Until I was a man, I had no idea how good men had it at work
May 14, 2016 2:30 PM   Subscribe

Transgender man Thomas Page McBee reflects on how transitioning exposed sexist double standards in his work environment. Every day, I am rewarded for behavior that I did not previously exhibit, such as standing up for my ideals, pushing back, being fluent in complex power dynamics, and strategically—and visibly—taking credit. When I prove myself, just once, it tends to stick.

McBee has written extensively about masculinity from the transgender experience, in Salon, Pacific Standard, The Atlantic, and Vice. His blog, Self-Made Man, was hosted on The Rumpus. [McBee previously on mefi]
posted by AFABulous (40 comments total) 61 users marked this as a favorite
I do sometimes wonder if one reason (among many, clearly) for transphobia is that when people transition suddenly the secret is out re patriarchy.
posted by soren_lorensen at 2:39 PM on May 14, 2016 [77 favorites]

I've always tried to avoid doing these typically-masculine things at work, especially towards women -- standing up for my 'ideals,' pushing back, visibly taking credit -- out of some potentially-misguided sense of opposition to toxic masculinity. When you're a man and you don't do these things, people tend to assume rather unflattering things about you; when you do, it's hard to feel like a feminist.
posted by clockzero at 2:49 PM on May 14, 2016 [9 favorites]

This is a great article, although I wish the headline was a little less click-bait. Trans men are men. They were not women before they transitioned publicly. They were men, then, also.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:57 PM on May 14, 2016 [8 favorites]

roomthreeseventeen: I think I have heard of a few trans folks who relay their personal narrative in this way. I don't think it's right for others to impose that narrative on trans individuals (which happens way too often) but if the author chose the title (I am not sure if that's the case) it seems OK, since it's their narrative to build.
posted by Gymnopedist at 3:24 PM on May 14, 2016 [18 favorites]

roomthreeseventeen, I think inserting some words would have made it more accurate (e.g. "until I was regarded/recognized as a man") but would have made it less immediately accessible to cis people who wouldn't understand why a man wouldn't be regarded as a man.
posted by AFABulous at 3:25 PM on May 14, 2016 [8 favorites]

Another great voice in the realm is Ben Barres, who wrote: Shortly after I changed sex, a faculty member was heard to say, “Ben Barres gave a great seminar today, but then his work is much better than his sister’s work.”
posted by Dashy at 3:30 PM on May 14, 2016 [81 favorites]

When you're a man and you don't do these things, people tend to assume rather unflattering things about you; when you do

Which is not a derail because it's just the flip side of "because you have this plumbing, you're expected to behave this way".
posted by oheso at 3:39 PM on May 14, 2016

How much of this can be attributed to changes in behavior caused by massive doses of testosterone?
posted by MattD at 3:48 PM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

MattD... testosterone really doesn't change one's behavior much. And the doses aren't "massive" - one's testosterone levels are brought in line with cis men's. It's not like we're doping for athletic competitions.

What I do believe is that when you transition, your confidence level can go way up because now you're living as (and being seen as) the person you are. This is definitely what happened with me, and like the author, I feel like I am taken more seriously at work. However, increased confidence alone does not explain or excuse an obvious gap in treatment between men and women.
posted by AFABulous at 3:57 PM on May 14, 2016 [34 favorites]

This thread isn't really gonna benefit from your personal hot takes on trans 101, y'all.
posted by odinsdream at 4:00 PM on May 14, 2016 [48 favorites]

[Hey, check and be sure you're not responding to deleted comments, and please read the article and be sure you're on-topic.]
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 4:12 PM on May 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

This is why I get crap all the time. I wear a skirt but "work" like a man. And it pisses a lot of men off -- one place they dumped me from manager to manager before they just laid me off. In interviews I'd go off on some tangent and more than once I've had an interviewer look at me in surprise that I think like a programmer or engineer when they thought they'd been interviewing a glorified typist.

Now I'm in a majority female environment and my working style seems to really confuse everyone. My boss keeps trying to protect me (her words) from criticism because she has a thicker skin (???).

I do have high testosterone but that's part of PCOS and other crap too.
posted by tilde at 4:13 PM on May 14, 2016 [6 favorites]

That's an interesting question MattD raises. To what extent do the natural effects of testosterone play into the changes in how people perceive each other in these situations (not that any such "natural" effects justify any behavior, but how much might those effects factor into measurable phenomena like implicit biases)...

Listen to this episode of American Life (transcript) about testosterone for some interesting views. AcT Two is about someone transitioning to male and how testosterone injections changed some of the his views.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:14 PM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

I feel like this whole "testosterone changes you!" thing is a dumb derail because 1. No it doesn't, I have personal experience with that and you don't; and 2. it has nothing to do with the fact that men (cis or trans) are treated differently in the workplace. Unless you are suggesting men SHOULD be treated better because of their testosterone-fueled behavior, which is complete nonsense.
posted by AFABulous at 4:22 PM on May 14, 2016 [59 favorites]

MattD, if you want strong evidence that the changes are societal rather than individual, look at the papers that document a 500% increase in female orchestra musicians once they went to blind auditions.

Women were assumed to be inferior players, until those conduction the auditions could no longer tell male from female.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 4:37 PM on May 14, 2016 [114 favorites]

Consider the term 'roid rage'. It comes from: men with normal levels of testosterone who added to (or multiplied) their baseline levels. Normal levels of testosterone are, by that definition, not noticeable.
posted by Dashy at 4:55 PM on May 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

I once heard a slightly different version of this from a person who was an Army mechanic for 25 years, then at the age of 50 decided that 50 years of being a man was enough and started the transition. When I met her she told me of shopping for a car more appropriate to her new personality, and showing up to the dealership only to be stonewalled in the negotiations. When she was complaining to one of her old (pre-trans) friends that they wouldn't sell her the car for a fair price, the friend threw up her hands and said "Honey, you're a WOMAN now."
posted by Bringer Tom at 5:24 PM on May 14, 2016 [15 favorites]

"Until I was a man, I had no idea how good men had it at work how well traditionally masculine workplace behavior would suit me personally. "
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:29 PM on May 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

I liked the first post about unearned privilege at work. The rest? Does anyone else get dysphoria at reading even nuanced attempts to explain masculinity?

I'm mourning my sister this month, and mom asks, "how do men cry?" That shouldn't offend me but it does, and I need a gender explanation for what's going on in my head about as much as I need a hole in it.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:05 PM on May 14, 2016

how do men cry?

Tears are not gender specific. The bigger question would be why do so many men work so hard to block crying, since it's a natural and essential emotional reaction.
posted by Bringer Tom at 7:49 PM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

The suppression of displays of emotion is real, but testosterone most definitely does make a difference in your physical ability to cry. This is widely reported amongst trans men.
posted by AFABulous at 7:56 PM on May 14, 2016 [10 favorites]

BringerTom, agreed that men are socialized not to cry.

And also, as AFABulous is saying, a lot of transmen report that after they started testosterone, they felt physically less able to cry, even when they wanted to.

And since transmen tend to be people who were AFAB (assigned female at birth), they are probably less likely to have been socialized never to cry during childhood as they were probably raised to conform to ideas of feminine gender performance. Which makes the fact that they may have wanted to cry, and suddenly not been able to, pretty significant because in their case, the lifetime of gender socialization didn't change, just the hormone changed.

And.... it's kind of weird to argue about this with someone who has said in this thread that they actually have experience taking testosterone, and who probably researched it quite a lot before doing so, and who has likely collected lots of data from friends too, and who is therefore kind of an expert about the experience of starting to take testosterone.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:27 PM on May 14, 2016 [12 favorites]

I don't think the riddle of how much of my knee-jerk reactions are biological, how much are internalized homophobia, and how much is learned through gender-normative abuse is something that can be solved. My point is that they're my reactions and trying to box me into a model of traditional masculinity reformed for the 21st century (leg-crossing and barber shops, really?) or a feminist masculinity with different performative expectations is a box that makes me intensely uncomfortable.

The problem with that question wasn't the "cry" it was the "how do men..." and the assumption that since I'm AMAB, I have some access to some mystical truth behind stereotypes. And I don't even know if I'm genderqueer, genderfluid, a bit swishy, or just a man with a knee-jerk reaction to gender most days of the week.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:20 PM on May 14, 2016

Yes, this is obviously about testosterone making men more confident and aggressive than women. If only women behaved more like men, people would respect us more --

What's that, TFA? What did you say?
Moreover, feedback for women focused intensely on communication styles, particularly the critique that the employee was “too aggressive.” The researchers found that 76% of references to being “too aggressive” was found in the women’s reviews, which left only 24% in the men’s.
... oh.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:21 PM on May 14, 2016 [43 favorites]

As someone who's gone from normal-male levels of testosterone to practically nil over the course of the last eight months, I can happily say that the lack thereof hasn't affected my personality.
posted by mikurski at 11:08 PM on May 14, 2016 [7 favorites]

These articles always piss me off. They could also be titled "What women have been saying for years is now true because a man said it."
posted by raccoon409 at 11:10 PM on May 14, 2016 [47 favorites]

I don't think I'm secretly a man inside, but good god, would I love to switch genders for a day and enjoy all that damn male privilege, peeing in the street, walking around at 4 a.m. without fear, and having the entire world revolve around me and my penis and all that jazz. It sounds goddamned awesome.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:12 PM on May 14, 2016 [14 favorites]

"God grant jenfullmoon the courage of a woman with a good idea and the confidence of a man with a bad one."
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 12:31 AM on May 15, 2016 [14 favorites]

“We cannot teach people to police their thoughts,” she says. “What we can do is minimize bias happening.”

The hell we can't. Denying the ability to change negative and unhealthy thinking through education, therapy, and socio-cultural pressure is the same as saying prejudice is genetic. We are not born hating and discriminating.
posted by Drumhellz at 10:09 AM on May 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

I feel like the point, perhaps, is that truly--despite what the conservative windbags like to say--most of us on the progressive/equality/social justice/etc side of things seriously give no fucks about what someone thinks, only on how those thoughts manifest in the world. So no, we can't police their thoughts or force them to, what we can do is police their actions, and through law and sociocultural pressure and education, we make those actions unacceptable. Thoughts eventually follow.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:25 AM on May 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

(Trans men and trans women, not transmen and transwomen, please.)
posted by XtinaS at 10:51 AM on May 15, 2016 [6 favorites]

[A bunch of comments deleted. Metaphoric penis talk in a thread about trans men is stumbling perhaps-unawares into a really fraught area, better to skip that and just say what you mean.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 3:15 PM on May 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

>Trans men and trans women, not transmen and transwomen, please
Cool, thanks. I typed "transmen" above because I was reproducing the spelling I see on Facebook posts written by a particular friend who's trans, but I'm happy to use this spelling in future; I appreciate the correction.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:27 PM on May 15, 2016

Related article.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:46 PM on May 16, 2016

I noped out at "All three men are trans. But if they hadn’t said so, you wouldn’t have known." Gross.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:58 PM on May 16, 2016

That was eew. But it led into the article's quite valid point, that

... cultural sexism is often more visible to trans men, because most say they find it easier to be low-disclosure than trans women. They’re often not recognized as trans, which means they can be less vulnerable to obvious transphobia.

I'd never thought about this before, but it seems true, that passing as a man is easier than passing as a woman, so their experiences as men are more revealing about sexism, whereas a trans woman is more likely to experience both transphobia and sexism together.
posted by Dashy at 10:06 AM on May 17, 2016

I dunno, fffm, I wasn't particularly bothered by that. The vast majority of cis people don't think about whether a guy is trans or not, if we look a certain way we're presumed to be cis, just like most people are presumed to be heterosexual unless they look/act a certain way.

I mean, I know trans men that I wouldn't have suspected were trans if I'd met them in a different context. And there are tons of examples online, look up Laith Ashley or Benjamin Melzer.

I think it's good to point out to a general audience that there might be trans people around them, they just don't know it. But cisnormativity is also definitely a problem.
posted by AFABulous at 10:28 AM on May 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

My friend and I did a comic about this! She's a videographer, and once she started working as a woman, she found that people seemed a lot less convinced of her ability to do her job....

posted by robot-hugs at 1:37 PM on May 19, 2016 [8 favorites]

robot-hugs: i love that comic! It pops up on my Tumblr all the time.
posted by odinsdream at 6:40 AM on May 22, 2016

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