Beards and Vaginas: You Can Have it All!

I stumbled across this ad on Instagram yesterday for a dating site called LumberMatch, whose header on its website actually says: “Men all over the world are growing their beards, getting tattoos and styling their hair.  There are people all over the world who love guys like us.”

IMG_7152First of all, it sounds pretty stupid if you ask me. Men are growing beards, getting tattoos, and styling their hair? Um, yes? Because men are people and people do these things? Such a weird thing to say, isn’t it? Anyway, if you can get past the idiocy of the premise of LumberMatch, you might be lucky enough to see an ad like this.

Yup, this is totally true. Some of us shave both, actually.  But let’s make it clear– I don’t shave ALL of my face. Just around the edges of my totally badass trans beard, to keep it neat.

Yeah, I have a badass beard. I also have a vagina. I’m transgender. My anatomy does not dictate my gender, and my beard is just as real as a cisgender man’s beard. In fact, my beard is better than a lot of cis guys’ beards. But really, who is keeping score?

This ad is offensive for a lot of reasons, but I’m going to stick with the first 3 that come to mind:

1. It’s ignorant of and offensive to trans men. It implies that you can’t have both a manly beard and a vagina. This is simply untrue, as me and the multitude of other beardy trans guys evidence.

2. It’s misogynist. The tone of this ad is very woman-hating or at least woman-shaming, implying that vaginas are the antithesis of what beards represent. Beards are rugged and tough. Vaginas belong where beards don’t– on the not-rugged, not-tough.

I’m not sure that the folks who created this ad have ever come in close contact with a vagina, because if they had they would know that the vagina is one of the toughest, strongest, most resilient things on the planet. Vaginas have withstood intrusion and examination and attempted control and hate and scrutiny for a few millennia and still keep going. They are strong. They are wonderful. They are tough with or without beards. They are quietly powerful.

3. It shames men for things they can’t control. Beards are a product of genetics, plain and simple. Beards spring from DNA, not a hidden hot spring of masculinity. Plenty non-masculine folks can grow amazing beards, while many very rugged guys have little to no facial hair at all.

Your ability to grow a beard says nothing about your character, your strength, or your ability to kill a bear with your own hands. It means you have DNA. Congratulations. Thinking that something so arbitrary makes one manly is silly– that would be like saying that someone with Hitchhiker’s Thumb is somehow more naturally masculine. It’s not, though it makes it that much easier for apeish, misogynistic a-holes to stick it up their own butts.

Seriously, though. Stop equating facial hair to superiority and vaginas to weakness. We can do better.

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Welcome to a New World– How Society Treats You When You “Pass” and Other Oddities

Skimming Facebook this morning, I saw several friends posted a link to a BRILLIANT piece Jon Stewart did on the Caitlyn Jenner reveal. If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to watch. I won’t repeat any of Jon’s commentary here, except to say that he rightly points out that, now that Caitlyn Jenner is presenting as female, she will be treated as a typical female (not in a good way) by the media covering her story. His presentation of this phenomenon is amazing. WATCH IT.

It got mehey-girl thinking about all the ways that my ability to “pass” as male has changed how people treat me. I am white, educated, and grew up middle class. I stand a little over 5’7″ and am in shape (though it is strange to go from being a “tall-ish, but big” female to a “short-ish, but strong-for-his-size” dude). In just the few short months that I have been in this phase of my transition, where I am overwhelmingly read and treated as a straight (SO F*CKING WEIRD. I HAVE NEVER BEEN STRAIGHT BEFORE), white male, I have noticed a pretty big change in how people allow me to move around in this world.

It turns out, male privilege is a thing. And now I have it. And that is totally, totally weird. I feel guilty about having it, but also realize that now that I have it, I have some enhanced ability to call it out and work to undo it. And so I shall. Here are some of the best examples of that privilege at work.

1. I am never afraid to leave my house alone. I am generally not the type of person who worries too much about my surroundings when I’m by myself. I am physically not really the type to be picked on, I usually have dogs with me, and I have lived in some sketchy places before (just ask my mom), so I’m used to that. But now that the world sees me as a man, I am comfortable by myself in most situations. I was walking around in a hoodie and sweatpants, with my headphones in the other day. I must have been looking particularly surly, because an older woman saw me and actually crossed the street to get away from me. Seriously– I have gone from “potential target” to “potential aggressor.”

2. I can exist in public without being a subject of commentary or criticism based on my appearance. I’m allowed to dress how I want, walk how I want, I don’t have to shave, smile, or engage in conversation if I don’t want to, and no one has anything to say about it. This is a stark contrast from the days when strangers on the street would comment on my outfits, or tell me to “smile more,” or catcall me.

3. I’m allowed to have body hair. This is a tough one for me. I never was really big on body hair before– my Nordic genes include the blessing of mostly-blonde fuzz, so I could be relaxed about shaving my legs and such without much issue. But I always felt pressured still to keep everything in check, for the most part. Now, I totally have the freedom to be as hairy as I want. I am still trying to make peace with this– after looking at yourself for 31 years with one standard in mind, looking down at hairy legs, hairy arm pits, and increasingly-hairy everything else has taken a lot of getting used to. Still not sure how I feel about facial hair, but it helps me pass, so it stays for now. Had I made similar decisions pre-transition I would have been labeled a “hippie dyke” or worse. Ridiculous.

4. I can eat and drink whatever I want and no one tries to make me feel bad about it. You know, because men are allowed more leeway when it comes to being in shape, or indulging. I’m not expected to “keep my figure,” and in fact, when I do comment about being on a diet or watching what I eat, other men respond with comments meant to make me feel bad or less-than because I don’t want a giant cheeseburger and large fries and Hooters wings and tons of beer all the time.

5. I have less sexual liability. I could literally sleep with as many people as I want to– male or female– and get zero push-back. In fact, I might even get props from other dudes. When I talk about sex, no one (except my doctor) reminds me to “be safe” or “be smart.” I am not judged negatively for talking openly about sex, or sexual partners.

6. I am not subject to “soft sexism.” Being asked to grab someone their coffee or to help clean up after a meeting/gathering/party no longer exists.

I am sure that this list will grow with time– after all, it’s only been a few months that I am in this position, and most people I interact with regularly know me as a trans person. More experiences with folks who don’t know will surely only expand upon the privilege I’m afforded. Meanwhile, folks like Caitlyn Jenner lose much of their individuality and become another “thing to be discussed” by virtue of their transition to female.

Our culture is very strange. Let’s work on that.

And Then There are the Bathrooms….

*This is a general post about the politics of using bathrooms. I am not addressing the Transgender Bathroom Laws here– that deserves its own post.*

I haven’t been comfortable in a public, multi-stall restroom since 2011, which was the last time I went to Union Hall in Brooklyn, which has gender-neutral multi-stall bathrooms for everyone. Other than that, the only time I am really relaxed about using the bathroom in public is when I can use a single-person, gender neutral facility (like Starbucks).

Before transitioning, I used women’s restrooms. Because I was very male-presenting, my presence was often met with shock (like when women would enter the restroom, see me washing my hands, and would immediately leave because they thought they’d walked into the men’s room. LOL.), sometimes with outright hostility.

I had a 60+ year old woman walk up to me while I was in line in the ladies’ room at LAX and say “Excuse me, are you in the right place?” I was particularly grumpy and I replied “Lady, I would have to be the biggest idiot to be standing here in line with a bunch of women if I didn’t belong in here. Do you want to see my vagina?” THE LOOK ON HER FACE WAS TOTALLY WORTH IT.

As upsettinrestroom-signs-e-meng as my ladies’ room experiences were, the thought of going into the men’s room was scarier because of the prospect of physical violence. Needless to say, when I began transitioning, I was really excited when I started “passing” well enough to use the men’s room.

It turns out, men’s rooms come with their own challenges. First, there are new rules to learn.

1. Never make eye contact (you know, because of the gayness of eye contact in a place where you go to relieve yourself).
2. Do not speak to anyone else in the restroom, even if you know them. Must wait until you exit.
3. Be as disgusting as possible. (Okay, this isn’t a rule, per se, but you’d think so if you saw what I’m talking about.)

Second, there are many different configurations of men’s rooms and you have to think on your feet. Will there even be stalls? If so, will they have a door? Or will the toilets be working? How do you gracefully exit a bathroom once you walk in and realize there is nowhere for you to actually pee? I went into a single-person, designated men’s room at a grungy bar in Hollywood on Friday. It had a toilet (yay!) but the toilet was DUCT TAPED SHUT. I ended up having to squat backwards over the urinal. What would I have done if there wasn’t a door I could close and lock?

OH MY GOD MEN’S BATHROOMS THOUGH. Seriously, guys. Seriously. What is it about having a designated “man zone” that means that you can completely disregard all sense of sanitation and decency? The book The Lord of the Flies comes to mind when I consider the forces at play in a typical men’s public restroom.

The baffling thing is that I have used the bathroom in men’s homes, and they are NEVER as gross as a public men’s room.  What gives? I wonder if the state of public men’s restrooms is a greater commentary on our culture? Do men feel so put-upon by women in their lives generally that they actively rebel against all the forces that would tell them “Throw your paper towel in the trash can!” or “Don’t leave a giant puddle of pee on the floor!” by conducting themselves like animals that were poorly house-trained?

Or is it a symptom of groupthink? “I would normally pick that paper towel up, but since there is already a pile of them on the floor, I’ll just leave it….”  I may never know the answer to this question, but I will continue to ask it until someone gives me an answer that isn’t “It’s because men are just gross.” We, as humans, are better than that.

In the Company of Men

“I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.” — Groucho Marx

“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” — The Great and Powerful Oz

My feelings about being a member of the dude club range somewhere between these two quotes. I have the privilege of “passing,” which means that the outside world reads me as male. I am also white, a native English speaker, and work in a white collar profession, which means that the outside world puts me in the highest social strata, based on my appearance. The truth, though, is that I was raised female in a middle-class family in Texas. I lived as a lesbian/queer woman for 16 years and consider myself to be a raging feminist.

This outward/inward dichotomy puts me in some interesting situations as I learn how to navigate male culture and privilege. I often feel like I’m undercover. A spy. An outsider sneaking around in disguise. I have thoughts like “Holy cow. They really don’t know, do they?”

This post is the first in what I imagine will be a series that might otherwise be titled “Sh*t Guys Say When They Think There Are No Women Around.”

So I’m in the elevator at work the other day. I work in a very big building in Downtown Los Angeles. It’s 51 stories tall, and full of mostly lawyers. Mornings are usually pretty crowded in the elevator bank, with throngs of suit-clad (or thankfully in my case, business casually clad) lawyers, paralegals, office workers, and other professionals making their way to work.

I get into the elevator with four men, all in suits, all appearing to be in their 30s and 40s. I don’t recognize any of them, and none are my coworkers. In fact, I’m pretty sure I had never seen any of them before.

I usually ride my bike or walk to work with my headphones in, and keep them on until I get to work, along with my sunglasses, so I can hang onto that “I’m not at work” feeling as long as possible before beginning my day. So I enter the elevator, swipe my key card, and move to the corner where I lean against the wall and wait to be whisked away to my office.

As the door is nearly closed, a woman makes it to the door in time to put an arm out and stop the doors from closing. She enters the elevator in a rush. She  apologizes to all of us for holding up the lift, and then pulls out her phone until her floor comes. She exits elevator.

Now, I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to her as she stood there, I was busy messing with my phone and listening to Pearl Jam. I did notice two things:
1. She was wearing some very daring heels– peep toe, I believe.
2. Her skirt was shortish and tightish– the kind of skirt our career development people always said you shouldn’t wear to an interview.

As soon as she exits the elevator and the door closes, the man standing across the elevator from me says “Damn. I would not kick her out of bed. Right?” And then proceeded to look around at the rest of us for approval.

downloadWHAT!?!? My floor was next, and I barely had time to register what he’d said before I had to get off the elevator. I spent the next ten minutes processing what had happened. This man had read me as a guy, and then assumed that it would be totally okay with me to hear him talk about his sexual interest in that woman in the company of strangers.

After a few minutes, I began to feel guilty for not saying something back to him. I had missed an opportunity to educate that man, or at least make him (hopefully) think a little. I am not usually one to let things go unsaid, but I was honestly so shocked that I couldn’t respond. Upon reflection, here is what I should have said:
“That woman you just objectified, out loud, in front of a group of strangers, is a person. She’s someone’s daughter/sister/mother/partner. She’s not just a skirt and heels. She’s a human. And you have stripped her of all of that in one instant by reducing her to sexual object. And what’s worse is, you assume that we all agree with you. Don’t assume you know anything about strangers. We may be victims or survivors, and your words might hurt more than you know.”

Next time, I’ll be ready.