[Friends: You may have noticed some strange things afoot, at popular lady blog for ladies with lots of lady contributors Tiger “Ladybusiness” Beatdown. For example, you may have noticed that this week, we are all about the dudes! Did you know there are actually experiences of, like, oppression and junk thatoccur in the lives of people WHO ARE NOT LADIES AT ALL??? Man people! With man lives! They have this shit going on as well! And you know what it’s fun to do: Publish some men, on this very subject. For that reason, this week we present a very special PBS-style series entitled VISIONS OF MANLINESS, starring: Some dudes, talking ’bout their dudebusiness. You will be both enlightened and entertained! As, for example, by this post, by dudeblogger Melusin. Read on! To learn how that gets complicated, in Melusin’s life!]
There have been big and small changes in my transition. With friends, things haven’t changed much; I wince at or correct pronouns more, but otherwise can’t constantly point out that I am a dude (or, that I am a trans dude). In social situations where I don’t know people that well, I can and do point out that I AM A DUDE, a lot. In the street, I hope people see the chest and crotch and figure it out.
Some things, though, I do notice. For instance, the difference between going out in the exact same outfit (jeans, shirt, cord jacket) depending on whether or not I’ve bound my chest. When people read me as male, street harassment is much less of an issue. It tends to be limited to a) bolshy teens and pre-teens attempting to establish my gender, and b) comments on my more obvious hair and body modification choices. When I don’t bind, and am read as female, comments are made by strange men about almost everything, ranging from my gait (if I’m walking oddly owing to ill fitting shoes, I apparently resemble a pogo stick) to the cries of disgust if I’m eating in public (I’m fat) to the familiar assumption that being in public and in possession of breasts means that I must be waiting to have my attractiveness judged by a man.
For the first month of my transition, I was elated at the prospect of going to buy milk, or return a library book, without being heckled. Seriously, buying milk without being insulted/chatted up: It is a fine experience. I would recommend it to you if it doesn’t involve erasing your gender identity. But I am aware that it’s a privilege, and one that most women don’t have. I’ve become afraid that it will go to my head, and cause me to explain away women’s experience. A trans man I saw at a speaking engagement said that transition had made him even more feminist. I think it’s doing the same for me, and hope that I don’t follow the Pied Piper of Not Being Yelled At In The Street into the Mountain Cave of Mansplanation. (Seriously, guys, it’s not likely to happen.)
And now I’ve hit the “you’re just doing it for the privilege” roadblock that is encountered by a lot of trans men.
I’m not; the elation that comes from not being hassled in the street is tiny compared to the feeling of being recognized as the gender I actually am, even in situations where it means I lose privilege. My partner’s a man. Before transition, we were one of those annoyingly tactile couples in public. We’re not so much now. If you want someone to compare the experience of holding hands in public as a read-as heterosexual couple, as a read-as lesbian couple and as a read-as gay male couple, and the hassle it brings you, I am your man. In my experience, it’s far more uncomfortable and harassment-inducing as either queer couple. But the harassment feels much less safe when you’re read as two gay men.
Before I go further, let me introduce my Ladder of Passing, specific to Melusin (I’m aware that this is probably very different for other people, especially trans women) analogy. There is a Ladder. Here are the first three rungs.
The first rung, the bottom rung, is passing at a distance, in the street, without interaction. Being read as male long enough for a drunk teenage boy not to shout at you. I pass at his level, most of the time.
The second rung is passing in a brief interaction, such as during a transaction in a shop, or when asking directions. I pass at this level some of the time, say 30-50%.
Then we have passing in a longer interaction, say a half-hour conversation. I think I’ve passed at this level once.
One privilege I’ve acquired, some of the time, when passing on the second rung, is not being addressed by diminutives. There is, as I’m sure you know, a world of difference between being called “sir” in a shop and being called “love” or “darling.” With the first you’re treated as an equal, as an adult. You have the privilege of being able to expect an answer to your questions, not a mansplanation. It’s very obvious as a privilege when you only have it part of the time; I’ve had interactions while flyering when read as female where every other word of the conversation seemed to be meant to make me feel less worthwhile, and within the same week I’ve had the same interactions as a man, where I’m just treated as an annoying dude who wants you to see his play.
Both of these privileges, not being shouted at in the street and not being treated as less, as childlike, seem relatively small. But they’re the privilege, the experience, of not constantly having your sex or gender used as weapon against you, of not constantly having to assert your worth just to buy milk. They are elating, and they are privileges. And they shouldn’t be.
[Melusin is a blogger and playwright in Coventry, England. He blogs at And What Was Ze.]