While gender identity and gender expression are different things, transgender people still face immense pressure to look a certain way, or to present as one specific gender after transition.
In a post on Instagram last week, transgender writer and speaker Eli Erlick shared photos of how her ways of expression have changed over the years — something that she said was, in some ways, even more important to her than her gender transition.
"You can see my transition from femme to dapper over 5 years," she wrote about the photos, one of which was from when she was 17 and had been on hormones for two years, while the other is from this year. "It’s not that it was more pivotal on my life, but rather it represents that I have reached a point of self-understanding where I am comfortable in my aesthetic."
Erlick explained that after she transitioned, she felt the need to "dress extra feminine to affirm [her] gender."
"We are still living in a time when there is deep shame and hardship for trans women to present how we want to," she tells Refinery29. "Often, following medical transition or after announcing one's gender as a woman for a while, trans women are then exposed to pressure to present as femininely as possible."
Erlick says that she still receives messages telling her that she "looks like a man," or that she isn't really transgender because of the way she dresses, but she eventually gave up listening to them.
"When I began dressing in more clothes designed for cis men, I knew it was the right style for me," she says. "Suits, button downs, and oxfords fit how I wanted to be seen. I wanted to be recognized as being queer and transgender at the same time, for both those identities are important to me."
"I realize that because I don't try to pass as a cis woman, I will be more likely to be perceived as threatening or disposable, which is a pressure in itself," she added.
But while Erlick still feels immense pressure to present herself as more feminine, she hopes that she can help others understand that "gender identity and expression are separate and trans people can look like anything."
"Expressing yourself is one of the most valuable things you can do for yourself," she says. "It's your own sense of style and you should own it."
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