by Trinity Aodh
False Male Privilege is experienced by trans women prior to transition. It only affects us externally, and only until our presentation changes.
Back in May, I traveled to Women in Secularism 2. It was far from my first time getting somewhere by greyhound bus, but it was my first time taking one while presenting distinctly feminine, as I generally opted to travel while presenting androgynously even after my transition. I arrived at the bus station early, only to find out it was running late, leaving me at the station for well over an hour and a half. I passed the time listening to music and texting, generally trying to ignore the world around me. A young man was sitting on the other side of the station on a laptop when I arrived, and he stayed for about half an hour before putting away his computer and getting up to leave. On his way out he stopped in front of me and started to talk to me. I looked up and took out one headphone, assuming he might be from out of town and asking for directions. Instead he asked me what kind of music I like, and what I was listening to, even asking me to show him some, indicating the earbuds I was using (gross…). Eventually he gave up and left, only to come back a minute later without his things to try again, asking me what concerts I had been to and other small talk before finally giving up again after too many single word answers.
The bus itself was fairly empty, and the ride uneventful apart from being late and nearly missing a connection. I arrived in DC, found my way down to the metro and started reading the machine to figure out how to buy myself a ticket that will get me to my friend’s house. Two men immediately came over, and started explaining the machine to me as if it were something I was incapable of figuring out, including asking such personal information as where I was going and why I was in town, stuff I didn’t think much of giving out at the time. The metro ride itself, to my friend’s house and then to the conference and back everyday, was constantly full of stares. One man, riding with what I assume were his wife and children, spent the entire thirty minutes we were on the train staring very intently at my thighs. Other times I’d occasionally catch whispers between groups of men about the “chick with red hair.”
Arriving back in Pennsylvania, my ride from the bus station to home fell through, and I wouldn’t have another one for about six hours. I decided to walk a couple miles to an area with some shops to pass time. While walking next to the road I noticed an unusual frequency of people honking their horns. For an area with such a small population, and so little traffic it wasn’t usual to hear it every couple minutes as I did. It finally struck me as a single car honked passing by, with no other cars or people in the area: it was all being directed at me. Why was more obvious when a man in a red convertible pulled over to offer me a ride, with an expectant “are you sure?” when I declined.
Not a single thing listed is something I had experienced while male-presenting, and none of it was pleasant. An even worse set of events happened just a couple weeks ago, walking by myself on my way home through a more populated city. I passed by a crowded bar with a few men outside smoking cigarettes. One of them looked at me, his eyes obviously going straight from my breasts to my butt. He said “Hey there, sweetheart” followed by something I couldn’t quite make out. As I got past him I muttered “I’m not your sweetheart” under my breath, quiet enough he likely didn’t hear. I got a few feet away and I heard him yell behind me “Hey! Where the fuck do you think you’re going?” I quickened my pace without turning around, and my hand instinctively rested on my knife.
As I got to the corner where I needed to cross, I heard two men coming up behind me laughing, both wearing tuxedos. They looked at me and said “Don’t worry, we’re not going to creep you out… well maybe we’ll creep you out a little” and one stepped towards me reaching his arm out. I backed up putting distance between me and him, and refused to blink until after they crossed. The traffic light cycled once more before I crossed, and made my way to my bike, thankful the rest of the way wasn’t as populated. Riding home, on the empty path I got one more comment, shouted anonymously from some home nearby. “Hey good looking, going for a bike ride?”
In the span of ten minutes, I was persistently harassed in a way I never experienced previous to transition, by people treating me as they would any other woman passing by. I never felt more terrified of the people I passed on the street previous to transition including when a man once pulled a switchblade and demanded my wallet while I was still in university. These people weren’t interested in my purse or my jewelry, they wanted my body, and that made me feel incredibly small.
All else being equal, the levels of harassment from strangers on the street I experienced before and after transition went from a single attempted mugging to nearly every man I pass staring, whispering, or shouting about my body, or even outright threatening me. To treat anyone this way is unacceptable even if it were just one incident, and the reality is far worse than any isolated encounter. The world is teaching me that it does not value my comfort or safety as a woman, and I have little choice but to listen.