Becoming a Man in the #MeToo Moment

I’ve been thinking a lot about becoming a man. I mean of course I have, but more deeply than just this transition process.

In my adult life, I have been spared from sexual harassment. I think that’s largely because I have been gender non-conforming, and thus not an object of male attention. But I do fully know and understand the effect it has on women’s lives and livelihoods.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what kind of man I want to become. Not just what kind of man I will be, but what kind of man I want to be. I think that it’s probably always been important to be conscious about male privilege, and how walking around in the world as a man is different. But now, it seems mandatory.

I already have witnessed a few trans men take on some of the more unpleasant aspects of male behavior (luckily, it seems rare.) I think it’s that for many of us, we see what society demands of men, and given that we want to fit in as men, we take on some of the same behavior as men.

I have said many times in the weeks and months after starting testosterone, that if you’d asked me what percentage of male behavior and psychology is conditioned by family and society, I would have said 95%. Now, after having experienced first-hand what testosterone does, I’d drop it down to 45%.

But I think what’s important about that is not to say “boys will be boys.”  I think that human beings have all sorts of inclinations and impulses no matter what our gender is, and we are taught how not to act out of them. Boys and men could be taught how not to act out of those testosterone-fueled impulses that I have now experienced first-hand. (In fact, plenty of men know quite well how not to act out of them, so it’s not that hard.)

One of the things I am acutely aware of is that for many women who don’t know me, there is a way that I will no longer feel safe. (Of course, as a black woman, there are ways I wasn’t considered safe, but let’s put that aside for a moment.) In fact, I’ve already experienced (on Twitter, primarily) how I am treated differently by women who don’t know who I am because I have a male name. Even though (I think) I’m saying pretty much what I would have said before. And so now, that makes me think twice, or three times, about what I say.

 

Coming out

I came out publicly as a lesbian in 1985. And it was largely a non-event. My family accepted me fully, I lost a couple of friends, but it was largely painless. It didn’t effect my work life, thankfully.

And as time went on, and I kept living out and publicly as a lesbian, there have been only a few moments where it’s mattered. Mostly because I have always chosen settings, places to live, and people to hang out with where this wasn’t going to be a problem.

So, unlike many people, my coming out as queer process was basically painless.

I don’t know how I’m going to look back at this coming out process – coming out as trans. Perhaps I have rosy-colored glasses looking back more than 30 years, but this process has brought up a lot for me, in surprising ways.

I think I know a lot more about myself now than I did at 25. And I know that one of my core wounds is the fear of not being accepted or loved for who I am. And as I affirm, really, who I really am in a more full way, that wound is being activated, big time.

And, on the other hand, so far, I’ve been met with a lot of support and love. I have great friends who have been great listening ears, and sweet, and understanding.

I have a lot of other people to come out to over then next few months, and so there’s a lot of fear there. So I’m taking a deep breath, and taking it one step at a time.

Always Queer

Some transmen love other men, and some love women. Having been attracted to, and loved women my whole life, I can’t quite imagine testosterone changing that, although I guess it’s vaguely possible.

Anyway, what that means is that  the external world will see me, when I’m out with a woman, as a straight man. And in fact, many transmen consider themselves straight.

But I can’t do it. I can’t for the life of me call myself straight. It just doesn’t make any sense to me. I’ve lived my life in queer spaces and places for too long to do that. I don’t want to take anything away from transmen who feel that way – if they feel straight, more power to them. I just can’t embrace it.

And, that said, I also know that I will inherit heterosexual privilege at the same time as I’m gaining male privilege. But, as I eventually intend to be as out about being trans as I am now about being queer, those privileges are pretty tenuous. (And male privilege for black men is tenuous  in it’s own way.)

One of the things I’m very aware of is a loss of community with queer women. But thankfully, I’m gaining a new community in the process, which is making me happy.

Liminal Space

One of the things our society doesn’t do well is honor liminal spaces, even though we go through many in our lives. Puberty, coming of age, giving birth, celebrating a romantic union,  and dying are all liminal spaces.

In many cultures and spiritual traditions, liminal spaces are holy. They are a place of reflection: looking back and looking forward. They are also places of change and stress.

I have been through a few kinds of liminal spaces that I have been consciously aware of, but this space, this space of making such a big transition, is probably the most profound liminal space of my life.

I’m impatient. I have 151 days until my top surgery. I have been on T for 3 days (in an hour or so.) And part of me wants to hurry everything up – I want the time to fly, and the changes to happen fast, so I get to where I’m going.

Except I realize that if I don’t pay attention to this liminal space, I will miss an opportunity.  An opportunity to pay attention to the holiness of this change. All of the ways that it’s so right, and the ways that it’s huge, for me and for the people I know.

I want to use this time, this in-between time, to appreciate myself, both in my feminine aspect, which I’m not eliminating, or putting aside, but greatly changing its place in my life, and in my body, as my masculine aspect comes front and center.

I want to use this time to reflect on all of the complexities of this change I’m undergoing. I don’t want to rush through it – I don’t want to miss the wisdom, learning, and holiness of this time.

Not a Lesbian Anymore

I came out in 1984ish at 25, a little later than some, sooner than many. I’ve lived as a lesbian since then, an identity that I valued, and a community I’ve enjoyed.

Being a lesbian has been a safe haven for me – I’ve been able to be gender non-conforming in ways that are not only tolerated, but celebrated. I’ve watched the community grow and change, and in many ways, assimilate into society, while still maintaining some sense of identity as a community.

But as I transition to male, I kick myself out of that community, which seems both appropriate and unfortunate. Yes, it means I become part of the trans community, part of the larger LGBTQQIAA umbrella. And frankly, the “T” has been in a somewhat uneasy alliance withe the “L” and “G” (as has the “B” and the “I”, and both “A”s – frankly all of the letters can be a little uneasy together.)

I’ll miss being a lesbian, frankly, just as there are a few ways that I’ll miss being a woman. I want to find a way to embrace what’s been great for me from that experience as I move into this new phase of my life.

Big Decisions

This has been a very interesting step-by-step process, in a way, but it all sort of came to a head a few days ago, and I think I’m finally caught up with myself.

That is, I’ve made the decision to partake of most of the menu I mentioned. I had a date for top surgery for a few weeks now (Feb 6th.) And now, after a lot of consideration and spiritual exploration, I’ve decided to do testosterone,  socially transition, and change my legal name and gender markers.

Some people I know aren’t surprised, but somehow, it surprises me. I’m not quite yet used to it.

But it feels totally right – and also fucking scary. The fear isn’t a surprise, really – but it’s something I know I need to companion as I move through this process.

It’s funny – I had another one of those experiences where some guy called me “sir” and then saw me more fully and felt bad – and I almost said “no, you’re right,” but I said what I usually say, which is, “no worries.”

The Gym

At varied times in my life, I’ve been a gym rat. I’ve always enjoyed lifting weights – I would say it’s my favorite exercise. I spent a number of years away from the gym, but I’m back now. I don’t just lift weights – one of the other things I happen to enjoy is aquaerobics.

One of the things I’m doing as I go through this process is notice things.  I’m noticing what’s out there, what people say and do, and what my internal responses are.

First, of course, there is the locker room. Every time I go to the locker room now, I’m so aware of the fact that it doesn’t feel totally right (it never has.) And after I get top surgery (even if I don’t take T), it’s going to feel even less right.

Then there’s the aquaerobics group. 95% of the time, it’s all women. That was true today.  Every once in a while, one (other?) guy joins. As we were doing our thing in the pool, someone said something I didn’t catch (I’m thinking it was slightly salacious) and another person said, “we’re all girls here.”  And all I could think of was “no, actually, we’re not.”

One of the things that I’ve always hated is being called one of the “ladies” or “ma’am.” Ugh. I hate that. I’ve never, ever been a lady, and I never will be. Some aspects of my being are female, although I’d not say they were “feminine.” No part of me is “lady-like.”

The locker room, and public bathrooms that aren’t gender neutral are going to be a challenge for me, especially if I stay in a sort of in-between state after top surgery.

I remember starkly one day I was in an airport, in line in the women’s bathroom, and I heard someone behind me loudly talking about how there was a man in line, and why was there a man in line. It didn’t occur to me for a while that she was talking about me – but she was.  (I’m tall, have a short afro, and wear men’s clothes – I don’t fault her.)  Then, I turned around fully, and she looked at me sheepishly (I have large, visible breasts.) But once I don’t have those anymore, what will I do? I don’t have an answer for that yet, except if I do choose the men’s room, at least I will never have to wait.

 

Coming Out As Trans

I’m still not sure I identify as “trans”, although I’ve slowly but surely begun to realize that perhaps I’ve been avoiding that identity because it scares me. I’ve identified as genderqueer pretty much the moment I heard that term, in the mid-late 90s. Before people began to talk about gender fluidity and multiple gender identities, I didn’t really have language to talk about what was going on inside of myself.

As I said before, I don’t have the narrative of “a man trapped in a woman’s body.” I’ve never quite felt that, even as I’ve felt, for a very long time (as long as I can remember) a boy, and then a man, somewhere buried inside there.

I have had gender dysphoria for as long as I can remember. In all of my years of working on getting to be friends with my body, the dysphoria has only gotten worse, not better.

And fully accepting my dysphoria is what has allowed me to come to the place of wanting to do something about it – wanting to present differently in the world. And presenting differently to the world, in this world, at this time, means, basically, that I am trans.

And perhaps that’s the problem. That’s the rub. Because our society is so divided by gender, I can’t just choose to present another part of myself that’s so present for me without changing my relationship with the world.

I’m getting used to that – used to this idea if I want Maxwell to have his time in this world, the world will not see him in the same way as it sees Pearl (not my real given first name). Max can’t live in exactly the same way as Pearl has lived in the world. The same spaces will not feel safe to Max as they did to Pearl . And, more importantly, in many ways, Max will not feel as safe to some people as Pearl does.