From the other side

This is a guest post written by a trans man who wishes to remain anonymous.  For purposes of discussion, he goes by Omega.

I’ll keep the history short.  We all have different stories, but at the heart of them, they’re all the same.  Our entire lives, we knew something wasn’t right.  We knew something was off.

But I’d learned to live with the Off.  I’d accepted it as part of me.  The bitterness I felt at having the wrong body was the thing I assumed all women felt.  Some hate their thighs, some hate their breasts, some hate their hips or their stomach or their calves or their shoulders.

I hated….

Well, I didn’t really hate it.  Not once I became an adult, anyway.

The woman I was outside was the Off, but she had her uses.  I’d learned how to work with her, how to use her to get what I needed.

And she’s a tough bitch.  She knew how to protect me when I needed it.  She covered me up, she built walls around me to keep out those who would hurt me.

She’s stronger than anyone else I’ve ever met.  And she’s tireless.  A warrior.

Because she’d lived in this world as a woman, and I never really understood what that meant until I set her aside and entered the world as a man.

The things she’s endured, the things she’s dealt with…

There’s honestly no way to comprehend it without living it.

I respect her.  I admire her.  I resent her for existing.  I resent the fact that I needed her for so long.  I resent the fact that I still do.

Because it wasn’t until I was able to pass as a man that I realized just how strong she was.  How strong she was forced to be.

I took advantage of her; I used her.

Because I never knew what it meant to be her.

The truth, the pure and objective truth, is that sexism is alive, and male privilege is depressingly real.

She noticed it before I did.

Because it was subtle at first.  There was so much else going on, I didn’t notice it.  I was too worried about things like going to the public restroom.  But she noticed it.

It devastated me again to realize it.

People speak to me differently than they did to her.  They look at me differently.  They react to me differently.  Cashiers, waiters, car mechanics, the postman, employers, employees, the entire world sees me differently than they saw her.

The amount of respect strangers unthinkingly show me is different than the respect they showed her.  The level of competence people assume I have is different than the level they assume she had.  The way they accommodate me is different than the way they accommodated her.

It’s not everyone, and it’s not every situation, but it’s consistent enough to be a pattern, and the pattern holds true.

I realized how hard she is.  How hard she needed to be.

I realized just how much of the anxiety and dislike of myself wasn’t due to anxiety or depression, but from the way people saw me, the way they treated me.

It’s so unfair, what she had to go through to protect me, the way the entire world shrugged her off as having less worth.  The car mechanics who scoffed at her, the computer and technical repairmen who ignored her, the plumbers and electricians who walked into her home and blatantly disrespected her, the way doctors shrugged her off, the demeaning comments from any man who disagreed with her, the way everyone subconsciously belittled her.

I never even realized it until it suddenly wasn’t there anymore.  I look back on my childhood, on my adolescence, on my young adulthood, and realize that I had been a victim of sexism all my life.

Even she didn’t know the full extent of it.  Not until she saw the difference in the way I’m treated now.

For a long time, I hated her.  I hated her because she wasn’t me, because to me, she represented every lie I had to tell, every secret I had to keep, every part of myself I couldn’t acknowledge.  She was everything about myself I hated.  She was everything about myself that was off.

Now, I realize that she’s the strongest part of me.  Because she had to be.  She had to learn to stand tall when people scoffed at her, when people shrugged her off and dismissed her, when they belittled her, when they told her she was worth less than I am.

She learned how to stand up against those who felt entitled to her body, she learned how to let go and not let their touch haunt her the way it haunted me.  She learned how to protect us from those who saw us as nothing but an object to fuck.  From those who grabbed her on the street, those who sneered at her, who leered at her, who tried to break her.  She learned how to protect us from those who wanted to pull her down and destroy her, from those who wanted to make her less than human.

She learned how to be hard, how to be defiant, how to prove them wrong.  She was everything that was off about me, but she was my protector in a world that hated me not just because I was trans, but because my voice was high and my body was feminine.

And she’s far from the only one.  So many women go through worse than I did.  So many women hurt worse than I did.  I was lucky.  And I’m lucky in that I don’t have to deal with it anymore.

I never truly appreciated the constant battles she had to fight until I didn’t have to fight them anymore.  I never appreciated the strength it took to be her until I saw how much easier it is to be me in our society.

I’ve only been reliably passing as male for a year or so.  I’m still learning who I am outside of her.  And she’s still there to jump to my defense when I need it, because she grew up in a harder world than I live in.

I will always admire the strength it takes to be her, to be every woman.  Even they don’t realize how hard it is to be them, and that makes me angry.

These women have fought these battles every day.

Not against everyone, but against enough.

At least once a day, they are somehow, someway told that they are worth less than men.  But they keep going.  They keep fighting.  They learn how to get past it.

They don’t realize their own strength.  Just as she didn’t realize her own strength.  She didn’t realize what it took to live through a normal life as a woman until she saw how much easier it is to live a normal life as a man.

She resents that.  And so do I.  All the insecurity, all the doubt, all the pain of feeling not good enough, she thought there was something wrong with her.

But no, she was perfect.  She wasn’t me, but she was perfect.  It was society that let her down.  Not any fault or shortcoming of her own.

No man will ever understand the strength it takes to be a woman in a world where women are worth less.  No man will understand the strength it takes to be a woman in a world where no one wants to acknowledge the battles they still fight.

Where people pretend it doesn’t exist.  Where they shrug off a woman, where they brush off her battles.

Women can vote and have bank accounts.  What else could they possibly want?  Why can’t they stop whining?

It repulses me.  It makes me want to turn from the world.

But she’s not heartless.  Because, while I wanted to hate every man for what she went through, while I wanted to sneer at the little trials they thought were just so hard, she was the one who stopped me.

She reminded me that pain is not exclusive to women.  She reminded me of the good men who do fight for women.

She reminded me of the women in my life that I admire.  Women like Domina Jen, who are unbelievably strong, who will never understand the true extent of their own strength, who don’t need anyone to hold them up, but who graciously love and respect the good men in their lives.

But even that a battle in and of itself.

Domina Jen made a mistake once.  She let me see the contents of her email inbox.  And that brought on a whole new wave of bitterness.

Because I will never again have to deal with what she deals with.  The things she considers normal, the threats and the insults that she and everyone around her dismiss, the nonchalance people who love her feel at the way she’s treated, even her own simple, graceful shrug, saying, “That’s just the way it is.”

It infuriated me.  Because it’s not fair.  And who is going to stand up for her?  Who is going to fight for her?  Who is going to let her lean on them the way I could lean on her?

Who could she lean on when the weight of holding me up got to be too much?

No one.

And the internet is only one small facet, one small glimpse of what it’s like to walk through life like this.

A constant and cruel punishment for the unforgivable crime of having a high voice and feminine body.

No man fully understands what paying for that crime feels like, and how deeply it hurts to be met with the dismissive, apathetic attitude so many men exhibit.

Because they don’t want to see it.  They are uncomfortable with being confronted by it.  They are uncomfortable realizing how much harder things like going to the bank or getting your oil changed or running a business are for women.

There’s no rest for these women.  I escaped it, and seeing it from the outside made me realize how bad it really is.  But for the rest, there’s no escape.

I wanted to be angry forever.  I wanted to lose myself in my anger.  And even Domina Jen couldn’t snap me out of it.

But she could.

She was the one who reminded me what it feels like to love a good man.  She was the one to remind me what it feels like to have a good man love me.

She kept me from getting cold.  She kept me from letting the bitterness consume me.

The same way she kept me from letting the bitterness consume me when she had to be my mask.

I know that one day, I won’t need her anymore.  I’ll be able to put her in a little box, close it, and lock it forever.  I’ll be able to leave her behind and move ahead as me.

But that box will always be close to my heart.  Because she saved me, every moment of every day, and she will continue to save me right up until the moment I don’t need her anymore.

It’s isolating, seeing the world from both sides, and it’s why I have gravitated to other trans people.  Because I’m not the only one who sees it.  All trans men see this.

Trans women see the reverse, and my heart hurts for them.  Because they have no way of understanding this world they’re coming in to until they walk into it.

Because transitioning is awful enough, it is anxiety-inducing and depressing enough, without having to come to terms with this new reality.  Having to understand that being true to who they are means that the world will forever see them as less than their mask.

It makes me cynical, but she won’t let me lose all hope.  She stubbornly hangs on, reminding me that giving up never made anything better.

One day, it will be better.  I have faith in good people.  I have faith that good people won’t give up.

I have faith because I know that she isn’t the only fighter around.

“It’s not my responsibility to educate people.”

Here’s the thing.

1.  Yeah, it is.

2.  You’re an ass.

So I had this conversation with a gender nonbinary individual in which I mistakenly referred to them as a man.  They corrected me, I apologized, and asked the appropriate question.

Which, for the record, is, “Which pronouns do I use with you?”

They asked me to use the gender neutral “they,” and while doing that always makes my inner grammar nazi run screaming into the night, I recognize that this is because the English language has not yet evolved to the point of having singular gender neutral pronouns, and is not the fault of this individual.  Furthermore, as someone who is often much less traditonally feminine than I may appear at first glance, I also understand that a desire to be referred to as the gender one identifies with does not make one an attention seeker or drama mongerer.

So I asked the question, they answered, we moved on.  Until later in the conversation, when they said, “Thank you so much for knowing how to handle the pronoun thing.  Most people don’t, and it’s not my responsibility to educate the unwashed masses.”

Um, what?

M’kay, so here’s a lesson on gender vs sex.  Western civilization had, for eons, taken to interpreting them as the same thing.  But even long before things like gender dysphoria or gender queer or pick-a-label were acknowledged, it wasn’t supposed to be that way.  Go to a library and find a dictionary from the 50s.  Even then, they meant different things.

Sex is the set of genitals you’re born with.  Boys have a penis and girls have a vagina.  Unless you have a rare condition, you’re either male or female.  One or the other.  It’s static.  It doesn’t change without a lot of work.

Gender is a hell of a lot more complicated.  It does have a basis on your sex, although some people, I have no idea why, try to argue that.  If you are a female, you are more likely to identify on the feminine side of the gender spectrum (although female may be a bad example, as females have quite a bit more socially acceptable room on that spectrum than males do).  Your sex makes you predisposed to a particular gender, but does not guarantee that you are that gender.

So what is gender?

Simply put, gender is the product of chemicals and hormones in the brain, giving one an internal sense of self, combined with biological factors and social constructs that assign certain tasks, behaviors, roles, and forms of expression as “masculine” or “feminine.”

All this complicated science-y shit combines to create a gender identity that may or may not reflect the physical sex, to varying degrees.

Sex is set. There’s no changing it without significant medical procedures.

Gender is a spectrum.  It can be fluid.  It can be fixed.  It can be all the way on the masculine side.  It can be all the way on the feminine side.  It can be somewhere in the middle.

Y’know, because of science and shit.

Some of those whose gender does not reflect their sex may choose to undergo treatment to have the two things be a closer match.  Some may not.

Trying to force someone to identify on one end of the spectrum or the other, using only their physical sex, is akin to telling someone suffering from clinical depression, “No, you don’t need treatment.  Just smile more.  You can be happy if you just try hard enough.”

In other words, kinda a dick move.

I’ve had a number of people (primarily men, interestingly enough) complain about using someone’s preferred pronouns.  And I’ve come up with an argument I simply adore.  I simply start calling the men Cheryl (because it was the first random women’s name that popped in my head) and refer to them as women.  Using feminine pronouns.  And rudely criticizing them for not being feminine enough.

Jesus, Cheryl.  Why don’t you ever do your makeup?  You really need to help yourself if you ever want to find love.  What man is going to put up with a woman who has no desire to take care of herself?  And what the hell, are you not wearing a bra?  So you want the girls to just get all saggy?  Do you not even care?”

Rinse and repeat.  In front of coworkers, family, friends.  Nonstop.  For weeks.  I never claimed to be a nice person, y’all.

People have gotten seriously pissed off.  And when they finally reach the point I’m looking for, I stop and say, “So wait, you’re allowed to get offended and insist that I refer to you as the gender you identify with, but someone else can’t?  Quick, tell me again how you’re not an asshole.”

I said all that to say that yeah, if someone asks you not to refer to them as the gender you assumed they are, you need to apologize for the mistake and fix it.  Whether or not you agree with it.  Because if you don’t, you’re just an ass.

However…

If you are an individual who does not identify as masculine or feminine, hell fucking yeah it’s your responsibility to educate people who are interested and want to be educated.  And if you don’t do it, you’re an ass.

Wanna know how I knew what the appropriate question was to ask?

Because someone fucking told me when I asked them how I should handle it.  And someone fucking answered my questions and helped me understand why it’s a big deal.  If I’d asked that question and been snubbed, or told that “It’s not your responsibility,” I would’ve just assumed they were just a whiny attention whore, and not given them the time of day.

So many people have this attitude, about so many things, and it’s the stupidest, laziest, most ignorant thing ever.

Why did Trump get elected?  There’s really only one reason.  And it’s because of that attitude.  Because no one was ever educated or enlightened by being insulted or demeaned or alienated.

No one wanted to have those conversations.  And now we have President Orangey McBabyhands.

And yeah, we all have that responsibility.  Even I, a white Christian American, have that responsibility.  For me, it’s primarily feminism that I have that responsibility with.  And so many of us are so quick to get offended when people ask about why we feel the way we do, why such-and-such issues are important, why whatever problem is actually a problem, that we’re alienating potential allies and instead making them enemies.

And yes, I’ve had men question my beliefs.  Not to be assholes, but because they don’t understand, and they want to.  I’ve had guys ask, “But seriously, why is catcalling a bad thing?  I’m paying you a compliment, right?  I’m being friendly, right?”

He’s not an ass.  He’s not a bigot.  He’s not a misogynist or a sexist.  He just doesn’t know.  And in 100% of the conversations I’ve had, I’ve been able to talk about it and help them understand, even if they may not agree.  And yes, sometimes it’ll be irritating the way they defend their views or argue why they feel an issue shouldn’t be an issue.  But that still doesn’t make them an ass or a bigot or sexist.  They have a voice, and they have a right to have their voice heard and acknowledged.

Let me say that again for the people in the back.  Literally everyone deserves to have their voice heard.  Whether you agree with them or not.  Whether their beliefs are comfortable or not.

We stopped thinking that way, and shut down conversation.  A man with questions was labeled sexist.  A white person with questions was labeled racist.  A straight or cis-gendered person with questions was labeled a bigot.

Wanna take a guess at who voted for Trump?  White, straight, cis men.

Wanna guess who got Trump elected?  Everyone else, who made those people feel like they didn’t have a voice.

Yes, you have the responsibility to educate those who want to be educated.  If you’re gender nonbinary or gender fluid or gender queer or gender dysphoric, you have that responsibility.  And yes, that will probably mean some uncomfortable conversations.  Deal with them as tactfully as you’d want someone to deal with you.

It annoyed me when I saw trans people being interviewed on TV, and the interviewer, completely ignorant and naive, would inevitably ask what genitals they had.  And the trans person would inevitably say they didn’t want to answer that.

And yeah, I get it.  It’s uncomfortable.  It’s personal.  It’s private.  It shouldn’t matter.

But all of this is new, and people are wanting to understand.  They’re curious.  And this super personal, inappropriate behavior is not a new trend.

Gay people experienced their own version of this with stuff like, “So which one is the man, and which one is the woman?”  Over time, straight folks learned that A) they’re both men/women, and more accurate terminology may be top and bottom, and B) it’s none of our goddamn business.

But it took open-minded, patient gay people, tolerant of our unbelievably inappropriate questions and uncomfortable conversations, for us as a culture to finally sort of “get it” and figure it out.  Now, it’s generally considered normal, and those questions don’t happen as often.

The gender identity stuff is still too new, and we’re slow learners.  So we’re going to be curious.  We’re going to want to understand how your sex does or does not relate to your gender.  It’s going to be uncomfortable.

A possible way of answering the what’s-in-your-pants question could be, “You know, I’m not hugely comfortable talking about myself personally, but some people may have A in their pants, some people may have B in their pants, and some of the ways that may affect gender identity is C.”

Help people understand instead of alienating them.

Even I’m a good example of this. In college I had a black professor that I ended up spending a lot of time with (yeah, it’s what you’re thinking. Dude was hot. Smart as fuck. And submissive. No sense of humor though, unfortunately).  And one day, I screwed up my courage and asked him a question I’d always been curious about.  I asked him why there’s a Black History Month in the US, but no White History Month.  I asked him why I wasn’t allowed to be proud of being white, the way he could be proud of being black.

He could’ve just called me a racist and I would’ve decided he’s an asshole, and I would’ve been a hell of a lot less likely to give any kind of racial issues serious thought.

But he didn’t.  He was patient, and tolerant, and explained it to me in a way I, as a white person, could understand.  I talked to him, he gave me a voice, and I left that conversation thinking, “Oh, okay, I get it now.  You’re right, it’s not unfair, it makes perfect sense.”

I’m sure that was an uncomfortable conversation for him to have, and the fact that he had a well-thought-out and eloquent answer at the ready heavily implied that I was not the first privileged white person to ask him that question.  He created an ally in me, when he could’ve created an enemy.  I mean, I like to think of myself as intelligent and open-minded, I like to think that I would’ve figured it out on my own eventually, but you just never know.

And yeah, he has the responsibility (especially as an educator) to enlighten all the white people who ask questions.  I have the responsibility to enlighten all the men who ask questions.  And you, my non-cis friends, have the responsibility to enlighten all the curious cis-gendered people who want to understand you.

Is it fair to you?  No, probably not.  But do you want to indignantly cry about life being unfair while Cheeto Jesus gains more supporters, or do you want to man the fuck up or put on your big girl panties or whatever gender neutral equivalent we’ll eventually come up with and fucking deal with it?