F2M ISSUES: MORE THAN JUST A REVERSE NEGATIVE
by Melanie Yarborough
Female to Male. Female towards Male. Male to Male. Transmen. Stone Butches. Lesbian men. Gender Queer Boys. Gay/Bi-identified New Men. Transfags. The "Female-to-Male" label lumps together a diverse group of people, and there's no such thing as a classic profile of a female-to-male.
A panel of F2M community representatives spoke at a meeting of Neutral Corner, a support group in San Diego. Jacob Hale is a tenured Philosophy professor at Cal State Northridge. Mike is on the Board of Directors of the F2M Conference & Education Project based in Seattle. And Emile is a UCSD graduate student in Visual Arts, who has recently gone full-time as male. In an enlightening question and answer session, they cast light on an oft-considered invisible segment of the transgender community.
To ask "When are you getting your surgury?" is a meaningless question to them. Surgury is not the "end-all be-all" that it is for many male-to-female transsexuals. Phalloplasty is much more expensive than vaginoplasty, and cannot yet produce a completely satisfactory penis. Because of this medical reality, the emphasis is not on acquiring male sexual organs, but on socialization as male. As Mike says, "Why trade something small that works, for something else that just fills your pants?".
Socialization as male can create amusing and ironic situations for many. Take restroom issues. Women often chat with each other in public restrooms, as a social convention. However some F2M's have learned (to their embarrassment) that as men, they must not talk to other men there. It's universally interpreted as homosexual cruising. Also, when another male greets them on the street, they're often not sure of an appropriate response.An inarticulate grunt usually seems safest.
One unusual by-product of transition is that many F2M's appear younger than they are. A beardless face and slight build make many F2M's appear as underage males. Emile jokes "It's like I'm walking around with my older sister's ID!"
F2M's find males are discouraged from showing sensitivity, but encouraged to show anger. Testosterone creates a different kind of anger than estrogen, and management techniques are needed to control it. Interestingly, many find they're allowed a wider range of interactional styles as male, than previously as female. Jake notes that at a meeting, he can sit silently, or be mean and nasty, or make flippant jokes. The top comment will be that he's acting strangely today. Yet a woman showing such extremes would be typecast as being "a bitch". Emile also finds that females often go through life without intimidating anyone. Yet as males, with certain tones, they can. It's a new feeling, hard to understand and handle.
Many F2M's seem to pass unnoticed or less stigmatized because
we live in a sexist society. The default assumption on appearence is male. In other words, one doesn't necessarily have to do much to present as male-just slob it down. By contrast, one needs more style and detail to work as female. Moreover, a slightly built man doen't necessarily raise eyebrows in public. Yet a large, masculinely proportioned female does.
Tomboyish behavior is acceptable, while effeminacy is not. Again, our sexist society sees one as a step up, and the other as a step down. Generally, females have more freedom to express themselves through clothing. For women, wearing male clothing is merely self-expression, while for men, wearing female clothing is mcuh more. It means a questioning of our male-privileged/female underprivileged society. And on another level, a questioning of many mens own heterosexuality. Insecure people never like to have either called into question; this makes us a gender threat.
Moreover, men are less scrutinized by other men than women are by other women. For an F2M trying to present as male, they earn at most a casual glance from other men. Yet for an M2F trying to pass as female, there's much more scrutiny from other women who naturally study and compare themselves.
Yet it is wrong to assume that because of society's male bias, F2M's have it easier than M2F's.
All go through the same gender-identity traumas in childhood. Imagine a little girl who doesn't identify as a little girl. When being potty trained, asking "Why can't I stand up like my big brother?" Wanting to play on the boy's football team, but not being allowed. Fantasizing about being like daddy when they grow up, wearing a necktie, shaving, being the breadwinner. Then, the trauma of puberty and menstruation, the threat of pregnancy, and being forced into a life role they don't want.
They're not a girl; but they're not a boy either. So what does that make them? Finding a sympathetic partner is not always easy. Many lesbians don't accept them because they look male; many gay men don't accept them as they don't have a penis. And they face the same problems of job discrimination and health care issues.
Many incorrectly assume that female-to-males are merely male-to-females "in reverse". Yet while they also face issues of hormonal therapy and gender role socialization changes, they are unique issues. Respecting our differences is just as important as emphasizing our transgender commonalities.
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