More Questions from Class
Last week, I explained how I often include an "Ask a Trans Person" lecture when I'm teaching gender identity and transgender issues. I included a few questions that I was asked and how I answered them. In this post, I'll continue with more questions from that class. Again, I welcome reader questions as well, and I'll include those as I receive them.
7. Given your vast knowledge on gender equity issues (Thanks for the compliment!), did that make the process of going from the gender society views as superior to the "inferior" gender more daunting or difficult?
(Of course, compared to the students, my knowledge on the issues is vast, but not when compared to who I consider experts on the topic. I'm still learning, and there's much to know.)
I bet that the student struggled with asking this question, given what we'd already discussed, but I appreciated the effort to indicate that the stereotypes are there, but false. It's true that women are viewed as the weaker gender, even though we aren't.
My knowledge has made me more prepared to deal with gender inequity, frankly. I was definitely worried about my burgeoning career and that both transitioning (and being trans) and transitioning to a woman in a male-dominated field might cause problems for me. It remains to be seen whether it will, but I feel well-equipped to deal with it. I know about things like gender optics at a conference. I make sure that if I'm the speaker, the questions get asked to me and not a (male) commentator. This is very typical at philosophy conferences with a female speaker and a male commentator (and an inexperienced or ineffective chair). Or if I'm chairing a session and I see this happen, I make sure that the questions are all asked of the speaker and that the commentator doesn't butt in and take over (which I saw happen at a recent regional conference to some (male) grad students by a tenured faculty commentator). I was appalled. But I expect it, and I have some tools for how to deal with it.
8. You said that you enjoy being female; considering the gender equity problems, what do you enjoy most about being female?
One of my favourite students this term asked me this question verbally after I had gone through the non-surgery-related questions from the anonymous question cards.
Fabulous question. Being female, for me, is awesome. I've seriously never been this happy and content. I often walk around with a stupid half-grin because of it.
First, it just "feels" right to be female, and I don't have to go around faking being male. I wasn't very good at it, and wasn't happy doing it.
Second, my friendships and acquaintanceships are far, far better. I'm much more open as a person, free, and fun. I have far more friends now than I did before, and my friendships are all better, particularly with other women. I've definitely noticed the stark difference between how women act in only a group of women (which is one reason that I love "girls' nights" and our university's monthly meeting of the women's group), and in a group containing any (or even mostly) men. The vibe changes entirely. I've even noticed how my mood changes when there's a male presence (basically, we close up a little bit).
I still have a male roommate who moved back in for the semester. I hate it. Sure, the money helps, but I shouldn't have sacrificed my mental and emotional well-being for that. It wasn't worth it. I'm regretting it, and counting down the days until he moves out.
Third, having emotions is awesome. Sure, guys "have" emotions, but they're buried way down deep inside and it's very hard for them to come to the surface, and guys have a very limited emotional intelligence: they're aware of only a few emotions, and can't make fine distinctions. My emotions are now very near the surface. It doesn't take much to get me crying these days (and no, that's not being an "emotional woman" out of control — I hate that stereotype: one can be emotional and rational at the same time, despite what most men think). I feel more connected to myself and to others because of it.
Fourth, I love fashion. I don't dig fashion because I'm an ignorant transling who thinks that all women have to care about fashion (that's the pathetic and artificial tropes I discussed in a previous post), I just genuinely like it. So I like being able to be fashionable, particularly at work.
There are other things, but they're mostly connected to being able to finally be my authentic self. That's a very comforting thing.
9. Do you feel that being a man or a woman is more difficult?
For me, being male was horrible. I hated everything about it, mostly because it wasn't me. So being female is pretty easy for me, because I know how lucky I am to have finally found out who I am and where I belong. But that's not to gloss over that life as a woman is almost certainly harder: male privilege is a very real thing. The deck is stacked against women, and the game is rigged, that's for sure. But I'd take all that and the ability to be my authentic self over the alternative any day, all day.
10. When do you think it is the "right time" to determine your sexual identity.
I'm glad a student asked this, because I had been hammering home that gender identity and sexual orientation are completely different. So I took it as a teachable moment, and answered the question as if the student had asked me about gender identity.
As soon as possible, of course. I think that we think that "right now" is a bad time, and it'll be easier in the future. After I get a job, after I get my degree, after I finish high school, after I the kids are grown up…and all the other time excuses we give ourselves. I certainly strongly considered putting it off until after tenure, or at least until after I obtained a tenure-track job. But it's like a throbbing, aching toothache that is with you every day, all day, and you know that you can do something about it at any time. I simply couldn't wait; it would have been torture. And my heart breaks for all of those who are going through this right now.
If I could do it all over again, I would have transitioned as young as possible. I first started thinking along these lines at 13, so I guess my answer is then. However, it would have been better just to have been born with the right gender assignment and body in the first place…but c'est la vie. I don't regret the impossible. Importantly, though, I don't know whether I would have been able to bring myself to tell my parents at 13. Who knows how they'd have reacted, especially 17 years ago when there was even less information and public awareness than there is now. But I do wish that I had those childhood and teen experiences of being female.
Well, on that note, I'll continue with some more questions next time.