My coworker Kelly said, “When I first saw you, I thought you were a woman, but then I said to myself, ‘I think that might be a man.'” I was thankful for her honesty. She came to Atlanta only 8 months ago, so I was only about three months into my transition when we first met.
Every time I’ve said something about how feminine I appear to others, my friends all say something similar. “You’re so pretty! You totally look female.” These reassurances do chip away at my doubt, but I don’t believe the doubt will ever leave for good. It will only be pushed further away.
I’ve vacillated for weeks about whether and how to write about this subject, but I knew I needed to write more in depth about the changing way other people see me and interact with me. While some of those changes have made me feel much better about myself, and secure in my femininity, other changes have increasingly bothered me. But I wasn’t sure if I had a right to complain. After all, I’m the one who began to change my appearance and declare to the world, “I know you thought I was a man, but I’ve really been wearing a mask this whole time, and I’m female!”
So, I asked the woman I call my trans twin if I could write about her experience. After meeting online and getting to know each other better, Kylie and I discovered we began hormone therapy just a few days apart. We have so many things in common, from being transgender, to having similar childhood experiences, to experiencing many of the same things in real time as we transition together, despite being separated by half a country, she in Colorado and I in Atlanta. How we met, and how our paths merged, is fora future blog entry. This entry is about one experience we’ve shared.
“To experience the male privilege and then to lose it, was a huge…I mean it hurt, but at the same time I don’t let that define my own self-worth anymore. It’s made me stronger, and no matter where I end up, I’m going to show them what I’m about – how hard of a worker I am. Male privilege means nothing. It’s just about me as a person and what I can bring to the table,” Kylie told me as we sat eating gelato on her first visit to Atlanta.
Kylie went to work at a roofing supply company in Colorado before she came out as transgender. Nobody guessed she wasn’t another male employee. She was quickly promoted to a supervisory position, overseeing technicians who would install commercial roofing and gutters. Before her transition, she was lauded with praise, in part for creating a system to track sales, work, equipment, and man-hours needed for a job. While in her position, her team was second out of five is sales performance.
About nine months before she quit the company, she came out to her employer, who’s first worry was legal liability. They were afraid Kylie was going to sue them if they, or another employee, said or did something wrong. She explained to owners of the company in a meeting, there was no chance of that. But the owners’ concerns were not abated. They sidelined Kylie and took her out of the field and away from dealing directly with customers. The company’s owners were afraid of losing business as a result of Kylie’s transition. After removing Kylie from liaising with clients, one customer nearly left because of issues Kylie would have normally handled. Kylie was placed back on that job, and not only saved the customer, but sold an additional $30,000 in supplies and services.
Even this stellar performance didn’t appease the company’s owners. At an all-employee meeting, each department was called upon to talk about their sales and status. Each department was applauded. But Kylie’s team was skipped. She complained to HR that her team felt robbed of their moment of glory, to be recognized for their efforts. HR told Kylie that the owners would talk to her about it, but that conversation never happened. Kylie felt so badly for her technicians, she went out and bought a gift card and wrote a note to each employee.
I asked Kylie about other women in the company. Was their work also marginalized? The emphatic answer was, “No.”
This change in the way the company owners interacted with her, was only three-and-a-half months after coming out. In that short timeframe, Kylie went from being lauded to sidelined. She would stay on another six months before realizing the changes were permanent.
Kylie’s story is not unique. The loss of male privilege is swift, and it can manifest in various ways. Unless a transgender person transitions very early in life, they’re socialized as the opposite gender. Even though Kylie was always female, she was socialized as a male. She had certain expectations, based on what she was taught growing up, of how life would be and how others were expected to interact with her, and what was expected of her in a male role. She learned everything, including her patterns of speech, based on presenting as male. It’s all she ever knew before transition. But post-transition, things she said were taken differently. Accomplishments were minimized, and her concerns ignored.
My loss has been more subtle than Kylie’s in some ways. But when we sat down to discuss our personal loss of male privilege, I recognized many of the things Kylie spoke of, even though I hadn’t experienced my loss as severely.
We are a culture parted down gender lines, dominated by males, and that gender line is stark and bold. I knew I would end up surrendering my male privilege when I transitioned, and I was very wiling to do so! But I didn’t expect it to manifest in the way that it did.
I suppose I didn’t know what to expect, but I assumed I would be spared the worst case scenario. After all, I work for a company with intelligent and compassionate coworkers who love me. Surely they would all self-regulate. Surely I would retain the respect I earned from years of journalism and management experience, right? For the most part, I did, especially from those I work with closely. But there are times when I’m treated differently, intentional or not.
The thing that hurts Kylie and I most is the lost trust. Kylie and I trusted the people who knew us before transition, to respect us in the same manner in which they had before we came out as transgender.
But not all hope is lost! Both Kylie and I are doing something with our experiences. We’re working toward educating others about the dangers of treating trans employees and coworkers differently.
We’re the same persons, with the same brain and the same valuable contributions, so the argument for awareness is an easy one to make. We’re still experienced, talented, compassionate, intelligent and capable people. None of that goes away with the knowledge that we’re simply a different gender than others thought.
I’ll leave you with this. Not every change in privilege is a loss. There are a few changes which have their benefits. Kylie, who is a beautiful young woman, constantly gets chatted up by handsome men who want to buy her drinks and flirt. No matter than Kylie is happily married to the same woman she fell in love with 10 years ago. Her wife, who only learned Kylie was transgender a few months before her transition, loves her more than ever. In fact, their set to renew their wedding vows in just a matter of days in Hawaii.
Now, I haven’t had those same men chatting me up, and that’s just fine by me because I’m not attracted to men. But, I did have an experience during Kylie’s visit to Atlanta. She was only here for a few days, so I took her out to some of my favorite places. On the Saturday night she was here, we got dolled-up and strolled confidently into a crowded bar. As we retrieved a couple beers from the bar, Kylie led the way toward the bak of the bar, where it was less crowded. I suddenly felt a firm hand on the right side of my waist, then a voice very close to my right ear. It was too crowded for e to turn around to see the source of the voice, but he said, “Damn girl, you know you look good in that dress!” With that, his hand slid down and gave my butt cheek a squeeze.
Now the feminist in me wanted to turn and deck him! But a half-second later, I realized a man – a straight man – saw me and thought I was attractive enough to flirt and grope me. Even though it would not have even worked with a woman groping me, I’m going to take that as a win!