In the never-ending gender wars that take place in the media (and on blogs), I think it’s important to continue to gather more information and listen to different voices.
As a reader, your perspective is largely limited by your own gender and experience.
As a dating coach, I listen to both perspectives each day and can perhaps see a broader and more balanced view, yet I’m certain I have blind spots as well.
Which is why I found this Washington Post article so fascinating. It references interviews with four transgender men who used to be women. All of us who try to guess or project what it’s like to understand the opposite sex can’t hold a candle to these folks who have actually experienced what it’s like to be a member of both genders.
So, without further ado, here are some of the surprising takeaways:
Alex, a 26-year-old Asian: “People now assume I have logic, advice and seniority. They look at me and assume I know the answer, even when I don’t. I’ve been in meetings where everyone else in the room was a woman and more senior, yet I still got asked, “Alex, what do you think? We thought you would know.” I was at an all-team meeting with 40 people, and I was recognized by name for my team’s accomplishments. Whereas next to me, there was another successful team led by a woman, but she was never mentioned by name. I went up to her afterward and said, “Wow, that was not cool; your team actually did more than my team.” The stark difference made me feel uncomfortable and brought back feelings of when I had been in the same boat and not been given credit for my work.
When people thought I was a woman, they often gave me vague or roundabout answers when I asked a question. I’ve even had someone tell me, “If you just Googled it, you would know.” But now that I’m read as a man, I’ve found people give me direct and clear answers, even if it means they have to do some research on their own before getting back to me.”
Trystan, a 50-year old African-American: “There are also ways in which men deal with sexism and gender oppression that I was not aware of when I was walking around in a female body. A couple of years after my transition, I had a grad student I’d been mentoring. She started coming on to me, stalking me, sending me emails and texts. My adviser and the dean – both women – laughed it off. It went on for the better part of a year, and that was the year that I was going up for tenure. It was a very scary time. I felt very worried that if the student felt I was not returning her attention, she would claim that I had assaulted her. I felt like as a guy, I was not taken seriously. I had experienced harassment as a female person at another university and they had reacted immediately, sending a police escort with me to and from campus. I felt like if I had still been in my old body I would have gotten a lot more support.”
“Being a black man has changed the way I move in the world. I used to walk quickly or run to catch a bus. Now I walk at a slower pace, and if I’m late I don’t dare rush. I am hyper-aware of making sudden or abrupt movements, especially in airports, train stations and other public places. I avoid engaging with unfamiliar white folks, especially white women. If they catch my eye, white women usually clutch their purses and cross the street. While I love urban aesthetics, I stopped wearing hoodies and traded my baggy jeans, oversized jerseys and colorful skullcaps for closefitting jeans, khakis and sweaters. These changes blunt assumptions that I’m going to snatch purses or merchandise, or jump the subway turnstile. The less visible I am, the better my chances of surviving.”
The hormones made me more impatient. I had lots of female friends and one of the qualities they loved about me was that I was a great listener.
Chris, a 49-year-old Caucasian: “The hormones made me more impatient. I had lots of female friends and one of the qualities they loved about me was that I was a great listener. After being on testosterone, they informed me that my listening skills weren’t what they used to be. Here’s an example: I’m driving with one of my best friends, Beth, and I ask her “Is your sister meeting us for dinner?” Ten minutes later she’s still talking and I still have no idea if her sister is coming. So finally, I couldn’t take it anymore, and I snapped and said, “IS SHE COMING OR NOT?” And Beth was like, “You know, you used to like hearing all the backstory and how I’d get around to the answer. A lot of us have noticed you’ve become very impatient lately and we think it’s that damn testosterone!” It’s definitely true that some male behavior is governed by hormones. Instead of listening to a woman’s problem and being empathetic and nodding along, I would do the stereotypical guy thing – interrupt and provide a solution to cut the conversation short and move on. I’m trying to be better about this.”
Zander, a 52-year-old Caucasian: “Prior to my transition, I was an outspoken radical feminist. I spoke up often, loudly and with confidence. I was encouraged to speak up. I was given awards for my efforts, literally – it was like, “Oh, yeah, speak up, speak out.” When I speak up now, I am often given the direct or indirect message that I am “mansplaining,” “taking up too much space” or “asserting my white male heterosexual privilege.” Never mind that I am a first-generation Mexican American, a transsexual man, and married to the same woman I was with prior to my transition.
I find the assertion that I am now unable to speak out on issues I find important offensive and I refuse to allow anyone to silence me. My ability to empathize has grown exponentially because I now factor men into my thinking and feeling about situations. Prior to my transition, I rarely considered how men experienced life or what they thought, wanted or liked about their lives. I have learned so much about the lives of men through my friendships with men, reading books and articles by and for men and through the men I serve as a licensed clinical social worker.”
“I do notice that some women do expect me to acquiesce or concede to them more now: Let them speak first, let them board the bus first, let them sit down first, and so on. I also notice that in public spaces men are more collegial with me, which they express through verbal and nonverbal messages: head lifting when passing me on the sidewalk and using terms like “brother” and “boss man” to acknowledge me. As a former lesbian feminist, I was put off by the way that some women want to be treated by me, now that I am a man, because it violates a foundational belief I carry, which is that women are fully capable human beings who do not need men to acquiesce or concede to them…”
“What continues to strike me is the significant reduction in friendliness and kindness now extended to me in public spaces. It now feels as though I am on my own: No one, outside of family and close friends, is paying any attention to my well-being.”
Out of all of that, which were the most powerful insights for you? Your thoughts, as always, are appreciated.