Apparently Theodore Roosevelt once said “Comparison is the thief of joy”. If I’ve only learned two things in the past few years, it’s that a) a black woman probably said it first, and ol’ Teddy boy ended up with the credit, and b) comparison is the thief of joy.
The problem is that most of the time, all we have is comparison! Am I successful? Let me compare my achievements with those of a similar cohort of people from a comparable background. Am I beautiful? Let me compare myself with a sample of other people and work out where on the bell curve of conventional beauty I sit. Am I cool? No, you’re 34, get over it. We’re conditioned to compare our situations constantly, and it’s hard to make sense of the world if you don’t do it. If we don’t compare ourselves, what do any of these adjectives actually mean? If everyone is beautiful, then does beautiful actually mean anything? It’s the old “Exams are getting easier rraaaaargh, everyone gets an A these days” nonsense played out on a macro scale. To compound things, and to trot out the customary hackneyed cliché about how contemporary technology is the root of all evil, the modern world gives us the tools to measure ourselves constantly against people, some of whose literal profession is making their own lives look good online.
But seriously, if we don’t compare then how do we know if things are going as they should be? Comparison has a lot of benefits. If we don’t compare anything, how do we know when something is wrong? If I don’t compare my salary to that of a similarly experienced & qualified person, how do I know I’m getting my true value? You just have to know you’re comparing citrus fruit with citrus fruit. You are doing that, right?
Unfortunately, being a trans woman, comparison is my every day. My every minute of every day. I started hormones, and I compared my progress to other people. I got a referral to a Gender Identity Clinic and I compared my wait time to other people’s. I compare my voice to other trans women’s. I compare the number of likes on anything I post anywhere on the internet ever.
I’ll let you in on a (really badly kept) secret here. I have some fantastically awful coping mechanisms for negative comparison. That trans woman who has been on hormones for 25 minutes and is a C cup? She was a C cup before she started because of body fat. The trans woman who seems to be able to afford every surgery imaginable? She’s just got a load of inheritance from a family member she barely knew, or is tens of thousands of pounds in debt. The trans woman whose selfies always get 500 likes? They know how to play the Instagram hashtags game and have a direct debit set up to a guy in Novosibirsk with a bot farm. That trans woman with the cis sounding voice? Their accent makes it a million times easier. That trans woman who seems to deal with all these competing negative comparisons? She just has a billion bitchy coping mechanisms.
I could write at length about how a lot of the stuff you read is only 0.1% of the truth. I could speculate about all sorts of people and how what you see is cleverly crafted to boost their social media profile, or to make a few extra quid, but to be honest most of the time they’re just trying to make themselves feel better, and so am I.
You can’t avoid comparison and it’s often useful, and sometimes necessary. Sometimes it punches you in the face, sometimes it provides just the boost you need. Just remember that sometimes it’s better not to know where on the graph you sit. Sometimes it’s better to just go for a nice run around a lake and listen to some music, and come back and read this next time you’re annoyed with everybody for being so bloody smug.