Male privilege is no myth. We live in a patriarchal society—male-centric power structures seem to dominate everywhere, from government to office culture to the way we consciously (and unconsciously) evaluate morals and aesthetics. Most of us take this for granted: the fact that sexualized women typically appear next to cars in automobile advertisements continues to be a cultural norm. As recently as 2014, women working full-time in America were paid 79% of what men were paid for the same positions. Look around you at this very moment, and I’m sure you’ll see signs of male privilege in your immediate surroundings.
So where does that leave trans men when it comes to male privilege?
Many trans men (AKA transmasculine folks) such as myself have taken hormones (testosterone) to help us express our gender identities more authentically. On T, I am read as a man in many contexts: I now have facial hair, my voice is lower, and I build muscle more quickly. I can only speak for my experience, but I know that I’ve seen male privilege in action.
In order to add more nuance and depth to the observations I’ve had about male privilege, I decided to revisit the topic of male privilege by reaching out to a few people in my community who have medically transitioned from female to male. The interviews I conducted and transcribed below take into account my perspective, while showcasing the opinions of three other trans men: Asher, Cristoffer and Andre.
Asher is a 31-year-old transman of Latino descent. He has been on testosterone for 3 years, and is 10 months post-top surgery. He was raised in Texas and now lives in Asheville, North Carolina.
Cristoffer is a 20-year-old white man (how he identifies), who has been socially transitioning since he was 15. He has now been on testosterone for 1.5 years, having started when he was just 18. He grew up in poverty with fairly supportive parents – until he came out as transgender. He lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Andre is a 35-year-old African American trans man who has been on testosterone for just over a year. He is an educator and has worked in the field for almost 10 years now. He lives in the greater Boston area in Massachusetts.
Gabriel: Tell me a few reactions you’ve had since beginning to transition on T.
Asher: At first, it felt like I was not seeing any changes and I was very impatient — then they just kind of crept up on me. Now when I look in the mirror I feel calmer — I will be 3 years on T in August. I am fully perceived as male in all encounters, and I was surprised at the changes in all of my interactions. I knew I would have male privilege, and I do. I try my best to be the male in the room that calls out misogynistic behavior — or I just leave the space if it’s clear whoever I’m with is not going to change.
Crisstofer: I notice changes in the little things. Since being on T for a little over a year now, I don't get questioned as often when I'm passing. I notice that what I say seems to matter more to others as well. (Editor’s Note: passing refers to a trans person’s ability to be perceived at a glance as a cisgender man or a cisgender woman, rather than a trans person).
Andre: After I came out as trans, but before I started T, my coworkers still treated me as a female, I think. They would include me in conversations about dating, families and friends. Once I started T, I noticed I was no longer invited to be a part of those conversations.
Gabriel: Could you more specifically describe the ways that you feel you are treated differently now, as compared to when you were perceived as female?
Asher: To me, it has been like being wrapped in a warm blanket. I notice that older men are quicker to help me or give advice. It feels good—I like learning from their stories. There is this unspoken connection with other guys now: a nod, a shrug, a simple "hey.” I have an easier time having conversations with other men now. When I was pre-T, I felt that there was often competition among girls and women. Now that I’m a man, the only time I feel an obvious sense of competition with another guy is at the gym if we are talking about lifting. I found out that I am an "alpha" male — and the more I learn about it, the more that title suits me. When we hear that title we may think "douchebag macho asshole.” But to me it means being strong in crisis situations, helping others, and being commanding and confident in your own life. I am aware of male privilege — and I am aware I have it — but it is worth fighting against if it means that I have a home in my body and male community.
Crisstofer: My girlfriend has a way more impressive job history, although we have had almost identical jobs twice. Each of those times, I got paid 25 - 50 cents more than her per hour. Looking back, I feel more respected and listened to now that I’m perceived as a man. As far as how my specific career expectations have changed externally, I'm not totally sure.
Andre: Well, I no longer get cat-called or hit on by men—and this is probably my favorite part of the social change. I am no longer judged by what I wear, though I used to feel like I had little-to-no fashion sense compared to other women, and was often made fun of for what I wore. One strange change I’ve noticed is that my students seem to listen to me more carefully. One of my classes got to know me pre-T and post-T. In the pre-T phase, my class would listen to me maybe 50% of the time. Once I started T, I became the preferred staff member and they would listen to me far more than to the other teacher in the room. I play lots of board games and the gaming group I’m a part of started to let me make my own decisions and seems to respect me way more. (Annoyingly, they used to steal my turn several times pre-T.)
Gabriel: Interesting. Many of these experiences seem to highlight more of the “positive” effects of male privilege. Have any of you had any negative experiences with male privilege? How do you feel about gender inequality after having experienced two sides of the coin, so to speak?
Asher: I cannot speak to negative effects, since I haven’t yet had any. Though I do remember the first time I was seen as a threat to a woman. At that point, I had just begun passing as a man to most people I encountered. I remember vividly that I was at a friend’s apartment across the street from mine, and at one point, I realized that I had to go back to my place to grab something. It was dusk and the sun had just set. Only after I had approached my building (still running) was I finally able to notice that there was a woman there: I saw her jump and heard her make a terrible squeaking noise—she was clearly frightened, and seemed to have assumed I was running at her. I felt terrible, but it happened so quickly that I kept moving past her and unlocked my door with a simple "sorry.” When I took a moment to catch my breath, I felt my stomach turn as I thought about her fear. I can only hope I did not trigger her too badly. Now I try never to run at night.
Crisstofer: I'm not sure if this falls into privilege but I have had a hell of a time relearning how to socialize with people. My manner of talking to people as female never met with any notable reactions. But now as a male, I find that I’m often perceived as flirting, and it has actually caused a few fights in my relationship. I would love to see equality really happen, but until I do, I plan to use my privilege to my advantage when someone who isn't a straight white man is being ignored in a conversation.
Andre: I am a black man, and luckily, I haven't yet had too many awful things happen to me. But I do know that I get watched a lot more now if I go into high-end stores. And while I know most men experience the need to be sensitive about women walking on the street at night, I have found that I feel a need to be extra-extra sensitive. In fact, I feel the need to cross the street, and also that I should be much more aware of what I am wearing. If I am dressed casually (sweatpants, t-shirt and hat) I am taken as a youth looking for trouble. This has happened before.
Gabriel: Thank you all for sharing these experiences with me. I have one last thing to ask: what assumptions about you do you think others bring to the table now that you’re perceived as male?”
Asher: I think most people, male and female, assume that I am just like other guys. Men seem to assume that I have always been socialized as a male—and females tend to think the worst of me before I even talk. It makes it harder to express myself to either gender — so I tend to use my appearance to express myself as the person I am. I have tattoos and plugs in my ears; I mix my style to be both unique and traditionally masculine. That seems to attract people who are like me in some ways.
Crisstofer: Assumed about me? Well, it is assumed that my primary relationship is more serious and committed than before — or that I'm gay because I'm an outspoken feminist and openly body positive, that I must have kids and that I know what people are talking about when they talk about cars.
Andre: That I am intimidating. I have a few new co-workers who seem afraid to approach me. To return to the black man thing again: I think some people assume that I am dangerous. I get stared at more now when I work with my students. Other men assume that I hold the same values against women as they do and try to engage me in misogynistic conversations. I most definitely don't engage, and instead try to shut them down if it starts. It is also assumed that I am a “dudebro,” that I like sports and follow “manly” things. I am far from that. I love to knit, sew and craft.
Gabriel: Thank you all for your responses. It’s not easy to share these experiences. This is a subject that needs to be talked about more often within our community.
While these folks and their responses offer insight into how people gain male privilege through medically transitioning, there’s much more to the story. Despite the small sample size, these different narratives will, hopefully, be a starting point for those who don’t know what male privilege is. They might help spur honest conversations about feminism and gender equality in the transgender community and beyond. This is a patriarchal society that sees masculinity as more valuable and I, along with my peers, would like to help change that.
Gabriel Coppersan is a transgender man who started his medical transition at the age of 22, just after graduating from Hunter College with a BA in Psychology. He started his blog, Dear Cis People, with the original intention of just voicing thoughts about issues and experiences that are relevant in the transgender community. After writing just a few posts, Gabriel started blogging more seriously, as readers began reaching out. Aside from writing, Gabriel makes videos on his YouTube channel about his personal transition and life updates, along wih coverage of transgender topics, and issues related to mental health.