I never thought my transition from female to male would lead me to the Men’s Rights Movement.
I never even knew such a thing existed until a year after the fact. My transition was not about sexual politics, but about achieving personal brain-body congruence. I was correcting an internal dysphoria that had persisted since age 7, when I angrily declared to the boy next door that I was “Super Boy and not Super Girl,” and staunchly defended my decision to enter the boys’ restroom to a stressed-out elementary school teacher.
At 11 I begged my mother to let me cut my hair as short as possible and was thrilled when our dentist mistook me for a boy. In short, everything I was inside; everything that I could sense and attach to my identity, was male, even as my body said otherwise.
That conflict intensified harshly. The next year I tried to cut off the breast stubs that grew on my chest with a steak knife, and expressed a strong desire to get breast cancer, “so that I can get a double mastectomy like Grandma!” When I was 16 I developed anorexia in order to stop my periods and shrink my breasts as much as possible.
My distress never had much to do with social roles, and for the most part I did not transition in order to gain any perceived social privilege. I played with Barbie dolls and dressed up as a princess (though I always added a sword just to prove I was a tough princess). Xena was my role model.
From a young age, though, I did express extreme anger at not being able to enlist in the Army as an infantryman, and was enraged when a friend’s grandmother presumed that I did not know how to put gas in a car because I was a girl. Any time a man showed “chivalry” towards me, such as offering to help me carry something heavy, I was insulted and angry. I also experienced howls and whistles on a daily basis from men in cars when I went out alone for walks.
“Well, I must be an extreme feminist,” I remember thinking. “Because feminists are the only other girls who seem to get as angry at these things as I do.”
I got the double mastectomy I’d always wanted the day before I turned 20. By this time I had learned of the existence of female-to-male transgender people and knew that this described my condition almost perfectly. I had gotten to the point where it was either get a sex change or kill myself.
After having my breasts removed I began administering weekly testosterone injections. My voice dropped and I began to grow a beard. At this time I began to be taken as male in social settings.
The first thing I noticed was that the cat calls from cars as I walked down the street came to an end. No longer feeling sexually threatened was a huge relief, although it also led to me to another most interesting observation. I wondered if I made an ugly boy since I no longer received daily assurance that I was sexually desirable. It actually took a while to get used to not being seen as the physically attractive sex. My gain became an unexpected loss and I began to realize there are some things on the other side of the fence that you cannot see until you cross over and stand there.
Standing there, as I do now, provides a very different view of life, and of men, than I ever had. Until I got here, there was much I was unaware of, like the previously unseen objectification of my body as an appliance.
It took a while to get it. I was pleasantly surprised when a female friend asked me to help her move furniture shortly after I began hormone therapy. At this point my muscles had developed somewhat in response to testosterone, but I was still within the female range of strength. Nevertheless, I was able to move the furniture (though I’m sure she could have done so herself). I felt very manly and tough. Wasn’t it wonderful that people now presumed I was strong and capable rather than weak and in need of chivalric protection?
I was happy, celebrating the fact that I was no longer seen as just a piece of meat–although later I realized that now society either uses me or ignores me, because I’m not attractive enough to be a piece of meat. I’m instead just an ugly, hairy beast with a wallet and a pair of muscular arms. Or, I might say with some measure of irony, a piece of meat that doesn’t even rate a cat call.
I have also found it very difficult to get used to always having to take action and make decisions. Men are expected, forced rather, to be the active agents of society. If there is a problem, men are expected to take the initiative to solve it rather than seek help or advice or take advantage of social services.
In straight relationships, the man is expected to approach the woman, initiate conversation, and move the relationship in the direction he wants it to go while simultaneously being extremely careful to monitor her unspoken cues to ensure he is not being rapey or creepy (and if he fails to correctly read those cues, he risks being put away in jail and raped himself).
Even in gay male relationships, no partner takes the “female” role: both are expected by the other to approach, initiate, take charge, and make decisions at least half of the time.
Being an active agent 24/7 is not a privilege, but a very tedious and stressful responsibility. Having it suddenly forced upon me without being trained for it since birth was mentally and physically exhausting.
The burden of all that hyperagency has a huge downside. Sometimes men need help as well. When they do, people are very reluctant to come to their aid and do not hesitate to make fun of them for needing assistance. There are virtually no domestic violence shelters for men, nobody cares if a man is homeless, or out of work, or if he is mentally ill and needs care and concern, because he’s a man, damn it. He’s supposed to be strong and capable, all the time, or else he’s useless and might as well not exist (just like an older, unattractive and overweight woman is seen as useless).
According to feminism male privilege guarantees that he has it so much easier than women. They laugh at the notion that it might be difficult to be a man in this society, because they can’t see the other side.
Well, I’ve stood on both sides of the fence and, without bias from either, I can safely say that “male privilege” in this day and age is bullshit. Women face a lot of threats, to be sure; but men face many of the same exact threats without the social and legal support that women have. Men’s issues are for the most part not even acknowledged to exist.
Due to stress from college and bullying (which, oddly enough, came only from within the campus’ LGBT/feminist community) I required a brief stint at a mental hospital last summer. I was at a very low point and began whimpering during my intake evaluation, at which point the doctor told me, “You’re a man, right? That crying is pathetic. Man up!”
Man up. It suddenly hit me that most men are probably told this phrase hundreds of times throughout their boyhood. At one point I would have given anything for people to encourage me to toughen up like Xena. Now I realized that sometimes, men, like women, just don’t feel tough and need the same love and care that women do when they are hurting. Why is this so hard for society to accept? Both men and women can be tough most of the time, but everybody has points in their lives in which they need to be taken care of by others.
Nevertheless, I stopped crying immediately (which testosterone makes physically easier to do), having been reminded that it is now socially unacceptable to show my feelings, even when being admitted to a mental hospital. I didn’t mind that much. After all, it’s a man’s responsibility to always be strong and capable, right? I was a man, damn it, and right embarrassed that I’d failed to behave like one.
After a year of these experiences, and a year of listening to extreme feminist doctrine at my liberal arts college (which schooled me on the inherent violence of male sexuality, “rape culture,” “trigger warnings,” “safe spaces,” etc.. it seemed to me that many of them wanted to be seen as weak, delicate flowers rather than as strong and capable women), I began to change the way I saw things. I took the red pill, you might say.
Since women now share traditional male “privileges,” they also ought to share traditional male responsibilities; that is, to carry their own weight and acknowledge guilt when they are guilty, and to respect and care for the men in their lives like men respect and care for them.
Current feminist doctrine wants to retain traditional female privileges (in the form of the Violence Against Women Act, courts favoring mothers over fathers and ex-wives over ex-husbands, etc.) as well as all the traditionally male rights they have rightfully earned over the last hundred years (ability to enter virtually any career they wish and fully participate in society). It is a human rights victory worthy that women now share traditional male rights, but it is unfair that they are not willing to give up traditional female rights in return, because this now puts men in a disadvantaged position.
Editorial note: this is a reprint of a classic article from 2012 we think may be of particular interest to new readers, or worth re-reading for those who’ve read it before. –DE