When your gender doesn’t match your body (in my case, I know with every fiber my being that I am female – but my body was born with what looked to be male plumbing) it creates a cornucopia of challenges. It’s not as simple as wearing the other team’s uniform.
The road to gender transition, especially male to female, (No disrespect intended to my FTM brothers) is full of little lessons. Some you can predict like the challenge of learning make-up application as an adult. Or selecting clothes that flatter a body that is decidedly masculine in a feminine way.
There are many more that I didn’t consciously anticipate; most of these have to do with some aspect of socialization. Like most MTF individuals who transitioned later in life, I was socialized male. In my case the formative years were the 1960’s and early 70’s. A time in history that was steeped in the gender binary.
Some of the male socialization that was ingrained in my psyche: Men held doors for women. Men, opened doors (car, building – everything but revolving) for women and permitted them to enter a building first. Men lit women’s cigarettes. Men carried heavy things for women. My mom seldom was able to remove the lid on a jar because my dad would jump in and handle the job. Women were said to be “the weaker sex” and largely were treated like it.
Girls for their part were socialized in how to act (letting men do these things for them) how to walk, move with grace, how to sit (knees together) apply make-up and style hair, how to dress and how to shop, plus so much more that I was completely left out of but desperately wanted to be a part of and am only now in my 50’s still learning piecemeal – often with hilarious if not embarrassing results.
I have been living as female for over 6 months now and that’s just a blink. I make little faux pas frequently. Some, I realize right away that I screwed up like moving quickly to a door to open it for another woman, (Women don’t do that) or pausing to let a companion enter the room first. Little things but errors nonetheless. I’m getting better at putting together outfits that flatter me but I still push the boundary of “age appropriate.” (and likely will continue to do-so)
The most recent lesson learned I didn’t get right away. I had to think about it for a minute. I was shopping in a Best Buy with my roommate, Katie. She was looking for a printer/fax machine for use in her law practice.
A couple of thoughts on being transgender and living full time, as both Katie and I are doing; living as a female causes you to perceive your world quite differently than before. One obvious way is the vulnerability felt when walking in shoes that have a heel or wearing a long skirt and walking to your car. If you were to be threatened, the ability to run is reduced to comedy rather than reality. My ability to fight has been greatly reduced by hormones that sap upper body strength, so I always have my keys at the ready and I am much more aware (not paranoid but aware) of my surroundings.
However, this perception thing is a 2 way street. As a woman, I am perceived differently than I was as a man and am expected to act in a way that confirms that perception. When I fail to meet those expectations, I can create confusion and end up being “read.”
Back to Best Buy. Katie and I were dressed like the 2 normal women we are. I was wearing a camisole with a sheer button down shirt over it with a long flowy skirt. Katie was wearing shorts and a similar top to mine.
Once Katie Identified the printer/fax she wanted I located the model in the rack and hefted the fairly large heavy box and started towards the cash register. I only made it a few steps before a male employee hurried over to take the box from my hands and over to the register.
This, at first, seemed a little odd as I’m not used to that happening. (It never happened when I presented as male) It even seemed almost excessive, like the man was embarrassed that I was carrying this box. (Why would I have this impression?)
After ringing it up, he placed this box on a large flat metal cart with wheels on it so we could get this behemoth out to the parking lot.
We 2 helpless women were somehow able to get the printer into Katie’s car and as I was wheeling the cart back to the store, a male employee came running out to spare me the effort needed to push it all the way back.
It was only later that it sunk in. The employee probably WAS embarrassed. Women don’t pick these things up, they ask for help. The fact that I didn’t probably indicated that I couldn’t FIND help and reflected poorly on them. At the time I didn’t give it a thought, I just picked it up like I’d done for the last 40 years. Old habits die hard.
Chalk that one up to experience. It’s a whole new world with un-seen land mines everywhere. Navigating a minefield is hard enough. Try doing it in heels!
PERCEPTIONS PART DEUX “Perspective”
A former radio friend of mine who now has her own voiceover business mentioned her delight at being cast for a part of the voice of a teenage girl instead of the usual “mom.” She went on to say that if she can make it until the end of the day without being called “ma’am,” her day would be made.
I noted that if I can make it through without being called “sir” that makes my day.