I’m transgender, and you probably wouldn’t know it by looking at me. I am 5’9, and I have a deep voice, body hair, and a masculine face and body shape. I use men’s bathrooms and changing rooms, live with three other guys in a college dorm, play on an intramural men’s basketball team, and sing in a men’s choir group. I look and live just like any other average college dude.
However, my birth certificate says “female”, and for the first 18 years of my life, I was raised accordingly. I spent my childhood, teenage years, and first year of college as a woman. I grew up in the “Bible Belt” (a region of the Southern U.S. with a very high concentration of Protestant Christians) and attended a conservative evangelical church. In my church and school, gender roles were very strongly enforced, partially because many conservative Christians around me believed that men and women were created by God for fundamentally different purposes.
I left the “Bible Belt” nd went away to college in a more liberal, urban environment. During my first year of college, I was very fortunate to become friends with outspoken feminists, proud LGBTQ+ individuals, and people with a wide array of religious and nonreligious upbringings. College introduced me to some of the bravest and most inspiring women I know, and I am glad to have been able to spend my final year as a woman surrounded by these empowering individuals. Because of my amazing friends, professors, and mentors, I was able to have the best possible female experience before deciding to say goodbye to it.
Now that I am in college and living as a man, I have close friendships with a wide variety of people, ranging from straight, athletic fraternity dudes to pansexual, transgender Theatre majors. I have gone from living as a quiet, polite and pretty Southern woman to living as an outgoing, artistic, and bold bisexual man. It’s been the strangest and most amazing journey of my life. As a result of that, I have a pretty unusual perspective on gender, sexuality, and the things that we associate with the categories of “male” and “female”.
Going through a gender transition taught me so much, and I am a better person for it. I hope that by sharing a bit of insight, I can pass along some of the valuable lessons I’ve gathered through my experience. I’m going to speak in some generalizations, and I’m aware that not everything I say applies to every single person. But without further ado, here are a few things I’ve realized about the male and female experiences which I think non-trans people could benefit from hearing about:
(Content warning: end of list discusses sexual harassment and assault)
1. Men aren’t taught to support each other emotionally as well as women are.
In social settings, women are pretty comfortable talking about their emotional struggles in groups. For example, I’ve heard groups of female friends discussing body image issues, family problems, anxiety and depression, and even traumatic experiences. Women support each other through difficulty and let each other know that it’s okay to cry. When a woman cries, other women know what to do about it. They hug her, comfort her with their words, offer sympathy and bring her things to make her feel better. It’s beautiful. Wanna hear something sad? I’ve only heard groups of men discuss emotional issues when they’re all under the influence of alcohol. Men confide in me privately pretty often, and from what I understand, most men aren’t afraid to confide in their friends a bit more in a one-on-one setting. But in a group of guys, it’s a very different dynamic. I think that most guys are really embarrassed to cry, especially in front of a group of people. I recently saw a guy cry in front of an all-male group, and it was clear that the other dudes had no idea what to do. To be clear, they weren’t rude and they didn’t shame him. But they just… stood there like deer stuck in headlights, wide-eyed, jaws slack, not knowing what to do or say. I eventually gave the guy a hug, and that seemed to break the tension.
I think that this discomfort is a result of young boys being taught things like “boys don’t cry”, “man up”, “be tough”, or that it’s “gay” to be sensitive and to show affection to other boys.
2. Women are taught to be ashamed of their bodily functions, and it’s dumb.
Most of my female friends only poop when nobody is around, or they’ll leave a group to find a private bathroom that nobody else is going to go into. If you go into a women’s bathroom, you won’t hear anyone pooping or farting, and people try to be really, really quiet about opening tampon wrappers. And if a woman forgets a tampon? It becomes this awkward social dance where Becky whispers to Alison “hey, I’m sorry, but do you have a tampon??” and then Alison will subtly reach into her purse and hand a tampon to Becky under the table, and then Becky will take the tampon and slide it up her sleeve so nobody sees it when she gets up and walks to the bathroom. Because heaven forbid anybody knows that Becky is going to the bathroom because she’s on her period. And heaven forbid Becky goes to a public bathroom to poop.
In men’s bathrooms, nobody is shy. If someone has to poop or fart, they just let it rip. And if five guys are sitting at a table? It’s pretty acceptable for Brad to stand up and say “I need to take a shit.” And then he’ll walk to the nearest public bathroom and take a shit. He might even return to the group and say “Man, that felt good!” You might say “well, men are gross.” But let’s just consider for a second… what if men aren’t gross? What if men are just honest with their bodies, and women are socially restricted from talking about and doing what’s natural?
4. Men usually don’t take the word “skinny” as a compliment.
Beauty standards can sure be dumb, but they’re still very real. A lot of women want to be thinner, and while criticizing their own bodies, they frequently say things to guys like “ugh, I wish I could eat as much as you and still be that skinny” or “oh my gosh, my arms are bigger than yours, how is that possible?” I did this to guys when I was a woman, and now that I’m a skinny guy, people do it to me. And, well… beauty standards for men and women aren’t the same. Men don’t take “skinny” as a compliment. Being called skinny as a guy is somewhat comparable to being called flat-chested as a woman. The American female beauty standard is skinny, but with perky boobs and a round butt and a flat stomach. That standard is annoying and unattainable for a lot of people. But still, if you don’t look that way it’s easy to be self-conscious about it. The American male beauty standard is V-shaped body, huge muscular arms, chiseled abs, tall. Think Superman, think Ryan Gosling. Are they skinny? Nope. They’re jacked. So if you call a guy skinny, just be aware that you’re pointing out to him that he doesn’t meet the “ideal male beauty standard”.
5. Capitalism takes advantage of women.
Let’s use pants as an example. When I wore women’s clothes, I usually wore a size 4 in shorts and a 6 in long pants. At certain stores, I was an 8. Before I hit puberty I was a size 0 or 2. You know what size I am in men’s pants? A 29-32. I’m a 29-32 in almost every store because it’s an actual measurement. 29 is the waist circumference, and 32 is the length. That’s how men’s sizing works, while women have to figure out what a size “6” is supposed to mean in every store. What kind of bullshit is that?? Here’s another thing: Men’s pants, even really tight ones, have good, deep pockets on the front and on the back. You can carry everything you need in your pants, then you have your hands free. Women’s pants have tiny or nonexistent pockets, so then they have to carry everything by hand or buy a purse, which gives money to the accessory industry. And the clothing sizes are bullshit, so then women feel bad about their weight and their body shape which fuels the diet industry. And then they’re bombarded with images of airbrushed models wearing loads of makeup, and then they buy that makeup which fuels the cosmetics industry. And then all that constant heavy makeup gives them acne and dry skin so then they buy expensive skincare products. And if you have boobs, which, shocker, most women do- you likely need to wear a bra every day to feel comfortable. And a bra is like.. $40. And menstrual products are expensive, and you need it every month. Pink tax, ladies and gentlemen. And sure, fashion and makeup are awesome ways to express yourself and it can be an art form, but when fashionable clothing and a certain type of body and perfect looking skin and hair become the norm- and if you’re considered unattractive or even unprofessional if you don’t look that way, then you have no choice but to be affected by these standards. I could go on all day. It’s bullshit.
6. Most guys don’t actually know what the concept of “toxic masculinity” means. Let’s clear it up.
Toxic masculinity does not mean that masculinity is bad. It is not meant to be an insult, and it does not mean that there’s something wrong with being a man. “Toxic Masculinity” simply means that our long-held stereotypes about what it means to be a man can be problematic.
Toxic masculinity is a categorical, conceptual term, used similarly to words like sexism, racism, or homophobia. Men can be both victims and perpetrators of toxic masculinity, in the same way that a woman can be a victim and a perpetrator of misogyny.
For women, old-fashioned standards of what it means to be “ladylike” can obviously be really problematic, which is why movements like feminism, womanism, and body positivity are so necessary and amazing. Women should never be told that they “belong in the house”, are “too emotional for a power position” or should “keep their voices down”. Stereotypes like this lead to both individual and systemic injustice.
For guys, old-fashioned stereotypes about “manliness” can be just as harmful.
Watch any movie from the eighties or earlier and you’ll see examples. Men have been historically celebrated for being physically strong, emotionally stoic, heterosexual, sexually dominating, aggressive, loud, and demanding. In an eighties movie, you might hear problematic examples like this:
“Son, I don’t know why you spend so much time working on your shitty poetry. You should try out for the football team instead.”
“Kid, stop crying right now or I’ll give you something real to cry about. Nobody is going to take you seriously if you’re so sensitive all the time.”
“You haven’t had sex with her yet? What are you, gay? You should get her a little drunk and go for it while she’s loosened up.”
This is toxic masculinity. Boys and men suffer deeply when they are constantly told to “stop crying”, to “stop being sensitive”, to “take it like a man”, that “nice guys finish last”, and that “boys will be boys”. It means that men aren’t taught how to process their emotions, how to treat others with respect and kindness, and how to explore their creative and sensitive sides. Furthermore, hurt people hurt people. When men are hurting, they are more likely to take out pent-up anger or insecurity on others, leading to an all-around worse society.
7. If you call a guy “gay” for being sensitive or creative, you’re contributing to toxic masculinity.
Fortunately, the world is becoming more progressive and less homophobic, but some people still use the word “gay” as if it’s some type of insult or accusation. Guys can get called “gay” if they cry, complement each other, hug each other for too long, sing, dance, do theatre, wear tight clothes, wear colorful clothes, take an interest in certain topics, act emotionally sensitive, talk a certain way, walk a certain way, aren’t “macho” enough- all kinds of dumb things that shouldn’t pertain to sexual orientation.
As a woman, my sexuality was never questioned when I did something that didn’t pertain to typical gender stereotypes. As a man, people ask me if I’m gay pretty frequently. I have a lot of theatre friends, many of whom are straight, and I don’t think I know a single guy in the fine and performing arts who haven’t been directly asked at some point if he’s gay.
Asking creative or sensitive men if they’re gay all the time just reinforces the toxic stereotype that men have to be tough and “macho” all the time to be valid. So… just think about that.
8. A lot of guys like doing “girly” things- they’re just never offered opportunities to do them.
If you’re a guy, you’ve most likely been told at some point in your childhood that you can’t do something because it’s “just for girls”.
Here’s an example- My teenage brother is a straight and very stereotypically masculine dude. One time when we were kids, my mom was painting her nails pink. I asked her to paint mine too. I was her little girl at the time, and she said yes. My brother was four, and he excitedly asked for nail polish as well. My mom said no, because “nail polish is just for girls and people would make fun of him”. He cried. A few days later, my mom bought blue nail polish, and painted his nails with that because it was a “boy color”. Stuff like this happens to little boys all the time, and a lot of parents don’t even try to meet their boys halfway with things like the blue polish.
One guy in my family received a pink t-shirt as a Christmas gift this year. He said “Thank you! I’ve always wanted to have a pink shirt but I’ve never gotten one before.” He wore it the very next day. I’ve also seen guys get really excited about using face masks, getting their nails painted, or having makeup applied by their female friends. I know guys who love watching rom-coms. I know guys who love pop music. I know guys who love to sing and dance and perform. I know guys who really enjoy shopping. But most of the time, men only get to do these things when they’re hanging out with women or with their girlfriends. And they’re often the butt of jokes while they participate –
“Oh my gosh, I can’t believe you’re letting us put makeup on you. Everybody come see, Josh is getting a makeover! How embarrassed would you be if I sent a picture of this to your basketball friends? Wow, look at this, why is he actually pretty??”
Here’s why this is a problem: A lot of things that we associate with femininity are actually rooted in self-expression, creativity, and emotional connection with others. When boys are raised being told that they can’t do “girly” things, we’re really denying them a lot of opportunities to become more well-rounded, creative, and emotionally intelligent people.
9. Men are way more insecure about their bodies than women seem to know.
Men are taught to laugh off their insecurities and make fun of themselves when they’re feeling hurt, so they’ll tease themselves for being fat or scrawny or short or whatever else.
But before transitioning, I didn’t know how many men were truly ashamed of their bodies and were afraid to express that to anyone. A lot of guys hate being skinny and wish that they were more muscular. A lot of guys are embarrassed about having a gut. I know several guys who won’t take their shirt off in a changing room or at a pool because they’re embarrassed about their weight. Guys are also embarrassed about their acne, scared of going bald, and self-conscious about their body hair or lack thereof. Guys are embarrassed about their dick size (and honestly, with good reason – people publicly talk trash about guys with small and/or skinny dicks all the time. Let’s flip this for a second- have you ever heard someone publicly talk trash about the shape/size/etc of a particular woman’s vagina? Probably not.) And guys are also made fun of for caring too much about their appearance, because, again, people call that “gay”. So if you’re a woman and you make fun of your boyfriend for being pudgy, or skinny, or short, or for having a receding hairline, or for caring about his appearance, or whatever else… you may be really hurting him. Think about how you would feel if he did the same to you.
10. Most women have been sexually harassed or assaulted at some point in their life.
For a lot of men, this is really hard to believe. But dudes- As a person who has lived as a woman and as a man, I can promise you that it’s very true, it has happened to me and that it has probably happened to your girlfriends, female friends, sisters, mothers, and literally every other woman you know.
Let’s go through a brief list: On public transportation, I’ve had multiple strangers cat-call me, grab me by the shoulders, call me “sexy bitch”, and call me creepy pet-names. Once, I was walking past a park with my mom, and a man yelled at us “Look at those fine pieces of meat!” I had a teacher who would put his hand on my shoulder and look down my shirt while he “checked my homework”. He did it to everyone. Girls started bringing jackets to class to hide their chests. I had a church leader who always greeted me with “hey there, pretty girl” while rubbing my back. I was 12. While working in a restaurant, I had a coworker pin my hand down to a table. He stroked my arm while he asked “why are you so scared of everyone? You know why you don’t have a boyfriend? Cause you’re too shy.” I even had one experience (details omitted for sensitivity) that resulted in physical injury.
I’m just one person. My experience is not uncommon. Sexual harassment happened to me all the time from the ages of 11-18. I stopped being sexually harassed the moment I started looking male. When guys don’t understand #MeToo, it’s because a lot of them have never experienced anything like it*. But I promise you, it happens. Believe women.
*( I don’t want to downplay the reality of sexual assault among men and boys, however. Recent events surrounding the Catholic Church, kids’ baseball leagues, and other institutions have resulted in men coming forward with stories of sexual assault at young and vulnerable ages. Male college students under the influence of alcohol are also common victims of assault. It can truly happen to anyone of any gender.)
I hope that no matter what gender we are, we can all work to create a better world by understanding each other’s experiences. I believe that sharing our stories creates knowledge and empathy, and I write in the hopes that people can take away something new from my story.