Trans For Trans: A Discussion About Vanity, Aesthetic, and Gender

Living in America is living in a system that seems to exhaust productivity and efficiency. I believe that in this we become all genders. We manipulate gender and racial identities to go further than our means to provide for everyday life and survival. In some way we barter ourselves with racist white patriarchy for the desire to obtain more than it would naturally allow. We condone racist white patriarchy. We cherish, flaunt, and exchange it, attempting to gain something beyond us.

“ I did feel like a tomboy growing up but I was never the type to be gay or nothing. It’s just-I’m very intelligent. And I was always ahead of my time when it came to dudes, so when all my friends was kinda getting played and stuff, it’s like I knew niggas games. A lot of females do, cause nowadays the roles kinda reverse. Females playing niggas”

- Flo Milli, Beef Flowmix Genius

I truly believe that cis-heterosexuality is a performance that can be as equally vivid or ephemeral as queer identity. What this world now consists of is a desire to have more, by either means of force or cheating. Gender performance is our current practice of living, we all take part of it. What separates hetero gender performance from queer gender performance is that queerness outrightly questions the meaning of the practice. It’s indifference from cis-heterosexuality is that it transparently processes it’s gender. But this process of transitioning ones race or gender is common among all of us. As Alabamian Rapper Flo Milli predicates in her gender analysis, “Females” can play “Niggas” too. The ability to impersonate gender is not a specific trait of queer people, it is a process that we all find ourselves contemplating and editing between. Flo Milli is able to transform her psyche into “thinking like a man” without outwardly identifying as a transgender.

“To Look Her In Her Face”, 2020 Shuriya Davis

The common disbelief in transgender people is that we are obsessed with the physical appearance of our bodies and that our opting out of cis-heterosexuality disturbs the natural process of life. The growth and selfcare that we, trans identifying people, put into building ourselves is almost instantaneously associated with vanity. As a teenager my mother would call me spoiled whenever I put intention toward my outward appearance. My mothers influence was for me to find self-regard and purpose through religion. What my mother failed to understand is that my focus on self was not personal but a dilemma that we all navigate. Aesthetics are powerful, they are the internal workings of a person. When applying for a job, particularly in the Americas, your physical appearance translates what your intentions are for the job ahead. We are always determining the physicality and gender of things.

“ She was entirely unlike any other white woman I had ever seen. I could not approach her as I was accustomed to approach other white ladies. My early instruction was all out of place. The crouching servility, usually so acceptable a quality in a slave, did not answer when manifested toward her. Her favor was not gained by it; she seemed to be disturbed by it. She did not deem it impudent or unmannerly for a slave to look her in the face.- But alas! this kind heart had but a short time to remain such. The fatal poison of irresponsible power was already in her hands, and soon commenced its infernal work. ”

- Frederick Douglass, Narrative of The Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written By Himself

What Frederick Douglass is noticing in this excerpt, is how race and class can evolve and transform itself. The mistress whom Frederick worked in servitude for originally had no purpose for her white power, up until the sudden influence by her racist husband. We then see a new portrayal of the mistress as she adopts the role of an overseer, snatching newspaper articles from Frederick, attacking and scolding him for his ambitions to learn. Frederick later reveals how he then went about transgressing this mistress by investing into younger white men who knew no better than to barter with a black slave. Frederick admits to using his humbled presence with gifts of food to finally grasp what he wanted all along, the education of white men. Learning how to read and write directly from his closest white patriarchs.

The ability to perform racist white patriarchy is deep. Not only does Frederick’s mistress lust for the power of her husband, Frederick equally desires the husband’s power of knowledge. Frederick and his mistress both destroy their shared union in vain of a desire for self-control. Being two marginalized identities did nothing to improve their behaviors toward each other and towards her husband’s power. Frederick does what he can to cheat the process of enslavement, this is the self regard that I am writing about. Frederick plays into the narrative of the humbled slave that has no intention of stealing power. He was determined to utilize this racist identifier of himself to ultimately gain the freedom and knowledge that he desired.

“Irresponsible Power”, 2020 Shuriya Davis
“Irresponsible Power”, 2020 Shuriya Davis
“Irresponsible Power”, 2020 Shuriya Davis
“Irresponsible Power”, 2020 Shuriya Davis

Frederick asserts that his mistress’s irresponsible power is what led to her demented change, but I believe that her power was not irresponsible. I believe that it was directed methodically in the purpose of surviving her racist husband. There is not much to gleam from her identity beyond Fredericks own writing about his experience with her but one can imagine what sort of power struggles she found herself having to withstand in her relationship with her husband. I mention this not to prove her innocence but to give context to any assumption that her emotions could possibly be a mistake. As if people randomly obtain and misuse power. Frederick’s mistress is very much aware, very much engaged in her decision to stifle him.

“ It’s the system, bitch it’s the system. I’m just trynna ball like a motherfucking Piston”

- Tay K, Lemonade

What these lyricists all share in common is this willful ignorance toward their own intentionality and self-control. Tay K playfully explains in this lyric that his behavior is not his own but is wholly part of “the system”. This is the philosophical logic that cis-heterosexuality hides behind. Believing that society’s gender roles intervene in the path of intention. That men are men, women are women, and that we have no autonomy within this systemic rule. As if life has arbitrarily provided a cast system of rules and logic in which we have no control of. This is sexist logic and it is important to relay that transphobia, in its reduction, is truly misogyny. When trans people are arriving to protest their rights, we are not exclusively referring to the harm toward our community, but the harm that misogyny inflicts toward all communities. The fight against transphobic misogyny is a fight against all misogyny.

I find this constant debate about my aesthetics with gender. Questions that determine my validity to live. What is it about trans bodies that causes so much unrest? It is as if we operate in a society where gender, class and race do not integrate and reform. These identities are never settled, never entirely safe, entirely true. They are performances in the pursuit of obtaining something more than just survival, something more than just arriving, or getting by. We desire a fantasy of what we presume white men have, a pseudo transcendence that even they themselves seem to wrestle stubbornly with. We must have no other option for what could offer us eternal peace and abundance. We only know the myth of white men’s power.

I think about my values, my aesthetics, my gender. I think about how charged everyday items become. Learning how important my voice is in molding my own reality. I am much older than I was when I first began regarding the identity of my life as a teenager. I see now that I am able to be what I choose to be if there is just intention and will. That what I set down has the ability to remain without having to resort to using abusive power. That I am not thrashed against the tides of others harsh political influences. I have the autonomy that I search for and no power struggle or abuse of power could offer it to me. I neither condemn Flo Milli’s, Tay K’s, nor Frederick Douglass’s use of cheating a system built of racist white patriarchy, but I would rather wish to add their transforming identities into this heavy critique of the transcendence of transgendered bodies. We as trans people are not exclusive in utilizing identity to disrupt what we would not normally obtain. This is how life, in general, functions. The human body is change and transformation, never damned by a marker of identity.