Trans Women and “Male Privilege”

There are a lot of things on which the trans community disagrees. One such thing relates to the concept of “male privilege”. As trans women, we live part of our lives as if we were men- at least until we figure it out and do something about it. As such, some folks think that trans women benefit from “male privilege”- the inherent societal advantages that come with being perceived as male. In fact, many TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists)/ “gender critical scholars” use this claim as part of their position that trans women aren’t “real women”. Conversely, others point out that trans women are certainly not perceived as being “male” in the sense that cis men are, and are far from privileged in any way (especially in the case of trans women of color, who have shockingly high assault/murder rates).

I’m going to assert that the confusion and disagreement over privilege stems from the fact that privilege is not a singular thing, but rather can be divided into what I call “internal” and “external” privilege. This not only serves to unpack and elucidate issues of privilege as it can pertain to trans women, but carries important implications on how we can address issues of privilege in the way we raise our children.

There is no doubt that (unfortunately), most children being raised as male in our society are taught to have very different expectations than those being raised female. The extent may differ, and there are certainly those who struggle to minimize such things in their own children, but in general, boys grow up expecting to be listened to when they speak, for example. Many women will freely report that such expectations were not ingrained in them. Even if we work to minimize projecting “gender roles” as parents, we live in a society that imprints such things on our children despite our efforts. So, boys grow up thinking certain things about their relation to people around them that girls likely do not. It is these ideas about one’s place in society that informs the position that trans women carry their “male privilege” with them through social transition. If you are raised to believe that you have a place in conversation and generally control your own situation (to varying extents in relation to other marginalizing factors like class or ethnicity), you retain those ideas even as you present as the woman that you have always been. This, they say, makes trans women fundamentally different from cis women, and they therefore experience the intangible benefits of this privilege. This sense of using the term privilege, note, is purely internal. It is about the way people think, act, and see themselves, and so I here label it “internal privilege”.

“External privilege” is exactly what one would assume in light of this- the privilege realized from the way others see and act towards us. We have little to no control over external privilege- others treat us how they treat us. Classic examples of external male privilege include such events as women being ignored in group conversations or business meetings, or even the casual nature with which sexual harassment occurs. Men are far less likely to experience these events than woman are.

It should not take much convincing to demonstrate that trans women don’t experience external privilege. In fact, it could easily be argued that without total “passing” (yet another privilege), trans women are even lesser considered than cis women. This would be the crux of the objection to the idea that trans women continue to experience male privilege, and I think it significant enough to reject the claim. Trans women do not benefit from male privilege, because this external privilege is far more impactful on one’s life, options, and even safety, than the internal privilege that may have been acquired before social transition. We could go even further and point out that depending on just what sort of upbringing one had, how one identified throughout their pre-discovery life, and even how soon a trans woman recognizes that she’s trans, will all have an impact on her views and attitudes about herself in relation to society. It’s entirely possible for a trans woman to present male for a significant portion of her life and *not* acquire the self-identification that we are here associating with internal male privilege.

But this also points out something about privilege. Internal privilege is *learned*. We raise our boys in ways that enforce these ideas. So, we could just as easily raise our daughters with the same concepts of self. If part of the experience of being on either side of privilege is internal and related to how we see ourselves, we can teach ALL our children such things. We can raise our girls to expect a seat at the table, and we can raise our boys to expect girls to take their seats. I would even go so far as to argue that external privilege grows out of internal privilege- people project the values they have onto their interactions, and create the atmosphere in which they live. No matter where we fall in relation to this demarcation of privilege, we subconciously contribute to it unless we actively work against it.


Thoughts From The Other Side, Part 1

“I care about you so much, you’re like a brother to me, I could never risk that. I’d be afraid of losing you as a friend.”

So many times those words fell on my teenage ears. We didn’t have such stupidity as “the friendzone” back then. If someone wasn’t interested in you, then they just weren’t interested and you either moved on or stayed friends. But it was lonely. Well, I thought it was. Coming out to everyone has given me some insight about certain things, and I expect I’ll stumble across more as time goes on. But this one came to me yesterday talking to my new transition care co-ordinator.

I had no idea I was a woman, as most of you who have read much of anything here already have seen. But I was, and even though I wasn’t consciously aware, it still informed my behaviors and personality. I have always had more close female friends than male. I’ve always gotten on better with women (or feminine people, to be more accurate). Lonely (and admittedly puberty-driven amorous) young me developed fast friendships with many women. Really, really good ones, too. So many of the women in my life (either ones I dated or not) have been part of it since high school. And friends make the best lovers, says conventional wisdom, so why shouldn’t I be dating these women who I was so close to? I’m sure the reasons varied, and I’m sure more than one of the “like a brother to me” speeches was simply an attempt to save my feelings. But, the reasons aren’t important here. What is important is that I’m recognizing now that the connection I felt with these women wasn’t always amorous; it was platonic, but no less meaningful.

One of the things I’ve heard a lot since coming out has been “I had no idea, but now I understand our friendship”. And while that makes me feel good (it’s certainly affirming to hear that I never seemed like “other guys”), it didn’t really hit me until I was laying out my narrative again for a new care provider. I had all these feelings as a young “boy” for all the amazing women in my life, and because I thought I was male and assumed a certain set of norms and gender roles, I always interpreted those feelings as romantic. Maybe some of them were, but again that’s not germane to this line of thought.

I guess having spent so much time living as a man but not really connecting as one has given me these 2 points of view with which to better evaluate my experiences. Now that I’m on the other side, I see things differently. So, I’m going to start teasing these ideas out more. I think they will help me better understand myself and I also think that it’s a sort of shared perspective, but with the benefit of both perspectives being purely internal.

That’s How It Goes Sometimes

Well, this wraps up the end of this chapter of my transition. I got the call early this afternoon that the Church council is not willing to try having a transgender Scout leader. Totally not surprised. I get the impression that the actual discussion was a bit less . . . tactful, than the message that was relayed to me. I resigned and came out to the rest of the leadership and left the FB group.

And then I got to change my name on Facebook. And that was amazing.

Update On The Last Steps of Coming Out

As most of you know, I have been waiting to find out what is going to happen as far as my role in my son’s Cub Scout pack, where I am a leader, as a result of my coming out. I met with the Pastor of the church that charters our pack; according to the official rules, such decisions are entirely up to them. I was surprised at the result, but it means I’m still waiting. He is personally inclined towards the belief that BSA is making strides in these directions and is not opposed to me staying on after I come out. He recognizes that needs to happen as soon as possible. He will meet with the church council tomorrow morning to let them know what’s going on, and we’ll see what happens.

I’m ready to know what’s going on. I have friends in that Pack…friends who I haven’t been able to tell yet. It’s also a pain in the ass managing 2 parallel Facebook accounts. I’m ready to move, whatever direction that is going to be.

In The Words of En Vogue, “And Now It’s Time For Breakdown”

“Hey, are you up for going out to grab dinner in about 20 minutes?”
“Yeah, sure, I just need to change . . . ”

OMG, change. What do I wear? My nails are done and it took some time and I’m not gonna take all this polish off so I can’t go out looking male but I have no idea what to wear because it’s cold out and I have one warm dress and I wore it out on Saturday and so it’s not clean and OMG this top is OK but these jeans look way too masculine and I can’t stand the way I’m shaped why won’t these hormones work faster I look like such a man this sucks this top doesn’t work either I can’t go there’s no way I can go I can’t pass at all I’m going to have a panic attack in the middle of the overpriced burger bar I can’t do this I can’t I can’t I can’t

*cue tears*

“Yes, you can. It’s OK if you can’t, but you can.”

I did. I got an outfit together and I went to dinner with my parents.

And my Dad used my name and pronouns and even though I’m pretty sure an old couple was staring at me I was able to mostly ignore them. I felt good. I felt normal.


What A Long Strange Trip Today Was

So, this Japanese restaurant has been in the same spot for almost 20 years. My ex-wife (#2, for those of you who know much about me) and I used to go there quite a bit when we lived in this area over 15 years ago. The food’s good and the prices are fair and now it’s one of the most significant places in my life.

Because I used their restroom. The right restroom. Today I used a women’s restroom. Because today I left the house in “girl mode”. I put on a cute dress, tights, and flats and did my makeup and went out shopping with my Mother.

If it’s not obvious enough, and you haven’t read any of my posts before this one, I’ll make clear that this was the first time. Ostensibly, we were going to catch the BOGO Half Off sale at Shoe Carnival. I really needed basic black pumps- I can walk in heels alright, but the ones I have aren’t really versatile, and I could still use a little practice. It was hard to buy shoes before. I felt self-conscious trying them on, so I’d guess and hope for the best. That worked about 50% of the time. But this time, today, I would be just another woman trying on shoes.

We never made it to Shoe Carnival. We stopped at Kohl’s first, because “sales + coupons”.¬† Straight to the shoe department, where we spent what I’m quite sure was the next hour. I tried on so many shoes. It was amazing. We spent our time at the rack of website returns. So many styles; nearly every time I pulled the lid off something my size, I exclaimed in delight. My mother was snickering, because I was being “such a girl”. I ended up with 2 pair. We found shirts for both of us, Mom found a sweater, and we even did some Christmas shopping. I got a few dirty looks, but Mom is pretty sure it was because she kept parking me and the wheelchair in the aisle.

Then we went to lunch, where the staff was friendly and no one’s demeanor changed when I looked up at them after they referred to us as “ladies”. So, when I said I had to use the restroom, Mom asked if I wanted her to go with me. Nope, I think I’m ok. And I was. No one even paid me any attention.

There was more shopping after lunch. Too much, haha, I’m exhausted. We both got new winter coats, and I’m pretty sure the old man in the Dollar Tree was scoping us out because he kept finding reasons to talk to us “nice ladies”. My thighs hurt, from holding my legs in a more feminine position in the wheelchair and scooter all day. Those muscles don’t know how to relax in those positions, yet. But it was a small price to pay. I was out. I was me.

And the shoes I got are adorable.

“Oh . . . OK”

That was my 8 year old son’s reaction when his mother and I explained what it meant to be transgender and told him that I am.

He was perfectly content to accept what we explained- that sometimes the chemicals get mixed up and people are one thing on the outside but another in. He seemed to think it made perfect sense to want to get those chemical levels fixed and certainly, yes, that means you’ll start to look and feel more like that gender. OK. No biggie.

I thought his mother’s eyes were going to roll out of his head when he said, “I feel like I might be transgender because I have long hair.” We fixed that notion.

What’s most important is, he knows he’s loved, and while we have some changes to go through as a family, my love for him won’t change.

Now I can stop hiding all my makeup before he comes to visit