The oddest experience.

As my regular readers will probably know, I am currently in the build up to launching my first webcomic.  I’m really enjoying it, it’s so much fun learning new skills and relearning old ones.  For example, on Wednesday of this week I spent an hour learning how to use GIMP to layout the panels on each page.  After about an hour of struggling with the controls it all suddenly clicked together, and the satisfaction of teaching myself a new skill is impossible to overstate.   So like I said it’s been a really enjoyable experience.

But earlier this week it also became a very odd experience.

This webcomic is intended to be a sort of autobiographical one. Where I use a mixture of my own life experience and some, I hope, funny or at least interesting visual metaphors to answer some of the questions people have about transsexual women, lesbians, same sex relationships, being a gothgirl…well basically anything that’s part of my life, but outside of the experiences of most people.  So being this sort of semi-autobiographical medium it almost by definition has to include images of myself.  Hence the odd experience.  I sketched my first self-portrait, ever.

There isn’t much about being a transwoman that can be described as easy.  But for me at least, the hardest part is usually to look at myself in photographs, or even in the mirror.  The reason is simple, I’m extremely over critical.  Just like any woman who looks at herself in the mirror, I tend to pick at self perceived faults.  My chin is too strong, my eyebrows too bushy, my skin is too blemished.  But in addition to those I tend to add in a constant self assessment of how “male” I look at any given moment.  This is all quite pointlessly irrational.  Because rationally I know that actually my skin is usually very good, I love the fact that I have very strong eyebrows and my chin is actually quite nice as well.  And more importantly, I know with certainty that I don’t look in any way “male” anymore.

But because of my experiences growing up as a pre-transition transsexual woman.  Because my experiences while I transitioned from pretending to be one gender (male), to living as what I actually am (female), these thoughts, as irrational as they are, are always here with me.

Then I drew a self-portrait.

Whenever I start a creative project I always set myself one solid, immovable rule.  One condition about the project, which is absolute.  For my webcomic that rule, condition, is that I refuse to be anything but absolutely honest in it.  That rule meant that rather than drawing an idealised version of myself, I would have to draw representations of myself which are actually true to what I see in the mirror.  No matter how much that act of honesty may end up hurting me.

So that being the case, on Sunday evening, while my partner and puppy slept on the couch, I took a mirror, my sketch pad and my favourite 3H pencil and set about creating an honest self-portrait.  The result of which has really surprised me.  As self-created image, it is not in any way idealised.  It is a simple sketch of exactly what I saw in the mirror during the 20 minutes it took to draw.  Yet it has changed my perception of how I look almost completely.  In fact it has improved my perception of myself immeasurably.  Because while what I saw in the mirror failed to make me happy, the sketch, which shows my strongest features as I saw them in that same mirror, showed me a face I’m happy to live my life behind.

The mirror showed a sickly, woman with handsome features, but that’s all.  The honest sketch showed me a handsome woman, with three features which make her, not pretty, but at least beautiful in a very strong, rather than delicately feminine way.  Think of it as the difference between Eva Green and Helena Bonham Carter.  Eva Green has delicate features which lend her looks an ethereal quality, Helena Bonham Carter has much stronger, almost harsher features, which don’t make her any less beautiful, just beautiful in a different way.

That’s the sea-change my self perception has been undergoing for the past week.  The change from my reality not matching up to an impossible dream of delicate features, to the reality of strong, more handsome, yet still beautiful features which I am happy to have and happy to live with.

Essentially drawing a self-portrait has taught me to find myself beautiful.  For the reality of me.  Instead of looking in the mirror and being unhappy, for almost a week now I have looked in the mirror and liked what I’ve seen.  I may be no Eva Green, and never will be, but I no longer want to be.  I’m happy to be strong featured, with a jaw line to crack granite with.  After all along with Miss Bonham Carter, I am most definitely in good company.

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