Gender matters, because people instinctively react to you differently based on your gender presentation. As much as I wish I could argue that gender doesn’t matter, as I tried to do for so long before I finally came out as transgender, I can’t. It affects every aspect of how people react to you. Transitioning is incredibly eye opening, because you can learn first hand the difference in how people act based on something as simple as your gender presentation.
Before transitioning, I was largely invisible. Whether I was at work, or walking down the street in public, or at a store, no one paid any attention to me. It’s something that I never even thought about before. People just left me to do my business, whatever it might have been, and never said a word. Even when I was playing Ingress, the precursor to Pokemon Go, running around downtown at 3 in the morning staring at my phone and taking pictures, no one said a word, and let me tell you, there was nothing inconspicuous about playing Ingress. I was always vaguely worried cops would show up and ask what I was doing, but never once did it happen. It’s a privilege that being a 30 year old white guy provided for me.
That all changed once I started transitioning. In the early days of my transition, I wrote it off as just being a fish out of water. I’m certain that I didn’t pass as female, and got very used of the “why are you wearing a dress” stare of judging and confusion. I thought I just stood out, and at the time I probably did. I assume that with time I’d go back to being invisible once I started to pass as a woman.
I was wrong. While the staring eventually subsided, the invisibility never returned. The staring was replaced by nods and smiles and random comments as I walk down the street. In the 33 years of presenting as male, I never once had someone compliment me on my clothing, or even comment on it. No one ever struck up a conversation with me because of what I was wearing. Now, I don’t think there’s a week that goes by without someone randomly commenting on my appearance.
It doesn’t matter how I’m dressed. I could be wearing jeans and a nerdy t-shirt, and someone will comment on my nerdy t-shirt, or even the pair of jeans. I could be wearing a cute pair of leggings, and someone will comment on them. If I’m wearing a dress, someone will almost certainly comment on it. I’ll admit that my fashion sense is much better now that I’m not trying to hide my body behind baggy clothes, but that doesn’t account for the difference in how I’m treated.
The first time it happened, it really weirded me out. I was putting groceries in the car at costco, and an old man walks up to me, compliments me on my dress, and walks off before I can even process what he just said. I was wearing a plain black ankle-length dress with spaghetti straps. I guarantee that I in no way stood out from the crowd.
Most recently, I was grocery shopping and was stopped by the bag boy. I was wearing leggings styled after Tracer from Overwatch. He stopped me on the way out the door and asked what my favorite Overwatch League team was. In this particular case, I’ll admit that I probably stood out in my bright orange leggings, but never once has anyone in my life ever commented on the nerdy things that I wear. Not once, let alone actually struck up a nerdy conversation about them. Before coming out as transgender, my wardrobe largely consisted of jeans, cargo pants, and nerdy t-shirts. I guess it is expected for a 20-30 something lanky young man to be into video game things, but a girl? I have to talk to her! Nevermind that she’s twice my age!
Work is another interesting place where I am being treated differently. I honestly don’t know if it’s because I’m the only transgender person in the office, and therefore everyone knows me now (despite me knowing hardly anyone), or if it’s because I am now a woman and treated differently because of being a woman. Whereas before, walking through the halls, people would largely ignore me, now I get plenty of people talking to me. Whether it’s just a simple “hello” or someone actually strikes up a conversation, it’s something that never really happened before. People just seem friendlier, which is strange. It’s caused me some awkward confusion as well, because someone would be talking to me, and I’d be oblivious, because why would anyone be talking to me?
Even ignoring my clothing choices, people treat me differently. I’ve witnessed the dreaded mansplaining to other women, particularly my best friends, but never once had it happened to me, at least not until I came out as transgender. Now that I present as a woman, I can’t walk into a game store without someone talking down to me. The first time it happened I remember vividly, because I had to go online and laugh with my friends about how some kid tried to mansplain Dungeons and Dragons to me. Of course it isn’t ever done maliciously, but it’s very strange when you’re used to being able to nod along with a conversation, to have it suddenly stop so that fairly simple things that I assumed anyone with a basic knowledge of D&D would know could be explained. I specifically remember having said a few times that, yes, I have played a lot of D&D in the past, but that didn’t seem to matter.
Never before transitioning was I asked if I needed a fitting room, and had a salesperson take the clothes I had draped over my arm to the fitting room for me. That just isn’t a thing that happens to men when shopping. It probably has at least a little bit to do with the fact that there aren’t really any men’s clothing stores, unless you count men’s formal wear stores, which I don’t really. That, and the fact that once you know your size in men’s clothing, you don’t really have to try anything on. Men’s clothing sizes just make sense. Women’s clothing sizes are, well, there be dragons
I briefly touched on this in my You never showed signs of being transgender post, but even in the virtual world of video games you get treated differently based on how people perceive your gender. It seems strange to me that the virtual world, where everyone should be seen as equal, even has these same problems. Never when I was presenting as male in a video game did I ever have to prove my gender. The minute I started playing a female character in World of Warcraft I started having to prove that I was a woman. Of course that’s not something you can do online, but the demands happen nonetheless.
Recently, I was playing Overwatch and someone in chat said something along the lines of “how we all doing today, boys?” and I quickly responded with “and girls.” Usually I don’t get much response to that, but this one time someone else in the group responded with asking who was a girl. I typed in that I was, and they immediately demanded that I start using voice chat so they know that I’m not “catfishing” them. Catfishing, for those that don’t spend a lot of time in the bowels of the internet, is slang for pretending that you’re someone you’re not, and usually for sexual gain of some kind because that’s exactly what I want when playing a competitive game of Overwatch. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if I actually tried using my mic after that incident. They almost certainly would have assumed I was just messing with them because of my voice not being stereotypical feminine, and at worst would have made some terrible transphobic comments.
I’m sure all of these are things that women spend their whole lives getting used to and dealing with, but when I was presenting as male, I was largely oblivious. Sure, especially as I became more socially aware, I would hear stories of this sort of treatment from other women, but it is all together different to experience it for oneself.