Before I transitioned, before I passed as male at all, I kept hearing this term that I didn’t quite understand. “Male privilege” was thrown around from time to time but I was in my early 20s, I was struggling with my own issues of self identity, and I never really considered the idea. I thought “well, I’m male and I damn sure didn’t have any ‘male privilege’ right?!” Of course I didn’t, I wasn’t perceived as male. But I didn’t think about that, I spent years trying not to think about that actually… But now, now that I pass and I’m seen as nothing other than a chubby white guy, things are extremely different. Extremely. I couldn’t possibly name everything that happens to me now, I can’t even remember all the times I have been treated differently as a man. But the big ones stand out in my memory. They anger me. I am the same person I was years ago. I’ve grown up a bit, sure. But I am still me. The only thing that has changed is the world’s perceptions of my genitals and apparently that entitles me to better treatment. So let’s talk about my experiences, both with male privilege and the downside of being seen as male (and yes, there is absolutely a downside!)
1. People address me, not my girlfriend.
At least 90% of the time, when I am out with my girlfriend, public service employees (and random strangers) will only interact with me. We walk into a restaurant and it’s always “how can I help you sir?” or some other statement directed at me. My girlfriend is rarely acknowledged. In the two years I have been with her, only 2 cashiers have given her the change/receipt when paying. When she pays for groceries (or whatever we happen to be buying) the cashier almost always says “have a good day/evening sir” and tries to hand me the change. I always step back and point at her silently until they give her the change. Apparently, as a man I am entitled to control my money, and her money. Hell, half the time she doesn’t even seem to exist. If we are together, people won’t even bother to look at her at all. It’s not just men that do this, it’s women to. Everyone turns to me, the “big strong man” for payment, for decisions, for plans…. It’s clear that you can only make decisions and handle your life if you are capable of growing a beard and appear to have a penis. Those that have been cursed with a vagina are obviously incapable of doing anything and should probably be classified as disabled….
2. Professors pay more attention to me and show more respect.
I’ve been going to college for a few to many years, I’m taking the scenic route… But that’s irrelevant. What I have noticed over the years is that male students seem to be taken more seriously. When I started out, I was seen as a woman. I was typically quiet in classes and nothing was ever directed at me so I just sat there listening. I am still quiet, but teachers make an effort to involve me. When I speak, I am treated with respect (usually…) and teachers act as if I am suddenly very intelligent (I’m reasonably smart, but that didn’t happen because I transitioned…) In the past, teachers would talk over me, ignore me completely, tell me I was incorrect without explaining why, and have this way of making me feel like an inconvenience. Other students would ignore me, or assume I had incorrect information. Not anymore though. A perfect example is something that happened in a philosophy class recently. We were put into groups. My group consisted of 3 guys and 2 women. We had to discuss these random statements given to us and determine if they were sound/valid arguments. I understood the concept completely and had no trouble with the exercise. The other two men in the group were a bit lost but one of them insisted he was right. One of the women in the group was in agreement with me and tried to explain why the guy was wrong. He ignored her, brushed her off. Then I spoke up, told him he was wrong, explained exactly what the woman was telling him and he suddenly changed his mind “oh… I see now! You’re right!” I said exactly what the woman said but I did so while wearing a beard and not having breasts so I guess that makes me the smarter one… I am truly disturbed by this. Men and women alike listen to me more, assume I am correct (even if I am totally wrong!). We should all be very concerned by this….
3. Video game stores.
I play video games. I don’t consider myself a hardcore gamer and it’s not a huge part of my daily conversations but I do play quite a bit. Ever since I got my hands on Heroes Quest as kid, I’ve been playing. While all the girls were asking for barbies, makeup, and other stereotypical “girly” things, I was begging for a new computer and a super Nintendo. I heard a lot of comments about video games being for boys and how I should try putting on some makeup, I might just like it. I did not like it. At all. As an adult, I still play games and I probably will until I am too crippled with arthritis to hold a controller or use a keyboard. When I was still perceived as female, walking into a video game store was almost terrifying. I always felt awkward and out of place. The male employees always seemed to talk slower, use smaller words, and point me to simple uninteresting games. It was like my vagina just couldn’t handle a “real” game. As though it would somehow interfere with my ability to play a game if there were any amount of violence or tension in it. I’m not entirely sure how all girls play video games, but I have never seen one use their labia to press buttons on the controller. Every gamer girl I have ever encountered used their hands and brain just like all the guys I have met. So why is it that I find game stores far more welcoming now that I am seen as male? I walk in and there is always an employee coming up to me to talk about current sales, new games, and various other things. When I ask “can you recommend a game similar to [random game]” I don’t get treated like a silly child who doesn’t know any better. I get asked questions like “what aspects did you like most about that game?” “have you tried [random game]” or “did you know they are making another [original random game]!” I get treated with respect and the guys look at me like I know what I am doing and what I like to play. Nothing has changed, I ask the same questions, I speak the same, I act the same. Again, the only difference is my perceived genitals. I had no idea breasts could interfere so badly with video game play….
This is just a few examples of the privilege extended to me now. The problem is, I hate it. Don’t get me wrong, I very much appreciate being taken seriously but I am disgusted that it happens now because the world assumes I have a penis. I hate that my girlfriend gets completely disregarded as a human being because I’m “the man” and she’s a girl. It is devastating to know that she will be taken less seriously than me when in reality she probably has more valid things to say than I do….it needs to change.
So, about the downside I mentioned above. There are things I have encountered over my years as a man that were never an issue when I was seen as female. Things that make life a little less joyful, things that make me feel like I am horrible just because I am a man. There is no doubt that male privilege exists, I have experienced it and only a fool would deny it. The thing is, I never asked for it and neither did most guys. It’s just given to us. By everyone. Including women. Often the very same women that get angry about the very idea of male privilege. Parents seem to instill the concept in their children and then tell little girls that men are horrible monsters that only want sex and should be feared at all times. And this is where the shitty part of being male comes in….
1. Compliments are not allowed.
As a man I am not allowed to compliment a woman. Oh, I can do it but that instantly means one of three things. I am hitting on her, I am a sexual predator, or I am gay. I see women all the time that I’d like to say something nice to (I like your hair, your glass are cool, that’s a great shirt, what perfume is that? It smells nice….) but I am not allowed to without having other motives. The fact is, I am in a happy, loving relationship and I just want to be able to say “hey, that outfit looks awesome!” without being seen as a threat. I never had to worry about this when the world thought I was female. I could compliment anyone I wanted and it was typically taken at face value. Women want to know why guys don’t notice their new haircut or dress. It’s because we are not allowed to. You have been told that we are all predators and because of that we cannot be truly nice. It’s unfortunate really because I have a lot of nice things I’d like to say to strangers but they will never know that a random person thought of them in a positive light that day. As much as boys need to be raised in a way to not promote rape culture and misogyny, girls need to be raised to not view every single man as a threat. Then maybe I can tell that girl at school that even though she seems sad some days, she is still beautiful and her hair makes me smile. But right now… I’m not allowed to.
2. I am not to be trusted with kids.
Kids love me. They always have, especially babies. I have no explanation for it at all. Babies stare intently at me, toddlers always seem to gravitate to me, older kids always seem to want to hang out with me. My girlfriend has witnessed this on numerous occasions. In line at a grocery store and the kid in front of us is staring with a big bright smile. She commented on it a lot at first and now she just chuckles, shakes her head and says “what IS it with you and kids…”
I also love kids. I don’t particularly want my own kids, I’m not responsible enough to have another life depending on me and I’m too selfish in my personal life to be a parent. But I love kids. I love playing with them, teaching them, being there to support them. I’ve been a part of raising many kids. I’ve changed diapers, cleaned up vomit, gone to school plays, listened to crying over their first heartbreak, and cooked “the special flat eggs with the yellow in the center” upon request.
But most of that was before I transitioned. Before I was seen as a guy. Now… It’s just not the same. When I smile at a baby in the grocery store, I get strange looks from parents. When I wave at a little girl who is waving at me on the street her parents pull her as far from me as possible and pick up their pace. I am not allowed to interact with kids at all anymore. Apparently the perception of my genitals makes me dangerous to children. So I don’t do much smiling or waving at kids anymore, I don’t get to see a lot of smiles back either now. I have to keep myself distanced for fear of being accused of some perversion or other. I use to wonder why most guys didn’t seem interested in playing with kids and having them in their life. I don’t wonder anymore… We aren’t allowed to.
3. I am not “manly” enough or I am “acting” too much like a guy.
I can’t find the middle ground on this one. I am not a “macho” guy. I’m short, chubby, soft, and weak. I love cats and kids, I’d rather watch a romantic comedy than a football game, I like computers more than cars… I’m a nerd, I’m passive and mellow most of the time. I am told this makes me a “sissy boy” (I have actually been called that) I’m told I need to “man up” and do more guy stuff because I am not violent or aggressive, I don’t enjoy sports, and I can’t do much more than change my oil. Most of the time it’s other men that say this crap to me. Trying to enforce some ridiculous archaic stereotype of what men should be. This is what they were taught growing up, this is the message parents have instilled in their sons.
Women on the other hand have a habit of telling me not to be “such a guy” when I don’t get emotional over something sad, or I try to use logic in an emotional situation. I have never been super emotional, movies don’t turn on my tears and sad stories aren’t going to overwhelm me in most cases. That doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings, I just process things differently than you might. If you come to me with a problem, I will try to talk it out logically with you. If you just want someone to shut up and let you be sad then I’m not the person you want to talk to. I’ve always been this way, but now that I am seen as male, it’s suddenly a problem and I am too much like a man. As if I should feel bad for being a guy, as though my gender is inherently wrong. “Ugh… You’re such a guy!” Why is that a bad thing? I can’t win in this gender war. I’m either a predatory male who is out to hurt women and children or I am a weak pathetic boy who doesn’t know how to be a man… It hurts sometimes when this is coming from all angles.
Maybe one day male privilege will be gone, but not until people stop handing it out. And maybe one day my gender will not instantly make me a horrible person, but not until we stop telling boys how to be boys and girls to watch out for the big bad men… Society is just one big ball of gender stereotypes and misogyny. I hope I live long enough to see it change.