Macho Men & The Femme Factor

Sabrina Pandora

I’ve noticed that there seems to be a bit of a division in the trans community, such as it were.  I thought I’d take today to comment on it.

Y’see, there are certain inequalities that exist in the trans community.  Well, let’s be honest, there are a lot of them, but today we’re going to examine one so that I can move on to my point.  And that inequality is in passing.

Between transmen and transwomen there is a very, very clear division on this, and it has been pretty accepted, so I don’t feel as though I am overstepping my bounds in making this observation.  Transmen have an easier time of it when it comes to passing than transwomen, at least on casual inspection.  After all, a short haircut, men’s clothes, a binder and a little bit of swagger can go a long ways.  Add a little facial hair to that equation and very few people really question what’s under there.  They are far more likely to jump to the conclusion ‘gay man’ then they are ‘trans man’.

But for transwomen it is usually a whole lot harder.  Trying to dress up a Y chromosome in a pretty package and make it look X so that society won’t freak out, discriminate and laugh at you is a whole lot harder.  This is arguable, but again, I’m pretty sure that I’m on target here.

So with that logical assumption made, we move on to my next observation, which is segregation between the gender fences in the trans community.  How often do you see transmen and transwomen hanging out together?  Seems pretty seldom.  Transwomen and transmen flock together all right (so long as the trans women are all either unpassable or uncaring- but that’s a column for another time).  But the intermingling just doesn’t seem to happen.  Now why is that?

Observation has told me that it is the Passing Prejudice.  The rule that says that if you are trans and you spend time with someone who does not pass well enough, then you are instead making yourself suspect as well and bringing down your own passability.  Now, mind you, this rule also applies to straights who hang out with non-passable transfolk, but somehow it usually doesn’t bother them as much.  Go figure.

Because as mentioned earlier, transmen often pass reasonably easily, whereas transwomen do not.  So in order to keep themselves from being ‘read’, they avoid their opposite numbers when they can, and certainly don’t make a habit of socializing with them.  Besides, there is that not-so-vague and not-so-quiet notion that has been circulated that transmen somehow view their sisters in transition as somehow idiotic and ridiculous.  As they are working so hard to distance themselves from stereotypically feminine behavior, habits and lifestyle, transwomen are often rushing headlong to embrace it, some at a breakneck pace.  It just makes no sense to many transmen, and much like so many activists look at the overblown drag queens on floats in parades and shake their heads that these are their representatives to the community and how they are viewed by the world at large, so too do the transmen look at the 50 year old transwoman in the too-short vinyl skirt and six inch heels and fishnet top and bra with a bedraggled wig and sigh.

But there’s something that they are missing out on, and I think that it is important enough to mention and shed a little light upon.

You see, transwomen are a huge resource for transmen that are being largely ignored.  Yes, they do tend to have their idiosyncrasies and they do have their moments, but there is a simple fact that most transmen seem to overlook when considering them.  You see, transmen, particularly when they are first starting out, do not usually have an understanding of the nuances of masculine society.  They do not understand the subtle body language, the power of a nod up or down when passing another man, the difference in the way that a self-confident man walks versus an angry man or an effeminate man.

Sure, we can argue all day about the definitions of masculinity and how it is up to the individual to define that for themselves.  You betcha, that is quite true.  But the reality of the situation is that while society has some pretty preset and concrete ideas of what is femininity, it has even stronger ideas about masculinity.  And they are very simple, very basic and very, very concrete.

And transwomen know them better than anyone else in the world.

Why?  Because they did not come naturally to them… they had to learn to emulate those masculine behaviors and adhere to those masculine codes in order to learn to survive in the society that they never chose, but was thrust upon them.  Crossing your legs the right way, keeping those hand gestures tight and firm, portraying the acceptable emotional states… all of these things and so many more are all something that transwomen had to learn, because for so many of them, it did not come naturally.  They had to ape the men around them, and often through ridicule and hazing did they find what was acceptable.

So when they encounter transmen, here is a golden opportunity.  Any transwoman who had to unlearn behaviors and body language could potentially make a fantastic tutor for transmen who are trying to hone their own masculine behaviors.  Just as walking in heels takes practice and comes with a learning curve, so too does walking in sneakers as a guy, or cowboy boots.  Women walk with their elbows in, one of the keys of feminine body language, whereas men bow their elbows out to take up more space and appear larger.  Women run their fingers through their hair one way, men do it another.  Seldom will you see a woman rubbing the scruff of her chin while thinking, whereas men seldom play with their lower lip when in thought.

All of these subtle nuances that could be transferred… lost.  And I imagine that there is some teaching to go in the other direction too, but on that I can’t speak… after all, I know a few transmen in passing, but I can’t say that I am close friends with a single one.  Why?  Because I am a transwoman.  I am high femme, and I’ve yet to meet a transman who thought I had a single solitary thing to offer him, forget about actually befriending me and spending time around me.  And apparently in this I am not alone, as I poll other transwomen that I know, and find that while we know others of our own estrogen-fueled tribe, the testosterone tribe is unknown to us all.

So here’s the call to our brothers in transition… in many cases, we’re here, we know, and we can be an invaluable resource for you if you can get over stubborn pride and seek us out.  We spent years pretending to be men, so we know a bit about the subject of outward shows of masculinity.  Perhaps we might be able to help you become the man that you want to be… and perhaps you might be able to steer us away from floral prints and leather miniskirts.

 

Written by Sabrina Pandora

TQ Nation contributor

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5 Comments

Filed under Spout Out, Support

5 responses to “Macho Men & The Femme Factor

  1. Jami Hunter

    There is an excellent book called, “Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity” by Julia Serano that really gets at the heart of the matter. We had to read it for my Queer Ethics course – I couldn’t put it down.

  2. Sabrina,

    I have to agree with you. There’s a whole bunch of division in trans communities. I’ve had great experiences dating and being friends with transwomen. Actually, it was a transwoman who first pointed out to me that I may be trans, long before I even knew that it was a possibility. I don’t think the blame lies only with transmen though, I think that we’re both at fault for the division within our communities. I’ve lived in several provinces and states and it’s the same everywhere. There’ s not a whole lot of trans men and women mingling. I hope this changes eventually.

  3. Devin

    Lady, you’ve made a believer outta me! I’m a 29 y.o transman in NY. I came to the decision to transition in my mid-20s and man did you hit the nail on the head. I hate to admit it but I’ve looked at transwomen struggling in their transition and sighed. The reason is exactly what you said…I’m afraid hanging out with unpassable women will as you said make me look “suspect”. Now that I’ve had the appropriate karmic bitch slap, I’m going to consciously to to amend that sad fact. Kudos to you for bringing this avoided topic to light 🙂

  4. Adrian Dae

    Well said, I agree with the noticeable separation between the transmen and the transwomen. I’d like to help change that…

  5. Jo/e Noakes

    While I completely agree with you in principal, I found it’s not so easy in practice. When I was first transitioning those many years ago, I only had transwomen to ‘hang out with’ — transmen were few and far between. I quite naively thought I could trade my hard won knowledge of ‘feminine graces’ from my ‘Barbie years’ with those very male tricks I was lacking but assumed that transwomen were versed in. Instead, I was told 1) reminding transwomen that they had once passed as men was the height of insensitivity; and 2) any knowledge I had gained into how to live as a woman was invalidated since I wasn’t a ‘true woman’.
    I sincerely hope these attitudes have faded, but I’m not holding my breath.

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