Category Archives: Viewpoints

Viewpoints: Dealing with Ignorance or Bias

In a recent post I wrote briefly about the fact that, sadly, many trans* people face discrimination, or bias on a regular basis. We all have different ways of handling these incidents: from internalization or quiet protest, to confrontation or outright rage. Over the years, I’ve thought a great deal about how to address these situations in the most polite, yet effective ways possible. I thought I would put my thoughts here, in the hopes that they may help someone. Please note (of course), that these are only my thoughts and my ways to address situations: they may not be right for everyone. These methods and thoughts are my own, and suit my communication style. By no means do I believe that these thoughts will help everyone, in every situation. If you have other methods, or thoughts, please feel free to post them below.

As always, I welcome all questions, thoughts and (polite) discussion.

The situations

Encounters with discrimination or bias vary widely across identities, locales, and individuals. Some situations of discrimination are blatant, whereas others are subtle or hidden; some occur on a frequent basis, others sporadically. It’s important to gauge the situation on an individual basis. For instance, how you deal with a teacher who refuses to use correct pronouns in every class is very different than how you may address a distant family member you see twice a year. When thinking about confronting someone about their bias against trans* identities, consider the situation: what will potential ramifications be, when and where can you address them, what communication styles are best, etc? Of course I can’t write on every possible scenario, and how to address it – I can’t even fathom every scenario – but it is important to consider it when approaching confrontation.

Stay Calm

In many situations, the bias or discrimination may catch you off base, and it is frequently infuriating. But try to stay calm. Take a few deep breathes, and mentally or physically remove yourself from the situation, even if momentarily, before you respond. Give yourself time to collect your thoughts. In the past, I have responded to situations in the heat of the moment – every time I have regretted it. I spoke without thinking, and was hardly articulate in my responses. I would advise to avoid speaking without thinking first. Retain your calmness, think, and then speak.

It’s What you Say AND How you Say it

Don’t speak with anger or defensiveness. Of course, I recognize that this is easier said than done. The way I had it explained to me is “if you speak defensively, you show your opponents that you have something to be defensive about.” You should never have to defend your identity. Speak with conviction, in calm, even tones, without defensiveness.

Avoid swearing (again, easier said than done). Swearing doesn’t help your position, or prove you any more passionate about your opinion. You can convey the same opinion without dropping any swear words.

Avoid sweeping generalizations: your opinion or experience with trans* identities may not be true for everyone in the community. Just as you may not agree with every trans* person, not every trans* person may agree with you. Use words and phrases such as “In my experience,” “In my opinion,” “I feel,” “I believe,” “I think,” etc. If appropriate, you may want to add a statement that explains trans* people, like all people in any community, may differ in their opinions on the matter.

Don’t focus only on the bad, and remember the good. The tragedy of many trans* lives are a common element in our narratives: the hate crimes, discrimination, violence, etc. But all of us have some good in our lives. Personally, I try to assert the bad, but celebrate, and if possible, highlight, the good elements of my life and identity. This shows our opponents that not everything in the trans* community is horrible or terrifying. When we focus only on the bad, we leave others around us feeling like everything in the trans* community is about hatred and anger. When, there are some amazing things in each of our lives, and good things are happening! If anything, I think it’s good to remind people that you are proud of your journey and/or identity. And you should be proud….don’t forget that!

Be prepared. Many of us know, before walking into a room or event, that we will likely be facing some questions, comments or outright disagreement. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Before walking into these situations, take some time to think about how you may want to address the issues. Maybe write something out, or talk it over with a friend, Sig-O or trusted family member. As silly as it may seem, try role playing, to prepare yourself. It may feel awkward at the time, but if something happens, the benefits of your preparation will be readily apparent. As always, it’s better to be over-prepared than under-prepared.

Think about language. Terms like “cis-gender privilege,” “non-op,” “SRS,” etc. are common within the trans* community. We hear/see them on a regular basis. But for those not in the trans* community, these terms are completely new and unknown. So think about language when addressing someone. Use language that they will understand, because then they will understand your message that much better. If you have the time and energy, you can educate a little about these terms (“…for someone who is not transgender, cis-gender, that may not be true. Cis-gender is the term used to define someone who is not transgender…”). If you’re not interested in education, than use the language that will be best understood by the person you are talking to.

Don’t be afraid to remove yourself from the situation. If the conversation is getting too heated, or you are feeling threatened, unheard or increasingly insulted, sometimes you just need to walk away. That’s ok. Politely state that you are uncomfortable, you have somewhere else to be, or that you can discuss this another time – whatever you need to say to defuse the situation and get out of there. Some people are firmly entrenched in their ideas, and sadly, no amount of conversation is going to change that. There is no shame in recognizing that, and saving yourself the heartache of fruitless bickering.

You have the right not be questioned. Disclosing your trans* identity, or coming out as trans* does not mean that everyone else has the right to ask personal questions about your health, medical procedures or sexual orientation. If someone is getting too personal, I like to say something along the lines of: “I’m sorry, but I don’t feel comfortable answering very personal questions about my body or relationship status. I would never dream of asking you questions like these, and I respectfully ask you to honor that same etiquette.” It’s hard to argue with words like “honor,” “respectfully” and “etiquette.” Once again, language is important, so rather than saying, “bug off,” I like to phrase this retort carefully, with an eye towards civility.

Weigh your options. Some people prefer to address negative comments or ignorance on their own terms. If someone says something that hurts you, you can choose to address the matter then and there, or, conversely, write them a note and deliver it later. If you don’t like confrontation, this may be a good option. Plus, it gives you time to word things carefully, run it by others, and think about what you want to say. Of course, this only applies to some situations, but it is a helpful option. Be aware, however, that sending a note may distill the message. The person you are addressing may forget the situation or comment they made, or take it less seriously because you waited to address it. However, as I said, this is an option that may be helpful for some.

Considerations for Transmen

This was a pretty trans*-centered post, so I have very little to put in my “considerations for transmen.” However, I would like to address one matter that I have been faced with, related to this topic. In one situation, I confronted someone about their derogatory use of the word “tranny,” and explained, calmly, why some people in the trans* community would see this as hurtful (personally I don’t like the word, and choose not to use it; I understand others in the trans* community defend it’s use, but that is another topic for another day). Nevertheless, the person I addressed stated that I was clearly experiencing “testosterone-induced anger,” and I should consider lowering my dosage. Often, transmen who are on T are faced with this attempt to discredit our disagreements – people point to testosterone as the source of our “unreasonableness.” As stated above, in these situations it’s important to remain calm and polite. You won’t help the matter by raising your voice or getting angry. Personally, I politely explained that my dosage was carefully managed by my doctor, who is amply qualified to do so, and that I was simply expressing my views and disagreement on the matter at hand. Then, seeing that I was wandering into the region of fruitless argument, I excused myself, but expressed that, if they wanted to discuss the matter later, I was more than happy to do so.

You may handle this situation, and the others discussed above differently. As I said before, these are just my thoughts on how to handle bias or ignorance in everyday life. As always, I welcome any conversation and polite discussion on the matter. Thanks for reading!

Cheers – Mason

Viewpoints: “Etiquette is Dead”

This morning I overheard a conversation, where one party asserted that etiquette, in the style of Emily Post and her colleagues, is dead. I was taken aback by such a final tone with which the speaker articulated their opinion: as if etiquette not only is dead, but rightfully so. Now, I understand some of the rules of etiquette are obsolete, and others are highly misogynistic in their characterization of women; I will be the first to say, throw those rules away. But many rules, and the spirit in which they are meant, are hardly dead, nor should they be. Some rules are in need of an update, to reflect new technology or situations; others have been forgotten by many, but are overdue for a return. I can hardly address each rule here, but I will discuss a few that I think are in need of a reminder. As always I will end with considerations specifically for transmen, and, more importantly, I welcome any questions or comments.

Be Fully Present in Conversations

A few weeks ago I attended a dinner with a group of colleagues; the gathering wasn’t formal, by any means, but neither was it highly informal. I was hardly shocked to see each person, at some point, pick up their cell phone and begin to text or scroll through something (a website, conversation, Facebook, Tumblr, etc). Mind you, this was consistently done in the middle of a shared conversation. What’s more, at no point did these individuals excuse themselves, or apologize for or explain their behavior.

Honestly, this action (cell phone usage during a conversation) tells me “your company or conversation is not important to me.” Now, of course, there are situations where it’s important to glance at your phone, respond to a text, or take a call: parents, clients, emergency situations, etc. I understand that; but there is a manner in which to do this that doesn’t convey to the group that you have more important things to do. A simple “excuse me,” or “I apologize,” shows that you know you’re being a little rude, but that you value the conversation enough to recognize your behavior. Also, checking your phone when you excuse yourself to use the restroom is another way to check in, without interrupting a conversation.

When in a group of friends, colleagues for family members, you are a valued member of the group. There’s something to be said about being present in the moment, with those around you, versus having  one foot in the virtual world (text messages and/or internet) and one in the physical world. Be present in your social gatherings – participate, converse, and listen –  and maybe put the cell phone on silent.

Bringing a Gift to a Dinner/House Party

Several months ago, a friend of mine was heading to a dinner party with an “old friend” (their words, not mine). They mentioned that they had to stop by the gas station to pick up a “quick bouquet of flowers,” to bring to the host. Now, this person had the right idea – you should always bring a host something, as a thank you for the invitation. But the spirit of the gesture was lost in their lack of thought or planning. How valued is this “old friend,” if you say “thank you” with last minute flowers purchased on the way there?

Now, not everyone has the cash to buy a nice bottle of wine, or elaborate floral arrangement for every dinner invitation – I know I don’t. This isn’t about money…it’s the thought, time and consideration you put into the gesture, that counts. Why not bake some fresh bread, cookies or other sweet treats (if you have the talent), or make something, if you’re handy/crafty (homemade soaps, picture frame, pottery, etc.)? If arts and crafts aren’t your thing, take a trip to a local antique shop and find something you think the host might like: a unique bowl, that you can fill with fresh fruits or fancy soaps, or a vase that you fill with flowers – hopefully not from the gas station. The point is, you don’t have to break the bank to leave your host feeling special and appreciated.

The Simple Act of “Thank You”

One of the most important phrases of the English language – thank you. And, sadly, it’s not said enough. What’s more, when it is said, sometimes it’s said so flippantly, it’s hard to tell if the speaker means it. So, next time you say thank you, THINK about what you’re saying, and MEAN it. Make eye contact, place emphasis in your words, and speak them with conviction.

Send thank you notes- often. Honestly, when was the last time you got something via snail mail that wasn’t a bill or junk? If you’re like me, then not often. Getting a handwritten thank you note says that the sender took a good amount of time to think about you, write their thoughts down, and send it to you. So, next time you attend a dinner party, receive a gift, or are simply thankful for something – send a note. It’s a small amount of time, and a few cents, that will have a large effect.

Considerations for Transmen

Obviously, these thoughts on etiquette apply to everyone, regardless of gender. However, for us transguys, I think they are especially important. Trans* people, in general, face a huge amount of bias and discrimination; many of us see this on an almost daily basis. I think there’s something to be said for putting your best, most polite, foot forward, even in the face of bias. Etiquette, in my experience, trumps biases in many situations. In other words, it’s harder to hold a bias against someone when that person is very polite, and has given you no reason to dislike them.

For some people, you may be the first trans* identified person they have had contact with (assuming you’re out, or they are aware of your gender identity). You may be acting as a figurehead for the community, in that person’s mind; I’m not saying that this is right, or comfortable, but it’s simply a fact.  How you act may represent the community as a whole. What kind of image do you want to portray for the trans* community? For instance, if you are the first trans* person someone is meeting, and you are rude or inconsiderate, that person may transfer that impression to all trans* people. Of course, they may not; however, I prefer to err on the side of caution. I try to be polite, considerate and respectful in any social interaction; not only does that benefit me as an individual, but it may be beneficial for the trans* community, as well.

Now, I want to hear from you: what trends have you seen in etiquette? Is there some impolite action that really “grinds your gears?” Do you have some thoughts on etiquette? I want to hear them.

Thanks for reading everyone.

Cheers – Mason       

Romance: Happy Valentine’s Day

Since I know that my lovely wife checks here on a regular basis, I wanted to send her a special Valentine’s Day note.

I’m under the impression that everyday is a Valentine’s Day when you’re with someone you love and respect. I try to do little things, on a regular basis, to show my wife that I love her. That being said, today is a day to go an extra mile and show our Sig-O’s that we are lucky to have this extra special day together.

Also, I know many of my friends and readers are feeling lonely today, without someone special to celebrate with. I remember, very well, how that feels. So I want to send some love out to those of you out there, as well. Take today to celebrate yourself! Celebrate the important loves in your life: your family, friends, pets, and most importantly, YOU. Don’t let this holiday get you down, because no matter what, you are loved! So celebrate that love, and take some time to appreciate it. Treat yourself to something special today: a new book, some free time to enjoy a hobby, or anything else you love to do. You deserve it!

As a side note, the photo here is from my wedding day. My wife and I were lucky to have an amazing photographer, Suzanne Fogarty, out of Washington state. If you want to see more of Suzanne’s amazing work, check out her website HERE. She’s an brilliant photographer and woman; I’m so happy that we had the opportunity to share our wedding with her.

Well, Happy Valentine’s Day everyone. I wish you all the love in the world.

Cheers – Mason

Viewpoints: Coalition Building

Try searching for “FTM Resources” in any internet search engine; you will spend a lifetime scrolling through page after page about testosterone, clothing, mentoring, local and international groups, youtube videos…

It’s wonderful that we, as a community, have such an active and vocal presence on the internet. However, I have noticed that many of us take a “lone wolf” approach to providing resources. That is to say, we make our websites, our youtube pages, our tumblrs, and do our own thing, adding to the exhaustive list of resources available to transguys. Unfortunately, this mentality silences a number of us, simply by the sheer number and volume of voices already speaking. Imagine it this way: you’re in a room, surrounded by 200 people, all speaking at the same time, about a similar topic. Whose voice will you hear? And is that voice going to address your needs effectively?

We, as a community, need to shed the lone wolf mentality, and come together. We need to work together to share our knowledge, resources and stories, rather than doing so as individuals. And, in my opinion, we need to build coalitions, together, to help our community in the most effective ways possible. We all have the same goal: to help our community, and share our knowledge. We should never lose sight of that goal.

With this in mind, The Primer, has teamed up with The Self Made Men, to provide a more comprehensive resource to the Trans-masculine community. I believe that this coalition, between The Primer and The Self Made Men is not only natural, but will help Transmen find the resources they need, quickly and efficiently.

So, why the Self Made Men? Quite simply, I believe the team working at TSMM has similar goal in mind: to help Transmasculine identified individuals on their journey, from the everyday challenges, to the milestones that will define our lives. I believe TSMM understands that no two journeys will be the same, but works to cover as much information as possible, to assist a wide variety of identities within the Transmasculine spectrum.

So, welcome to the new Primer, a contributor with the Self Made Men! Take a look around, and stay tuned for updates. As always, please feel free to ask questions, or discuss anything you see posted here.

Cheers – Mason

Viewpoints: Are you a “Man” or a “man”

This weekend, a friend asked me “so when did you consider yourself truly a Man?” This person’s question struck me, as well as their emphasis on the word “Man,” (hence the capitalization). After thinking over this question and the word Man for several days, I figured I would share my thoughts here, as I believe these thoughts pertain to the art of being a gentleman…(beware, these thoughts are highly subjective, and may border on philosophical)

There is, I believe, an inherent difference between a man and a Man; much like the difference between truth and Truth, (if you believe in that). A man is one who identifies as such; we often look to issues of gender identity and expression, and/or biology to identify the boundaries of this type of manhood. I’m not going to go into how I define a man in this post, merely because that is a whole different conversation that is well known and articulated by many, including those within the Trans* community.

So, who/what is a Man, and how is this different than being a man. The difference, I believe, lies in a person’s actions, beliefs and morals. A Man is, above all else, honorable, without an overabundance of pride, compassionate, though firm in their beliefs. A Man is not defined by their body or pronouns (hence my use of gender neutral pronouns “they” and “their”). A Man can be male or female bodied, muscular or thin, gay, straight, queer, asexual, pansexual, or any other sexuality they identify as. A Man seeks peace before anger, kindness before harm, empathy before retaliation. In the Jewish tradition, one would use the work Mensch to help identify a Man, however, Manhood, of this sort, exists beyond the bounds of any religion. A Man embodies a desire to help all living creatures, regardless of their differences, in all things that they do. A Man is often a feminist, a believer in equal and all human rights, a philanthropist (if their financial situation allows), a volunteer, and, in some cases, an activist, because they understand the importance of equality for all.

This all seems fairly idealistic and, some may say, unattainable. However, there are Men in this world I look to when I write this: the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Schweitzer, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and more. This list is debatable, but I am simply listing people, in my mind, that embody my ideas of Manhood. On top of that, there are so many great Men in this world whose names are not in any history book; being a Man does not make you famous.

So, to answer my friend’s question: I don’t know that I will ever truly be a Man. I hope to be, I strive to be; but, so very few men are Men. To be a Man takes a lifetime of commitment, a belief in truth and equality, and a dedication to your community and the world, which so very few people can ever attain.

Considerations for Transmen

Being a Man (or a man, for that matter), has nothing to do with genitalia, hormones, surgery or physicality. We all have the opportunity to become Men.

When I began my transition, I spent a great deal of time thinking about the person I am and saw myself as. I thought about the differences between men and Men, and how I could better incorporate the attributes of being a Man into my life. For transmen, we have a unique perspective on what it means to be a Man, and the opportunity to pursue our own ideals of Manhood.

Cheers – Mason

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