by ROBIN TRAN
Originally published on Everyday Feminism and re-published here with their permission.
I lived most of my life identifying as a man named Robert.
As Robert, I was lonely and angry with an inexplicable void I couldn’t fill. I was oftentimes expressive of my feelings, but my emotions were categorically dismissed by most of my friends. It’s not that my friends were apathetic or malicious; they simply wanted me to play my role and “man up.”
Some of them felt that if they offered me their help and support, it would be a condescending blow to my ego. Admittedly, when I was Robert, they were right. I was less willing to accept help from others due to my pride.
While I suffered internally, I enjoyed certain privileges when I identified as a man that I no longer have. But I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that there were several advantages to transitioning into a woman also.
I won’t call these advantages privileges since privilege refers to societal benefits. I call them advantages because many men put restrictions on themselves, and their self-induced oppression is more internal than societal.
The way that others perceive and treat me has changed drastically during my transition. I don’t believe that everyone treats me differently due to any kind of malice, and I don’t believe some of them even do so intentionally.
I feel that it’s due to our society’s rigid gender roles, which have been ingrained into our culture. The differences in the way people treat me are not necessarily better or worse, but they are certainly very illuminating.
So here are the main ways I’ve been treated differently since I started transitioning into a woman.
1. I Receive Much More Attention Now
Before I transitioned, I almost never received messages from anyone. I believe it was partially due to the subconscious feeling many people have that a man’s time is more valuable than a woman’s time. But now that I identify as a woman, my inbox is rarely empty.
There are certain advantages to the extra attention I’ve received. The main upside is that I don’t feel lonely nearly as often. I still occasionally feel the existential loneliness I’ve always felt (just by the very nature of being a human), but people in general are more willing to reach out, offer me support, and check up on me – especially my friends who are women.
Receiving constant reassurances from people is a new concept for me.
My male identity, Robert, rarely received validation from others without the caveat that he should toughen up.
Robert was mostly left alone to battle his own demons because autonomy and aggressive individualism are such glorified aspects of male identity. The result for Robert was crushing loneliness.
Nowadays, I have several friends constantly reminding me that I’m loved, and this is such a nice feeling. It’s unfortunate that Robert rarely received such validation.
However, there are definite disadvantages to receiving extra attention.
In general, men – mostly strangers – seem more comfortable sending me random messages apropos of nothing, and I can never tell if there’s an ulterior motive.
At first, I felt like maybe I was too full of myself and they were just being friendly, but then some of these men began soliciting me with unwanted sexual advances, even though my Facebook clearly shows that I have a girlfriend.
I never respond to these messages, and as a result, one of these men sent me a picture of his penis. Twice. Needless to say, this ruined my day, and this is not the type of attention I wanted or expected.
I also feel like people expect more time and attention from me now than they used to. While I generally don’t mind responding to people, it’s the implicit expectation of attention that rubs me the wrong way. There’s more of a presumption now that I will drop everything on a whim to fulfill someone else’s needs. It becomes overwhelming.
To be clear, I actually do like that people feel more comfortable messaging me; I just don’t like when that comfort turns into entitlement.
I’m not saying that one experience is better than the other, but the rigid gender roles we have in place makes it clearer to me why some men are so lonely and why so many women are overwhelmed and harassed.
I wish that men realized accepting help from others doesn’t make them any less of a valuable human being – and I wish we were also more willing to reassure and validate men when they’re in need of emotional support.
And I really wish we, as a society, placed more value on a woman’s time. I don’t think many people realize how overwhelmingly busy a lot of women are and how impossible it is to respond to every message, and it’s even worse when a lack of responses results in the other person’s entitled anger.
Women shouldn’t be pressured into communicating with anybody that they don’t want to talk to.
2. People Are More Receptive to My Being Openly Vulnerable
I’ve been sharing my life publicly ever since high school via online journals such as Xanga and LiveJournal.
When I identified as a man, I received much more resistance for being so expressive. I was always told that my life should be private and not for the entire world to read. People of all genders told me that “men don’t act this way,” and they would tell me that women would never date a man who was so emotionally vulnerable.
I internalized this and would constantly try (and fail) to keep my emotions inside. This almost killed me. Literally. I thought about suicide frequently, and it was never taken very seriously. I was just told that I was being a “drama queen” and to “get over it.”
Many years ago, long before I came out, I was heartbroken over a breakup and tried telling my friend about it. I began tearing up as I told him how much I missed my ex-girlfriend. His response was to ask me if I had seen a “King of the Hill” episode where John Redcorn is pouring his heart out to Hank Hill, and Hank was so uncomfortable that he ended up running away from John Redcorn when he started crying.
I told him I hadn’t seen the episode.
He continued, “I feel like Hank Hill right now because I want to run away from you.” It was my cue to shut up. Not only did he shut his ears off when I tried to be emotionally vulnerable, but I came back later to apologize to him for making things weird between us.
Let me reiterate: I had to apologize to another person for expressing heartbreak over a breakup.
This type of toxic masculinity is something that I do not miss since transitioning.
Now when I publicly put my life out there, my friends and family are more receptive.
Even though there are people who still get angry or annoyed at my openness (which I will discuss in further detail in the next section), the amount of pushback I receive for “oversharing” has substantially subsided.
I’m now oftentimes applauded for my vulnerability. I’m called brave and courageous. I’ve received many more Facebook friends and Twitter followers. People actually let me know when they’re a fan of mine, which is something that never happened before.
I appreciate the ability to be myself and share my life with others.
Even though there are definite struggles, I feel amazingly blessed now that I identify as a woman because many women have made me feel so welcomed, loved, and accepted.
I feel a warm sense of community that I never felt before, and this makes me incredibly happy.
3. My Opinions Are Much More Scrutinized (Positively and Negatively)
All of a sudden, my opinions are under a microscope. The things I write and say are given much more attention.
As a standup comedian and blogger, there are actually several benefits to the heavy scrutinization of my work, the main one being that it gives me more publicity. There’s also an intimacy I have with my small fan base because they feel like they can relate to me.
Sometimes I’ll write or say something that I feel wasn’t particularly deep or poignant, but other people will reassure me how much my words meant to them. These are all new experiences to me, because for a long time, nobody cared about anything I had to write or say.
The downside of this, though, is that I have more dissenters and naysayers than I ever have. Oftentimes, the hatred I receive online has nothing to do with what I actually write; it has more to do with who I am as a person.
I’m attacked purely for being a feminist.
I’m viciously attacked because of my looks (my weight matters all of a sudden?).
I’m attacked because I’m not “really” a woman.
I’m attacked because my ideas are somehow ruining this country.
The sheer volume of hate mail I receive now compared to how much I used to get is astounding, and as someone who suffers from debilitating social anxiety, it gets overwhelming at times.
There are days when I wish I could shut it off, and I have to make a conscious effort to take breaks from social media because I have no idea what’s going to pop up in my inbox.
There are many instances when I’ll find an e-mail or a tweet from someone – almost always a man – explaining to me why I should’ve never transitioned into a woman, or why they support me (when they actually don’t), but wish that I would shut up about my experiences.
I also receive more threats than I ever have, because for some people, I symbolize everything they hate.
What I’m saddest about, though, is how often conversations about my writings and my comedy derail into areas that have nothing to do with the work itself. Even though I’ve gotten more attention, it doesn’t mean that my opinions are taken more seriously.
It’s definitely a catch-22. Yes, I do receive much more attention, and yes, I do love that my words are reaching a wider audience.
I just wish it didn’t come with so many sexual solicitations, insults, and death threats. And I wish that when a woman is criticized, it is actually for her work, and not for any number of sexist reasons that have nothing to do with what she said or did.
And I especially wish that when women brought up these types of harassments, other people actually believed them instead of responding with skepticism. It’s difficult enough constantly having to endure harassment, and it’s even harder when your own friends and acquaintances don’t believe you when you share your experiences.
4. I No Longer Have Expectations to Preserve My Pride
As a child, I was always told that if I was harassed, I should stand up to my bully and punch him in the face. The problem with this is that I’m 5’3”, and I despise violence.
This didn’t matter, though, since I internalized a lot of the tenets of male pride and would regularly have fantasies of fist-fighting a much bigger person. I always assumed that beating up a larger person would make women swoon.
Six years ago, I was tested by a bully at my office job. A coworker and I had a disagreement over e-mail, so he came over to my cubicle and threatened to beat me up. I stared at him angrily, but didn’t get up from my chair. He called me a “bitch” and laughed at me for just sitting there and taking the verbal abuse.
I was livid. When he walked away, I told my supervisor about the threats I had received. My coworker was immediately fired.
After this incident, I thought I had lost face with my other coworkers for not retaliating by fighting him. I was personally proud of myself for not hitting him, but I was also ashamed that I hadn’t been a “man” about the situation.
My coworkers reassured me that I did the right thing, but I didn’t believe them (I especially didn’t believe the women). A college professor once told me that women always want you to stand up for yourself – especially in a physical setting – and women are very turned off when men back down from fights. He also told me that if a woman denies this, she’s lying.
He was an authority figure, so I believed him.
It took several women to tell me that they were proud of me when I started believing that maybe I did the right thing by not retaliating violently (and assuredly losing my job in the process).
I’m so relieved that I don’t have this hang-up anymore. I’ve come to realize that this pride I felt was toxic in every way imaginable.
I am not saying that people (of any gender) don’t have a right to self-defense. For some people, it’s the only recourse they have. But for me personally, I would rather get hit and run away than to retaliate violently because it’s not in my nature. It is a huge relief internally and externally that it’s not expected of me to react physically to confrontation anymore.
If someone tries to get me riled up by challenging my pride, I feel much more comfortable walking away from the situation because I don’t feel this need to “prove myself” anymore.
I don’t care if somebody is more physically intimidating than I am. I don’t care that I can’t fight. People can call me any names they want. They can call me a coward. They can call me weak. I don’t care.
I don’t want or like to get hit or hit other people, and I love that that’s okay now.
Nowadays, if I get angry because of an argument, I’m so grateful that I have so many female friends who respond with compassion, who validate my feelings, and who try their best to deescalate the situation.
Unlike some of my male friends, I’m glad they don’t have this incessant need to let me know that I’ve been disrespected and that I need to regain my “integrity.” This advice always makes an already undesirable situation even worse.
It’s so much more freeing to let some things go, and it’s a much better way to live.
The differences in the way I’ve been treated has been extremely eye-opening. Though these experiences are specific to me, I know that there are people of all genders out there who can relate to being put into a box because of our rigid gender roles.
I hope that we can be aware when we impose these roles onto people and see how damaging they can be. And I hope we can treat people fairly without the presumption that someone is a certain way simply because of what gender they are.
Robin Tran is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. She is a standup comedian and blogger, and she holds a BA in English from UC Irvine. In early 2015, Robin came out as transgender woman and has written about her firsthand experiences ever since. She has performed at the Improv, Mad House Comedy Club, and the Comedy Palace, and her articles have been published in xoJane and Time.com.