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Unleashed, The Boys of War

FightI was watching my son playing with another boy and it took all of 10 seconds before they were engaged in a battle of some sort. I was immediately concerned, but took a moment to reflect on what I knew about boys having lived among them for so long like Jane Goodall, but hairier. Yeah, I concluded within a few moments, this is pretty damn typical. So what’s with that anyway?

As  a child, even though I gravitated to the bookish types, the nerd herd if you will, there was still a standing social rule that some sort of fighting was expected in nearly every encounter. Even if you were wearing your nice church pants, some light shoving was bound to occur, risk of grass stains a given. I’ll be perfectly honest here. I did participate, but just like President Clinton, I didn’t really enjoy it. Wrestling, boxing, playing war with guns that didn’t shoot anything and the inevitable “I got you!…No you didn’t!” squabbles. Sometimes it was simulated through action figures, sometimes it was snow ball or water balloon fights, and sometimes it was just trying to hit your tennis doubles partner in the back of the head with your serve. Violence always had a role in all play.

When something is that ubiquitous, it gets pretty hard to avoid. This is especially true in the somewhat gender segregated 70’s and 80’s when scheduling play with someone of the opposite gender was just considered weird and looked down upon. In the rare times I did get to play with the girls, usually via my sister or cousin, it was a much nicer time and the games seemed more complex, interesting, and entirely bereft of the salty dogs of war. Most of the time I was stuck with the boys and said dogs were in abundance. I did everything I could to avoid anger based physical confrontation, but simply standing at the bus stop or playing a game of Monopoly somehow erupted into a battle royale. Once in high school I had the opportunity to introduce my two best friends to each other at an art show I was in. After they wrestled it out on the hot asphalt in the parking lot they became closer to each other than either was to me. I hate to think about what life would have been like if I hung with the popular crowd.

Although I lacked understanding of this particular gender specific more, I managed to fake it just well enough to avoid being targeted for yet more. I made it through my year on the basketball team without incurring one foul, but only one basket as well. I joined the Scouts, and strategically spent my time with my dad looking at tress and shit while the rest of them played something called ‘Commando’, crashing through the woods and whooping war cries. When it came time to man up and join the military, I picked the Air Force, electronics backshop, arguably the least likely segment of the military to see combat. Rumor had it if they ever passed out M-16s to our shop, they would come loaded with only one bullet because the outlook was that grim. I attributed this to the DoD wanting to save the State Department huge headaches in negotiating the repatriation of decidedly replaceable personnel.

I never knew if this was ingrained in the male psyche, which I apparently never had, or was culturally learned. When I play with my son with his toys, no matter how hard I try to invent a clever little story with “the guys” (his collective name for action figures), his reaction is to take whichever one he is holding and smash it into mine, or more accurately, my fingers. The go-to move is to have them fight; my cutesy antics of no interest in comparison. So is combat endemic to the male spirit?

I’m very curious to see some commentary on this one, especially from trans women and men. Do trans women as children in a male environment fall happily into line with this, or were you simply trying to get by? Do trans men also have this irresistible urge to flavor any play with a nice dose of war? Speak freely with the knowledge that whatever you say, I’m sure not going to hit you.

Male Privilege

“The hardest thing to adjust to will be the huge loss of male privilege.”, was the first piece of advice given to me by Sam, a trans man who happened to be seated at the same table at a wedding back last May. I was there in male mode, but didn’t hesitate coming out to him after he disclosed his journey away from ‘Samantha’. As a quick aside, I have yet to meet a trans man who didn’t exemplify everything a man should be. I agreed with him, even though I didn’t fully understand what he was talking about. Yes, I do that sometimes; pretend to know and then see if I can figure it out from context. Not my best habit, but if you have read my other posts, you know I’m not exactly little miss perfect.

That night I didn’t have the opportunity to find out due to a digestive malfunction, but I was curious enough to follow up with my spouse, who has handled this unfortunate turn of events with astounding compassion. I didn’t perceive myself has having any special “privilege” on account of my dreary secondary attributes. She was full of examples.

I could go anywhere at any time without ever having to worry that I would be raped.  This included parking far away from the door because walking back to the car caused no anxiety. Where her statements were often questioned, my identical statements to the same people were immediately validated. I could be opinionated without being denigrated. I could have a bad day without speculation about my reproductive cycle. I received virtually no criticism about my outfit or shoes. Any show of emotion was considered deep and noble, and never whiny or hysterical. The douche bag at Jiffy Lube didn’t try to sell me $500 in replacement fluids every single time I came in. No probing about my family plans in job interviews. No one assumed I’d be the one to take notes. No one raped me with their eyes because I wore something comfortable on the Stairmaster. I’m sure there were more.

I had never considered these things to be “privileges” before, or even understood them as perks. Not having them though, makes them seem like all that and more. As I began to transition and went out in public more, the message became much clearer. I have learned caution and fear. I’ve learned the value of a close parking space and it has nothing to do with laziness. Five minutes from bed to the door is no more. I know the feeling of eyes on me when none were before. And this is all before transitioning at work. I have that coming up in the next month or two, and I have the feeling I’m really going to know what it’s like then.

The reason I’m even making this point is that I’ve heard many scoff at such a notion. People who have it, cisgender males in particular, often don’t care much for the idea. If true, the holders have a moral obligation to extend the benefits to those who do not. In a world where rape is used as a tool of war there are many who like the balance of power the way it is. On the other side, there are plenty of both cis and trans women who also prefer the concept untrue under the mistaken notion that the truth is an admission that equality is impossible. I think this denial is horribly dangerous.

I’m worried my next thought is going to look like blaming the victim. It’s not. No woman, cis or trans, ever deserves or ‘has coming’ violence against her. No matter what she wears, where she goes, who she associates with, or how much she had to drink. Never, ever, ever. As long as we understand each other, I often wonder if some, or even many, instances of transphobic violence could be avoided if the victim understood it was no longer safe to go where a man would. In male mode I would not hesitate to walk past a group of rowdy lads spilling out of the bar. As Michelle, I would cross the street quickly. True, chances are nothing would happen, but let’s be honest here, Michelle’s chances of a beat down or worse are considerably higher than Michael’s.

All in all, it’s not fair and it’s not right, but it is very much a real thing. There is a reason my therapist told me, “if you can do nothing, that is what I would recommend.” Not a chance, but I know my days of midnight wandering the streets alone are gone for good. It’s all right though; whatever it costs I will pay.

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