Back when I first start alluded to the fact that I was seriously thinking of sexual transition to a colleaugue/friend of mine, his reaction was: “What’s so great about being a guy?” We’ve talked a lot in the meantime and he gets it now, but I know there are people who assume that people who transition do it because they think there is something “better” about being of a particular sex.
Of course, as the cliché goes, the grass is always greener on the other side, and I think that women and men will always, hopefully in a friendly banter kind of way, have a tendancy to one-up each other about the problems associated with being in their sex. For every woman that complains about periods, there is a guy who complains about spontaneous erections. For every woman that complains about boobs sagging with age, there is a guy who complains about sagging balls. Each sex has its share of inconveniences, but people like to be seen as martyrs so it’s fun, it seems, to go on about how much harder it is for us than for everyone else.
All that being said, I went into this process knowing full well that I would have to get used to a whole bunch of male inconveniences in exchange for giving up some of the female ones. I traded in periods for the loss of hips and thinning hair, for example. Of course, there are blends at different times in the process and there are some things that will never change. I will probably never have to worry about sagging balls and I will always have to worry about ovarian cancer.
At the social level, I traded being subject to the assumption that I couldn’t lift anything heavy for the assumption that I *must* be an insensitive male. I also gave up the female cameraderie that comes with shared experiences such as period and childbirth for having women be hesitant to talk to me about personal things and be freaked out when I talk about *my* experience of labour, for example. On the other hand, I will never really feel a sense of male cameraderie – how could I when so much of it is interspersed with the objectification of women, as though they existed to please men?
In any case, the point I’m making is that there’s nothing really super wonderful about being a guy that isn’t directly related to just plain being human and being ME. If I’m happier now and feel better about myself, it’s because I’m comfortable in my skin. Things are as they should be whereas there was always something off before, like I was functionning in the wrong gear. I think that being a woman can be as fantastic as being a man when the person feels like they *should* be a woman – when it *fits* for them, whether they were born that way or not. And, although I said above that every sex has its share of inconveniences, I can honestly say that I don’t know a heck of a lot of men in my entourage who would psychologically and emotionally survive the tribulations of being female in a patriarchal society. It has to be one of the hardest things to do to maintain a sense of dignity and self in a society that directly and indirectly places you in a position of otherness. I tried, and failed . . . or more like I thought that my energy would be better spent combatting patriarchy, and other power structures, in my own skin rather than in a skin that didn’t fit me. And of course, I don’t necessarily escape the otherness by being trans – rather, I embrace it and use it as a tool of empowerment.
A whole other post could be devoted to the intersection of racial privilege and class. The otherness factor gets increasingly complex when you add in these factors. The situation for me, as an able-bodied bilingual Euro-Canadian with a working class background but a grad school education, is much different than it would be for people with physical or mental handicaps, people of African, Asian or Native American, or even people of European descent but from ethnic backgrounds other than the “grand” colonising nations, people of religious backgrounds that have traditionally been marginalised, people without a university education who are often assumed to not be as smart by this society’s standards and so forth. An accurate portrayal of my situation requires an analysis of all the levels of relative power and privilege that affect me. And I’d need a whole bloody novel for that!