A FtM transgender perspective on the change in privilege

The issue of privileges enjoyed as a man compared to that as a woman can be a really unusual mix. Sometimes it’s the small things, and other times it’s huge. You can write it all down on paper, dissect it, and philosophize about it, but when you actually live in both those sets of privilege the differences are very stark.

How can someone live the day to day life of a woman, and still understand intimately how much more male privilege gives you? You have to live as both.

I lived the first 40 years of my life being perceived as a woman. I am very specific with this language because I am transgender. Although I am in the beginning of my medical transition, there is a huge difference in how people perceive me, and how I am treated now. Some of it is remarkable.

One of the first things I noticed is in my daily commute, I receive zero street harassment now. When I was in makeup, heels, and in public before, I felt I had to be on my guard at all times because you never knew when the construction workers would play out the cliche and say something horrible. I would have to fend off men in cars following me down the sidewalk when I walked, trying to ask me for my number. Even worse, were the bus creepers. There is no time in a woman’s life when drunkenly drooling incoherent statements about her chest is going to win you favors.

As a man, even a Trans* obvious one sometimes, I can walk anywhere I want day or night. My travel is not encumbered by anyone. If a man turns to talk to me, it’s because he wants to know the time, or if the bus has come yet. I would liken it to having a super power that allows me to do my daily travels without having to keep my guard up 100% of the time.

That revelation makes my life infinitely easier. If I want to go jogging before dawn, or late at night, then I can. Nobody will look twice at me. If I don’t want to own a car, and want to rely on the bus in a bad area of town, I can do it with impunity. Women are just not afforded that luxury. It’s a huge privilege to feel safe when you travel alone. It takes so much less mental effort to sort out. Being on your guard all the time is very taxing.

Another privilege I noticed pretty immediately is an allowance for one’s face to be serious. When I was perceived as a woman, I was often accused of having “bitchy resting face”. My neutral expression is stern, period. The fact that there is a phrase called “bitchy resting face” should tell you how women who don’t smile are perceived. I would have complete strangers tell me to smile regularly. If I was seriously studying, I would be asked if something was wrong. I would be told I’d be prettier if I smiled. It was all very intrusive. This cultural pressure to be pleasant is pervasive.

Now that I am perceived as masculine, nobody tells me to smile. Men are afforded stern facial expressions. If I am studying, folks nod sagely at me, and say, “Yeah, Finance class sucks.” I’m sure smarter people than myself have dissected this issue, but as someone that flipped this coin, I find it incredibly odd that my gender expression changes how folks feel about my stern expression.

In the same vein, as male, I am allowed to be competitive, assertive, loud, and bold. I am assured by my husband of 20 years, I have always had these qualities. The only difference is that now, presenting as male, these are good qualities.

When I was presenting as a women, the first thing that came up, if I behaved that way, was that I was a bitch. Over and over again, if I stepped up to a leadership role, or told someone in no uncertain terms there was a problem, that word was flung at me.

Now, I get patted on the back, and folks admire my tenacity. They tell me they wish they could be as assertive. This is a whole new realm of acceptance for traits I have had my entire life.

Also, If I am a real jerk, I get rueful smiles, and “Dude, it’s cool.” Then it’s all fine. That just shocked me. The instant pass I get if I mess up. I don’t get labeled the office bitch, only to have everyone treat me like I’m a real hard ass that’s going to snap at them. It’s like the “boys will be boys” motto now applies. It’s definitely seductive to be allowed that kind of out, even when it would be nicer if folks held your feet to the fire once in a while, so you’d learn not to be a jerk.

These are just a couple of the differences I have seen in how I am treated. These are generalizations, but they weren’t ones I expected to experience. There are so many small things I see, but I’m still in the beginning here, and I am sure, as I start growing whiskers, and passing to everyone, that there will be more.

Wolsey Bradley is a gamer, a cosplayer, and a perpetual student. He’s married to a fantastic man, and takes care of a very pushy cat. He’s also trans* and seeking transition medically, giving him a window into different gender roles.


12 Thoughts on “A FtM transgender perspective on the change in privilege

  1. Wow, this is really fascinating! Thank you so much for giving us this window into both worlds at the same time.

  2. Wolsey on October 17, 2013 at 4:54 pm said:

    Thanks for taking the time to read it.

  3. I’ve had this type of experience described as a form of kicking in an open door (because until now, that door was always locked); usually in terms of class privilege, because that’s obviously the one people are still most likely to cross, reduced social mobility notwithstanding. People would describe it as feeling for a moment as if gravity cut out: the disappearance of a resistance so constant in their lives until then that they’ve stopped noticing, and suddenly it was gone.

    I don’t think I’ve read an account of this from a gender-perspective before, so thanks for writing that :-)

  4. I went the other way. Sometimes I see the flip of the other side of this coin.

    In any case, enjoy your new found life and thanks for the glimpse on privilege.

  5. You have a lot to learn about the world of being a man. Your perceptions do not correspond to Norah Vincent’s who lived convincingly as a man for a year, and wrote a book about it. Your commentary looks as if it came straight out of a left wing dogma manual. I am sorry but I think you are being insincere.

  6. I initially wanted to say a mere thank you for providing some interesting and thoughtful perspective. So, first, thank you.

    After that I came upon the reason so many warn others away from reading comments and felt the need to reply to Zimba: Shame on you for discounting his experiences. Do you (Zimba) not realize that even as men our life experiences do vary greatly depending on geographic location and the nature and behaviour of those various people that surround us? Calling someone insincere for some vague and unspecified reason sounds rather like an ad hominem (attacking the person rather than the argument itself) and does not elevate the discussion in any way.

    I am not surprised in the least that Wosley’s experiences are different from Norah’s but rather consider both as items we should consider as part of the full spectrum as we try and help transform society into one in which everyone can feel they are treated equally, both in attitude and compensation.

    This is not my venue, though, and I think Wosley’s words can and should stand on their own. I look forward to seeing more perspectives from his experiences.

  7. @penIDUser1: I am not trying to insulting of needlessly hurtful, but using your meter of what we should accept as sincere and nor sincere would result in us accepting everything we ever heard. My words still stand and this essay imo do as disservice to those who are, or thinking of, making a transition.

  8. Alexandra on October 20, 2013 at 8:32 pm said:

    Please, feel free to be more specific in your criticism. “Left wing dogma manual” is pretty much gibberish.

  9. Zimba, I hope I am reading you wrong. Are you saying that the account of Norah Vincent, who identifies as a woman and deliberately experimented in passing as a man for eighteen months in order to write a book about it, is “sincere,” while the accounts of actual trans* people like Mechnificent and others are “insincere” because they do not align with Norah Vincent’s?

    FYI, Norah Vincent was a subject of Richard Goldstein’s book Homocons: The Rise of the Gay Right, in which he discusses her transphobia among other issues.

    Because if I read you correctly:

    (1) You are indeed erasing the experiences of actual transmen as “insincere,” based on an account that is the very definition of insincere. That is not only insulting and needlessly hurtful, but irrational as well.

    (2) Using your meter of what we should accept as sincere and or insincere would result in us accepting everything we ever heard from transphobic right wingers play acting to write a book. And, well, let’s just say conservatives are not exactly renowned for their astute perceptions of reality (See, e.g., Fox “News,” climate change denial, Todd “legitimate rape” Akin, austerity as a driver of economic growth, Michelle Bachmann…).

    Alexandra – I, too, look forward to reading the new Left wing dogma manual. I think I left my copy at the recent Satanic lesbian abortion festival.

  10. Alexandra on October 22, 2013 at 1:34 pm said:

    I never even received a copy of the New Left Wing Dogma Manual! All I’ve got is this crappy Communist Manifesto bullshit, what is that all about?

    I mean, come on. What does a militant feminist/atheist/socialist have to do to get invited to these things?

  11. Have you attended the brunch mixers at the Satanic lesbian abortion club? Left wing dogma manuals are gratis – plus they make a mean Bloody Mary, lemme tell ya.

  12. Alexandra on October 24, 2013 at 8:35 pm said:

    There’s brunch? Crap dammit, how do I get on that mailing list?

    I’ve been sacrificing goats and cursing men and everything!

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