Nurse: “Liliana [lastname]?”
I walk into the small room and smile
Me: “Yes, that’s me”
Nurse: “Why are you taking this blood test?” She gestures towards a seat as she speaks.
Me: “I’m taking some medicine for a hormonal imbalance.”
Nurse: “OK, and what are you taking?”
Me: “Estradiol and spyronolactane.”
She jots down the names on a piece of paper
Nurse: “All right, and has your period been regular?”
I try my hardest not to laugh
Me: “Uh. I don’t… get periods”
That makes her look up at me quickly. She furrows her brow in confusion and then:
Nurse: “Ah! I understand now.”
There we go.
That hilariously awkward moment has become a fixture in all my interactions with doctors in the last two months or so. Apparently I passed some sort of ‘passing’ guideline that means strangers now expect me to get periods.
It gets funnier, too. Long-time readers of the blog might recall how I broke my elbow at the end of last November. It was a pretty lame incident, as far as elbow-breaking events go. I was taking pictures for my post about the Ciclovia, but instead of getting off my bike to take the picture like a reasonable person, I tried to do it while riding my bike slowly.
I lost my balance and then, almost in slow-motion, fell on my side, breaking my elbow in the process. Ridiculous. What made it worse was that just a couple month earlier after a bike accident, I’d gone flying some eight feet in the air and had fallen on both my elbows. Hard. Nothing happened then, but a clumsy fall and my elbow cracks? Sigh.
The day after my ludicrous fall, I woke up with intense pain, so I headed to the hospital to get it checked out. Now, when you go into the ER in Colombia, the first thing they do is give you a turn, with certain people like the elderly getting preferential turns so they’re called first.
I walk into the ER, and the guard at the door greets me. “Good morning” He points at the machine that assigns turns as explanation before he continues “are you coming about a pregnancy, miss?” and gives my belly a significant look.
I don’t get flustered easily, but I must have been as red as a ripe tomato. I stammered out a “Um… no” and took a regular turn. I quickly sat down and tried to keep from hiding my face in embarrassment and bursting out in laughter all at once.
It took me hours to realise I should be offended I apparently looked pregnant.
Those little changes have been funny, and I’ve learned to take them in stride, and enjoy the awkwardness of someone asking after my non-existent ovaries.
As amusing as things like that are, what I’m finding the most interesting about my gender transition is the difference in how men and women treat me. Not just how they do compared to how they did before, but also how the change itself is different in men and women.
I wrote a post a few months ago talking about the change I’d seen in the way other women treated and talked to me. I recommend reading it in full, but basically, nearly all women have started to treat me as they do other women. I’ve felt wonderfully accepted.
With men, it’s been a bit odd. They certainly don’t treat me the way they did before, but that doesn’t mean they see me the same way they see any other woman. A handful of them do, but the majority treat me in a completely alien way; neither like a man or a woman.
I’m going to detail what I’ve noticed, but before I do, I want to make it absolutely clear this is all based solely on personal experience, and I don’t pretend to speak for all men, women, or transgender people. I only speak for myself.
The most significant difference in how men treat me now is not something that’s been added to interactions, but rather something that’s missing now: instant camaraderie.
It makes sense. The most noticeable (and in my opinion the best) change with women has been a new sense of connection. Both on a superficial level, like now being able to empathise together about men, or makeup, or clothing, and also in a deeper sense—I feel like part of a sisterhood, cheesy as it sounds, and like other women ‘have my back’.
It logically follows that I’d quickly lose the male equivalent to that.
Men have a way of acting around each other and talking. I haven’t experienced it in nearly 8 months now, so the specifics are fuzzy, but you likely know what I mean. There’s a lot of bro’s and so on, but there’s also a deeper sense of friendship. When you’re a guy you automatically band together with other men; you have a certain way of behaving that helps you bond, and friendship with them has a layer that isn’t quite there with female friends.
There’s also The Nod.
It’s my favourite thing. If you see another guy you know but don’t want to greet them, you sort of do a quick jerk of your head upwards.
I love it. It feels almost like something an alien behavioural biologist would write down in their notes. “The males of the species perform a ritualistic quick upward motion with their heads as a form of greeting when seeing another male. [Possibly as a way to show aggression and mark territory?]”
Little things like The Nod are a thing of the past now for me, as well as that sense of deeper friendship with men. I first noticed it when I overheard a group of guys talking about a female coworker while waiting for a lift, and then hush when we got in and they noticed me.
This was last June, mind you, back when for all my efforts I still looked noticeably transgender.
From then on, I noticed it more. When men spoke to me, it was friendly, but all those little code words and motions were gone, and they didn’t speak about certain subjects, women in particular, when around me. It was bizarre. Imagine going home one night only to see your family treating you like a friend and not family.
Ah, well. I should’ve seen it coming.
After you, I INSIST
A few weeks ago I was on my way to work, about to walk to the turnstile at the entrance, when a man started to leave through it. I moved back to wait for him to leave first, but then he looked up and saw me, and backed away from the turnstile, and motioned for me to go first. I smiled and went “no, you go ahead” but he just stood back until I finally just walked in, a few seconds later.
Odd. A couple days later I was going up the lift and waited for the guy nearest the door to leave, until he looked at me and motioned with his head to go first, so I did.
I still haven’t made up my mind about it. My natural reaction is to find it a bit sexist, but honestly it’s also sweet, so I really don’t mind.
Chivalry is one of the changes, then. Curious, but not very surprising. What WAS surprising was how it was paired by a similar change in speech.
In Spanish, we have two ways of referring to others: usted or tú. Usted is a formal pronoun, used mostly when speaking to someone older, or in a position of power or authority. Tú is a lot more personal, and can be considered insulting by some people if you just met them. (By ‘some people’ I mean people full of themselves.)
I’d grown accustomed to hearing ‘usted’ when being spoken to by a stranger, but once I looked feminine enough to be gendered female by most people, everyone suddenly switched to using a ‘tú’.
A similar change is in the personal title people use for me. In Spanish, Señor = Mr, Señora = Ms, and Señorita = Miss.
Nowadays, people here refer to me as señorita, which is wonderful. It feels feminine and a bit cute, and I love it. However, it does tend to bother me a bit when I think about the word. The -ita suffix is a diminutive, and is commonly used when you speak about something small or cutesy. Like, a child’s little tea table would be una ‘mesita‘ rather than a ‘mesa‘. Why are young women referred to with a diminutive, but not young men?
I’m probably reading way too much into it, but it’s hard not to when it fits a wider trend.
Men especially speak to me in a much kinder tone than they had before. Suddenly storekeepers don’t just ring up my groceries, they smile at me and try to make some conversation. Part of this is probably due to the fact I scowl a lot less and look happier than I had as a man, but the change was far too widespread to simply be down to that.
I Know Best, Sweetheart
It wasn’t all good, sadly. Along with softer words and a friendlier tone, I encountered a lot more condescension, both in words and actions
I’d go to a shop and ask where to find something, and the man wouldn’t just second guess what I was buying and why, he’d go and fetch it for me instead of just telling me where it was.
When I talked to customers on the phone at work, men suddenly started calling me all sorts of pet names. Dear, babe, sweetie, hun, et cetera, et cetera. Sure, call it a Southern thing, but it happened with everyone, and they often came out when the person was saying something dismissive.
It wasn’t just limited to strangers, either. One of the most telling incidents happened during a lunch with an old friend I’ve known for over 6 years. We had gone to a little restaurant and were looking at the menu. He asked me what I was going to order, so I told him what I was thinking of getting.
I went back to browsing the menu and after a few more seconds decided yeah, I’d probably have that. The guy who brought our menus came back then, and asked what we were going to have. He looked straight at my friend and completely ignored me, which made me squint me eyes a bit in annoyance.
My friend then ordered his meal… and continued to order for me.
My eyes widened in surprise. I didn’t say anything, but I kept thinking about it while we ate. After we left the restaurant, I mentioned it to him, and was amused to see he hadn’t noticed. In fact, he was a bit mortified, and repeatedly apologised.
I’ve had a similar incident happen with another guy. Apparently, on a subconscious level some men tend to assume women need more assistance than we ask for.
Hey Gorgeous, Nice Legs!
Finally, we get to the one thing about being a woman I hate.
Men on the street have gone from being easy to ignore unless they seem the type to carry a knife in their pockets, to a cause of anxiety whenever I’m dolled up, or wearing yoga pants or a dress. It’s ridiculous. The very first time I gathered up the courage to wear a skirt out of the house, a group of teenage boys made a crass comment about me ‘going with them somewhere’. It was terrifying and somehow made me feel ashamed, and I instantly felt like crying. I’ve talked about this a little bit before, but sexism and catcalling has been a lot more humiliating than I thought it would be. I knew I had to expect it, but it really feels nothing like what I prepared for.
A few weeks ago, I was walking home with some groceries while listening to a podcast. I was strolling through a mostly desolate street, but there were a lot of cars driving by, so it didn’t feel too dangerous. The podcast episode playing was all about a man who would stalk women on the street, then kidnap, rape, and murder them. Imagine how I felt when, while listening to an account of how he would choose random women on the street as victims, a man to my left suddenly speaks and asks me a question.
One of the very first things you learn living in a big city like Bogotá is that no matter what, you do not stop to speak to strangers, so I sort of smiled at him, murmured a non-committal answer, and quickly crossed the street right before the light changed.
I turned left and started walking down a different street just to be safe, when the man pops up the next to me, having apparently run across traffic. There are plenty of people in the street, but none near us. My blood runs cold. The woman in my ear chirrups happily in detail about the way the serial killer would violently abuse his victims before discarding their body.
The man has this huge, creepy smile as he speaks “hey there, you look beautiful”
I try to control my panic. He continues, “Would you like some companionship, gorgeous?”
I give him as sweet a smile as I can manage as I say “no, thanks…” and quickly rush into a store. I tell the lady inside that a man is following me and can I please hide in the store? She gives me a knowing look and says “of course.” I look out the window and the guy is walking away, but still looking straight at me and smiling.
I try to give a smile that simultaneously begs “Please don’t be offended but also leave, leave, leave!” I stay there for some ten minutes before rushing to a supermarket and taking a half-hour buying more groceries to make sure the guy is gone when I leave. I get home and break down. It takes me 10 minutes to calm down.
That day I learned that, as a woman, you never wear earphones when your hands are full.
It was also another chapter in an ongoing course about the fact men (on the street anyways) now see me as something to take advantage of, to be seen and discussed like a fruit in the market. I’m no longer a person to them, I’m a pretty little thing walking around.
Lily in the Middle
With all these changes, you might be tempted to think I was exaggerating when I said men don’t treat me like they do other women, but it’s clear when you compare how they are around me with how they are around other girls.
For example, here in Colombia you don’t just wave when you greet someone you know or when you’re leaving, you go and do a cheek kiss. The cheek kiss isn’t actually a kiss; it consists of moving your cheek close to someone else’s, then making a kissing sound.
There are specific social rules that come along with this. Men can greet women with the kiss, women greet other women as well, but it’s not done between men. In that case, you do a handshake, or one of those half-hug, half-handshake things. (The rules change in different countries. In Argentina, for example, men do the cheek kiss with each other.)
I can think of exactly four men who have done the cheek kiss thing with me in the last 8 months. That’s including my family who’s been, for the most part, otherwise very supportive.
Amusingly, what ends up happening is me offering my hand in a limp handshake in an odd imitation of medieval etiquette, and them squeezing it softly before running away from the possibility of doing the cheek kiss greeting with me.
It goes beyond that, of course. While men speak with a much kinder tone and using more gentle words, they don’t speak in the half-flirtatious tone they do with other girls.
This was evidenced most clearly back in October. Every few weeks, they shuffle our spots so we end up sitting next to different people. I ended up next a cute guy who kept talking to me constantly, and telling me really stupid jokes to make me laugh. I recognised the way he was behaving, as I’d been like that with girls pre-transition. However, after a week he suddenly stopped. He was still nice, but he wasn’t like that with me anymore. I’m guessing he changed after learning I was trans.
I also get a lot less attention. I’m not particularly unattractive, but I never have guys coming up to me at work, trying to talk to me, like they do with pretty much every other woman. It’s not even that guys don’t try to ask me out, just that they don’t make any effort to talk. This has led to me trying to understand why they do with other girls.
Looking at the changes I mentioned above, it’s clear men don’t see me as a guy anymore. The main difference between me and other women, then, is the sexual organs we have.
Do guys make the effort talk to women solely because they’re looking for sex? Maybe. It feels reductive, and I don’t remember being that way when I presented male. I can’t help but think about it sometimes. It’s probably just down to me seeming cold and aloof and has nothing to do with sex. Maybe.
Whatever the reason though, most men do see me as “definitely not a man” and mostly treat me as a woman, just not in any way that would make them look ‘gay’.
I’m curious to see how that behaviour changes once my hair grows longer and hormones do enough of their job, until people I meet won’t be able to tell I’m transgender unless I or someone else mentions it. If men assume I’m cis (not trans), they’ll presumably do the cheek kiss and other stuff, but what will happen after they learn I’m trans? Will they behave just like they did before finding out, or will they start treating me as neither one nor the other again?
Essentially, I want to learn whether it’s more based on appearance than on sexual organs.
I do want to state not everyone is like this. There are a few men who have treated me exactly like other women. God bless them.
I’ve loved learning more about human behaviour through my experience the last 7-8 months. I find the difference between other women near-instantly accepting me as one of their own and men seeing me as not-a-man-but-not-quite-a-woman fascinating too. The sexism hasn’t been so nice, even if it was expected. I do enjoy how much kinder people are to me. Sure, it might be because they dismiss me or see me as ‘less of a threat’ but it’s nice to be less guarded and be treated with more gentleness.
I hope this has been an interesting read. It’s difficult to write about something like this because it’s so complex, and there is just too much to talk about. I wrote about everything I could think of, but I’m still afraid I left something huge out. Oh, well.
How does what I said here match your personal experience? What are your thoughts on this?
As always, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below 🙂