One of the most fascinating things about being transgender is seeing how differently people treat you depending on your gender. There are a lot of things you can figure out yourself by watching and listening, but it all stands out in sharper contrast when you’re experiencing it yourself.
A couple days ago I was hanging out with a friend and someone texted her, asking what she was doing. She answered “with a friend at the mall” and the other person replied with a teasing “oooh so you’re on a date!”
This has happened before. She’d text back “No, it’s not like that. I don’t like him” and after a few more denials of romantic overtures they’d drop it.
That’s not what she wrote though. What she sent back was “I’m shopping with a girl friend” and that was that.
My friend mentioned it as part of casual conversation, but I keep thinking back on it and grinning. Girl friend. It feels like I’ve gotten some sort of achievement; I’m one of the girls! Ish.
Anyways, it’s made me think a lot about the difference in how other girls, both friends and strangers, talk to and act around me, compared to how they did before. It’s been pretty interesting to see. Now, before I start talking about this, I want to state a quick disclaimer:
Everything I’m going to say is based on personal experience. I’m not speaking for other women, or in the name of all transgender people. I’m also fairly feminine and hetero-normative, so my experiences might be a bit stereotypical.
I also can’t know which of the things I’ve noticed are down to me being seen and treated as a woman, and which are down to me being seen and treated as a trans person.
Let’s start with something obvious: girls as a group are a lot more affectionate and open with each other than men are.
Now, I don’t want to resort to stereotypes, but my experience with men is that you only really show affection to other guys if you’re close, and even then it’s in a slightly ironic, vaguely homoerotic way. You know what I mean, it’s a weird way of overcompensating so the affection isn’t taken ‘the wrong way’ (no homo).
To be fair, most of the guy friends I’ve grown close to have been pretty secure of themselves, and aren’t a parody when showing that they appreciate and care about each other.
Even so, the kind of earnest affection I’ve been experiencing from other ladies in the last few months feels like a whole different thing.
I’ve made friends with girls and from then on been greeted with a nice big hug, maybe a pet name, and a feeling of being very happy to see me, even if we aren’t terribly close.
Something small that has made a big impression on me has been how supportive other women are. I’ve gotten random compliments on my lipstick, or a “you’re so pretty!” on selfies, or positive comments on my outfits, and it’s such a reassuring and empowering thing to experience so much positivity from other girls all the time.
I really can’t remember having seen or experienced anything like that as a guy, except for once or twice. Even then, it was in that weird overcompensating way I mentioned earlier.
The contrast between the way I interact with other women is clear compared to my experience with guys while presenting male, but it’s even greater when you look at the way other girls acted around me before transition.
If I approached a random girl and tried to talk, it’d feel strained unless there was a reason for it or we had something in common, while nowadays I feel like I can approach most other women and be met with friendly conversation.
I recently talked to another trans girl who said it felt like going from being barely tolerated to suddenly feeling welcome. It’s not a terribly nice way of phrasing it, but it does a good job of showing how it feels.
In addition to the friendliness, it’s so much easier to open up. There’s no skirting around an issue or internalising something when you’re upset.
If I look sad one of my friends will ask me what’s wrong, and not take ‘nothing…’ for an answer. Regardless of whether the problem is with a friend, or depression, or it’s about a guy, I know I can ask any of my girl friends and they’ll listen with a lot of attention and sympathy, and I do the same for them. It’s incredibly refreshing, and really helps you bond quickly.
Nowadays I’ve grown so used to everything it’s become second nature to just be super friendly to any woman I’m taking to. I find it hard to imagine going back to acting all ‘tough’ or distant like I used to back when presenting male. It sounds unbearably lonely.
I can’t even remember how it felt to be nervous talking to girls. Like, I know I felt it, and can put it into words, but I literally cannot get into that frame of mind anymore. It’s odd, but reassuring in a way.
Before moving on to the next point, I should clarify that (with one or two exceptions) my old female friends are still adjusting and in this regard are treating me much the same as before, so all I’ve described has all come from women I’ve known for a handful of months or weeks, which makes it all the more remarkable, in my opinion.
Even with some of my old friends though, I’ve noticed some changes. I don’t think they’ve noticed themselves, but the way they talk to me is a lot softer and friendlier. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what it is, but they definitely speak with me in a vaguely less guarded way. They also seem more readily available to talk than before. It’s been kind of amusing, to be honest.
Like I said, it’s very easy to become friends with other women, but it’s also been interesting to see how even strangers act differently around me now.
I was at work one day when a random girl happened to catch my eye and she just gave me a big smile and started making conversation. The next day, she gave me a big “Hi, Lily!” in a very sweet, friendly voice. This hasn’t been an unique experience.
I’ve also been sat on a bus daydreaming or reading a book and had random girls sitting next to me strike random conversations, which has been very, very nice, but also completely unexpected. That never ever happened before, not with men or with women.
I can be eating at a restaurant, spot a cute baby and smile, to find the mum talking to me suddenly, even if I didn’t look at her.
At the supermarket I might ask one of the employees where I can find some ingredient or product, and she’ll point the way with a smile a lot more genuine and friendly than the generic frozen smile I used to get from shop clerks. Even on the bus, or on the street, if I catch someone’s eye, I’m much more likely to be smiled at for no particular reason than a scowl, like I’d grown used to seeing all the time.
Again, nice, but also totally different.
With guys there’s a ‘bro code’. It’s a set of unwritten roles that form a kind of understanding and camaraderie between men, but in my opinion doesn’t hold a candle to what women have.
Like I said before, with women you don’t just have a lot of friendless and affection, you’re also able to open up and bond a lot easier.
I remember being at work taking calls one day, and seeing a girl walk by the hall where my desk was. As she walked past, the guy sitting next to me called her over as if he needed help with something. She went over to help him, and he of course asked her out in a super uncomfortable and awkward way. I gave her a look right as she also shot me a quick, subtle look, and I immediately asked her to help me with something on a difficult, allowing her to walk away from the idiot guy.
We rolled our eyes, sighed something about men, and she went on her way.
That’s not a particularly unique experience; in the last few months I’ve had many conversations carried out through subtle expressions and eye contact.
Just like I bonded what that woman I’d never talked to before, I’ve also been able to complain to other girls about creepy men proposing to me, or using demeaning pet names, and been met with sympathetic smiles and similar horror stories. Sexism and being hit on might suck, but it does enable you to feel a real feeling of solidarity with every other woman who’s had to deal with the same bullshit.
This has been one of the things I’ve noticed both with me friends and my old friends,though it’s been a little bit more subdued with my old friend since, as I said before, they’re mostly still adjusting. Even so, it’s been nice to bond with my old girl friends in a way that wasn’t open to me before.
When I talk about sisterhood though, I’m not just talking about close friends and complaining about men. What’s been most impressive, as it was with affection, has been the way total strangers act around you.
A couple months ago I was feeling absolutely terrible and I went to the bathroom to cry. I left the stall a little while later, sniffling while trying to wipe my tears off without ruining my makeup more than I already had. A girl walked in and she immediately went into ‘comforting mode’. She was super reassuring and nice, and helped me calm down and feel a lot better.
The best result for the male equivalent of that scenario that I can imagine is a guy walking in, pretending they didn’t see you cry, and walking to a stall or urinal without a word.
With the small exception of ‘mean girls’ (which I can sadly confirm do exist and do suck beyond belief), there’s a real feeling of unity and real care between women, even ones you’ve never met before. You feel like they really have your back. It’s great.
Before we finish, a quick note on bathrooms. I couldn’t fit this anywhere else on the post, but it merits mention: Going to the bathroom is a hilariously different experience as a girl.
It’s not just the ‘going in pairs’ and having to wait about half an hour to use a stall, the whole experience is ridiculously social. Guys go into the bathroom (by themselves, of course), keep their head down, rush to a stall, do their business, wash hands (hopefully) and try to leave as quickly as humanly possible. As a girl though, I’ve had and overheard conversations about everything from makeup, to men, to what you think over the weekend. If you’re walking in or washing your hands and see someone you know, you really can’t get away with that little nod guys do, you feel pressure to go and say hi, how are you, and chat for a bit.
It doesn’t happen all the time, and not every woman is like that, but I can’t remember the last time I went to the bathroom at work without chatting to a friend or overhearing other girls talking. I’m starting to get used to it, but there are times when I remember how bizarre it is. It’s definitely one of the oddest things I’ve experienced since starting to transition.
I’m sure there are more things I’m missing, but that’s all I could think of. You might be aware of some or all of these, but I was personally surprised at all of the things I’ve learned being seen as one of the girls.
What are your thoughts? Have you had a different experience or noticed different things when comparing the way men and women act? Have you noticed similar things? Did you find anything particularly surprising or interesting?
Ler me know! 🙂