Ok, I had a recent experience that I really want to talk about. But to be honest, this is really not an easy thing to talk about at all. Like, it might end up sounding like a humble brag or complaining about people respecting me or something. But it is a real thing, and I have since learned that other trans men have also had this experience, but it seems like we just don’t talk about it. Because again, it might sound like we’re complaining about something that “should” be good. So it’s hard to talk about. Well, I’m going to try anyway. Here’s hoping it works.
Now, to be clear, I did not transition in order to gain male privilege. It was, however, something that I knew would come with it. And yes, no longer dealing with sexism or sexist assumptions about me when dealing with random men was something I was (still am, I’m still not always gendered correctly in person so I’m not actually there yet) looking forward to.
But there is another side to random strangers seeing me as a man that I actually hadn’t thought about. And I feel incredibly silly that it hadn’t occurred to me before because of just HOW MUCH I’ve experienced the female end of it all.
OK, I promise I’m getting to the point. So while I am not always gendered correctly when people look at me, I am always gendered correctly on the phone because my voice dropped and it dropped hard. I have a Man Voice now. Which is great! I love my voice! But here’s the thing – women treat me differently now.
Women don’t treat me with more respect, exactly – they treat me with more fear. And… of course they do. So ok, I had to call my vet to make an appointment for my cat. Turns out they didn’t have any slots open for weeks thanks to the pandemic plus they lost one of their vets. And the poor lady on the other end of the phone was noticeably nervous to tell me this. Am I going to be ok? Or am I going to be, you know, one of THOSE guys, who yells and hollers as though that will make any difference at all?
But see, here’s the thing – she sounded EXACTLY HOW I DID when I was talking to men I don’t know, particularly if I had to give them bad news. Her nervousness was my nervousness. My caution was her caution. Yet despite that, despite the fact that I have spent literal decades tiptoeing around men’s feelings, it still caught me completely off-guard to encounter a woman tiptoeing around my feelings.
I don’t like it. At all.
I’m not upset at HER, to be clear. Not at all. I know EXACTLY why she sounded like that because I sound like that. I probably still do; my vocal patterns are definitely still feminine and I have not put any effort into changing them. But knowing how she feels, knowing that I am causing those feelings, knowing that while one segment of the population will suddenly treat me with more respect another segment of the population will be nervous around me – it’s just really sad.
There’s this youtube video I recently watched by Shaaba called “scary men being more than okay.” It’s just Shaaba reading lovely stories about men being decent human beings. Here’s the thing though – just about all of those stories started out with the woman being nervous because she isn’t sure if that man is going to be ok or be a jerk. She isn’t sure if she’s safe. She’s on her guard. She’s careful. She’s cautious. Because that’s just how it is for women. It’s how it was for me.
I wound up talking to my therapist about this (he is also a trans man) and he shared that he has had similar experiences with similar feelings. Women being nervous when needing to talk to him. Women crossing the street to keep their distance. We talked about how we can display respect and just be ok men, but in the end we can’t fix the problem because it isn’t really about us at all. It’s not about ME, it’s about the society in which I live and the gender dynamics and how male privilege runs deep.
It also got me wondering how man cis men notice any of this. Or even – would I notice it if I had been born male? The thought that I wouldn’t notice it – that I would just see it as normal and unremarkable – is downright distressing to me. I know I’ve heard of cis men noticing the more obvious things. Things like crossing to the other side of the street or a woman walking faster if she’s alone at night and there is a man behind her. But what about the quieter things? Like that little tone of caution on the phone, or that extra bit of care when having a conversation? I can’t say I’ve ever heard any cis men comment on that – even the horrible cis men who get ANGRY when women fear them. As much as the dynamic makes me sad, I definitely prefer to notice it.
I have no good conclusion to this post. It’s just an unfortunate part of the world. I am crossing to the other side of a divide that shouldn’t exist in the first place. And while the side I’m moving to is the “better” side, I can’t say that I love it. I guess in the end, I just wish things were different. In the meantime, I’ll do my best to be an ok man.