Gender Paradox, An Excerpt, Part 4

Gender Paradox: A Life is the title of my memoir. Below is the first part of a four part excerpt. I look forward to your feedback in the comments, and thank you! (Read Part 1 | Read Part 2 | Read Part 3)


I do not live in exile. I chose and continue to choose this path. The woman in the elevator edified me that day on how to conduct my physical self among women unknown to me. First, slow down. Two, always, and I mean always, look a woman in the eye and smile, smile your best fucking smile. Three, if you see a woman alone on the street walking in the same direction as you, cross the street – don’t crowd or try to pass her – let her have her space. Four, learn to see women’s faces, really see them. Terror in the eyes seems pretty obvious but I am struck even today, so far along on this journey, that many men cannot read the facial and bodily cues of women.

Five, and this one may sum up all the other ones, pay attention. My life may depend on it. What if she had called the police? And what if she had called the police that day, a day when my driver’s license still had my female birth name and female gender moniker? How would that have ended for me?

Pay attention to everything and try to listen and be kind. I don’t believe that my actions in any way alter the predicament we find ourselves in as men with women. But my actions may make a momentary difference in a particular woman’s life at particular moment. I don’t know if they do. I do know that I do not want to ever see that look of terror in any woman’s eyes again.

I’ve been lucky I guess. That look has not reappeared. But still I live with the sadness that it came once. I have chosen a gender that is recognized as affirming that terror. I must live with that and bear witness to it. I can’t forget it. That terror has made becoming a man something else entirely for me, something treasured and bittersweet. The weight of that terror – knowing that some many women live with in varying degrees – crushed me at times.

The daily doing of my gender forced me some time ago to enlarge my sense of empathy for others and for myself. In that well of empathy I carry her terror and what I have come to call the Terror – that originating spark of difference between men and women – and my sadness and disappointment at the failure of my transition to make all things easier for me; my sadness and disappointment that I just stood in the elevator that night and did not get off and wait for the next one; my sadness and disappointment that I am just one person and can do so very little; my sadness and disappointment that I feel alone with this well.

This gender transition has at once been a fantastic success and utter failure. I must thank all sentient beings that I knew nothing of what would happen to me, knew nothing of the stark fear that lurks in women’s lives, knew nothing about how to shoulder the responsibility I have as a man to ease that terror.

Maps can only be drawn retrospectively. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. 

4 Comments

  1. #3, about crossing the street, seems over the top to a friend i read this to, but to me, it is extremely respectful and I would LOVE it if it happened in denver on streets after dark. but without awareness it won’t. oh well, i chose to live in a city so i deal with it.

    I love this chapter. I love that you are writing this story. At one time, I felt like Butches who transitioned had ulterior motives, beyond making their insides match their outsides, motives of priveledge. I am educated by your writing and love reading it. Keep it up and keep it coming. You have a faithful reader here.

    1. Hi Ona,

      Thank you for commenting. I read your words about the friend who thinks #3 is over the top. Sometimes things I read seem overblown until I experience them for myself. Also, I’ve also seen how women’s body and facial language changes if they perceive a man is crowding them or too aggressive or too something. So I’d rather err on the side of caution. Plus the woman on the street may turn out to have untoward motives and a gun and a desire to rob me, which is easier if I’m crowding her….!

  2. My heart aches — for you, for me, for women, for men. Working in the anti-violence field with eyes open to gender stereotypes, it is absolutely clear to me that the problem is human violence against other humans, NOT men’s violence against women. So what you are describing are the effects of living with a myth that most of society has bought. What needs to change are the stereotypes (because they cause the pain you so well describe and because they blind us to the violence that women cause) and then we need to address the *real* problem: working to ensure that everyone has the skills, attitudes, and abilities to interact nonviolently with the other creatures we share a life with.

    1. Hi,
      Thanks for commenting. In addition to stereotypes hiding women’s violence those stereotypes also hide potential allies. I agree that such stereotypes keep us from the real work of nonviolence, even as those same stereotypes purport to have found solutions to the problem…by recapitulating the stereotypes.

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