Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Social position

Transition, whether accomplished at glacial speed or in a rush, changes one's life forever. And one of the consequences is a radically altered position in society. There's no getting away from it, the social dimension is paramount. Whatever you may think about yourself, however you have rationalised your new position, if you show yourself in public then the public reaction is the thing that matters for day-to-day living.

And the question then arises, how integrated into society can one really become? Or will there always be, to some extent, a barrier, a degree of social isolation, that separates a transitioner from everyone else?

To me, 'public acceptance' means being treated like any other 60 year old woman. So I would expect to receive courtesy and consideration wherever I went, and to be listened to with attention. I would expect to be assessed like any other 60 year old woman if, for instance, I decided to be a candidate in a local council election - especially if that meant getting the backing of a political party. Or if I applied to become, say, a local magistrate. These are the kind of public situations which I would regard as acid tests of my credibility. And if the people judging my suitability could not take me seriously, then I'd know that, socially, I had a lot more work to do.

I certainly don't regard getting friendly attention in Brighton bars and restaurants as evidence of being perfectly integrated into society. For one thing, Brighton is a special case, where uninhibited exchanges between casual strangers are commonplace. At all times of the day, the streets east of The Steyne are full of people hugging and kissing and generally being very matey. A friend of mine (who is much prettier than myself) got attention like that the other day, right in front of my eyes. We were walking along, chatting, and then a man she'd never seen before spontaneously crossed the street to give her a hug and a kiss, leaving her in a state of euphoria. She values such encounters very much, and she thought the episode highly validating. It was. But I also think that the in-your-face bohemian atmosphere of central Brighton makes such impulses easy to conceive, and easy to carry through. It wouldn't have happened in Dover or Barnstaple or Gloucester or Whitby or Dumfries.

And it didn't happen to me. The man totally ignored me. This was interesting! Why had he fixed on my friend and not me? Her more feminine appearance was the obvious answer. But possibly I was 'too ordinary', so he automatically dismissed me from his mind. I think that's good. It's yet more evidence that, when out in the street, I merge into the background really well and get taken for granted. A ho-hum ordinary woman, but who cares, so long as I am as invisible as any other woman would be to a man like that.

And there's this thing called 'male privilege'. What does it really mean? If I'm taken for an ordinary woman, how can I possess 'male privilege'? Because no man now regards me as 'one of them'. I've felt that for a long time. Back in September 2010, when writing that series of pre-op essays called the Twelve Accusations, I summed up the male attitude to MTF transsexual persons in these words (taken from Accusation number 2):

Let me assert at the outset that someone who is transitioning is leaving behind manhood. They are no longer in the world of men. They have resigned from the club. The bonds, if there were ever any, are now broken, and there is no going back or temporary re-admission if things are not going well. I can’t claim to know or understand men deeply (that sounds very odd I know; however, you may see what I mean), but I reckon they would cry ‘foul!’ if you, the renegade, pleaded to come back. You have put yourself beyond the pale, you are apostate. From observation, a lot of men clearly think that you have betrayed the male world, let the side down, and now that you’ve made your bed you must bloody well lie in it without complaint. They don’t respect you anymore. They don’t want you. You’re just a castrated eunuch now. Or if you’re really a woman, then behave like one. Otherwise stay away.

And:

The way society is presently arranged, there is no middle place. And it would be inhumane, and against all the intentions of a civilised society, to wilfully isolate an individual. So I have to say to any ‘real’ woman - a ‘natal woman’ in trans parlance - that having quitted the male house, with the door slammed behind me and the key taken from me, it is entirely proper for me to knock on your door, the female door, and be let in. Yes, I want to claim womanhood, and I must. Rather like a stateless refugee must claim asylum in another country. Except that in this scenario there are only two countries, and if refused entry to both then I have nowhere else to go.

A couple of years on, I think I've moved forward a bit on men's attitudes, and indeed on my precise position in society in general, but I still think there are plenty of men around who do regard trans women as strange beings - impossible to understand, very uncomfortable to think about, not people to be seen with, a threat to their manhood, and certainly not like them, nor any longer one of them. Such men are going to put you down, and keep you down. Maybe not in quite the same way as they would keep down a natal woman, but I know they will discriminate against me, and might do me wilful harm. And that they will never regard me now as a member of their club. I do not want to be; but I have definitely lost all my supposed 'male privilege'.

Of course I have the legacy of 'male conditioning' and 'male knowledge'. Some of that is useful. Other bits have quickly withered away from non-use, or irrelevance to my present life. I don't think that any of it gives me a decisive edge over ordinary women. And bear in mind that if I am accepted as a woman, I certainly can't behave like a man. So if a man wants to help, and then patiently explains to me how to do the things I became expert at during the course of fifty years or more, I can't tell him I already know. Not without confusing our man-woman relationship. 

What is scarcely mentioned is 'female privilege', and at the moment I am finding it hard to tap into that. Yes, men do extend courtesies and assistence to me. Yes, chaps do rush over if I seem to be struggling with my caravan. And so on. But at a deeper level, I haven't yet acquired 'female privilege', nor the skills and background to use it. I just hope it's not too late.

2 comments:

  1. Hi Lucy,

    A lot what you say makes a lot of sense and I can also relate to some of especially the very last two paragraphs. I still have the male conditioning as you describe it and this is especially hard for me to lose as I care for a disabled partner and also have my elderly father living with us, so I tend to be the handywoman of the house. I have had men help me in the streets with the wheelchair and it took some time to accept that help.

    I also like the male and female house idea, I had never thought of it that way and it does seem true in many respects. This ties in with your experience in Brighton and I have had this situation but in a much different place. I work for a voluntary organisation and found it took me a little while to be accepted there. Many would hug each other and regardless of gender but I was left out for some time. So it was ok for two men, two women, or both to hug but to hug the transsexual? Was it that they were afraid of how to approach me or was it that they were not so accepting? I guess I'll never know but these attitudes are slowly thawing and the acceptance is getting there.

    Again, a great post and it helps to know I am not the only one that thinks these thoughts.

    Lucy x

    ReplyDelete
  2. dear lucy, i wondered if you saw this article?
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2296107/Why-councils-ask-youre-transgender-wheelie-bins.html

    ReplyDelete

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