I want to talk about narcissism. I don’t mean big-N narcissism in the clinical/social sense, which is a complex with many symptoms. I mean the simple sense of finding oneself attractive or even arousing. I don’t know where I got it, but I’ve lived with the idea that this is shameful, vain… simply put, that it is wrong.
Narcissus was so obsessed with his own reflection that it became his downfall, so there must be something amiss, right?
When you’re trans, and particularly a trans woman, there’s an additional legacy that you have to contend with: the concept of autogynephilia. Briefly put, this deeply problematic term refers to the idea that (some) trans women are trans because they are attracted to / aroused by (the idea of) themselves as women. In its original conception, this philia was pathologised, seen as a form of problematic sexual deviance: i.e. there was something wrong with you. At its core, this idea assumes that ‘regular’ (sexual) attraction focuses itself wholly on another person (ideally of the opposite sex, too, of course). It is, in other words, a product of a broader culture in which outward-facing, heterosexual attraction is the norm (at least ostensibly), and that anything else is deviance.
Heteronormativity is an important part of it, because beneath the claims of vanity, part of the perceived problem with self-attraction is perhaps a fear of homosexuality. If you’re attracted to yourself, doesn’t that mean you’re not straight?
I reject all of this, in principle. But I find it much harder to shake the deeper feelings of shame and guilt that attach themselves to this whole complex during one’s life.
Being trans, I find myself confronted with this issue quite regularly, and that was the case even before I realised I was trans. When I lived as a man, I was regularly worried about or busy with my appearance. Past my early teens, I never much cared about traditional standards of attractiveness for men: I was happy to follow my own path. But I did want to be attractive, in some way, to some people. It was just very hard to feel it sometimes. I’ve had a loving partner for a very long time, and that helps tremendously, but when you’re not at peace with yourself, there’s always something missing.
Now that I’ve lived as a woman for a while, the ‘man I was’ seems more and more distant. More and more like someone else. Someone I tried to be but wasn’t. And that’s natural.
What I didn’t expect is that I would find him/me attractive. He as the man I never really was, and me as the woman I finally realised I am. Unconsciously, I had perhaps been modelling myself after the kind of man I would find attractive, if I were a woman. Now, I’m mostly attracted to women, as I’ve always been. But there is a certain type of man that I find attractive: kind of rugged-looking, idiosyncratic, against the grain, powerful in a reassuring way, but soft too.
And here’s the thing: I don’t miss being him. At all. But there was something about him that I now realise I like, a lot.
When I first became conscious of this feeling, it scared me. Those feelings I described above came flooding back. Does this mean I’m vain, and always have been? Is there something wrong with me?
But no, it’s not wrong. And it does not mean that I am selfish, or do not find other people attractive. It just means that at some point I was (or at least looked like) a pretty cute guy.
So, here’s a requiem for that dude. He’s not around anymore, but I’d like to tell him that he was doing something right, even if he didn’t feel it at the time.