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Is The Transamerica Pyramid Transgender Like Me?

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A building and a flag.

The Transamerica Pyramid is just as trans as the rest of us. (Rafael AS Martins, Alexander Grey)


A bright (ish) new light now graces downtown San Francisco —the Transamerica Building has started a multi-year facelift. A pyramidal blue glow has been spotted emanating from its upper point, signaling the beginnings of a head-to-toe renovation that is part of San Francisco’s vision for a more populated downtown. It’s an ugly building with an important message: we must Trans America. And, after almost 55 years, doesn’t the building deserve a little freshening up? To that end, don’t we all?

I’m sitting in a Botox clinic at Strut in the Castro for a transgender health fundraiser. Moya from North Bay clinic is administering units of Botox that also contribute to the support of minimally-invasive cosmetics and gender-affirming aesthetics for gender expansive individuals. She has a soft, platinum bob and an easygoing nature. I’m working to leave constrictive expectations of gender-based beauty behind as I experience the face-softening of hormone-replacement therapy. But I have wrinkles in my forehead and I’d rather they weren’t there, so I’m trying Botox for the first time. Moya describes 10 units as “dipping a toe in” and that’s exactly what I’m doing, even if it feels a little like I’m dipping a toe into the pool of Narcissus. 

It’s because I was raised that pride is a sin and my overachieving, A-student ass really took that message to heart. I thought excessive makeup would keep you from heaven, when the most it will do is destroy your pillowcase if you’re lazy at the end of the night. But the palimpsest of those beliefs remains and I debate with myself about how much I want to modify my appearance, even if I do believe Miss Dolly Parton as Truvy Jones in Steel Magnolias when she said “There is no such thing as natural beauty.”

Plastic surgery and cosmetics have also been easy targets of debate about trans health. Oftentimes, without any sense of irony, cisgender folks critique the use of plastic surgery among trans populations while ignoring the simple fact that cisgender people also consume gender-affirming care. . I hate to break it to (no I actually love it) those who hate transgender people, but your hair transplants, boob jobs, and spray tanning are all gender-affirming care. If it’s a procedure that makes you feel more secure in your gender expression, it’s gender-affirming care. 

But let’s force this “facade as face” metaphor a little more. Controversy is something the Transamerica Building knows a thing or two about, too. Many thought that San Francisco did not need a skyscraper and protested its construction. It stands in a long line of buildings that San Franciscans have complained about: Coit Tower had Communist murals, Sutro Tower looks like a roach clip, and Salesforce Tower is a giant dildo. The Millennium Tower is a testament to man’s hubris with its sinking foundation and windows that can’t handle wind. The Transamerica sits solidly as a San Francisco icon, now. I’m not sure if its renovation is going to save downtown, but I always support things becoming shinier. 

The Botox experience was great. Moya and her team did a fantastic job and I’m happy that my experimentation supported other trans folks. Sensationally, it feels a little like novocaine that doesn’t go away. I’m learning that my own journey to express who I am, both internally and aesthetically, will include discomfort and brow-furrowing. And I might not have $400 million to spend on my face, but I can allocate some of my budget to a little polishing every now and then.

Matthew Beld (they/them) is a non-binary writer and comedian based out of San Francisco. They have performed at Bawdy Storytelling, BawdySlam, KQED StoryCorps, Submission Comedy, About Last Night, and are practicing their skills at the famed Hysteria Comedy Open Mic. They write and teach with sketch comedy troupe Killing My Lobster and, starting Summer 2023, they’ll be co-hosting a new queer open mic in the Castro. They work as a queer researcher and health educator providing gender and pronoun training for clinical health providers. 

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