After changing my gender expression I found some special advantages I didn’t expect to ever have. I’ve been thinking a lot about the seemingly innocuous advantage of being cis-assumed. As it turns out, this can be pungent to others and I feel it has become a burden of privilege to me. This load has, in effect, somewhat changed me and how I behave.
The word ‘privilege’ has been used and abused in the last few years. It can evoke a visceral reaction in some people. I’ll start by going to the dictionary and setting a baseline.
a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.
In this post I’m going to use the term ‘special advantage’ to be more neutral, less polemical. I’ll also use the word ‘privilege’ when I think it’s more appropriate or descriptive.
The Special Advantage
When I started writing this post I thought of all sorts of advantages I’ve had. As I tried to organize my thoughts I saw that some advantages lead to or built-up to others. I got confused and didn’t know where to begin. I came across a list of all sorts of social privileges while researching the topic further. Though I could check a few of those, it didn’t precisely help me find where to start. Then I came across a list of 30+ Examples of Cisgender Privilege by Sam Killermann. That list helped me narrow my thoughts but they were still very scattered.
After trying multiple attempts at starting this post, drawing a diagram with my thoughts, and jotting down a bunch of notes, I had it. I saw that the overlaying issue causing me tribulation is being cis-assumed mostly in the context of other trans women.
I want to acknowledge that not every trans person desires to be cis-assumed. By changing my gender presentation my objective was to be perceived as a cisgender woman, as you will see below. Also, I appreciate that some people may want to be cis-assumed but for one reason or another they’re not able. I too admit that some people may develop negative feelings towards me or what I write. I respect that and understand; hence this article. Be sure that in no way this post, or any other on HolaSoyYo.com has the intent of hurting, offending or triggering anyone.
Cis-assumed means that people that don’t know me think I’m a cisgender woman. Another way of saying it is that people don’t read me as trans anymore. The unfortunate reality is that visibly-trans individuals face all sorts of discrimination that cisgender people don’t. Discrimination can range from microaggressions, to harassment and physical harm. In tangible terms, imagine walking into a store and someone staring at you, all the way to someone physically attacking you just because who you are. An unfortunate state of affairs is that being cis-assumed dramatically reduces the risks of discrimination. It’s unfortunate because it should not be like this. We all deserve to live free if discrimination.
We all love to hate other people that are better off than us. Well, it sucks to be aware that in some cases I’m that person.
Why is the advantage of being cis-assumed causing me tribulations? This sounds like an oxymoron, and it is. The whole purpose of why I started HRT and changed my gender expression and presentation was to become cis-assumed. And now it feels like a load to me? The fact is that it’s both. It’s one of the most rewarding achievements in my life while in some cases it feels like a burden.
This liability that I feel is mostly with other trans women, but not always. I’ve had a few cases where cisgender women were ticked off because they felt a trans person was doing better than them. Once I was chatting with someone about a shopping experience when I mentioned the dress size I bought. Her reply was about how much larger of a size she wears. Agh!
The main burden of privilege comes from a sense of guilt or shame when others get triggered or show envy.
This is the part where it sounds like I’m bragging. But I’m not; it’s setting up the stage. Rather, this feels like a confession smothered in guilt, hence the title of this post.
My genetic mix is probably the most impactful advantage when it comes to my gender presentation. My physical characteristics allow me to blend-in as an average woman. For example, I’m an average height, if not an itsy-bitsy short, my hands are somewhat slim, and my shoe size is readily available.
My socioeconomic history is my other point. It has afford me to make other physical changes where my genetics came short. I believe FFS is the most influential change I’ve had when it comes to my gender presentation, but it doesn’t stop there. The list ranges from other gender affirming procedures, to being able to invest in things like voice coaching and hair removal.
The fact that I never experienced gender dysphoria, I’m sure also plays a positive part in my gender presentation. I am fairly sure that my lack of gender dysphoria has given me a slightly wider perspective on my options. In many cases I feel it has given me the confidence to try and do things that otherwise I wouldn’t.
Change in Behaviour
When entering a home in the area where I live we are accustomed to removing our shoes. One day I left my shoes next to everyone else’s. When we were all leaving someone made a comment of how smaller mine were against all others. Since that day I dread calling attention to my shoe size in the presence of other trans women.
Oops! I Did it Again
I find thinking this to myself so many times. I’ll give you another example that has happened to me more than once. I was chatting with a girlfriend about the differences between male and female bodies when I made a comment about my lack of hips. She replied in a patronizing voice that I already have an enviable hips to waist ratio. The point that I had in mind was that I’d like to improve that ratio, but I didn’t think of prefacing that I was already in a good starting position. It was a bad choice of words and a bad moment to bring it up. The worse part was that my comment about my body triggered her insecurity about her own hips giving them a sense of envy.
It’s not a nice feeling when I notice I triggered someone by complaining about my own apprehensions. They add insult to injury by telling me that I have nothing to complain about. Being in a different situation than them does not preclude me from wanting to modify, change or improve.
A similar situation was telling someone about the first time I wore a bikini out in a public beach. I was super excited to share the thrill that it was, how hard it felt at first, and then how amazing it ended up being. Again, I wasn’t reading my audience well because the person I was telling the story doesn’t feel comfortable with her height. What was a burst of excitement on my part quickly got a contemptuous reply of “but you’re petite”, sinking me into a deep pool of thick guilt. Opposite to being a complaint on my situation, I wanted to celebrate a life-long desired milestone, but quickly turned sour. After her reply I changed the topic. I didn’t feel comfortable going back to it.
To avoid situations as the ones above, I’ve been changing my behaviour more and more. It’s similar to a kid that gets traumatized from seeing a pork roast and becoming vegan. Now I’ve been practicing self-censorship way more often. I feel I need to be careful of not offending someone. I try to listen and read my audience even more before making personal comments. Often times I find myself biting my tongue preventing me from saying something that may trigger others. This is hard when I don’t know what, if any, are someone’s triggers. Though it may be harder knowing what are those triggers because I can see a conversation steering in a direction with a potential for disaster. At that moment I feel responsible to not participate in the discussion anymore so that if there’s a trigger, at least it’s not something I said.
This is the dark side. This is the burden of privilege that is causing me to change my behaviour. In a number of cases feeling this load has prevented me from discussing and contributing my experiences with other trans girls. The extreme manifestation of self-censoring is avoiding someone all together because I may trigger them or their show of envy is too uncomfortable.
To Tell or Not to Tell That I’m Trans?
When I started my process I assumed that people would read me as trans. This perspective made it kind of easy for me to open up and share with strangers that I’m trans. Another benefit I found by opening up was that I would feel at ease grabbing the (mental) bull by the horns, sort of speak. For example, going to a store I’d disclose to the sales person that I’m trans. I would ask for help finding something that would fit my testosterone affected body.
Now I struggle in my head regarding telling others about my trans background. I don’t tell anymore in the majority of cases. Though sometimes it feels similar to the guilt of hiding or stealing something. Nowadays I don’t tell by default. If I develop a relationship, any kind of relationship with someone, then is when I start asking myself if I should open up. It’s touch-and-go from there, trying to evaluate my chances of being rejected or embraced. I hate that part where I’m questioning how much should I share about my background.
There are cases where I feel a social responsibility to tell others that I’m trans for the political purpose of normalizing trans exposure. After all we have trans individuals in all, and I mean ALL walks of life. Should I tell or not? I don’t like asking myself that question.
Similarly, I’ve knowingly been in the presence of other trans women and haven’t disclosed that I’m trans. I would have, for sure, just a couple of years back. Wanting to connect and to share experiences. Now that I feel I’m being assumed cis I have this weight in my mind that I can possibly trigger the other person. So I keep my mouth shot and even distant myself a bit to avoid dealing with the question. It sounds horrible, and that’s because it is!
[No] Surgery Talk
I find the topics related to gender affirming surgeries fascinating for so many reasons. I’ve also gathered that these topics can be super sensitive depending on the person. To make a long story short, I’m now very conscious of how I approach the topic with someone else. In essence I don’t initiate a discussion about any kind of surgery unless I know the other person is making tangible arrangements preparing for surgery, or I know the person very well. On the other hand, if someone asks me, of course I share my experiences and views. Though I do it carefully, at first without getting too detailed and certainly not emitting any judgment.
Generally I think the main triggering factor is when a person can’t have X surgery because of Y limiting reason. In most cases cost is that Y limiting factor. Though there are other aspects, like a medical precondition preventing someone from going through anesthesia, for example. In other cases, simply the fear of surgery and its risks may be someone’s main limiting element.
I’ve changed my behaviour to shy away from discussing surgeries. It doesn’t matter if it’s something I have done, something that I may consider, or something that is simply not for me, I don’t engage first. Unfortunately for me it’s a topic I enjoy but avoid in most cases.
I Won’t Give Up My Prerogatives
I have felt envy and resentment when watching the advantages of other women. These are horrible feelings that sometimes, just sometimes, I can pull apart to learn from them.
I don’t want to be the source of that kind of setting-off sentiments, but it’s not something I can always control. It’s better to share the wins than to swallow them.
I cannot be responsible for anyone else’s genetics, socioeconomics, and previous experiences. It’s up to me to deal with my own struggles.
The idea is that I don’t give up my advantages to stop feeling guilt or shame. I wish that everyone could access what I have enjoyed or whatever brings them joy. A lot of the times I want to share what I feel are my successes and my triumphs. The intent is not to cause distress.
I’m going to keep on forging what I believe helps me regardless of how others perceive themselves in relationship to me. I cannot not do something because of how others may take it. That would be a bigger waste.
I feel advantaged because I don’t get harassed. That on itself is not a privilege. Rather it’s a problem because others are harassed for who they are. So the solution is not for me to feel harassment or guilt but for others to feel empowered and welcomed. I think visibility and exposure of trans people and their stories improves acceptance by society.
Why am I Writing This?
This is something that bothers me. Up to now this has been the most difficult article to write. I’ve had these ideas in my head for a while but threading them hasn’t been easy. It feels such a picky matter that I’m being extra careful with my choice of words. That’s the gist of my issue. That I feel I need to be aware of not offending someone.
I’m not writing this looking for empathy. Partially I’m writing it to let go of some of the baggage and also to let others know what I think.
P.S. The Header image is a brush representing dirty harsh bristles that are still organized, and though rough, it gets used. For some reason I relate it to the burden of privilege, that is cruel and still organized.