Today’s post is guest authored by my old friend Shiloh Stark.
I know male privilege because I went from not having it, to having it.
At different points in my life, I’ve been perceived as a girl, perceived as a boy, perceived as in-between. As straight, as lesbian, and as a gay male. I’ve always been the same person, but the Rubik’s cube of my life was extra jumbled up there for a while. Each different setting, though, uncovered a new lesson in how gender works.
When people perceived me as a straight, white, heterosexual teenage girl, every time I took a walk alone, in the back of my head, a part of me worried that I might be raped. It was more present than a fear of being mugged, and carried more dread. I don’t know if all women feel that, or if it gets better over time — I just know that it was the kind of feeling you actively try to discredit, and can forget about for stretches of time, but that you can’t shake.
When I cut my hair shorter and donned more gender neutral clothes, people saw me as a lesbian. Occasionally a man would shout “dykes” when I walked down the street with a girl. I still worried about being sexually assaulted, but the tenor changed: the concern was that some straight man would feel compelled to “teach me a lesson.”
When I began taking hormones and binding my chest, people weren’t quite sure what to make of me. Their confusion often turned to anger or fear. A stranger called me “it” with a look of such disgust it is forever seared into my memory. During that time, a mother took her young child by the hand and pulled her across the middle of the road to avoid sharing a sidewalk with me. I knew then what it meant to be an outcast.
When the hormones took root and I was perceived as a young teenage boy, I got attention from young teenage girls — the kind I now know I would had gotten 10 years earlier, had I been perceived male in high school. That may have been the most fun time (though I promise I did not flirt back!). Something else happened when I began being read consistently as male — men stopped looking at me *like that.* Like they were sizing me up, checking me out, imagining what I looked like without a shirt. Men simply ignored me. It was like a bro code. I was in the club.
Then I began being perceived as a gay man, by men I perceived to be gay. The frank and open looks of interest I got were so…non-threatening to me, compared to the way straight men looked at me when they saw me as a straight woman. If I didn’t reciprocate a gay male with a look of interest, he simply dropped it.
Now I’m mostly perceived as a straight, white male with thinning hair. When I am walking by another man on the street, he doesn’t bother to hide it when he turns around to check out a woman’s backside as she passes.
When I walk around town with my wife, we’re seen as heterosexual. We don’t give a second thought to wearing our rings or holding hands or sharing a quick kiss, the way we did a dozen years ago. For a while, I noticed the shift in my thinking, but now I take that privilege for granted.
I’m not expected to smile. If I’m grumpy, or neutral-feeling, it’s fine. I’m not teased that it’s my time of the month. It just is — and that’s privilege.
There are far fewer things expected of me, appearance-wise. No one thinks I should buy bras, or wear uncomfortable shoes, or shave my legs, or figure out makeup or curling irons or any of that. Aside from a weekly shot in my thigh, life is pretty low maintenance. And that’s the kind of privilege I use to watch one more episode of House of Cards a day.
I’m 50 pounds overweight, but that’s not seen the same way as it used to be when I was perceived female — it doesn’t undercut my credibility as much as it would if I were a woman.
When I run into the boss in the bathroom and we casually chat about management structure with our pants unzipped, that is a form of privilege.
It is easier to ask for a promotion or raise now. Men are expected to advocate for themselves, to demand what they’re worth. It’s a less charged conversation — privilege.
When I walk alone at night and don’t have any thoughts of rape, that is privilege.
Through all of these iterations of perception, I’ve always been seen as unequivocally white, and I have never lived in poverty; that has shaped each of the interactions I’ve had in ways that are not spoken about here — more privilege.
There’s something kind of amazing about having occupied so many places on the gender spectrum — both in my understandings of myself and who others have understood me to be. Each day is a delicate dance of expectation, embodiment, and interaction. And these days, I’m generally given the lead.
Privilege primers -
Shiloh Stark is a people-watcher, director of online teams, and a trans man living in Washington DC. He enjoys long walks, mid-length bicycle rides, and short runs. Formerly a board member of the DC Area Transmasculine Society, Shiloh has a BA in Women’s Studies from the University of Maryland and a Graduate Certificate in Non-Profit Management from Georgetown University.