The first page of “Manly Guys Doing Manly Things,” a seriously epic webcomic. Highly recommend.

What are little boys made of?
What are little boys made of?
Slime or snails and puppy-dogs’ tails
That’s what little boys are made of

Scene:
                Today, when I walk into Bridgehead, it’s a little cooler. This suits me plenty, because it affords me the opportunity to wear more layers.  I am careful to walk out of my way to the Bridgehead I don’t normally use, lessening the chance of someone recognizing me. I wear men’s jeans, a binder, a broad-shouldered t-shirt, and a Tommy Hilfiger pull-over, grey with wooden buttons at the neck.  I put on my “men’s” glasses, brown rectangular frames that are the same as a pair one of my male friends has. Beneath my men’s jeans I’ve secured a packer (a prosthetic phallus) in underwear purpose-built for this, but externally looks like any men’s pair of boxer-briefs. What underwear I have on really shouldn’t matter, but it’s part of the illusion. Everything is there, right down to my Tommy Hilfiger socks and my Doc Martens.  I’ve stripped all jewelry, but for a bulky, bronze ring on my middle finger and my Fossil watch, a hefty grey steel-brushed piece that I bought myself as a gift for finishing my third year of university.

When I enter the cafe, my posture sinks a little, my walk becomes more lanky–the kind of walk my brother has, the way any broad-shouldered guy of my height would carry himself (and them with significantly less effort put into it). I reach one hand up to ruffle my hair–a fade from a 0 to a number 2 with some length on top–and lean back on my haunches, looking at the menu as if I haven’t already planned every aspect of this encounter.  My instincts are to smile, to make eye contact, to bounce around in that flighty feminine way I have for years, but I don’t. Not all guys are like this, but to pass I am a stereotype–quiet, reserved, unobtrusive. Women lead with their hips, but men walk from somewhere lower, their hips a flat line that I try my best to emulate–casually, casually–as I move forward in the coffee queue.

A blonde guy with hair longer than mine, swept back into a ponytail, greets me with a wave and I nod at him in acknowledgement, the barest hint of a smile at my lips. “Hey man, can I get a medium soy latte to go?” I pitch my voice lower. As a kid my brother and I sounded exactly the same on the phone, something that offended both of us. It’s ironic that I’m now mimicking his voice again, but now to be perceived as masculine.
“Sure thing,” the barista (baristo?) replies, punching it in. I flip open my wallet–a men’s folio wallet, patterned with vintage tattoo designs and just slightly stained blue from my jeans. I slide the chip of my Visa into the bottom of the card reader as he passes the order down the line. “Thanks, man, have a good one,” the barista says as I move away down the counter.

I move slower, deliberate, less energetic and more stoic. The barista on bar, a short woman with close-cropped, bright red hair, makes my drink. This Bridgehead is busier, so there’s no chit chat. Fine by me. Less opportunity to be “found out.” She puts my cup down and calls out the order and I say quietly, “Thanks.” She smiles at me, the service smile, not really seeing me, already prepping the next order.

I snap a lid on the cup and move towards the door, thinking to myself that today, one of my better “passing” days, “passing” means being almost invisible to the people around me.

Scene:
                It’s late and the lights on the bus feel harsh as I clamber on. There is only one other person on the bus, a dark-skinned woman with red glasses and her hair up in a hundred braids. On a different day, I would compliment her on it, but I feel her eyes on me as I press my bus pass to the reader and so I stay silent, nodding to the bus driver and flipping my wallet closed as the reader gives off its acknowledging “bleep.”

I know that I’m stocky–my shoulders are broad and I’m average height for a masculine person–a bit tall for a woman–and I feel her nervous energy as, out of the corner of my eye, she pulls her bag closer to her and crosses, then re-crosses her legs in a different position. I know if it were me I would be a little nervous, too–alone on the bus with a stocky stranger in the strange yellow light–and so I sit nearer the front of the bus than I otherwise would, well in her line of sight, and out of the way. I lounge a bit in the seat, leaning back with my legs spread wide, reaching one of my arms across the seat-back. I exhale deeply, watching the city go by.

When I get off the bus I take care to lower my centre of gravity, to walk not-too-quickly home. Another day I would walk quickly, determined, my keys between my fingers. Sandy Hill is a good neighbourhood, but has its share of drunken uni kids looking for trouble. But men are not scared to walk home alone, so I keep my step casual, earbuds in my ears and a grey hoodie up over my face.

“Excuse me sir, do you have any  change?”

Aware (elated) at the usage of “sir”, I shake my head gruffly and don’t speak, not trusting my voice. I shrug a little, an apology, and keep going, hands buried in the pockets of my coat–a windbreaker, again with the Hilfiger, dark blue with a red and a white stripe across the chest. Below that, baggy brown corduroys and Addidas hightops, dark blue suede with white accents.  The any-student, walking home after a few drinks at the bar.

I see no one else as I make it back to my neighbourhood, then into my building and the elevator. When I get home, I take a few swigs from my Nalgene and head to bed in boxers and an old t-shirt with a DeLorean on the front.

Comments:

I feel like I need to preface my comments on this a little. I’m writing this blog and I want it to be “me”–I don’t want to dress myself up for the internet and make Definite Statements or Take Sides. This isn’t a workshop where I’m going to tell you the proper Gender 101 Textbook Statements.  I may make posts like that someday, but they’ll have that heading. It’ll be clear. This, however, is about me. And individual people, as you may expect, can be a little more complicated.

This post is, I think, the hardest one of this series for me to write, because there’s so much that needs to be explained. Some days, I wish I was binary trans. It would be a lot easier for a lot of people in my life to understand. Dude brain in a lady body. Bam. But that’s not me. That’s not my story, and that’s not who I am. Just as I am not a girl, I am equally not a boy.

So what’s the deal? Where does this post fit in?

The answer isn’t a quick and easy one. I don’t identify as I guy–but I will admit pretty readily that I dress like one. I buy most of my clothing in the “men’s” sections of stores. I own a chest binder and a prosthetic penis–both of these are things that are pretty clearly designed to make me come across as a guy. (A very particular “type” of guy, I might add.) But if I’m not a guy, why do I want people to think I am?

The answer is a bit fuzzy. I’ll be real with you here, though: part of this is internalized cissexism crap. What I mea by that, is that I spend so much of my life being read as a “girl” because of particular physical attributes I have, that I am simply relieved to not be ID’ed as such. And even though I’m not a girl, I spend a lot of time keeping people from “finding out” that I’m a “girl” (more on this next week when I talk queer stuff). And because we don’t live in a society where most people understand that there’s more than two genders, being read as a guy is about the next best thing for being recognized as who I am. It’s true that, philosophically, this should be just as problematic to me as being ID’d as a girl. But it doesn’t feel that way, and I’m not going to pretend it does, because Lord knows I’ve looked long enough for other people like me….. I’m betting this, these weird complicated truths, as they are, will resonate with some people. So here it is: I’ve been read as a girl for 23 years–three of which I haven’t seen myself as a woman–and honestly, some days it’s just a relief when someone doesn’t immediately see “female” when their eyes pass over me on a bus. So, in the absence of other options, I aim for “dude”.

Another part of this, and this is really problematic–it’s honestly easier to be read as a man than as a woman or a queer person. There is power in being read as man, which I’ll talk about more in just a few moments. When I am read as a man, one hundred percent, or close enough to that that people don’t really doubt it, my life is easier. I have not ever, when being read as a man, been harassed in the street. I have not ever had a stranger hit on me in a way that made me uncomfortable, I have not ever had to defend myself for existing, I have not ever had to deal with people “checking me out”, up and down and up again, when dressed as a man. And this is a huge problem in our society, and it is a huge problem that there is a part of me, however small, that wants to buy into that. But I’ll ask you not to jump down my throat about it–I know it’s bad, and I try not to feel this way often. But if you spend most of your life feeling like you’re at the mercy of other people, for something as simple as being referred to with the correct name, you’ll understand: some days, you need the power. I don’t feel too guilty for taking security, on those few occasions that I “pass”. Lord knows I’ve done my time.

So let’s move on to discussing male interactions in the world (in my one human’s experience). At the beginning of this section I mentioned being seen as “a particular type of guy”. My “dude” aesthetic is fairly particular: Baggy jeans. Men’s fit t-shirts. Tommy Hilfiger. Very obviously “masculine” things. I don’t have the privilege of pulling off “gay aesthetic”, because people will see me as a girl. A good friend of mine wears men’s skinny jeans–has said to me that, before men’s skinny jeans existed, he wore women’s pants. And nobody’s ever given him heck for that. But if I wear skinny jeans, even if I can hardly get them done up because of the packer bulge–I’m suddenly a girl, or suddenly a “queer,” and have to deal with all the repercussions of that. So I don’t. I play it safe, even when it frustrates me. For example: I actually adore snapbacks. I think they’re ridiculous, and I unironically want like ten of them. I really want a floral one. However, I don’t wear them–because they make me look like a twelve year old who’s pretending he’s sixteen. (On really bad days, a twelve year old girl trying to look sixteen). Similarly, though I own several pairs of skinny jeans, I don’t ever wear them on my “dude” days. If I want to be believed, in the society I live in now, I have to dress a certain way. And for the most part, when I want to fulfill that illusion, I do it.

In those spaces where I am read as that stereotypical, unobtrusive guy, there’s a couple of things I’ve noticed:

  • You do not get “special” treatment as a man. Now wait a second–I mean something pretty particular here. Because men have a lot of privilege–which I’ll elaborate on momentarily–but they don’t get “special” treatment the way women do. Women will sometimes be treated “specially” by men–doors held open, seats offered, etc. They will also get “special” treatment in a more negative sense–we are treated as more fragile, less trustworthy, weaker. But when I am read as a man, everywhere I go, I am part of the team. People treat me respectfully, but not overly formally; people are polite to me, but rarely flirtatious; people listen to my ideas and I have more freedom to express myself without risk of being labelled something like “obnoxious” or “bossy”.  Women have a sisterhood that is particular and internal, designed to protect one another from the treatment we sometimes face as women against men; men don’t need this, and they don’t have it. Things are built to accommodate them. And it’s so subtle that you would hardly notice–there’s no sense of special treatment. In fact, some of my best moments as a guy are the moments where I spend a whole day without anyone taking significant notice of me. That’s something I have never experienced as a woman.
  • Men have a lot more space than women. This is both a literal and a figurative statement. Everyone has seen photos of guys on public transit with their legs splayed out like they own the place. And that’s been true in my experience too–guys tend to be a little less conscious of people around them and will take up as much space as makes them comfy, which is to say, generally more than a woman would, even accounting for the potential difference in size between the average man and the average woman. But guys also seem to have much more social capital than women. I can’t tell you how many times in high school I’d put my hand up to answer a question and the teacher would comment, “Someone other than [birth name]”–which was not something I ever personally witnessed a teacher say about a male student. When I am read as a man, my ideas are taken, on average, more seriously, and at face value. My motives are less likely to be questioned, and I have more space to speak than women. Since starting to project myself more masculinely, I have almost entirely given up raising my hand to speak–because men are permitted to speak “out of turn”, but women have to ask.
  • You’re in the bro code. I’m laughing a little to myself as I write this, but it’s true. Just as women have this sisterhood where we protect one another, men have a very particular way of relating to one another, and there’s a lot of weird (and kind of ridiculous, in my opinion) rules to this. Some of the highlights I’ve noticed from this:
    • No homo. When I’m a woman in line at a coffee shop and a man greets me, the dynamic is completely different from when a man greets me. Everyone who’s ever worked service knows the service voice. It’s at least an octave above your normal speaking voice, and it kind of sounds like you’re singing when you talk. This is for women interacting with women or men, and men when interacting with women–but never when a man interacts with another man. Your voice doesn’t go up at the end of statements, you don’t smile too hard with your mouth, and you don’t do anything that could come off like you’re hitting on the person. There’s this weird underlying tension in a lot of male-male interactions like everyone just wants to be clear with everyone else that they’re not gay–not that there’s anything wrong with being gay! just that i don’t bat for that team, right, y’know?? just being clear, that’s all!
    • Men would quite possibly rather die than openly admit they are having a problem. The only way you are going to communicate with a guy about an issue that he is having is by having something between the two of you as a proxy for conversation. You’ve got to be playing video games, or trying to fix something, or even doing some kind of chore–something that occupies your hands, but not really your brain, and if you wait long enough, they’ll finally mention something about their breakup or how they’re a little worried about school or their parents or whatever. And you have to navigate that very carefully, because if you get too close to openly talking about feelings, most guys will shut down in less than three seconds. But if you’re indirect, and patient, and take lots of breaks to shoot bad guys, you will eventually get through whatever issue they have.
    • Similarly, male-male conflicts seem to only resolve themselves in two ways: physical aggression, or incredible passive-aggressiveness. This is another one of those things where I’m amazed people say women are bad for this. I will concede that women often tend to hold on to things they are angry about for longer–even after it’s been “dealt with”, at times–but men are just as bad, if not worse, for keeping things under wraps and pretending they’re fine and then exploding over something that’s really, really unimportant. One of the only things I can say for this method of communication is that at least after dudes hit each other or have their blow-ups, for them, it really is over.

(Reminder, again, these posts are my ancedotal experiences–but I think they may still resonate, so I’m sharing them. They are not scientific data. Do not react as such.)

This post is getting long so I’ll tackle one more thing quickly and close up. When read as a man, I interact with women the way I want men to interact with me. So, because I’ve lived as a woman and felt crowded or unsafe around men, I give women extra space. I walk at least ten paces behind them, or I’ll cross the street and give them a wide berth. I am friendly, but I do not pay too close attention to them, out of respect for their privacy and knowledge that they’re just trying to get from point A to point B. I don’t compliment women (or men, for that matter), because I know it will be seen as a come-on. Men have literally messed up women’s social interactions to the point that, when I am seen as a man in public, I am doing everything I can to be invisible to these women and not be in their way–because I know that feeling that every man is a threat. 

Privileges, bro-codes, being “one of the guys”. Does this post seem right to you? Did you learn something? Is your experience completely difficult? Comment below! I’d love to hear your thoughts. And if you’re enjoying this series, please come back next week for the grand finale–on being “queer” in public. Can’t wait to share it with you folks!

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Did you miss Part One (Girls!)? Click here!
Want to read my intro to this series? Click me!