The Masculinity of Transition

If there’s one thing I’ve come to understand about MtF transgender people since being married to one, it’s how very masculine the idea of transitioning from male to female is.

To decide that you can have anything you want, and to just take it, even if it’s very the identity of a set of people with whom you cannot, by definition, identify with, is a very masculine idea. It’s an idea that male privilege absolutely primes one for. Colonization, capitalism, rape, pillage. To want and to get, because you can, because you aren’t even aware of the possibility that you can’t. To shove aside the oppressed in your quest for getting. And to get away with that, as you always have.

To wake up one day, more than a decade into marriage, deciding that you need something new and that nothing can or should stop you, is a very masculine idea. To hell with your wife, your family, your memories. To indulge this midlife crisis as men always have, whether it’s with a teenage mistress, a red corvette, or lipstick and a pair of heels, and let it destroy your family.

To decide to wear a bra, when you aren’t on hormones and don’t have breasts, is a very masculine idea. As if women wear bras to make us feel like women, and not because we have breasts that gravity is taking its toll on, because men will shame us if we have saggy grandma boobs when we’re 40. As if women enjoy or require a strip of pink lace across our chests. As if we spend any significant time thinking about our boobs, admiring them, adorning them for our own gaze. Only men have this interest in bras.

To believe in “gender identity” at all is a very masculine idea. Women don’t go around “feeling like women” – we feel like people, and that’s all the more poignant as we navigate a world where we are treated like children.

To desire, to demand, to expect accolades for being a woman is a very masculine idea. To endlessly troll social media to find it. Woman know that being a woman entails the opposite: degradation, dismissal. Only men seek and find people willing to applaud them for existing.

To refuse to listen to or empathize with women (about a topic on which they are the sole experts, no less) is a very masculine behavior. Men have a long tradition of dismissing women for being old or ugly or smelly or hairy. We hear it from regular guys. We hear it from MRAs. We hear it from men who think they are women.

To find a group of middle aged, well-off white guys (even if they are wearing wigs), and to categorically believe everything they say, is a very masculine idea. After all, men are superior; they are correct. Especially the loudest ones. Even when it’s textbook Orwellian doublespeak: Men are women. The penis is a female organ . Sometimes one or both of a lesbian couple has a penis. A fertile male is an infertile female. Even when it’s unspeakably troubling: Cutting off your genitals is sometimes a great idea. Children who are questioning their gender should receive treatments that irreversibly damage their future fertility and sex lives. A grown man should be allowed to lounge naked in a locker room near girls as young as six. Vaginas are off-putting.

To threaten suicide if you don’t get your way is a very masculine idea. Ask any woman who has experienced the aftermath of leaving an insecure man, fending off a stalker or seeking a restraining order.

To colonize spaces where you aren’t welcome is a very masculine idea. Women don’t want to do this. Women can’t do this.

To “choose” your gender – as if gender weren’t a set of oppressive obligations and proscriptions invented by men to keep women physically, emotionally and financially handicapped, is a very masculine idea. As if people could stop their oppression by identifying out of it. As if women could avoid being interrupted, belittled, objectified, trafficked and raped by rejecting their assigned role.

“In a world where millions of people, especially ‘cis-gendered’ women, are not free to choose who they marry, what they eat or whether or not their genitals are cut off and sewn up with barbed wire when they are still babies,” says Julie Burchill, “choosing your gender” is uniquely for the privileged.


My Story

I was in a hospital bed. There were dozens of people present. Doctors, nurses, friends, family, acquaintances, clergy, strangers.

“Can I just get my abortion now?” I asked the doctor. “What’s the delay?”

Like many dreams, this one seemed to go on forever. Things were surreal. I felt sick and feverish.

“We’re just running some more tests,” a nurse responded.

“Buy why?” I demanded. “I just want my abortion.” I couldn’t understand why anything further should stand in my way.

I got up to pee. “There’s nothing more lovely than the silhouette of a pregnant woman,” said a bystander, with admiration.

I looked at my belly with horror. “You mean I’m showing?” I had thought I was less far along. “Then we’ve really waited too long. Let’s get the abortion underway. Please.”

I was back in the bed. “You’re experiencing some complications,” the doctor said. “Let’s not be too hasty,” someone added. There was a general murmur of agreement in the room.

“I’ve been in this hospital bed forever!” I yelled. “I’ve waited long enough! I’m sick. I’m exhausted. I want out. I want to leave this room and move on with my life.” I reached a desperate note. “When will this end? Why can’t I terminate this pregnancy!”

I pondered the dream for half the next morning before I realized that the pregnancy was my marriage.

That I had tried and tried, had done my due diligence, had become sick and exhausted with trying. That I had tried long enough.

This blog is my story.

I lived happily — blissfully unaware how happily – for 14 years with a man who seemed sensitive, kind, intelligent, liberal, and feminist. We were deeply in love and the kind of couple people looked up to. My marriage was permanent; it defined my future. Two years ago, I would have told you we were unshakable. I couldn’t imagine a scenario that could break us up. My husband was also, to all outward appearances, happy. He enjoyed life and was uniquely easygoing and content. Those qualities made him a joy to chat with, to vacation with, and to live with.

Then my husband woke up one day feeling a little “gender-fluid.” Within months he developed the conviction that he was a woman and he “came out” to everyone he knew.

He left his job and he dropped out of life. While I worked outside the home, did all the housework, ran all the errands, and even moved us from the city we lived in back to the hometown we missed — from the planning to the packing to the coordination with realtors and financers to selling the old house and completing the final paperwork to buy the new one — my husband laid on the sofa and cried. He cried because someone “misgendered” him. He cried because his shoulders were too broad for his new dress. He cried because he couldn’t completely eradicate the stubble on his face. He cried because his new habit of flipping his hair back with a limp wrist had gotten him mistaken for a gay man.

My formerly easygoing partner became incredibly uptight. What if someone thought he looked manly? What if he had to get the mail in jeans and a t-shirt? Could he enjoy camping anymore, if it meant that make-up and dresses were impractical? Were strangers laughing at him? Were his friends and family talking about him?

He got counseling and joined support groups, where he “learned” that he was “literally” a woman, and not just someone who identified as one. He announced to all comers that he’d found his “true self” and had become “happy” for the first time in his life. His alleged happiness didn’t stop him from spiraling into an even deeper despair. He became suicidal. He was prescribed antidepressants. He adopted bizarre beliefs and became hysterical if anyone questioned them.

All interests were abandoned for endless monologues about transgender rights and his “gender identity.” One by one, his friends and family began to tell him that they didn’t recognize him anymore. This made him angry.

He became unavailable to the marriage. He lost his capacity for empathy. He couldn’t explain, couldn’t compromise, wouldn’t even slow down. I had been the primary focus of his life, but now I was secondary, or worse.

I lost him. We all lost him. I became a “trans widow” long before I admitted defeat. I tried to get him back, an embarrassing number of times, before I reluctantly initiated the divorce. He isn’t coming back.

I love him, but staying with him would mean completely losing myself.

“Men should think twice before making widowhood women’s only path to power,” said Gloria Steinem.

She surely speaks of an oppression, and perhaps a solution, more sinister than mine. But perhaps I had to lose him to really find myself.