Over the past year and a half, I have noted with some amusement the differing ways that the men and women in my life have reacted to news of my transition.
The women, in general, have tended to be quietly accepting of my change in gender. Indeed, when I first came out, many of my female friends and acquaintances confessed that they had kind of suspected as much, or at the very least were not surprised. During my recent adventure in Europe (following the rather awkward initial gender-bending which had been necessitated by my passport’s stubborn insistence that I was male) for example, most of the women I met just shrugged when they found out that I was actually a woman. The first, last and only comment that I received from any of them on the subject was the one geologist who came up to me in a bar at the end of the first week and quietly informed me that I was her “first transgender friend.” From that point onwards, I was more-or-less universally treated by the women of the program as one of their own. Even my mother has recently come to admit that maleness was a rather poor fit for me*.
The men, meanwhile, are a completely different story. When I came out, most of my immediate male friends were taken completely by surprise. Later, over generous amounts of alcohol, several of them made what I have taken to calling the Barney Gumball Confession**; namely, after drinking to the point of sentimentality, they would lean in close and say words along the lines of: “when I first heard about the operation, I was against it! But then I decided, if my old buddy Jaime wants to be a woman, then so be it!” In Strasbourg, I lost count of the number of times that one of my male peers would come up to me, tell me that he had read my bio, and then inquire as to whether he could ask me a personal question. My answer was a reflexive “no you may not,” since this ‘personal question’ was always some more-polite variation on “dear god, why!?!” And of course, my father is no closer to acknowledging my gender identity today than he was two and a half years ago***.
The difference, I suspect, is a matter of chauvinism, coupled with a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of transgenderism; men tend to view themselves (subconsciously at least) as being in a position inherently superior to that of women, and so it is utterly unthinkable to most of them that any “man” could voluntarily “choose” to lower “himself” to their level. Women on the other hand (or at least psychologically healthy ones), do not subscribe to this notion of their own inferiority, and so find the idea of of male-to-female to be a great deal less surprising.
Of course, both premises–that there is a natural hierarchy of genders and that transgenderism is a choice–are false and should die quiet deaths.
*although she claims that femaleness is also a poor fit, and seems to be trying to convince me that I’m genderqueer over my strenuous objections. Family gender politics are just so fucking weird.
**So named for a memorable gag in The Simpsons episode “Homer’s Triple Bypass”
***It was, in retrospect, pretty foolish of me to expect that extreme academic success would change buy me some more leverage in his mind.