“I feel that when I speak, more people tend to ignore me. Even when I’m making a critical point about something I know a lot about. It’s as if my voice simply doesn‘t count as much.”
Ever since I came out as trans, a few years ago, I’ve been asked over and over again: “Do people treat you differently now, than they did before?”
Not to put down the efforts of those who wholeheartedly support trans people, but due to my keen senses (and the fact that some people just flat-out say so) I think what most of them are actually trying to ask is: “Are women and men treated differently?”
And that is one Goliath of a question.
I guess I could just say YES! and be done with it. But that would only be about half-right, I think.
You see, even though I am quite good at many things (you should see me tie a bowline knot!), I don’t think I’m a very good measuring tool in this sense. Let me explain:
• Most of the people I hang out with have known me since long before I came out. Including my family, of course. To most of them, I’m more or less the same person, regardless of gender, so I hardly ever notice any change from them. There is the occasional tiptoeing around me, as if I need special treatment, and then there are the times someone really stands up for me. Or for the concept of transgender people, because of me. And that makes me very proud.
• When I meet new people, who didn’t know me before, I don’t have the comparison. That is to say, I don’t know how they would have treated me before.
• However, words travel fast and I sometimes have the distinct feeling that people have been “warned” before they meet me. As a general rule, I don’t mind that much. It’s just that some people get very awkward, while trying too hard not to be awkward. (Every now and then they skip the awkward part and go straight to creepy. That’s always interesting, but seldom fun.)
• Not being one to dedicate my life to looking like a Barbie doll, I think I get “read” a lot (when people figure out I was born with only one X chromosome). Maybe not every single time I go grocery shopping, but spend half an hour with me, and you’ll figure it out. So, no matter how politically incorrect it is, I think that sometimes I’m not really being treated as a woman, but as a transwoman. Let me be clear when I tell you that I don’t claim to have specific rights to more than that, but I know a lot of trans-people do.
So, as you see, there is a lot of fine print in my answer to the question above. But taking all these disclaimers into consideration, I must say there have been some changes in other people’s attitude towards me. The problem is, it’s very difficult to describe it.
From “man” to “minority”
Let’s begin with the fact that I lived through my twenties, posing as a white, heterosexual, Western European male. That’s a species that doesn’t know much about limitations. I’ve since learned the true meaning of words like discrimination, equality and minority. In my honest opinion the white, heterosexual, Western European male doesn’t have the tiniest idea what those words mean, and is therefore unable to understand when he discriminates against someone else. I generalize, of course, but I hold this to be the rule, rather than the exception.
So, having donned the male mask, I became increasingly aware of small limitations around me. I’m not saying I’ve been denied access to places, or anything like that. It’s much more subtle. I feel that when I speak, more people tend to ignore me. Even when I’m making a critical point about something I know a lot about. It’s as if my voice simply doesn’t count as much.
When I’m either suggested for a difficult task, or accept one, I feel that fewer people believe in me. And that the expectations are lower. And I notice that those who do support me, sometimes have to justify their opinion. If anything, I’ve become better at most things with age (as most people do), but somehow it’s like people had more “blind faith” in me before.
It slowly dawned on me how much division there is between the binary genders. How many people still consider it a woman’s job to keep the house clean and cook, while the man fixes
the car and barbeques the steak on weekends. I really hadn’t noticed how few men turn up in the kitchen to clean up after a big party. And how many women seem to be offended by the idea that they should change their own tires. And how many of them distrust all men.
I do now. But when I played a different social role, I had no idea how much the genders discriminate against each other. As a rule, the society favors men and I sometimes wonder if that’s why women are much more accepting to transwomen than men are. Because we chose to leave our rehearsed male identity, even though it means taking on more discrimination. Who knows?
It’s not all bad though. When I’m being assisted in shops by men, they tend to be nicer and more helpful. Some might see that as condescending, but I normally like it when people are nice.
I feel women are generally more comfortable around me now, and I sort of get a glimpse of something that could be described as a universal sisterhood. I actually think many men are now more at ease around me, as well. As if they can just relax and be themselves. perhaps it’s because the idea of an alpha-struggle is completely off the table?
I also feel less pressure to be aggressive in conversations (males tend to constantly try to outdo and make fun at one another, in my view) and I actually enjoy more meaningful conversations now, with people of both genders. But – this could have to do more with me letting down my guards than anything else. So maybe it’s just me that has changed, and other people are exactly the same?
If I’d work my butt off, I could probably be even more passable than I am, and get deeper into the „female-experience“. But for me, self-image is more important. And I’ve noticed that while rebuilding mine (you really need to, after coming out), my own attitude towards me has changed as well.
I used to be shy, but speaking publicly was not a problem. Now it is. I think I’m more aware of myself, and I don’t really like to be the center of attention. And I feel the constant need to dress off the very little figure that I have. I don’t know if it could be considered positive, but I’ve been told that both come as “standard equipment” for most women.
Primal needs and posting online
So, yes. I have noticed some changes. But some of them are within myself, as weird as that may sound. And I’ve had my eyes opened up to many things, as well.
I know that I’m quite lucky, in the sense that I’ve never been publicly offended or mistreated, never been assaulted and never been told to my face (by strangers or not) that I’m disgusting, unworthy or anything along those lines. And yes, I’m lucky, because many trans-people have had such experiences.
That’s not to say I haven’t lost contact with friends, been overlooked when I want something, or been very much aware of how my gender-bending can make others uncomfortable.
Men tend to have greater problem with the fact that some women were born males. And if you dig deeper, it usually turns out they’re disgusted by the fact they could “accidentally” have sex with one. I don’t know any transwomen who frequent bars and lay down those kind of traps, but I still don’t understand the problem. If you fancy someone enough to bed them, shouldn’t that be enough? Or, perhaps, if you feel your way of life makes you vulnerable in this way, and it makes you so scared that you’re disgusted by the thought, maybe it’s time to reconsider how quickly you sleep with people, after meeting them for the first time?
Having gone through all that I have, I obviously care a great deal about what’s between my legs. But why on earth should others? Apart from myself, and my fiancée, it really shouldn’t matter to anyone if I’m a man or a woman. Or even if I were somewhere in-between.
Why does it matter so much to us if other people are of the sex, or gender, that we prefer to sleep with, or not? After all of human evolution, are we really still so dominated by our primal needs, that we can’t just accept people for the person they are? Are we truly obsessed by other people’s gender?
In my experience, yes. And I’ll prove it.
Find a web-forum or a facebook group you’re interested in. Set up an account, under a name that would be typical for the opposite sex, and join. If you’re a man, register as a woman, and vice versa. Try not to make any comment on your gender, and try to avoid gender-specific pronouns when writing about yourself.
Take part in the group conversation, comment a lot and befriend other users to the point you’re having private conversation online.
Then slip into the conversation that you’re really the opposite sex from what your profile suggests.
Sit back and observe.