When I started my unmasking (transition) I thought I had a good understanding of what to expect. I went on websites, online support groups, even support groups in person and I saw that there were many, many aspects of transition being discussed. From what to expect when you start on hormone replacement therapy to some of the everyday struggles a lot of us face by society as we unmask. What I didn’t expect, or see discussed, was a realization that there is a huge difference in how men and women are treated socially. I didn’t expect it because I had hidden who I am for so long that, until recently, I was always treated like the other men I was pretending to be. Yes, this is what is referred to as male privilege. I have to say I never really thought much about it until I began my unmasking but and male privilege fits what I had experienced. So, on that note, let me talk about some of these differences I’ve noticed since starting my unmasking.
One of the more serious ones is personal safety….!
Never did I feel threatened or scared and I would go almost anywhere without ever giving personal safety a consideration. I always knew I could handle myself and I had the strength to take care of myself if need be. Now I’m very careful about my safety. I never go out alone after dark and I’m cautious about who is approaching me. Not that I’m paranoid of anyone. The fact is that I’ve lost much of the strength I once had. Then there is the obvious inherent dangers that all women face like harassment and violence, sometimes on a completely devastating scale. That doesn’t even include the the added pressure of being subject to those dangers as a transgender woman. Murder is a distinct possibility, as the community saw, the statistics for trans mortality rates involving hate crimes and violence rose this last year. It’s become a real fear with so many of our sisters being murdered. According to The Trans Murder Monitoring Project there have been 1,731 cases of reported killings of transgender/gender diverse people since January 1st, 2008 through December 31st, 2014 worldwide and a reported 27 in the United States alone thus far in 2015. It is a very sobering reality we face.
When I was pretending to be a man it seemed like women wouldn’t have much to do with me. I would say hi and they would just keep walking by without even acknowledging me. Whenever they had to deal with me, like in the checkout lane at the store or at the doctor’s office, they would be very short and matter of fact about the encounter. We wouldn’t even make small talk even if I saw them multiple times. I always felt like a pariah when when I was around women in general who had children with them. There were looks of disgust sometimes as if I was some sort of pedophile or something when I was nearby. Now I’ve noticed that woman will smile back at me and return hi’s as we cross paths in the street. When I go to places like the doctor’s office or the hospital I notice now that my chatting with the nurses and the other ladies becomes more than small talk. We talk about a wide array of subjects that don’t relate to my visit. One afternoon I was in the checkout lane at Walmart next to a new mom struggling to hold her infant child while looking for her wallet in her purse. I noticed her struggle and offered to help and then without any hesitation she handed her baby to me to so she could pay her bill. I’m sure if this took place prior to my unmasking the whole exchange would have gone differently, most likely with her refusing to let me help her.
A Higher Standard
Society is beauty crazed and the pressures that women are under to be beautiful can be immense. Pretending to be a man was much easier in the sense that in most cases my appearance was easier to maintain and still acceptable. Messy hair, unshaven, and disheveled cloths are, while not recommended, socially acceptable for men. People who know that I am transgender will sometimes hold me to a higher standard of beauty than my the majority of my cis-gender girlfriends ever do. Now, before I leave my apartment, I need to make sure my hair is perfect with not even a strand of hair out of place and my makeup better be on point also and not under or overdone. My clothes are looked at all the time and everything I wear must match. Colors must go with each other. I must dress to my age or they will tell me I look like I’m trying too hard. Everything about me gets scrutinized, the way I talk, walk, sit, stand, eat and even the way I sneeze. The pressures and standards placed on transgender women can be very difficult and overwhelmingly unfair.
I do understand that my friends are trying to help me but it wears you down, day after day, being told “this” or “that” gives me away. I’ve even had my eyebrows criticized just after having them waxed. I was told that I should have had them waxed thinner, with more of an arch to them, and tapered more at the end, and I’m thinking obviously they have never seen Brook Shields.
There have been 6 pregnant women this year in the building where I live. As a man I wasn’t often asked to touch a woman’s pregnant belly and would definitely get a strange look if I were to ask. Now the pregnant ladies I meet here allow me to not only touch their bellies but they would also discuss some very intimate details of their pregnancies as they have allowed me to live vicariously through them and their pregnancies. They would share what they were feeling. All the aches and pains. The morning sickness and how it felt to have the baby moving inside them. The excitement of the first time their baby moved.
There are many women that knew me before my unmasking and it was hard for them at first to accept my true self. I’m sure it was my fault because ,at first, I was only dipping my toes in the water sort of speaking. At first I started slowly switching my persona to be more feminine until I just couldn’t take it anymore then I finally took the plunge and went full time, just 86 days, into my unmasking. Although they were nice to me and even helpful with clothes, accessories and make up, I could sense them still holding back when we would talk and at times and felt as though i was only being tolerated.
Then one day it happened and I was fully accepted by them. Why the difference in the way I was treated? Who knows for sure, but I believe it took them some time to come to grips with my unmasking or for them to realize that I’m just like them and that I have the same dreams, fears and struggles that many women experience every day. It is such an amazing and validating feeling to me now that I can actually feel the shift in conversations with cis-gender women and be confident that they are being fully accepting of me.
Now that I’m accepted in this exclusive club…!
Yes, when I finally felt accepted by other women it was like I was handed keys to exclusive club. They were no longer holding anything back and there hasn’t been a subject matter that they haven’t spoken with me about. The first shocker was when they started to talk to me about their boyfriends and making love to them. I don’t know why this caught me by surprise but maybe because I’ve never heard another woman talk the way they were. They have been very open and honest in sharing their joys, sorrow, pain and emotions. All of a sudden they started to come to me for advice dealing with their boyfriends and why the men in their lives do some of the things that they do. My girlfriends recognized the unique prospective I could offer them with situations relating to the men in their lives, being that, I’ve experienced life from both sides of the hormone divide.
To be able to sit with another woman and cry with her or comfort her in her times of need has opened my heart to emotions and feelings I’ve never had before. Empathy being the biggest one…! Never before in life was I able to understand or share in what others were feeling. My heart breaks and aches with their pain. I wasn’t used to feeling empathy and at first it was extremely over whelming to me to be feeling someone else’s pain. Joy was next…! I had a real difficult time with being able to feel real joy before. At least I couldn’t for any length of time. Sure, I was happy when my boys were born but in retrospect I think it was more pride that I was feeling at the time. My identity struggles had always caused issues for me when it came to being intimate with my wife, nothing was right. Now I can feel such joy it actually moves me to tears. The joy that I feel is sustained now and doesn’t dissipate after an hour or so like before. I also feel sorrow so much unbelievably deeper now which has been a surprise for me. I can even feel loss now from many years ago that will come on very strong and heavy. My unmasking didn’t come with a handbook or instructions how to deal with such emotions and feelings and this is where having a good therapist comes in helpful.
Is It Easier?
Is it easier now than when I was pretending to be a man? This is an interesting question for me. The short answer is yes and no…! What I mean is when I was pretending to be a man there was a tremendous amount of turmoil in my mind due to my gender dysphoria, but that aside, I struggled with some very simple tasks that most men take for granted. I have found it difficult getting dressed every day. There are very limited materials and colors that are considered appropriate for a man to wear. Although I admit that this has changed over the last fifteen to twenty years, be this as it may, I still struggled with expressing myself and with the fears of being found out if indeed I wore anything deemed to feminine by society.
Now I find getting dressed so much easier. I can wear anything and everything I want. Here is where women have it so much easier because we can wear what we want from jeans and a t-shirt to a ball gown and anything in between. The materials that women get to wear are so comfortable and enjoyable to wear. Enjoying this freedom is so liberating to me, but my routines in the morning and before going to bed have changed tremendously also. Before my unmasking, in the morning I could just wet my hair and slick it back and out the door I would go. Now, my hair has to be done. It needs to be blow dried curled, styled and as stated above it has to be just perfect. Then I do the ever so dreadful required face shave and I put on a moisturizer followed by a sun blocker, only then do I start on my makeup. All of this can take up to an hour to complete! At night I used to remove my cloths and just climb in bed when I was tired and go to sleep. Now! I remove my cloths and bra and put on a sports bra and a nightgown. I need to remove my makeup and wash my face. Twice a week I’ll use a deep facial scrub and an astringent also. Then comes a moisturizer and night cream and I put my hair up or in a sleep cap and after fifteen minutes or so climb in bed and go to sleep.
On the lighter side of things….!
One of the first differences I noticed happened when I went to buy my first smart phone one of my male friends drove me to the T-Mobile phone store. As soon as we walked in the salesman came over and asked my friend if he could help us. I told him I was looking to purchase my first smart phone and with that the salesman asked my friend what kind of phone I was looking for again. So, again I explained the phone was for myself and told him what I was looking for. The salesman directed us towards a display of phones on the wall. I asked him for differences between a few of the phones and what features each one had. The salesman started to explain the phones to my male friend like I was incapable of understanding what he was saying…! Never once did I ever face this type of sexism pretending to be a man. If he only knew that I was part of a design and build team of cell phones while I was an engineer at a plastic injection molding house!
I’ve knew this gentleman in the building where I live for almost a year before I started my unmasking, and we would chat every now and then about a verity of topics, but inevitably we would talk about sports, music and cars. About six months into my unmasking he asked me “Do you know what you’re giving up? You’re too cool to be a girl. You know about cars, music and sports.” This made me think Really? Like no woman in the world knows about these things? I told him “Yes I know exactly what I’m giving up. I’m giving up my depression, anger, anxiety, angst, being uncomfortable in my own skin, not liking or loving myself…. Give up? Heck yeah, I would gladly give all of those things up..!”.Tweet #TransHopeUnited