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Pardon Me, You With the Red Scunci…. Little Help?

Some of what I have to say here may not be exactly super popular among the trans community, but hear me out. Tis far better to listen and consider than bury our heads in the sand and have our next salad taste like unwashed spinach. I am very much including myself in this, hence the word “we” instead of “you”, “y’all” or “youse guys”.  Here goes. We often kind of suck at being women during, and even after transition. Go on, feel free to boo, I absolutely hate this idea too.

“Really Michelle? Really? We don’t get enough shit from the cisgender majority already about this?” Yes, really. We do. Suck I mean. No, I’m sure not everyone, but many or I dare say most. Plop any given one of us into a group of cisgender women and we stick out like a sore thumb, even if we do look picture perfect in a ogled “I would never know!” kind of way.  We’ll attempt to dominate a conversation, fail to follow the multiple subtexts of any discussion, disregard the group hierarchy and unspoken rules, and often end up passively shunned with absolutely no idea why. I know, the whole idea of it makes me cringe as well. It’s OK though, it’s not totally our fault.

Let me be clear, we are women. I fully believe we have female brains from birth and ended up transitioning because it became way too uncomfortable not to. I also believe that nature and nurture are inextricably intertwined. Cisgender women are recognized as being so from birth (with some exceptions, granted), are socialized as such, develop rules, norms and hierarchies around common experiences and understandings. They all had to live though the adolescent years, which if I understand the experience right, we are just a little bit lucky to have been hiding out in boyville at the time. We also missed a lot of the good stuff as well, and those things shape a person as well. Then comes us, never having had any of these experiences, but attempting to integrate seamlessly into female culture. I’ve come to realize it’s way, way harder than we think without the checklist of ‘must-have’ items on the typical female resume.

And here I go with another analogy. In 1984 Israel kicked off Operation Moses to relocate thousands of  Ethiopian Jews to safety from Sudan. These people, in appearance and culturally speaking, ethnic Ethiopians, were recognized as Jews and folded into the state of Israel. Think about what a culture shock that must have been attempting to integrate into a new place of people who yes, are the same, but came from a completely different set of shared experiences. What a clusterfluff! Sure their core identity was validated but oh how they must have stepped in it time and time again over the first few years. How could they not? I’m certain, however, that they set up their own micro societies and attempted to insulate themselves based on their own unique circumstance. Doesn’t this all sound a little familiar?

The good news is that the Ethiopian Jews stayed, at least most of them anyway. Not everyone adapts, even if they want to. In time many managed to assimilate into the Israeli culture, in no small part due to the efforts of the people already living there. I think you see where I’m going with this. We are women, but women without the benefit of decades of development. We skipped girlhood with all the critical trials and milestones, most often transitioning decades late; strangers in a strange land. Our rights to belong are inalienable, but masked by all of the quirks, thought processes, and social skills beaten into us by boy culture. No wonder we stick out!

With the exception of a few individuals here and there who are uncommonly good at assimilation through observation alone (of which I am not one), we need our cis sisters to help. My personal experience, confirmed typical by my therapist, is that trans hang with trans and cis hang with cis. I very much hope that barrier can be broken. Currently at the trans meetings I attend, the few cis women who show are supportive spouses. I could not help but notice that when informal socialization time begins, they tend to glom together. When they do, the tiny group they form appears very much different than the trans cliques, right down to the way they stand to the patois of their conversations.

In case you can’t tell, I’m thinking aloud as I write this. Wouldn’t it be helpful if we were to admit that perhaps we may be a little socially deficient in an area or two? For those who belong to groups, may it not be helpful to start inviting more cis women allies along with a humble entreaty that we could really use the pointers and encourage them to critique freely? We are smart, social, engaging, courageous (yes I said it, courageous!) women from all walks of life, but exist in a condition where we have a significant disadvantage. If we can admit it and ask for help, we can do much better for ourselves and blend just a little bit better. Face it, this is a much easier problem than big meaty Andre the Giant hands. With those we are just kind of screwed.

About michellelianna

I'm a transgender woman now in the maintenance stages of transition having all the electrolysis and surgery one can reasonably be expected to undertake. While busy exploring my new world, I took to blogging about it with dubiously popular results. I don't have quite as much to say as I used to, but I'm not quite done yet either.

8 responses »

  1. Michelle dear,

    That’s certainly one aptly, should I say, “male” way of looking at it but next time, IF YOU DON”T MIND, please speak for yourself in the singular “I” and let me take ownership of sucking at being a woman instead of including me in your proverbial “we” without my permission.
    Regardless of the fact that I have not grown up in the “female experience”, I have grown up not fitting into the “male experience” either and actually found myself fitting in with other women quite nicely, with but a few exceptions, like talking about menstruating which rarely comes up as most of my female friends are beyond that age.
    I am walking in women’s shoes in more ways than one and would ask that you walk in yours without including me in them.


    • Hi Deanna,

      Wow, that was kind of harsh throwing the ‘m’ word at me right out the gate! Ouch! Kidding aside, I seem to have struck a raw nerve here sweetie, and it looks like my words are being perceived as a personal attack. I think you know that is not the case, but I did clearly wander into some emotional territory.

      I did caveat this as ‘not everyone’ and I have met some of those ‘not everyone’s’ personally and consider them friends. I also consider amongst my friends the ‘we’s’ as well. It’s really up to you whether you consider yourself in either of these, and it makes not matter what I have to say about it.

      My overall point was that it isn’t wrong to admit there are areas where we can strive for improvement. In speaking to cisgender women, both gay and straight, and also trans men, the overall gripe I get concerning some, not all, trans women is the lack of self awareness some may have that they are coming across more masculine. I’ll give a recent example without naming names (I doubt she reads this, but you never know).

      Commenter, “OK, X seems very feminine, but I’ve always noticed that X just sits there silent if the conversation doesn’t really interest her, but then jumps right in when it does and then keeps it on that subject of course because that’s what X likes to talk about.” This surprised me and i asked if any of the other cisgender women noticed. She said, “Oh yeah, we all talked about it after she walked away” I asked why no one said anything and she looked at me funny and said, “Oh, no one does that!”

      These are the types of things I never would have gleaned for myself, and obviously X didn’t either. These are things I think X and I could really get some benefit from knowing.

      Anyway, my final thought is this. If you feel the post is not at all indicative of your experience, I believe you and that’s fine. For those who do, and prone to questioning themselves more because they feel they could blend better, than maybe they will add further thought and add to the discussion. Some feel that trans-ness is sacrosanct and not mention of the Empress’s new dress, but I’m more of the vein of seeing where I, and we, can do better and in the end have an easier experience, even if that entails questioning everything along the way.

      Love, Michelle

      • Wow, Michelle, I can see now how I took it personally and thank you for not taking me to task for doing so. It is far better to have gotten my feelings out in the open than just sitting with it like I might have once done as a man. Exchanges like this can probably explain why women generally live longer than men and my plan since I was in my twenties has always been to outlive my father and grandfathers, who all died at age 79, by at least a decade or two. Deanna

        • Hi Deanna, I totally agree with you and glad you did use that as an opportunity to let it out. I’m very glad you said something honestly, rather than just hold it in and close the window. I know I sometimes wander into territory that gets sticky for people and not even necessarily because it applies to them at all. Just the way we were build and I’ve had the same reaction to things before. That is the wonderful part about womanhood – we vent it out, talk about it and find the ground we stand on isn’t so different. Thank you for taking the time to write back as well! My initial reply left me worried I offended you and I’m very glad to see you took it the way I meant. BTW – you are always welcome to vent here if something pushes a button for you. 🙂

          Love, Michelle

  2. We all have a hard time seeing ourselves and we like to take over everything It’s in the male nature. Relax is what I say and if that girl inside is there this will show, I found this out over time. I’m not an agressive person to begain with but I grew up with the pressures of being refered to as male. My dad was a semi pro football player and knew alot of people in our community and in the world of sports, I was a disapointment. I am small 5’6″ and have small features and not strong at all. There is always going to be things that will give the male side of me away. I think that we and I do mean all of us don’t really see ourselves that clearly. We are unique.

    • Hi Tedie,

      Relax about it is about the best advice I have heard. 🙂 I’m getting comments that my inner self is showing considerably better now, but it does take time. In the mean time, though, it’s all too tempting to try to shorten the duration. Really hear you on the male pressure side! I hated team sports, but did like track and tennis, but other than that, had a hard time faking the stereotypical masculine stuff. Luckily I discovered my inner geek and found some other social misfits i could easily hide among. We are unique!

      Love, MIchelle

  3. Hi Michelle,

    I agree with you. It is not easy for trans women to blend into a group of cis women, without anyone noticing. And even though the gender clinics encourage contact with other trans people (mine does), it’s not good for our development to socialize only with trans people. For the sake of our (delayed) nurture, as you pointed out.

    But I’d like to put a little nuance to it.
    I think that a lot of the details that you (and I) notice in a trans woman, random cis people (who don’t have trans people in their social network) wouldn’t notice. They would just see it as some random quirkiness, of which everyone has a few. And even if they recognise a detail as masculine, that doesn’t automatically mean they can “read” us. A lot of cisgender women have masculine habits or features.
    I’m just saying that trans people are better at picking out trans people in a group than are cisgender people. Because being trans is such a big part of our lives, we are always focussing on every little detail that is considered “not feminine”, and we also notice them more.

    Love, Kim

    • Hi Kim,

      That is really an excellent point regarding our hypersensitivity to the nuances. Very, very true! Whenever I receive solicited, or better yet, unsolicited advice from cisgender friends and spouse/ sister, it is usually regarding something that bypassed my femme radar completely. Of course this this might also be a product of their own particular taste or mannerisms that is not exactly global. It’s not always a clear path at all, right? As I result, I began watching with eagle eyes and starting to pick up on some of the little things i never would have considered. In truth though, I am probably going overboard. 🙂 Always love hearing from you!

      Love, Michelle


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