Guest post by Trinity Pixie
False Male Privilege is experienced by trans women prior to transition. It only affects us externally, and only until our presentation changes.
Back in May, I traveled to Women in Secularism 2. It was far from my first time getting somewhere by greyhound bus, but it was my first time taking one while presenting distinctly feminine, as I generally opted to travel while presenting androgynously even after my transition. I arrived at the bus station early, only to find out it was running late, leaving me at the station for well over an hour and a half. I passed the time listening to music and texting, generally trying to ignore the world around me. A young man was sitting on the other side of the station on a laptop when I arrived, and he stayed for about half an hour before putting away his computer and getting up to leave. On his way out he stopped in front of me and started to talk to me. I looked up and took out one headphone, assuming he might be from out of town and asking for directions. Instead he asked me what kind of music I like, and what I was listening to, even asking me to show him some, indicating the earbuds I was using (gross…). Eventually he gave up and left, only to come back a minute later without his things to try again, asking me what concerts I had been to and other small talk before finally giving up again after too many single word answers… [read more]
The following is a comment I left on Trinity’s article above (read hers first, it’s a really good piece!):
[Note: Mentions of child abuse, transmisogyny]
There are many different ways male privilege can play a part (or not play a part) in the lives of trans women; I personally find it impossible to use a generalizing “we” when making statements about it. Some trans women have been able to express themselves since as young as four years old, and it’s hard to argue they’ve received any male privilege whatsoever.
Then there are many who experience, as you say, the partial “external-only” privilege, but that privilege has along with it the extreme pain of not being able to live openly. It can be painful and isolating. Often times one has to put on a rigid act to avoid abuse, that drives some to suicide. In that sense it’s more of a cage than a privilege. One may gain benefits in a few cases, but take massive hits elsewhere.
It’s generally acknowledged that even cis men are damaged by male privilege, but that is nothing compared to the experience many trans women face when forced to pretend they’re boys for survival. While men take a slight hit from the expectations of maleness but still come out with a net positive, the forecast isn’t so bright for many trans women. (Probably on account of, you know, not being men.)
There are also trans women who change the gender they identify as, meaning they completely identified with maleness at one point but no longer do, and their experience with male privilege is different as well.
There can be other complicating factors. My own history is one of objectification and sexual abuse, prior to transition, where my femaleness came out in ways that my abusers used to justify what they did. I didn’t even know the terminology for “trans” yet, but it was obvious I wasn’t a “normal boy”, and that was used against me to justify being sexualized and taken advantage of. I knew on some intuitive level that they were abusing me because of my gender, and I knew I wasn’t actually a boy, so I didn’t experience any of it through the lens of maleness or masculinity. I was being abused because I was a girl. While also being told I was “crazy” and a fraud for being a girl.
That experience has haunted me ever since. I have not experienced a lot of the things others attribute to “male socialization”, even when it comes to the “external-only” variety. I was always on defense, always hiding my body to avoid being sexualized. After the abuse I went out of my way to force-masculinize myself, I experienced it as butching it up to protect myself, hiding my gender, and that strategy worked. I was consciously wearing a disguise.
Treatment by others *did* change after I transitioned. But I wouldn’t describe it as “losing male privilege”, or even “false male privilege”. I was transitioning back to something I had previously been. I already knew I was female and that it made me a target, I already believed my opinions were worthless, the only difference was that the things I worried about started happening regularly again. It wasn’t a surprising adventure into new territory, it was a nightmare once confined to memories of abuse that spread into the rest of my life in the present.
Most of us have histories that don’t fit neatly into the models of privilege that fill the mainstream dialog. I’m glad we can continue to have more and more nuanced discussions on how privilege or lack thereof affects us as individuals, instead of treating privilege as a simple on/off switch. The reality is a lot more complicated, and a lot more insightful.