Part 1 | Part 2

Given that I’ve lived as both a man and as a woman at various points in my life, I’d like to think that the experience has given me a relatively unique perspective on how men and women interact with, and are treated by, society. Some of these differences are minor, even subtle; others are quite striking. In the process of transitioning, I’ve had to learn first-hand what it means to be a woman in our culture, allowing me to compare and contrast those lessons to what I learned living as a man. While sometimes surreal[1], my journey has been utterly fascinating from a sociological point of view.

Amongst some of the more notable things I’ve learned in my transition:

Male privilege is totally a thing, and very real

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Lest ye doubt that women are just making it up, or exaggerating the pervasive societal bias towards men, let me assure you, we’re not. While men certainly do face unique struggles of their own (I’m no stranger to toxic masculinity), women have to deal with far more widespread difficulty in navigating the world. This has ranged from minor annoyances (suddenly I’m getting talked over a lot more, especially when men are involved in the conversation) to dealing with rather frightening scenarios (making sure I would be able to get an early ride home from an overnight New Year’s Eve party if I didn’t feel safe staying there- something that would’ve never crossed my mind before I transitioned). While I knew that women had to deal with a lot of crap that men didn’t (my fiancée had made a point to get me more educated on feminist issues, even back when I still identified as a man), and had been warned about it by other trans people, nothing prepared me for the sheer ubiquitousness or insidiousness of it.

Women’s personal space isn’t as respected as men’s is

PersonalSpace

This is arguably a subset of male privilege, but it’s one that particularly sticks out to me. When I presented male, people usually gave me a respectable berth. Now that I’m seen as woman, people tend to get much closer, and sometimes will even casually touch me during conversation or while walking by, even if they’re complete strangers. I suspect this is because, as a man, I was seen subconsciously as a potential threat; as a woman, I’m not. There is one upshot to this, however, and that is

People are friendlier to women

It’s not a huge difference, but I have definitely noticed more smiles and casual conversation, especially from other women. It’s definitely been one of the more positive social changes I’ve had.

People are more likely to open up to women

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This goes hand-in-hand with the above- people (men especially) seem to feel safer being more vulnerable around women then men. Previously, when I was still seen as male, people (again, men especially) were generally more hesitant to discuss more personal and emotional-laden topics, sticking to more impersonal subjects such as politics, current events, shop talk, and the like. One thing I’ve really enjoyed since starting transition is that now it seems like people are much more likely to have actual, real conversations with me, conversations that feature a much higher degree of emotional intimacy.

This difference does have its downside, however: for example, many women in science have noted that there’s a tendency for students and colleagues within their departments to preferentially come to them when they’re dealing with emotional or psychological struggles, since it’s expected that as women, they’ll be better suited to handling it, even when they’re not.

The reason it takes women so long to clothes shop is because nothing fits

Clothes

Seriously. The sizing system for men is pretty straight-forward- you measure your waistline, and that’s your pants size. Shirt size isn’t much harder.

The sizing system for women, however is nothing short of capricious and arbitrary. For example, depending on the manufacturer and cut, my dress size can literally be anywhere from a 4 to a 16. Bra sizes are an even more eldritch madness. It took a while for me to actually figure out what would be likely to fit me, and even then I usually have to try things on to know for sure.

The astrobiology community is actually pretty gender equitable

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Given the difficulties faced by women in science, the first time I went to a science conference after socially transitioning, I was really bracing myself for a sudden onslaught of sexism that I’d hitherto been shielded from. However, I was very pleasantly surprised- even amongst people who had no idea I was trans, I never felt like I was treated differently than I had been when I was presenting as male. I’m not sure if that’s because our field is young and has a very high percentage of women, or because the people who tend to go into such a cutting-edge area of research are more likely to be open-minded, or both, but whatever the reason, I’m very grateful for it.

Conclusion

Of course, there have been plenty of other, smaller things I’ve learned along the way- how to put my hair in a ponytail, that there’s a qualitative difference between male and female orgasms [2], the indescribably exquisite feeling that comes from taking off your bra at the end of the day, and so forth.

Overall, however, the whole experience of transition has been not quite like anything else I’ve done in life. Despite the hardships and challenges it sometimes entails, my choice to transition, and to live my life as the woman I truly am, has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.


[1] Something that trans people rarely mention about transition is that, while it’s often a liberating and empowering experience, it also is pretty weird when you stop to really think about it (particularly if, like me, you spent a large part of your life honestly believing you weren’t “really” trans). I have at least one very strong memory from the early stages of my transition, of thinking to myself “My fiancée just explained to me how to put on a sports bra. How did my life get here?”

[2] Since I know you want you want to know, but are afraid to ask: male orgasms tend to be sudden, intense, and highly localized- kind of like you’ve been struck by lightning. They’re also accompanied by a feeling of pressure being released. Female orgasms, on the other hand, feel more diffuse through the body, have a better build-up, and tend to linger- it’s like when you’re swimming out in the ocean, and a swell slowly picks you up and puts you back down.

There’s also quite a bit of variation in quality compared to male orgasms: with weak male orgasms, you can generally tell that at least something happened, but with female ones, you can’t necessarily even tell that; middling orgasms are about the same for both genders; and for really good orgasms, well, let’s just say there’s a reason women tend to be screamers and men don’t.


TessTessa is a 28 year old PhD student, and perhaps the world’s only queer trans astrobiologist. A nerd going way back, her interests include science fiction, space exploration, sustainability, science communication, and feminism and gender. Her hobbies also include horseback riding, playing the flute, social dancing, knitting, and occasional attempts at writing fiction. She currently resides in Tempe, AZ with her even nerdier fiancee and a mastiff mix who thinks he’s a lapdog. She tweets occasionally @spacermase.

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