Some questions for FtMs answered

Yesterday (or maybe a few days ago by the time I post this, who knows) I came across this post via someone else’s answers. Reading it, a lot of the questions seemed extremely familiar, and since I am a trans man, I also felt qualified to answer, so I decided to do just that.

A caveat first: there are lots of trans people in the world, and our experiences of and opinions about gender vary wildly. Some other trans people will feel represented in what I write here and some will not, some will agree with some of what I write here and some will disagree with various amounts of vehemence.

But anyway, here goes! (Copying the list over made all the A’s and i’s change into numbers. I don’t know how to fix that and it’s probably not worth the effort to find out, so I won’t bother.)

  1. “Please explain in your own words what a “man” is and what a “woman” is.”
    “Man” and “woman” are words used to refer to two gender categories people sort others and often also themselves into. Each of them is commonly associated with a cluster of (physical and character) traits as well as certain behaviors and presentations. The specific traits that get marked as male or female as well as which associated aspects are given more weight when sorting a person into one of the categories vary widely over time and differ from culture to culture. Due to this somewhat frustrating fact, any explanation of the categories referencing particular aspects is doomed to be highly subjective and erase a significant number of people who would belong to them by many other explanations. (Also, lots of people don’t give gender categories a whole lot of thought before attempting explanations and end up backpedalling when faced with examples that don’t match some or all of their stated criteria, but whom they’d still sort into the category in question without pause if they had been introduced to them in other circumstances.)Since whether or not someone is a man or a woman is not relevant to me personally except regarding their pronouns/grammatical gender, I take people at their word regarding their preferences here. In everyday life, I also use indicators like names and presentations (measured by the standards of my cultural cluster) and usually get by just fine with that. (Sometimes the indicators are ambivalent enough that I’m not sure, in which case I hang back until I have collected more or – if I’m in a context where that seems acceptable – ask more or less directly. Most of the time I get by just fine, though.)

    I realize that none of this was actually an explanation of what a “man” or a “woman” is. I’m afraid an explanation of why such an explanation would invariably fail somehow has to suffice, because that’s all I have.

  2. “What is wrong with having breasts, ovaries, a vagina, a clitoris, and a period?”
    Nothing is inherently wrong with any of that. If you have breasts and you love having them (because you like how they look, you like how they feel, you like the pleasure they can give you, you are really excited about breastfeeding one day, or any other reason), having breasts is awesome for you, and I’m happy you do! If you have breasts and you don’t particularly care for them either way, having them is perfectly okay! If you have breasts and you hate it and don’t want them, there’s something wrong with having breasts for you, namely, they cause you distress. If you have breasts and you don’t really want them, but surgery seems to drastic/risky, having them might be the better option for you, but I think it would be cool if there was less drastic and/or safer way to remove them.
    The same goes for every other body part/event in the list.

    1. “Many women find it uncomfortable having a period and having the equipment that can carry a pregnancy, because this comes with lots of difficulties (being responsible for preventing pregnancy, being targeted for sexual abuse, cramping and bleeding, etc) What is the difference between you being uncomfortable with having female parts and the discomfort that most other women experience? Is it a matter of degree or is it a qualitatively different feeling?”
      [Side note: I am uncomfortable with the language used here (“female parts” and “other women”).]I can’t give an honest answer to these questions because I have never been other people (men or women) and therefore can’t know their experiences. (This is what tripped me up for ages about “feeling like a man”, too. How the hell was I supposed to know whether I felt like a man? How was I supposed to know what that felt like?)

      Following from this is that I don’t even know if there is a difference at all, gradual or qualitative. It’s entirely possible that somewhere out there, there’s a woman just as uncomfortable with her gendered body parts as I used to be!

      The only difference I know for sure is that I transitioned/am transitioning, and most women are not.

      Is this because they are gradually less uncomfortable with their gendered body parts than I used to be? Maybe. Is it because their discomfort is qualitatively different from mine? Maybe. Is it because while they are uncomfortable with their gendered body parts at times, they also really like them at other times, and I didn’t? Maybe. Is it because they are uncomfortable with their gendered body parts, but even more uncomfortable with the thought of getting a mastectomy and/or growing facial hair and/or being called “he” and/or getting a different voice? Maybe. Is it because they’re uncomfortable with their gendered aspects and they’d love all the ones testosterone and surgery/ies would bring them, but they’re scared of social repercussions? Maybe.

      I personally would find it fascinating to have a world free of gender normativity bullshit that offers accessible treatments (hormones, surgery) to anybody and watch how all of this plays out. How many women would get elective hysterectomies to deal with period discomfort, or elective mastectomies because they find their breasts annoying and would prefer a flat chest, without changing anything else about their expressed gender?

      (My mother sometimes used to complain about how impractical breasts were, even to the point of saying she wished she could get them off. I wonder if she would opt to get a mastectomy in such a world, or if her discomfort doesn’t reach the point where she’d risk a surgery, or if there’d be other factors keeping her from getting one. I’ll never know!)

    2. “Have you ever talked with other women about their discomfort and have you found similarities and differences?”
      I’ve heard women talk about discomfort with gendered aspects of their bodies (see what I wrote about my mother above). There were certainly some similarities there – I think my experience of finding period cramps painful and blood-soaked underwear super-gross was pretty similar to other people’s.Differences, insofar as I found them in those situations, were mostly that I also felt neutral to positive towards getting rid of them and/or replacing them with aspects gendered male. (Except for balls maybe. Can’t see much good about those, they’re super sensitive and aesthetically not for me. Just the ability to produce my own testosterone in sufficient quantities would be really nice.)
  3. “If you could choose how other people treat you, while staying in the body you were born in, would you still need to transition? Let’s say everyone was willing to treat you “as a guy” even without taking testosterone. Would you still need to take it then?”
    “Need” is an ill-defined word here.I need nutrition to survive. There are nutritionally complete shakes, like Soylent, that typically taste rather bland and don’t have a texture (unless “liquid” counts as a texture). Technically, I do not ever need to consume anything but those shakes. I don’t need savoury foods. I don’t need fresh bread, still warm from the oven, or potato chips so salty they make my lips burn, or pizza, or pancakes with chocolate spread.
    If all humankind switched to nutritional shakes so there’d be no social repercussions (not being able to go out for food etc.), and you took all food away from me and only gave me shakes for the rest of my life, I would survive. I don’t need the rich variety of flavors and textures that other food holds.
    But my life would lose much of its pleasures. I’d crave the things you took away, and I’d miss them sorely, and every day I’d taste the same bland shake and feel it flow past my teeth without the resistance offered by more chewy or crunchy things, and I’d envy people who could be perfectly happy with nothing but shakes and loathe myself bitterly for being unable to be like them.

    I need to have a body to survive and interact with the world. Technically, I do not need this body to be one that makes me happy whenever I look at it.
    I do not need my voice to be one that makes me smile when I hear it and marvel at how it vibrates through my chest. I do not need my face to make me want to linger when I catch my reflection. I do not need my body to be one I enjoy looking at and touching and having touched. I don’t really need to not spend days every month crying or feeling like I’m about to and having cramps and dreading every time I have to change my tampon and dreading falling asleep because I’ll have to do it again in the morning and dreading getting up because I know I’ll have to do it then but also dreading what will happen if I don’t.

    I could survive gritting my teeth before every word, dodging reflective surfaces, avoiding touches and trying to hide within myself whenever I couldn’t.
    But I am so so so immensely, unspeakably grateful for every day that I can spend having more than I need. I am so amazed at the changes within my body, and so incredibly awed by how easy it has become to live within it and take care of it and love it.

    I used to wonder about this question, back before I decided to transition, but ultimately, I am glad I didn’t have that option, because then I might never have learned just how good life can feel.

  4. “What does it mean to be treated like a guy? And for that matter, what does it mean to be treated like a woman?”
    In our culture (I assume we share roughly similar cultures) and time, sadly, to be treated as more competent and not like someone whose destiny it is to get pregnant and pop out a few babies and love them.
    Seriously wtf is wrong with people.
  5. “What does it mean to “feel like a boy/man”? Do you think it’s really possible for a female human to know what it feels like to have a male body? Or is it more like you believe your mind or personality are male? If this is the case, then please move on to question (6).”
    I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to know exactly what it’s like to have any body (or brain) but their own, although there are many traits one can approximate (hair color is an easy one, for example).I also think that there’s a very wide variety of experiences amongst male people, even only counting cis men. For example, some men really like having their balls played with, others think it’s meh. Some guys have very sensitive nipples, others don’t. Some are muscular and presumably feel very strong, some aren’t. Some are short and used to looking up at people, some are tall and used to looking down. And so on, you get the idea.

    I’d be very interested in good studies about how cis vs. trans people of all genders experience their bodies and whether there are differences that map to gender and gender alignment, but I don’t know of any good ones. I personally sure as hell don’t know. Is it normal for people with vaginas and clitorises to have a sensation of swelling and blood rush when they get aroused and to feel nothing whatsoever going on in their vagina, or do some people actually have sensations around their vaginas? No idea.

  6. “What exactly is a “male mind” or a “male brain” or a “male personality”? Please describe.”
    I’m very skeptical about the existence of such a thing. Brain imaging studies have found correlates with brains, and of course there are plenty of traits more commonly found in men vs. women. There are huge error margins on all of that, though, and there’s no good data on which of those are just caused by shared environmental experiences more common to one gender than the other (socialization and such).
    For everyday purposes, I’d assume the phrases above were referring to stereotypical male minds and brains (good spatial reasoning, bad emotional intelligence, good at maths, bad at multi-tasking, more interested in sex than female minds/brains,…) and personalities (more aggressive, more dominant, less considerate, less kind,…).
  7. “What exactly is uncomfortable about hearing female pronouns? What do those pronouns represent for you?”
    The discomfort I used to feel about female pronouns isn’t really further reducible – it’s a primary sensation, similar to tastes or noises I don’t like. I can’t explain it any more than I can explain why I don’t like olives.They represent that the speaker views me as female (or that they’ve made a language error). Back in the early days of my transition, that would have bothered me, nowadays it would either be very surprising and kind of funny or – if the speaker knows of my transgender status – a cause for alarm. (People who knowingly and intentionally disregard your preferences, especially about things that make you uncomfortable, are not safe people to be with.)

(Last question omitted because I don’t think I am attracted to women. I’m not quite sure, attraction is a bit of a mystery to me. But I am not and have never identified as a lesbian, and I’m certainly not exclusively attracted to women, so I think omitting it is in order.)

I feel like there was a lot in there that I couldn’t answer to your satisfaction – the things you mention at the beginning of your post (“not liking my body” and “feeling like a guy”) used to be the exact same questions that frustrated me to no end, and I still don’t have any answers for that and wonder about it if someone else brings it up. But maybe my answers to the rest could provide you with answers to lesser question, or some food for thought, or even just another perspective.

Reading and thinking about your questions also gave me an idea of where you’re coming from, and some questions of my own about your perspective. If you – or other TERFs/people with similar opinions reading this – are open to those and willing to read and answer them in good faith, I’d be very interested in your answers – leave me a comment and let me know! (Or send a message? I don’t know much about that, haven’t been on WordPress all that long.)

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