I’m not an ugly person, but I play one at parties. I line the walls. I laugh at jokes. I make sure there’s enough watergate salad. I take pictures, show off the bidet, and go to bed by myself, surrounded with pre-taped ocean sounds that shield me from all the fun I’m missing out on.
Sometimes my life feels like an art house adaptation of Cinderella with Werner Herzog cast as the fairy godmother. I discover my true self. I run away from home. I find love. I spend a weekend in an expensive Airbnb by myself, so embarrassed about thinking this time will be different that I can’t bring myself to turn on the vibrator I brought in anticipation of this very scenario.
But to suggest I’m “missing out” on makeouts and naked Twister is to suggest that my participation is welcome, but not pursued. I’ve been to 18 “play parties”—and I have never been approached by someone or had my interests reciprocated to the level where it leads to me being asked back to a room. Mine is the hallway and the kitchen and the walk-in; a hug and kiss for the fat trans girl while we wait for someone skinnier, cis-ier, and more “agreeable” to be available.
Attraction is a form of social contract. You think Taylor Swift is pretty in part because you receive ubiquitous affirmation of her beauty on magazine covers and Facebook comment sections. You do not actually own your revulsion to fatness or cocks on women—it was given to you by a society desperate to make a certain sort of body the standard for sexual currency.
Stubble hurts. I tell you this as a trans woman who dates other trans women. It chafes, it scapes. It’s sexual utility is in fact very low. However, as a masculine trapping, it has a legacy of iconic aesthetic renown. Stubble receives a societal rating of “sexy” because not grooming yourself too much is codified confirmation of a man’s masculinity.
From the somewhat malleable (body shape, complexion) to the innate (height, skin color), every aspect of our bodies and identities are quantified, collated to fit a compulsory universal standard. And we all internalize this, to some extent.
It is not for “scarcity” or “casting difficulties” that so few people of color or disabled people are displayed in marriage equality materials, or that googling “polyamory” gives you this. Even people with maligned traits and identities (i.e. being gay, which was still considered a disorder until 1974) will, in pursuit of the comfort of assimilation, monkey-see-monkey-do the standards set forth by the people who classify them as undesirables.
When we move in public spaces—there is a lot of room for society’s norms to fit in a sex party of 40 people—we find ourselves ostensibly bound to this shared delusion of quantifiable desire, one whose hold on you becomes stronger the more people you find yourself around.
One on one, I’m a beauty queen. I have multiple partners and crushes—each one of them so beautiful and smart and beyond what I feel I deserve that I have genuine panic attacks when I think about it too much. I am told, every day, that my eyebrows are nice, that my look is “smoldering”.
Sex and relationships are not a game, but if they were, all the men who tell me I’m ugly on the street or on social media—yesterday, someone told me “their pubic hair had seen better days"—would be minor league washouts compared to me. I’m fat and trans and my tits are flat and I’m covered in body hair, but I have an abundance of affection beyond even my own comprehension.
And even with the rules explicitly written in their favor, the men who catcall me will never compare. I know this, though I could never bring myself to prove it. That would require showing people the Skype convos where I negotiate threesomes or invite them to watch me suck freshly-pedicured toes—I identify as a lesbian specifically to deny men sexual access to my body and life.
Eventually I will have to reconnect to the simulation, to the artificial deflation of my sexual capital. And that’s where they’ll see me. The awkward fat non-passing trans girl debating with herself the right amount of buttons to leave undone on her cardigan. You’ll see my partner pull her hand away from mine when she sees her friends coming around the corner.
And this is real and right and makes sense to you. She’s ugly. Who’d want to be seen with that?
But when I turn the game off, and the partygoers start to leave, when we make it up to our hotel room, the hands clasp just a little tighter, the gaze a little more intense, the force of lips pressing against each other just a little greater.
When we feed the social contract into the shredder, I know the love and affection I receive is genuine, emphatic—even if I don’t understand it or even believe I deserve it.
I am, as it were, pretty on the inside.