. There is no guidebook for this kind of life experience; I’m literally making this shit up as I go along. Black, transmasc elders are unfortunately few and far between. The one thing I do know for sure is that I’m always gonna be a *little* suspicious of the people who knew me before as a Black woman and who were mean, callous, rude to me but who are nice to me now that I’m passing as an “above-average” looking Black dude. These folks seemingly couldn’t find a morsel of humanity, a crumb of care for me back when I was being seen as a (below) average, medium to dark skinned, phenotypically African looking Black woman. For better or for worse, the body keeps the score – and so do Taurus placements.
*please note that for the purpose of this article ‘woman’ here refers to any person identifying as a woman
** please also note that for the purpose of this article that cis men are empirically trash
Words and images by Daddypuss Rex
By night, Daddypuss Rex is an intersectional gender terrorist with a big mouth and who isn’t afraid to use it. Based in Berlin, they are a multidisciplinary artist/poet/stand-up comedian and co-producer of the QueerTrans talk show ‘Just The T’. They often use a mix of poetry and humour to navigate topics such as white supremacy, misogynoir, transphobia and general colonial fuckery. With appearances and performances at the Schwules Museum, OWP nights, Isusu Ffena Festival, Dice Festival, CurlCon, Maxim Gorki Theatre, Soho House as well as featuring on city-wide podcast and radio shows (Decolonization in Action, Love in the Time of Corona, Tipsy Bear Radio). Most recently, they co-created and facilitated a QueerTrans stand-up comedy workshop as part of the Outreach nGbK Scholarship 2020 (Vermittlungsstipendium nGbK 2020) – their goal is to touch hearts, minds and butts…with active consent! Conversely, by day, Daddypuss is a trauma-informed yoga teacher whose classes center BIPOC and Queer/Trans experiences, narratives and bodies of all shapes, sizes and abilities – giving space to practitioners to fully exercise their agency on and off the mat and to hopefully (re)connecting them to their own bodies.