A quintessentially female experience

Lane Florsheim on What Happens When Trans Women Lose Their Male Privilege.

Two months after she transitioned to female, Deirdre McCloskey found herself having a quintessentially female experience. She was chatting with fellow economics professors at Erasmus University in the Netherlands, all of whom happened to be men. She was attempting to make an argument, but no one seemed to be listening. A few minutes later, a male professor articulated the same idea. “What a great point, George!” others exclaimed.

Welcome to the wonderful world of being female.

“A lot of trans women are aware that there is male privilege before we transition–that women are not treated with as much respect as men,” says Julia Serano, author of Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity. “But there’s a big difference between knowing privilege exists and the literal experience of losing it.”

And there’s a big difference between having privilege and losing it.

The transgender women we spoke with cited a litany of new challenges on the other side of their transition, which will be painfully familiar to the cisgender women reading it: getting talked down to, getting talked over, getting catcalled in the street, getting dismissed in the workplace, and so on.

Dear “and so on.” It covers so much.

With their unique perspective of gender relations, some in the trans community actually find themselves sympathizing with men. “I think there’s a lot of what I’d call female privilege, too,” Dr. Bowers adds. “A man is never trusted like a woman is trusted: by strangers, children. When men deal with each other, there’s a certain distance they keep. There’s a sisterhood and a safety among women, and it’s a very helpful feeling.”

I think that’s true. One thing I’ve gotten from puzzling about gender and how I experience it and whether I would have been or considered being trans if the option had been as visible when I was a child in the 19th century as it is now – one thing I’ve gotten from that is a sharper awareness that I wouldn’t want to be a man. I could put it “I wouldn’t want to be a man either” because I don’t exactly want to be a woman (either) – but anyway, it doesn’t appeal, and what Bowers says makes sense to me. The idea of choosing to be a man feels to me a bit like choosing to be Charles Windsor – like signing up to a whole lot of duty and responsibility you don’t particularly want. That thought has caused me to sympathize with men more, however odd that may sound.

It would seem that the key to all this lies in a less rigid gender binary. Being male doesn’t mean you’re unworthy of trust. Being female doesn’t mean you’re unworthy of speaking. “I’ve had people say to me, ‘You shouldn’t be reinforcing traditional gender roles that hold women back. Why are you encouraging a ‘feminine’ response to certain things?'” says Dr. Bowers. “But the point is that womanhood should be able to express itself in every possible way, not just the pre-defined ways. I think if there were more expressions of what it means to be a woman—in all its forms—the world would be a better place.”

And so should manhood. The whole thing should be much more various and less predictable, so that all the attempts at policing would just become meaningless. “Man up” would stop being a phrase, and “cunt” would stop being the ultimate pejorative. That would be good.

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