I’ve seen and heard many transmasculine people who decide to medically transition express a change in how others perceive their ‘position’ in society. A new set of privileges are thrust upon them, inadvertently, with them moving a rung up on the ladder of society; passing as male and therefore benefiting from the higher level of respect males receive from other males and women. Being seen, heard, listened to, their ideas being respected – not questioned, no longer having to prove their worth in many areas. Male privilege. But, the majority of transmasculine people whom have transitioned and whom have made themselves visible to others are white, this experience doesn’t epitomize the experience for black transmasculine guys. So let me share my experience to shed some light on this although everyone’s experience will always differ.
For the first 24 years of my life (I had fleeting phases of expressing my gender in a masculine manner) I presented as a feminine, black female. I excelled in sports and physical education from a young age. I also excelled academically, from primary school to university gaining a 1st Class Honours Degree in Business with Economics. Being extremely entrepreneurial I have started ventures in a few different arenas since the age of 13, and have, by societies standards, been pretty high achieving. In my late teens and early twenties I blossomed into an eloquent, confident and assertive black ‘woman’ of colour which earned incredible respect from my peers, teachers, tutors and prospective employers. Every job I’ve wanted I’ve gotten, and anytime I’ve had a change in direction career wise, I have never struggled to gain the respect and faith of those I needed it from to make the shifts. To me, being a black woman who is educated, conventionally attractive, assertive, confident, funny and relatable has been even more powerful than being white.
I experienced the ‘wow’ factor when I opened my mouth and expressed my views, whilst watching the minds of the people I’m conversing with switch on – suddenly perceiving me as not just a pretty face, but a strong, opinionated black women. White people don’t get to ‘wow’ others in the same way, because they don’t have a strong stereotype of stigma attached to them.
Now let’s talk about the changes I have experienced since I have been presenting in a more masculine way consistently for nearly a year. Bearing in mind I am pre-T and I am only very infrequently passing as male. I have witnessed going from highly visible to virtually invisible, which, if I were still in a place of needing external validation to feel worthy of love and goodness, would have been very crippling to my self-esteem.
I went from wearing long, luscious weaves and rocking my huge afro, to cutting all of my hair off. I went from exercising my bum and thighs to be more attractive and getting the attention I was seeking, to exercising in a way that would change my physique and as such, losing the femininity of my body. From exhibiting my feminine curves in tight clothes to wearing clothes that accentuate the new masculine contours of my shoulders and arms and hide my hips, and also binding. I have gone from trying to walk in a feminine manner to walking in a way that feels comfortable to me, more masculine. I’ve gone from trying to appear happy, nice and cheerful so that cisgender men don’t feel the right to tell me to ‘cheer up’ or to ‘smile’, to finally feeling as though society has given me the space to express any and every emotion I feel, even if it’s that of anger or sadness (which is the one privilege I can admit to). I’ve gone from people of all races, cultures and ages feeling comfortable to walk next to me and to make eye contact with me and smile, to people noticing me from a distance and either crossing the road before crossing paths with me, or keeping their gaze fixed ahead or straight down at the ground as we pass by each other. I’ve gone from other men checking me out to other men trying to intimidate me with a stare off to mentally work out if they are above or below me in the male/masculine pecking order.
Further, as I am not conventionally attractive anymore, with regard to womanhood, my sexual power has vanished. As my style is very masculine and I adore street wear, I’m perceived as ‘ghetto’ with little class and education on first glance, unless I am engaged in a long conversation with someone – within which I have time to show who I am in a way that they understand and aren’t threatened by. I suddenly feel as though the first impression one makes of me is so negative that I’m no longer even gifted the opportunity to change their minds to allow them to experience the ‘wow’ factor. Instead, a stigma is so deeply attached to me that I cannot possibly shake off within the limited time given for me to still have access to the opportunities I once had so easily.
I could allow myself to fear this social change I am about to embark upon next month when I finally start medically transitioning to male. But instead, I chose to be honest about how I am changing ‘groups’, ‘boxes’ and how the box I’m jumping into is perceived, without letting the stereotype of this box define or dictate the rest of my life. I will not let it make me so scared that I decide not to apply to that job in fear of rejection. Not to make that career decision because I fear failure due to being a black male. Not to visit that area of the world because I might endanger myself. I chose not to live in fear. I chose to create my own reality. To create a pathway for other black males – cis and trans. I choose to break this stereotype of how we are perceived, by showing the world something different by virtue of being confident in all that I have to offer in this world. As long as I live in my truth, authentically, I can withstand anything.
This post has been edited the original was published here