My cheek itches in the heat. Sweat beads minutely form on the dozens of black whiskers grown a little past stubble. But this irritation is minor when set against my distress at being whiskered when I feel my body should be unwhiskered. This is dysphoria: the distress that transgender people experience at being misgendered or having a body or behaviour that we do not identify with. Dysphoria may be triggered by many different things for different people. In my case, one of those triggers—a relatively mild one—is facial hair.
Absurdly, I do not shave regularly—I am far too lazy. I set very mild and frequent dysphoric episodes against a few minutes of effort. I am, by and large, happy with this. I have control over this.
At university: a ticket machine spits out tickets to keep us in line, like a butcher at a supermarket. The receptionist has no idea about special consideration or supporting documentation. I know that university bureaucracy is unfailingly poor at educating staff about its own functions. It extracts money but knows little about identities. The receptionist asks someone else to help me. I cringe at every use of male pronouns in reference to me. I have no control over this.
On a roof we walk on the bolts, else the metal bends. We watch lightning fork from distant clouds, white-blue illuminating the shifting heaves of droplets over Botany Bay. An industrial glow hazes from the horizons towards the night above our heads as if the commerce of Sydney is the air we breathe. At night you can’t escape the city’s commercial luminescence, except by gazing at lightning.
We ruminate on racism and on privilege and on conservatism. I run my hands through my hair and pull and twist at the tips before reaching blindly behind for water to drink—a moment of panic. Dysphoric panic. Not at any particular person or particular thing but at the overbearing air. I have no control over this.
I am in a conversation. It takes two minutes to interrupt, another two to explain, two to rebuff the apologies, two to explain why incessant apologies are bad, two of awkward conversation, and two minutes before they pronoun me male again. This is not control.
I am at an after-party for a formal ball. I am pink as if from the workbook of a Disney princess animator. I attract all eyes and all ire. It’s crowded. I sidle through drab heterosexuality. A woman taps me on the shoulder, asks for a dance—I oblige, happy to dance—and she whispers, “I know you live down the road.” She fetched her friends and I left with mine. Elsewhere, a man muscles me off a dancefloor. A woman tries to flip my dress and see what’s under it. Another woman insists I follow her instagram—her photo stream unveils a magisterial ability to conform to a condensed and pulped version of beauty standards: beach-bottle-blonde. I pity her.
She treats me as a play-doll—while men glare and muscle at me. Multiple women beckon or cat-call or dance with me. I am a sexual fetish. I leap on a stage and dance, billowing the long sails of my pink satin dress. I dance above, away from the crowd til the beat stops, the house lights burn on, and the club seems awkwardly shaped.
The architecture of a club in ordinary light clunks from dance-floor to tables to bar. Any sense it has vanishes with the darkness.
We go to the park and rest on the grass. People ask us the occasion for the costumes. I am tempted to say that the occasion is me. This is just me. In the dark of the bar, I was invincible—people fawned and people fetishised and I let them. I gazed at lightning, I fucked power and let it flow how I wished. People fetishise trans bodies as sexual freaks, as novelty. But if I wish to take the structures of fetishisation or oppression and turn them to my own advantage, then I may do so. I have autonomy over this.
On Monday morning I shave three days growth away. I grab my phone and tap Instagram open. Beach-bottle-blonde girl has posted:
“Had an amazing weekend out, dancing with some trannies.”
I have no control over this.