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  • Writer's pictureBrendon Lies

How Becoming a Man Made Me a Feminist

To all the women out there, I have bad news for you.

It’s worse than you think.

A lot worse.

I remember how it was, and not a thing has changed. For far too many women, daily life means dealing with downplayed expectations, casual sexist remarks and the assumption that their worth is primarily based on attractiveness.

There were countless times where I was fearful of raising my tone because I would hate to look “unprofessional” or even be dismissed as premenstrual.

Heck, there were times I even dismissed myself for such reasons.

Little things, like messy hair or foul language, were sore spots that needed to be fixed. And whenever I worked for a male employer, there was a unique tone that was saved just for me and the other women in our workplace – describable as a soft tone that you would use to speak to children with.

For countless women and feminine-presenting individuals, experiences like this become a lifelong journey through a hell of gas-lighting and mixed signals.

My life had been no different.

But once the testosterone I was on finally took effect, there was a nearly immediate shift.

You see, trans men have a pretty unique perspective when it comes to the way that genders are treated.

Because testosterone is an aggressive hormone that results in sharpened jaws, raised hairlines, facial hair, lower voices and a top heavy figure, many trans men find that after a certain point they are completely read as male. Sometimes it only takes a few months for strangers to exclusively use “sir” when speaking to you.

At that point, something strange begins to happen. People start to listen, no matter how messy your hair is. Your work is based entirely on your work, and if you confront someone over an issue, they blame it on themselves – yes, instead of you.

A very notable experience I had was the first time at my current job that I lost my temper on a colleague over the phone. Before I transitioned, this sort of outburst would have gotten me severely reprimanded, and they might have even hung up on me.

Instead, they promised an immediate resolution and apologized.

I remember hanging up the phone in utter awe. They hadn’t told me to calm down; in fact, they had actually listened to what I was shouting between curse words.

But besides listening to you, something else happens.

You’re welcomed into discussions you never imagined existed.

The way men talk when women walk away is so much worse than I could have ever imagined. I would suddenly hear bosses comment on the size of other employee’s chests, my neighbors joke about gripping the women at the college next door, or even hear groups of men with kind personalities privately joke about attacking women.

A pretty good example is one of my favorite businesses, which I’ve been going to since long before I transitioned. The burly old man running the business promised quality and profession, and I always enjoyed his fairly harmless personality. Sprouting a goatee didn’t stop me from relying on his services.

Maybe it was just the kind of guy he was, but I was never really questioned about my gradual shift into a new body. He continued to treat me the same as always, like any of his other faithful customers.

But the day I knew I was one of the guys was the day he began to laugh with another customer in front of me about selling his wife to “buy a hot eighteen-year-old to beat around".

The thought that quips like this seem funny or appropriate to men in any context, never mind how frequent it is, a horrific testament to how ingrained the cisgender male population’s casual enforcement of female oppression is.

Still, if that's not hair-curling enough for you, let's really bring some irony into the picture by mentioning the time I was forced to socialize with a friend's brother at an overly crowded party. We were all getting along well, when the young fellow began to joke about "masculine women." He then went on to describe, without hesitation, all the violence he would commit if a trans woman (less eloquently named at the time) were to ever "surprise" him in the bedroom.

Putting aside the irony that he was telling this to a trans person, it's a great way to put in perspective just how stigmatized or even disposable anyone who is feminine really is in the eyes of society.

Even my own journey is a great example of that. My privilege is night and day compared to what trans women must overcome in order to succeed.

While I'm constantly rewarded for "choosing masculinity," trans women are punished or even killed daily for "rejecting theirs."

My heart crumbles at the thought of what my trans siblings go through on this beautiful journey, all because we happen to be going in different directions along what society treats as a one-way street.

That brings me to another point about feminism. Feminism means believing in equality for men and women. It means believing that, while women deserve to be listened to and respected, fabled emotions such as crying (see: "weak" behaviors) should also be allowed among men.

But wait, if men were allowed to show emotions, wouldn't that make them empathetic towards what women go through? No wonder it's forbidden by their fellow men, I guess.

I've seen it myself, even in the way my own friends act around me, and I'm not alone. One of the most jarring changes for many of the trans men I've talked to is to suddenly find that society has isolated them from that closeness towards others. The random intimacy of a shoulder rub from your best friend becomes a thing of the past.

What about a man who needs a hug? Simply unheard of.

From what I’ve seen, as men are forced (by each other, no less) to live aggressive lives free of touch or emotion, women are deemed only to be the ‘accessories’ that are meant to fill in the gaps that men can’t fill themselves – even if it’s exclusively through a sexual context. And I worry that the more men in our society continue to fight in a never ending competition to prove who is the most masculine, the more women will struggle to prove that they don’t just exist in order to compensate for a man’s self-repressed emotions.

You know, I remember desperately wanting to speak up to that business owner at the time, but as a trans person I also feared that doing so would reveal I was trans and possibly even make me a target to aggression.

Fortunately or not, I’ve had plenty of practice since then.

If women were truly somehow different from men, then how would you explain my transition not just from female to male, but from a lightly reprimanded employee with low expectations to the bold voiced director leading an entire wing of a newspaper?

To hell with me... how would you explain every incredible women in history, or those who are working at this very moment to discover new cures, build technology, or even become elected world leaders?

How could a sexist justify the women who, despite every abuse and insult, are working right now to save children left on battlefields that have broken countless men?

It’s time for women to have respect, and for far more men to join me in calling out sexist behavior when it happens. We can’t expect women to carry this fight alone, especially not when they’re mocked every time they leave the room.

There’s no shame in feminism.

In a society where aggression and sexism dominates, nobody wins. And take it from a trans guy… that’s exactly the society we live in right now. 🐾

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