Every time a friend or acquaintance of mine goes in for facial feminisation surgery I worry for her far more than I would if she had gone in for GRS or any other procedure. Because not only is it a painful and risky experience, I'm worried that she'll come out of the hospital and the swelling will slowly go away to reveal her new look as at best an obvious recipient of plastic surgery or at worst a hideous freak. Sometimes as with a friend of mine who went to the USA for hers earlier this year she'll return looking as I might imagine her natal sister to look and I'll breathe a huge sigh of relief, but all too often you're in that awkward situation in which the world and dog can see something went disastrously wrong but you have to tell her how wonderful she looks because to tell the truth would be to crush her forever.
I sometimes wonder whether there should be a no-holds-barred gallery of real FFS recipients. Because it seems from where I'm sitting that the only pictures that get passed around are those of the lucky girls, the ones who look radiant and pretty. Come to me, the surgeon says, and you'll look like her.
What people considering FFS should be seeing are the not-so-lucky girls. The ones with the face-stretched-tight look perhaps, the Cruella De Vil grimace smiles, or the Michael Jackson noses. The implants that have gone south. One cheek higher than the other, nice. Or how about that cookie-cutter far-too-small-and-pointy out-of-proportion chin that just screams "I used to be a bloke, you know"?
So why am I holding forth on such a sensitive issue? I know that there are going to be people who read this who will be upset by it, so what gives?
On Friday, I saw some pictures of a friend of mine taken about four years ago. Back then she'd been full-time for about a year. In the intervening time she's had extensive FFS and while it wasn't a disaster, it shows pretty clearly.
In those pictures from four years ago, my friend looks gorgeous.
I still have testosterone in my system, and I am a gynephile. I am programmed to notice pretty women. She looked good, and then some. I'd always assumed she must have needed the surgery, maybe she had a chin like David Coulthard or something, but no. She did it, I'm told, because she still imagined the bloke in the mirror.
Now believe me, I know all about seeing the bloke in the mirror. I see him every morning, stubble and all. I don't avoid mirrors, but let's just say when I'm at my scruffiest they aren't my favourite. I know I will still see his ghost looking back at me if I ever become the full-time girl. But I also learned something very important from my art teacher mother. I learned to analyse faces as an artist might, to strip away the window dressing and look at the proportions, the underlying components.
And guess what? As I sit and people-watch, I see natal female faces of all conceivable proportions. I see heavy eyebrows and I see square chins. And I don't see men in those faces.
If you were to plot the facial femininty of the male population on a frequency graph, you would end up with a bell curve. On the left, a few with very feminine features, in the middle the majority on the male side of androgyny and on the right a few like David Coulthard with very obviously male facial structures.
So the majority of us have pretty androgynous features, once you remove the gender cues such as facial hair and bushy eyebrows. It was something of a shock to me to see an echo of my sister in the mirror when I first donned a wig, so I rate myself in this group. Given a course of estrogen to round off the corners, my face won't be my undoing.
Something I have to remember, every time I see something of the bloke in the mirror.
I'm sure I'll bite my tongue next time a friend flies to Thailand or Belgium for FFS. I'll avoid asking her whether waiting for the estrogen to do its job wouldn't help, or finishing the hair removal. And if she comes back looking a little false, well I'll concentrate on the good bits. But inside I'll be wanting to scream at her that she's the only one who still sees the bloke.
Nobody wants to rain on a parade, least of all me. But I can't help a feeling of guilt for it.