Hey son. Hey, hun. What would you rather be called? I mean, what are your preferred pronouns? Hun, right? Because that’s what we think girls say to each other (probably while they’re doing each other’s hair and nails). Maybe you don’t like my tone, but stick with it. You’ve been through worse, right?
I’m a bit like you. I was a boy who didn’t fit in, who grew into a young man who didn’t fit in, and wanted, and wished, to be a girl. You were the same. But maybe you don’t think about it that way any more. You’re going to tell me you were ‘assigned’ male. You were never a boy, you declare, you were just a baby, and the docs forced maleness on you! Maybe you now tell people you were always female, and the people around you, in your life or on social media (which might be most of your life anyway) agree and say, hun, you were always female, don’t let anyone tell you different!
That’s a recent thing, and you wouldn’t have said that five, ten years ago. Your friends wouldn’t have told you that either. Because times change, and trends change.
I was born a bit earlier, see, which means I had slightly different experiences and didn’t get told all that stuff. My story is going to be the same as yours in many ways, because that’s how we know what we are – we all tick the same boxes, don’t we, and compare it to a ‘trans narrative’, and realise it fits us better than the normal masculine one – but it’s also slightly different.
You don’t like what I’m saying, so let me tell you, I went through the same hoops. Wanted girl toys. Wanted to play with girl things, Barbie dolls and Strawberry Shortcake. Wanted to hang with the girls at school and do hair and nails. Took every opportunity to wear dresses. Then as I grew up, that kind of thing wasn’t cute any more and no doubt like you, I got caught doing it and made to feel ashamed.
I felt ashamed about it all through my teens into my twenties. People made me feel bad. At college I went to a club night wearing a skirt and make-up, and a woman from the feminist society told me to get out of the girls’ bathrooms. She said, wearing a skirt doesn’t make you a girl. That felt bad. It felt so bad I still remember it clearly, every word.
I found some other club night, for guys like me who wanted to dress that way. It was on the other side of town, a little place down side streets, and it took all my guts to go out on the street in my girl disguise, and catch a train into the city like that. Some jerk with his friends shouted at me. ‘Hey, woman-man! Hey, woman-man!’ They laughed. I was lucky they didn’t come over and hit me I guess. That felt bad.
See, I still remember it. I remember every bad thing people said about me, even if it was years ago. I remember when I came out to my close relatives and they said it was weird and sick. I kept doing it, and feeling the way I did, because I couldn’t change it. So yeah, there is bravery involved, I know.
I kept on doing it, and times changed. Famous people came out, in the media. There were TV shows and movies about trans women. Suddenly the way people reacted to me changed, and it took me by surprise. They almost treated me like a celebrity! Girl friends seemed to love the idea. They invited me out to their ‘girl nights’ and told me I was so brave. One of them was a lesbian, and when she said how brave I was and how special, and how hard it must be for me, something kind of clicked in my head: a little caution sign, like a TILT warning on a slot machine. Sure, it was wonderful to be accepted and embraced like that, but I knew lesbians had it really hard. It just didn’t seem right for her to put me first and make out I was the victim.
Another of my friends, a bisexual girl, asked me if I was attracted to men or women. I said women, and she was all, oh cool, you’re a lesbian. TILT! Sure, it was great to feel like I was special guest on their chat show, but it wasn’t right for them to think of me as a lesbian. Even though they were being super-nice, something in me started to resist. There’s an old song that popped into my head, by another guy who also didn’t fully conform to masculinity: Morrissey, the singer in The Smiths. He used to sing, ‘you just haven’t earned it yet, baby. You just haven’t earned it, my son.’
Well, I definitely hadn’t earned being called a lesbian, and though it was really tempting to accept these girls calling me a woman, I started to feel I hadn’t earned that either. But by now, things had changed, and anyone calling me names or shutting me out of places was being considered as bad as a racist. How things changed! I went to a club, wearing a skirt and make-up, and the organizers made it clear that if you identified as a woman, you should go in the women’s bathroom. And nobody complained or said a word against it. But you know what. When the women came in and saw me, standing at the mirror, I knew they didn’t feel fully comfortable about it. Sure, they didn’t say anything. They wouldn’t. But anyone who wasn’t totally focused on their own self-importance can sense it when someone else is uncomfortable, and if they’re a decent person, they take action about that.
I wasn’t brainwashed. I wasn’t indoctrinated. I just started thinking about it, and I realized what was going on, and inside me, it crossed a line between right and wrong. Are you going to say now that I was never truly trans, and that my story doesn’t count? Well, that would go against what you believe and preach, wouldn’t it? About how everyone can define their own identity and we shouldn’t question what someone says they are, and how they feel inside. So don’t twist your own rules in an effort to exclude me and discount my experiences. Yes, I fit the trans narrative. I just chose to get a little perspective, and I’m sharing it with you in case you want to get a different perspective too.
Those women around me, the ones I knew, and the strangers? They were all feminists, the nice kind of feminist. They were great people. They were generous, and kind, and accepting. But you know why? Because women have been told they have to be that way, ever since they were little girls and someone tells them to share, and to not be unladylike, and to be polite and not be loud or difficult. They were feminists – a certain type of feminist, the nice type – and they weren’t going to say anything even if they felt uncomfortable. Which means it was for me to take some responsibility, and not put myself and my own wants and needs first.
‘You just haven’t earned it yet, baby.’ And maybe I was never going to earn it. I had to think hard about what it really meant, to be a woman. Growing up, ‘being a girl’ meant nothing much more to me than pink toys, dresses, sitting around talking and doing nice stuff, instead of having to play rough games about soldiers, and pretend to be interested in sports. Even as a teenager and young man, what were my ideas based on, when I felt I wanted to be a woman? The reality of being at risk from rape every time I went out alone? The fact of earning less than men and not being promoted, or not getting hired because I might get pregnant? The pressures of wearing make-up because otherwise people were going to think I looked ill or ugly? No. I didn’t even have any real idea about basic biological stuff like menstruation, outside what I learned at school. No. My idea of being a girl was based on cute stuff I saw on TV and in movies; having best friends, going shopping, confiding in sisters, talking about emotions. It was the stuff that masculinity made it hard for me to do, and I mistook that for ‘being a woman’.
I’m never going to truly know what it’s like to be a woman. But what I believe is that being a woman in our culture isn’t just about the cute stuff, or even the biological stuff that men are never going to understand, however much you might want to twist words and facts into some fairytale about ‘female penis’ and ‘male periods’. Being a woman is, I believe, about being an oppressed minority group, being put in a different, inferior social class because you’re female. It’s bending biological facts out of recognition if you try to make ‘female’ into some flexible category that anyone can fit into, just cause they feel that way inside. It’s also truly insulting. If you do that, you’re saying the oppression of women isn’t a thing at all, because anyone can be a woman; anyone can opt in and out.
But it gets worse. The second worst aspect of that implication is: since anyone can opt in and out, based on how they feel inside, the women who still ‘identify’ as women must be actively choosing their own oppression. And the worst yet is, that those women are now told they’re privileged, because they don’t have the trouble of being trans! They’re told to accommodate trans women or get labelled a bigot, and they do it because women are trained all their lives to put other people first, to be ‘nice’, to not speak out or make things difficult. That’s why they do it. That’s why they accept you and call you the pronouns you want, and let you into their spaces. It’s not necessarily because they want to, or because they believe deep inside that you’re just like them. It’s because they have been told all their lives to be nice, kind and decent, and to make other people feel comfortable, accepted and welcomed.
Well, here’s an idea. Why don’t you also try to be nice, kind and decent. Why don’t you try to genuinely show respect and understanding.
Yes, not fitting into the role and expectations of your gender is rough. I know that, and ironically, the majority of women know that: unless you genuinely think they want to be considered inferior and put in the box of impossible, contradictory pressures and demands that women experience for their entire lives.
You want to act like a woman? Start by being a decent human. Respect people’s boundaries. Respect their need for space and their experience of oppression, which you will never truly understand. Yes, trans people are an oppressed minority, and yes, the prejudice you’ve experienced overlaps in some ways with the way our culture treats women, but it is not the same, and please get it out of your head that it’s worse.
Being female is a biological fact. Being a woman is a social category. Some feminists may feel that a person born male can truly become a woman, in the social sense, if they genuinely engage with, address and dismantle the male privilege they grew up with. Other feminists will tell you that you can never be a woman, and while that’s upsetting and distressing, they’re saying it for a reason – because being a woman is a lifelong experience from the day you were born with female biology, not something you can cross over into. It’s not something you become when you put on lipstick, and it’s definitely not something you can become by just waking up one day and changing your mind. It’s the experience of belonging to an oppressed class of people.
But if you genuinely like and respect and ‘identify with’ womanhood, then the way to get closer to that is not to insist that women follow your whims, and listen to your voice, and accept your definitions and your rules, and let you into the few safe spaces they have. You know what that makes you look and sound like? That makes you come across as the worst kind of man.
19 Comments on “To Boys Who Don’t Fit In – A Guest Post by Jesse”
OMG! This is painful but it is my thoughts exactly. Thanks for sharing this.
Thank you. A voice of reason is music to my ears! Very well written.
This is wonderful. I wish more people had the self-awareness and ability to see beyond their own social conditioning that you do. Brave boy, brave person, brave and kind man. You can be whatever sort of man you want to be and if that includes dresses and make up, that’s OK. Good on you for realising that it does not make you a woman.
Thank you for this deeply thoughtful article. I am a vociferous libertarian from the state of Oklahoma, and in my habitual internet wanderings I recently came across gender-critical ideology, and consequently this blog.
My personal beliefs, social relationships, and cultural experiences are very pedestrian – straight, white, protestant. I never had to cope with desires or feelings that would have made life in suburban Oklahoma unbearable. As I mentioned, I am also committed to libertarian advocacy and have always abhorred bigotry and repression. But frankly the concerns of the LGBT community were not a major concern to me.
That changed last year shortly after I completed law school. While studying for the BAR exam, my uncle became seriously ill. I made an effort to be at his side during the frightening process of diagnosis, re-diagnosis and deterioration, largely because he would have otherwise been alone. My uncle was a homosexual, and while my family was not estranged from him, he lived a pretty isolated life away from the judgmental church that informed much of our family’s social and community life. Over the course of his mysterious sickness, I spoke with him about his difficult childhood and his struggle to genuinely live his life. He had lost friends, disappointed family, and faced bigotry. It was never simple. Through his story, I learned about the confusion and ambiguity of being different – nothing was ever black and white, and the villains and heros of his story were often the very same people on different days.
I was with my uncle when he was diagnosed with AIDS. He had reason to know that he was HIV positive, but for reasons I cannot understand (and could never understand) he wilfully chose to ignore the situation until he was near death. The retroviral cocktail cannot arrest the disease’s progress if it’s begun after the sufferer is already blind and broken . Since I had just finished law school and was his closest available relative, my uncle had named me as his medical proxy when we still thought his illness was merely a stroke. I was therefore required to make the terrible decision to terminate his life support when no hope remained, and I held him as he passed away.
The experience profoundly changed me. I am frankly still sorting through these memories and hoping that time will bring understanding, so forgive me for lingering a little before getting to my ultimate point.
Because of this experience, my wife and I have become more aware of the difficulties facing the LGBT community. I am certainly no advocate, and I have kept my Christian faith, but I try to understand people on an individual basis, and I refuse to pass judgement on another’s life – my own life is complicated enough. I believe this is in line with my classically liberal beliefs and my faith in a loving, graceful creator.
I wrote the above to provide some context for my thoughts regarding your post.
I am so impressed with your sentiments. I do not know if I agree with them in every respect, but your self-awareness, rationality, and freedom of thought is worthy of the highest regard.
It demonstrates an astounding intellectual bravery – and given your comments I feel sheepish about using the word. But it IS brave to be willing to follow your conscience and to stand by your own rational conclusions. It IS brave to decide that you will deal with your perceived circumstances directly, and to reject the temptation to deny your beliefs in favor of comforting self delusions.
I know how hard it is to confront and to own your own truth, and I have seen first hand that people can be lulled into choosing a blissfully ignorant death over a difficult self aware life. These sentiments put you simultaneously at odds with the traditional and the trans advocacy community, and I have immense respect for anyone who would knowingly walk that path.
Thank you for bravely holding your own beliefs, and for choosing life. Whatever comes, I pray that you always choose it.
I never, never comment on these things, but I had to. I appreciate this post, so, so much. I agree with every word. Thank you, thank you.
Thank you for speaking so much sense. I have never understood how transwomen could ever justify further oppressing the social class they supposedly identify with. I think there are many narcissists that have been swept up by the movement/
Thanks for this insightful, nuanced thoughtful piece.
One comment in response to “I went through the same hoops. Wanted girl toys. Wanted to play with girl things, Barbie dolls and Strawberry Shortcake. Wanted to hang with the girls at school and do hair and nails”.
I went through school in the 1970s and I never experienced play amongst girls that you describe. Yes there were some Barbie dolls, but there were as many non-gendered toys and as much non-gendered play. “Doing hair and nails” was something I very happily did not experience as an activity with friends. I suppose I must be extremely lucky to not have received the sort of gender indoctrination that permeates culture right now. Perhaps if I was born two or three decades later one might conclude the I and my friends must be gay men trapped in female bodies. It’s extremely troubling to see how far we have come from simply accepting diversity of healthy bodies and diversity of desire.
This is a wonderful post. I’m sorry I don’t have a better response for you, but, incidentally, you have an improper flexbox declared on your comment content css and it’s making the comments unreadable. If you change
It will fix it.
Thanks for the comment and thanks for the tip! /Miranda
Thank you. I found this piece very moving. I hope you have come to a level of peace in incorporating femininity into your life as a male. Just wondering; could you share how you solved the bathroom dilemma for yourself?
I am not sure if the author is checking this site to reply, as we’ve been dormant for a while. However, I feel fairly confident that as a man, he uses the men’s room. No dilemma.
if you have his info, I would love to ask him if he has any ideas on how I can support my son age 4, who is strongly into femininity, embrace his male self
Thanks so much for this. Natal morphology and what it means in this society addicted to binary genders is real. It is absolutely aggregious that male children are exposed to and oppressed by misogyny that brutally forces them to cut off any traits considered less than masculine, but it still doesnt make them female or give them the right to coopt through language the historic and prehistoric oppression of an entire group of people based solely on the bodies we are born with. Children identifiably intersex at birth also experience a less common sexual discrimination and gross oppressions. And trans kids male female & intersex alike all experience sex and gender based oppression. But that doesnt mean that we experience the same ones or that any of us have the right to claim, by inaccurate use of language that effectively serves as erasure, that we have experienced someone else’s oppression. Thanks for speaking and providing a forum for other gender critics to speak without fear of silencing or exclusion. We all need options and we all need our experiences recognized and validated. Language matters. Morphology matters.
Very well said. Sane. Compassionate. Responsible. This speaks to my own experience too. I destransitioned four years ago and radfem saved my life. I continued to work in trans community focusing on reducing harms of prostitution among transfemme populations.
I often feel very alone within my community as a detransitioner and working professionally from a gender critical ideological position. Very relieved to have found this blog- Thank you.
Thank you for this. All folks deserve equality and I want to participate in making that happen. Unfortunately lately I feel like instead of fighting for equality alongside trans-folks I’m fighting for women’s and lesbians rights against them. There seems to be no space for dialogue and any disagreement or discomfort with the current doctrine meets with bullying. Again, thank you for your incredible insight and sensitivity.