The Differences in Privilege Between Men and Women from Someone Who Has Lived as Both
Being transgender has opened my eyes to a lot of different experiences about how the world works, particularly when it comes to gender inequality and norms.
By Noah Gariepy
This piece has been a long time coming. Literally, like two years coming. It’s been a topic that has been on my mind for so long, but I have yet to find a way to vocalize my experiences.
Being transgender has opened my eyes to a lot of different experiences about how the world works, particularly when it comes to gender inequality and norms; but what I want to talk about is just how truly different it is to live both as a woman and a man and the drastic differences I have personally experienced when it comes to gaining privilege.
A little back-story. I was assigned female at birth, something that was unexpected to my family; my mother even asked my doctor if they were sure I was a girl. I lived and was socialized as a female from birth until age 21. At that point, I was a very butch-dressing female and found that I was most comfortable when I was perceived as androgynous. In a quest to discover myself, I came out as genderqueer to my close friends, and even went so far as to ask them to call me by a new name and use male or gender-neutral pronouns. In the six months I lived as such, I realized just how happy I was — happier than I can ever remember being in my entire life. Needless to say, I realized that I was on the right path, the path towards becoming the real me.
So I began my transition. I found a counselor and eventually got a letter to allow me to start on hormones. That first syringe I plunged into my thigh was the defining factor. As soon as the testosterone took hold in my body, my life changed for the better and concreted that I was doing what was best for me. I have since continued my transition, and almost one year ago, I had top surgery to remove my breasts and contour a more masculine chest. I haven’t once questioned that decision to actively transition, but it’s opened my eyes to so many issues I would not otherwise have experienced.
That’s the easy part of the story. What many people don’t talk about is the change when going from less privilege as a female to more privilege as a man. We’re all aware that privilege exists, but it’s not something we talk enough about. The first few years of being on testosterone allowed me to get a glimpse of privilege first hand, but it wasn’t until I was “passing” fully as a man that my eyes were dramatically opened.
The first change I noticed was how different conversations between men were from conversations between females. I discovered that it was much harder and less acceptable to “vent” to my male friends. At one point I was even called a pussy by a so-called friend because I was too emotional by their standards, but by women’s standards my rant was a typical expression. This has placed me in a situation where I am still more comfortable with cross-sex friendships because I know that women will still validate my emotions which may be stronger than the average male’s.
I’m constantly questioning what I say and how I act in front of men because I’m afraid I’ll be seen as too feminine, or even, a “f*g.” I’m naturally shy as it is, but I sometimes wonder if transitioning has made me more shy just because I’m constantly second-guessing if my actions are masculine enough. Nonetheless, it has allowed me to embrace the fact that I do still have feminine qualities, and to me, having emotions is not something to be ashamed of sharing, even as a man.
One of the stereotypes of transmen on testosterone is that they become aggressive and angry. While I’ll admit that my go-to reaction is less water-works and more anger, it has never manifested itself in ways where I hurt others. To this day, the only person I’ve hit was a bully in sixth grade, and that was only after years of harassment.
About six months back, in a situation where my fiancé and I were forced to evict our roommates, one (a cisgendered male) became extremely violent. After pushing my fiancé and being aggressive with them, I stepped in between, only to become his punching bag. Having been socialized as a woman, I had never learned how to properly defend myself. I was a flailing mess, hoping that the blows wouldn’t damage anything too vital. To this day, I still don’t know how I didn’t get more hurt than I was. The landlord who broke up the fight was amazed I didn’t break my jaw, but I (fortunately) managed to walk away with only bruises and a missing tooth. It’s completely unacceptable for a socialized woman to get in a physical altercation with someone, let alone with someone of the opposite sex, unless it is in self-defense.
After, I was sent screen-shots of posts he was making about me on social media. He regularly referred to me as a “man” (in quotation marks), a “pussy,” and a “woman beater.” I didn’t want to fight, nor will I ever. And why this is deemed acceptable for men is beyond me.
I struggled for a long time after the assault. I felt completely emasculated because I couldn’t even be “man enough” to stand up for myself. I was left torn, how do I continue to be a man when it’s evident I still have mostly feminine traits? There’s only so much I can do to reverse the effects of the socialization I had as a child. If anything, this has been the hardest part of transitioning — de-socializing myself only to re-socialize as the opposite gender. Four years of living as a man and I still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of this process.
I come from a very large family and am the oldest cousin on one side of the family. I’ve learned to love kids, and am excited to have them with my fiancé in the future. That motherly instinct is a very strong nature I still have and is something I hope I don’t lose. As a woman, it was always acceptable for me to walk up to a mother/father and ask them how old their child was, and I could even get away with engaging with the child. I could smile at a young child in a stroller in the mall and not get weird glances from the parents. Now, I have to be aware that I could be perceived as a creep, a pedophile even. All because men are seen as being less attune to “motherhood.”
I’m a barista and am encouraged to socialize with my customers, and one way to connect with a customer with children is ask their ages. There have been several times where I’ve gotten horrible glances from my customers for saying phrases that were acceptable for me as a woman, but are evidently not anymore. Even just saying, “you have gorgeous children” is perceived as being strange. Recently I’ve had multiple new fathers come in because the hospital is so close to the coffee shop. They’re tired but happy and so relieved. However, while my female coworkers can congratulate the fathers, it’s hit or miss as to how receptive they are to me saying the exact same thing.
To this day, one of the most disturbing experiences I have involves being alone in public. As a woman, when I was alone walking to my car, I would be edgy. I’d have my keys in hand, actively aware of my surroundings and prepared to run if needed. This fear was so strongly instilled in me as a child, that I have to consciously remind myself in a parking lot late at night that I don’t need to worry anymore because I’m a man and less likely to be assaulted, robbed, or raped.
It was only recently that I became aware of how other women in parking lots perceived me. Countless times, I’m so caught up walking alone in a parking lot that I’m not aware of the other women (because women are socialized to believe other women aren’t a threat). There was one time where I was heading to my car after making a quick run to the store by myself. I saw a woman about my age also walking to her car and noticed that she appeared nervous. She started to walk faster to her car, her eyes darting all around. Being a concerned citizen, and having been in her position in the past, I looked around to see who she might be so afraid of. I was the only other person in the parking lot. For once, I was on the other end of the stick. I was the one instilling fear in a woman just because I was perceived as a male in a parking lot.
This has become a more constant scenario in my life now that I’m aware of it. I, as a man, have to make the conscious effort to find ways to show a woman that I’m not a threat. Unfortunately, I’ve learned, that as an unknown man, there really is nothing I can do in a similar situation to make a woman feel safe. My best bet is to not look them in the eye, but walk away and not engage at all. It’s the least I can do to ensure that women aren’t threatened by me.
I see all these trans-men slowly coming out and talking both online and in the media. All of these men are the epitome of masculinity. Literally the only FTM that doesn’t fit that stereotype is Chaz Bono and he’s a hardcore misogynist. While it’s so great to see transmen starting to come out of the woodwork, I find it so frustrating to see only men like Aydian Dowling representing transmen. Aydian, while a great speaker for the FTM community, is the stereotype of a man; white, heterosexual, muscular, beard, “passing,” “sexy,” blah blah blah. Even the one magazine for FTM’s has never once shown a person of color or someone who isn’t ripped or freakishly thin. Not once. Our own community focuses so much on the privilege we gain subconsciously that we judge our own brothers as inferior based on how much they “pass” or how masculine they look.
And while I love living and being perceived as a man, I resent the privilege I have gained. Sometimes the experiences I have leave me feeling left in the middle.
One of the most unsettling aspects of the transman community is that once privilege is gained by an FTM, there are two extremes that the person experiences. Either, the transman realizes that privilege is nice (whether consciously or not) and take their privilege to heart, going so far as to diss on women or hate them — becoming misogynists. Those like me, who gain privilege and whose eyes are opened to the drastic differences in being a woman and a man, become staunch feminists. I have yet to meet a transman who isn’t on either end of that spectrum and Lord knows, I’ve met tons. How a man who’s lived as a woman can learn to hate women is beyond me, but then again, if you hate who you were before enough, that hate manifests towards all women. By acknowledging the fact that I lived as a woman and embracing the experiences I had, I am able to still appreciate (and respect) women.
I’m so grateful for the experience of living as both genders despite all the hurdles. And while I love living and being perceived as a man, I resent the privilege I have gained. Sometimes the experiences I have leave me feeling left in the middle. Lost even. I know I will never fully be able to un-socialize myself. I know I’ll never be able to live in a world where gender is irrelevant. But learning to forgive myself for knowing I’ll never fully be the golden child of masculinity is a hurdle I still have to cross. In the meantime, at least I can acknowledge my gained privilege and work to end the patriarchy.
This story was previously published on The Good Men Project.