“Goes Without Saying”

It’s been a while since I’ve griped about the petty bullshit involved in being the partner of a trans person, hasn’t it? I recently posted a photo of me and my wife at the GLAAD awards, and many, many people have said lovely things about how we both look, which we’ve both appreciated. But I did notice – how could I not? – a pretty common refrain that goes something like this: “Your wife looks amazing and of course you do too” or, alternately, “your wife looks great and it goes without saying that you do too.”

And you know what? Actually, it doesn’t. I understand the need for people to validate a trans woman’s attractiveness. I really do. But when (1) you married a man who is no longer a man, and/or (2) you’re in your 40s, and/or (3) you’re not a size 4, and/or (4) people consistently think that trans bodies are somehow publicly owned and so can and should be regularly commented on, it gets a little tiring to hear how remarkably gorgeous my wife is. I mean, I know that. I live with her and see her every day. I’m the one she shares makeup with, and hair products, and pajamas, so yes, I’m aware she’s a hottie, and a gender normative hottie at that.

So what I want to ask you married people: is it common for people to come up and tell you that your husband or wife is attractive? That they’d do them? That their first sighting of your spouse made them wonder if your spouse was single? I mean, is this a normal thing, or is this somehow part of the trans validation thing, or do I just have the bad luck of running into a lot of people who are wildly inappropriate?

My guess is that it’s a trans validation thing. Because I can’t imagine walking up to a woman whose husband was attractive and saying any of these things. I can’t imagine saying it to a woman whose wife is hot. I really can’t. And maybe that’s me, my usual unflirtatious self, but I find it disturbing that people constantly feel the need to tell me that my wife is a hot prospect.

I mean, again, I get it. I’m the one who married her, right? I’m pretty clear that I married someone who was a hottie in one gender presentation who is now a hottie in another. I have no problem with anyone telling her that she’s attractive – none whatsoever. I married an actor, after all, and so have always been used to people finding my spouse attractive. What I don’t understand is why people tell ME she’s attractive, and she doesn’t understand it either. To be honest, it feels a little like “my best friend’s gay” or “I have a black friend” – as in, it sometimes comes off as a knee-jerk liberal reaction, laced with “isn’t it amazing your wife who was born a man is attractive as a woman?” And you know what? It’s not. So many beautiful women I’ve met are trans. In a crankier mood, I might even call this kind of compliment a micro aggression, because it others her, calls out her transness, and reminds me, too, that my partner is trans.

But enough about the trans person: if you know any partners of trans people, do me a favor and tell them they look hot once in a while. The assumption that somehow a cis woman doesn’t need to be complimented on her looks is ridiculous, right? As I like to tell my students: Marilyn Monroe thought she had fat fingers, people, so it’s not like many women don’t suffer a little insecurity about their looks, and I am no exception, and neither is every other partner of a trans person out there.

And now I’ll add: unless you go out of your way to tell other married people how hot their spouses are, please stop doing it to the spouses of trans people. Just stop.

27 Replies to ““Goes Without Saying””

  1. It’s not a trans validation thing. It’s a trans objectifying thing. It’s reason 453 why I never, ever disclose.

    Helen, the reason I have you on my bookmark bar isn’t because I think you’re hot, though you are clearly attractive. It’s because you’re one of the clearest thinkers on teh trans shit on the planet, trans or cis.

  2. No, its not a trans validation thing, it is quite the opposite. I find that people who comment in this fashion are being, in the moment, disingenuous. Yes, they are caught off guard by a stereotype, so a spontaneous remark bubbles to the surface. Yes, I am happy with the way I now look and I have always been happy how my wife looks. We both know that people who talk in this superficial way are not part of our universe and fortunately this happens very early during an encounter.

  3. I’m sure some of it is simply surprise. People whose worlds aren’t populated with trans folks probably eect a transwoman to look like a guy in a dress. Folks discovering that my spouse is trans are often perplexed that he has a man’s bidy build and facal hair. I assume they thought he’d look like a comic version of a butch dyke.

    But then people say all kinds of inappropriate things to me. Does he have a dick? Can he ejaculate? You don’t still fuck “her,” do you? I think that the trans thing is just so fr off of most people’s radar, they just don’t have a clue how to act.

    So, now, really Helen…Rachel IS attractive in a femme-y gender normative (no, gender-fictive) way. That said, if we both weren’t married and I were 20 years younger, it’s definitely your door I’d come knocking on! 🙂

  4. Wait, that came out backwards. Let me try again.

    “Helen, you’re beautiful! And Rachael looks good too.”

    I’m getting dizzy.

  5. To hell with the small-minded buggers, I think you’re both very attractive – physically and intellectually.

  6. Ugh. I hate when that happens sooooo much. I’ll hear “heh! You look great?!” when I bump into someone that I haven’t seen in awhile. What I think they’re saying is: “you look great for having transitioned. I imagined you’d look like a train wreck and your life would be the same, and I’m surprised it didn’t turn out that way?!”

    In my mind I want to say to them: “I bet you tell ALL your friend’s wives they look good.” :/

    Know how I feel about it? – it makes me never to want to see them again. It makes me want to never tell anyone ever that I transitioned. It makes me not to want to be around anyone that knew me “from before.”

  7. I’m just glad you chose the tux! 🙂

    I do kind of think it is a trans thing although boorish behavior is just that. I will also add that you are an extremely cute couple, both very pretty and are definitely on the list for an invite to my fantasy cocktail party!

  8. thank you, all.

    although what’s funny is that Natasha’s comment goes straight to my heart. despite always being intimidated by The Pretty, and the high heel wearing gender normative feminine etc., it’s always going to turn me on the most to know i have the sexiest brain. 🙂

  9. Okay… I have some more ranting about this subject, I guess…

    I kinda don’t care if saying I “look great” is validating or not. In fact, I know the people who have said this to me ARE trying to be nice. But what they don’t get is:

    1. I live a large chunk of my life where people don’t know, and people (men) don’t say shit like that to their female freinds. Especially if they’re married and they also know my spouse.
    2. Being a woman, I’m CONSTANTLY judged. Mostly by other women. I don’t need any additional eyes sorting out if I’m doing okay or not.
    3. I don’t need to be put in another catagory from any other woman. And that’s exactly what happens with comments like that.
    4. You’re dissing my spouse when you say shit like this. You’re also dissing my marriage, becuse you wouldn’t say that to a straight woman married to a man.

  10. You ask: “is it common for people to come up and tell you that your husband or wife is attractive?”

    As an anthropologist and gender-shifted person, I will note that this sort of exchange is what I’d call a kind of social dialect: it’s something that a lot of people are given to do without a lot of thought. It’s the same kind of mechanism, I think, that leads male-bodied persons, passing in a hallway, who don’t remotely know one another, to nod their head, as though they are somehow “chummy”. I’ve found the exchange you mention – “your __________ is attractive” is as much about social lube as anything. It’s motive that’s harder to uncover. (There’s a lot of Goffman in this, for those with interest.(

    And yes, I totally agree: what drew me to you initially, way back on the porch at the Big White House, was intelligence and the ability to think and speak clearly. *That’s* hot!

  11. Julia

    You rant as much as you like.

    I don’t think people mean to objectify (although of course that’s no excuse & there’s no reason not to call it out for what it is). I do think they are trying to be cool.

    One of the reasons I mentioned it is that I wasn’t sure whether people would say this kind of thing to a married woman about her husband. I was just talking to a woman whose husband has an accent, and she apparently regularly hears breathy comments about “how gorgeous his accent is”.

    But for the record, I am *not* just talking about men. Plenty of women have said things like this to me, too – straight ones & bi ones more than queer ones, though, which is interesting, too.

    I also wonder if it’s somehow more acceptable to tell someone’s spouse instead of the person, so you’re not assumed to actually be hitting on someone.


  12. This happens with my partner and I (we are both trans) she gets the compliments and I usually stand around and agree. I’ve attributed it to her having a much more feminine presentation than I. It seems that people feel the need to comment on people’s feminine presentation regardless of whether someone is trans or cis. I’ve seen similar comments made to cis women with heterosexual cis men partners. The implication it seems that (high) femininity is to be applauded, which goes toward patriarchal norms of what femininity represents. In queer culture this behavior is repeated, people comment on the one’s wearing shiny dresses but little is said for those in tuxes.

  13. Thanks, Em.

    That is, I think the validation of emphasized femininity is certainly part of it. I wonder what would happen if the very feminine person were the cis woman, & the tux-wearing woman were trans.

    So do you wind up feeling like “the boy one”? When I’m in queer (female) circles, to be honest, I get way more sexual attention that she does, & I’ve always chalked that up to being somewhere in the soft butch universe.

  14. K… Thanks. 🙂

    No it’s not just men for sure! Women that I knew from before, some where my spouse and I were freinds with them as couples… the first thing they mention to me in that surprised tone is that I “look good.” sometimes with my spouse standing right next to me. wtf?

    It’s not they like my shoes, or bag…. Or something specific, like an accent you mentioned. That I understand, and happens often when people greet eat other.

    In a face to face exchange it’s clear some see me as the “exotic” one where just seeing me becomes notable. Meanwhile my spouse (who is super CUTE and the smartest woman I know) if standing there next to me being ignored. Again, wtf?

    On the other hand we also have freinds from before that ignore me. One is a particularly judgmental woman that totally ignores me and only talks to my spouse. She’ll take my spouse by the arm and walk away talking about shoes or some shit. Leaving me to look down at my shoes trying to figure out small talk with her ‘effing husband. Again, wtf.

    The thing is, it doesn’t matter if it’s a man or woman, whether they think I’m super cool or creepy, it makes me feel the same. Like shit + don’t tell anyone I ever transitioned again + dump as many people that knew me from before as possible.

  15. Oh and I saw your pic…. My first thought was about how I have been looking to get a tux jacket for awhile… (to where with baggy jeans and heels, for daytime)

    So if I saw you in RL, I’m sure I’d say something like: “Cute jacket! I want one….”

  16. Ugh sorry now I feel like I’m spamming, but:

    “wear” not “where”
    “Each” not “eat”
    “is” not “if”

    damn autocorrect.

  17. Helen, I think you should know I’m very attracted to your amazing intellect. Which, as I write it, feels uncomfortably like I’m hitting on you. It seems like the next sentence should be something that unequivocally clarifies that I am in no way interested in messing with either my marriage vows or yours. So perhaps it would be better to tell your wife that I see what a catch she has in you. . . . Wow. That gets complicated fast.
    We could get into the whole topic of physical attributes, and just how much of the value of a woman should be based on her suitability as a decorative accessory. . . . But that just makes me feel tired.
    Anyway, I think that you are right in perceiving something off balance about the way that people like to comment on trans women’s appearance. I think some people are surprised on some level to find that a trans woman can be physically gorgeous. Maybe some people have to find some courage to face what it says about them to be attracted to a trans woman. Maybe some people feel a need to try to be helpful with a critique.
    Well, for whatever it’s worth, I’m crazy about both of you and love to see you two loving each other.

  18. First I just have to say, every time I see a picture of you two, it fills me with warm fuzzies, because you are just so cute together!

    Reading through your books, over and over I couldn’t help but think just how lucky Rachel was to find someone so intelligent, thoughtful and funny.

    From my own perspective, I think part of this is people are still learning how to relate to people who are trans. It’s just outside their previous experience. For example several times, someone who is very much a trans-ally (and this has only happened with people who are clearly allies) comes up to me to tell me to tell me that someone or other hadn’t realized I wasn’t a cis-woman. They are clearly intending it as a compliment but it always leaves me feeling, ‘umm… thanks?’ I don’t know if it’s just because this is all relatively new to me and the community here, or that my gender expression isn’t hyper-feminine.

    Frankly I had know idea just how complicated femininity was! I just try my best to find the meeting between what women around me are wearing, what I’m comfortable with, and what I can afford.

  19. I accidentally undertook a Brilliant plan to make sure this wasn’t an issue. Before I transitioned I gained a whole lot of weight. Since I looked awful I also dressed awful.

    So transition, loose weight, get shapely(ish), dress nicely and Hey Presto! One acceptable middle aged woman out of the host organism of one dumpy, funky, unhappy middle aged balding guy. That way when anyone tells my spouse that I look good she just agrees! Now there have been some strange praises from strangers though… But at least they aren’t asking me about my nether parts. Or Heavens Forbid, POLITICS! Equally tough to negotiate either subject safely in Idaho.

  20. Helen

    You know I write replies on occasion and when I saw this post I wanted to answer, but so many have made so many good points.

    I am partnered with a transwoman, and I am also a transwoman, so maybe this doesn’t apply? But my impulse is to tell you they are complimenting you wife, sincerely in a way, but leaving off the end of the comment. “GAWD she is beautiful (for someone who was born a man). That is what I sense people are saying about my partner or me, I mean when this lavish type of compliment gushes out.

    However, when I hear a sedate, “Well, you look nice,” or “Dee Jay looks nice,tonight,”what women say to each other in a regular set of circumstances, then I can accept it as the sincere compliment it probably is.

    But to judge what a man might say? I have no idea how to do that.


    And yes you both are very attractive people.

  21. Agree with Gena, at least in my particular part of the midwest. I am often mistaken for a man, while my wife fits nicely into what most people think a woman should look/dress/act like. Often when we are in the company of others, especially new situations, I think she gets complimented because it’s the easy choice. The safe choice. The one that makes the most sense in their brain. They look at me, and appearance doesn’t match the name that I was introduced to them with. They inevitably pause and have the look of “error, does not compute”. I believe, in that moment, they go with what they know. The familiar. And then if the conversation goes past introductory pleasantries, typically they will throw something my way after the fact, I feel you on that one.

  22. I don’t doubt that it has something to do with trans validation. As others have mentioned, though, I don’t think it’s too out there for people to comment that the woman in a hetero couple is attractive, or some other comment on her appearance. In person, no one ever comments to my husband that I’m looking good; it’s always addressed to me. However, if he were to post a picture of us on his Facebook page, I don’t think it would be strange if someone would comment to him about my appearance. He’s never done that on Facebook, but he has shown people at work my picture, and they reportedly say he’s a lucky man or something to that effect. The men I’ve been with in the past have received similar comments when I haven’t been present. Since it’s your blog, maybe it’s not completely inappropriate for them to address comments to you.

    My husband is a crossdresser. When we go out and he is dressed, my subjective experience is not so much feeling the “boy one,” since I am pretty femme in presentation when “going out,” but I do feel like the less attractive one. (And certainly the less thin one, which is a big factor, too.) He gets more of the male attention, although I get some. It reminds me of being the less attractive friend when I was younger. I was always the smart one, so on behalf of the smart girls, let me say, I know I’m smart. I agree, it’s more important, and if I had to choose between smart and pretty, I’d choose smart. But hearing someone say I’m smart in any kind of context related to appearance hearkens back to those bad old times. Smart girls need to be told they look good too.

  23. There’s a (literally) slightly brain-damaged man in our church who very frequently tells Christie how beautiful she is. I assume everybody there is *thinking* it, but most people have a filter in their brain that tells them not to excessively compliment a married woman. His brain, on the other hand, can’t quite accommodate that filter.

    With respect to Rachel, people’s brains are damaged, too – not by injury, but by culture, which says that trans people’s bodies are open for public examination, discussion, etc. in a way that most other bodies aren’t. It breaks their filter, but only with respect to her.

  24. a clarification or two: this doesn’t just happen on my blog, and yes, i expect that to happen here, since i’m more our public face than she is.

    this is not a “you look nice” kind of compliment. i’m talking more about the “i’d do her” kind of compliments.

    antigone: yes.

  25. It is a trans thing; I’m sure if it’s about validation or not, but it’s definitely about there often not being enough air in the room for us to suck out.

    I’m vain as fuck, but I advertise it at ground rules.

    I went to a play this weekend that was so utterly tone deaf to women(like the wife) who were not the poor wealthy white transitioning white woman who WAS GONNA JUS KILL HER POOR SELF if everyone didn’t understand.

    There’s gotta be an end to all this victim stuff.

    …and you have the biggest,sexiest brain on earth.

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