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Etiquette: Offering Your Arm

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I wanted to post something with a little romantic twist. So here are my thoughts on offering an arm to a significant other (Sig-O), or other in need of assistance…

Here in Northern New England, we’re in the midst of yet another frigid winter. Ice is everywhere: steps, sidewalks, streets, and all places in between. More than ever, I am offering my wife, and others, my arm in assistance. Though it may seem trivial, I believe offering someone your arm can be a touching display of gentlemanly consideration. But, there are a few rules I have found in this small, yet meaningful, action.

To Whom Do you Offer Your Arm, and When?

This question depends on the circumstances. With my wife (or, for you, any Sig-O, of any sex or gender expression), I offer my arm on a regular basis when we are walking around town. I don’t offer my arm every day, at every instance; go with your gut on this. On date night, I offer my arm to my wife in every instance we are walking together for longer than a few yards, and anytime we’re walking up and down steps, or over a curb. Beyond date night, it depends on the situation, but I try to always offer my arm before steps and curbs. Keep in mind, just because I offer my arm, doesn’t mean that she always takes it. Sometimes she doesn’t take my arm, and that’s totally fine.

Beyond my wife, I offer my arm to anyone whose balance may be impaired. With elderly individuals, for instance, I typically offer my arm, or a hand. Please note, not all people will appreciate the offer of assistance. However, I prefer to err on the side of gentlemanly manners. Plus, the number of times older people have complimented me as a “charming, polite young man,” makes all the turn downs totally worth it.

Lastly, I often offer my arm to friends when there is ice, or they are in heels of any substantial height. Prior to my transition, I spent several years in Cotillions: I remember, quiet vividly, how challenging heels can be (or were, for me; I realize many people have no trouble in heels). For these reasons I offer those in heels my arm. You may differ in your choices of who to offer your arm to, but these are my general thoughts.

How to Offer your Arm

How to offer your arm, again, depends on the individual situations. With my wife, we’re been together for so long, she knows the smallest movements which indicate I’m about to offer my arm. Almost instinctively, she takes my arm just as I’m offering it. Of course, this is the result of years of reading my body language. So, let’s start from the beginning:

First, a gentleman typically offers his arm  – rather than being prompted to do so. With a close acquaintance or Sig-O’s, you can use more subtle cues: bending your arm closest to the individual, keeping your hand (fisted) midway between your stomach and chest. You may tilt your elbow out, slightly, and signal with your eyes, inquisitively, to ask your Sig-O or acquaintance if they would like to take your arm. If they don’t pick up on the clue, you may choose to abandon your offer, or, ask “may I take your arm?” Asking, or not, is up to you.

You may be offering your arm to someone for a specific purpose, such as assistance over some icy steps, a slippery curb, or other such hazards. In instances such as these, I typically descend down the hazard (step down the curb, down a few steps, over the hurtle, etc), then lean forward, making eye contact outstretching my arm. If I can’t make eye contact, or if I feel necessary, I will ask “May I be of assistance?” For strangers, including the elderly, I use a very similar method. I will extend my elbow, and offer any assistance.

A few notes on form: yes, there is a form to this. When walking with a person on your arm, keep your elbow at a right angle (or smaller, but not by much). Keep your hand fisted, and held between your chest and your navel. Keep your hand centered, not too far to one side or the other. In informal situations, such as a walk down the street on an average day, I may place my hand in my coat pocket, but with my elbow extended for my wife to grasp. Here are a few great examples of how to do this properly: http://jcricketevents.blogspot.com/2009/01/how-to-take-mans-arm.html

Also remember, offering a hand or arm for an individual to use, means that you must be solid on your feet. Don’t offer your arm if your own balance or ability to walk is compromised.

Considerations For Transmen

For me, offering an arm to someone is utterly satisfying. It is an assertion of not only my masculinity, but my ideals as a gentleman as well. Of course, it can be intimidating, especially if you’re not passing. I would suggest to begin with friends who recognize your identity. Think of people who would see offering your arm as a natural extension of your identity. Try offering your arm to them, first; get used to the feeling of having someone on your arm, and the process of offering your arm. When you get more comfortable with offering your arm, adventure out, and try it on a stranger, or further removed acquaintance. Go with what feels natural. Chances are, if you feel odd offering your arm, it will come off as strange, and may not be received well.

Cheers- Mason

Inspire: A Code of Gentlemen

When I began law school, I read a Supreme Court case, concerning the inclusion of women in a military college, which, prior to the case, only admitted men (US. v Virgina, 518 U.S. 515 (1996)). In his dissent, Scalia (whose political and moral convictions I thoroughly disagree with in all ways possible) included a “Code of Gentleman.” For the sake of completeness, I’m including a link to the case, and his quote, here (the “Code” is towards the bottom, before the footnotes).  The code, which Scalia included, was adapted from the military school’s handbook; interestingly, this code originated from etiquette guru, Emily Post. You can read Post’s chapter on being a gentleman here.

Clearly, reviewing this reading put me in a thoughtful and philosophical mood. A great deal of the material I discussed above has a largely paternalistic and misogynistic tone. Both Scalia and Post speak of protecting women as if they are helpless, and not terribly bright individuals, who must rely on men to protect them from the world. I want to begin by saying: I, in no way, agree with this. I am a proud feminist, and do not tolerate inequality in any form.

However, the concept of a “Code” inspires me. As Post says: “more important than any mere dictum of etiquette is the fundamental code of honor, without strict observance of which no man, no matter how “polished,” can be considered a gentleman.” A code is a guide, a reminder of what we consider important, and, when we slip up, it brings us back to the roots of our ideals. Being a gentleman is not about style, careers, money, education, or anything. Being a gentleman is about actions, and the ideals and morals those actions convey.

Several months ago, I posted about being a Man versus a man. With that post, as well as the “Code” above in mind, I would like to being (but, by no means, finish) my own Code of a Gentleman. This is my own Code, and includes lessons learned from my own personal experiences. I encourage each of you to take some time, consider your own ideals, and write your own personal Code. Furthermore, I encourage you to share your own codes (or portions of them) in the comments below. This is a great opportunity to discuss our own perspectives and experiences, and learn from each other.

Without further adieu, here are the beginnings of my own Code:

A Code of a Gentleman

  • Respect all people and perspectives, regardless of the disrespect they may show others.
  • Never force your perspectives or ideals on others. You may share your perspective, but never force others, unwilling, to adopt your views.
  • Never speak poorly of others in public.
  • Never laugh at the misfortunes or mistakes of others.
  • Have compassion for all living things, no matter how small they may seem to others.
  • Recognize the needs of others, and do your best to accommodate those needs, when asked.
  • Be prompt and punctual: tardiness shows disregard for other’s time.
  • Never flaunt your assets or privilege in front of others.
  • Do your best to use proper grammar in public.
  • Respect your elders and superiors, but never bend your own morals to suit their needs or demands.
  • Help others, whenever possible.
  • Never make decisions when angry, upset, fearful, or in pain.
  • Violence is never the answer. Appreciate the value of non-violence.
  • Speak up for your friends and family, even when they are not present. But never assume to speak for them. There is a difference between defending others and putting words in their mouths.
  • Always strive to better yourself.
  • Pursue justice and truth in everything you do.
  • Make the happiness and comfort of your wife and family a priority, the needs of your community shall follow that closely after that.
  • Understand the importance of self-care. Self-care ensures you’re emotionally and physically healthy.
  • There is no shame in asking for help, but don’t do so lightly.
  • Never lose sight of your goals, aspirations, ideals, or morals.
  • Never lose sight of hope.

Considerations for Transmen

Many of us are new to the world of masculinity and being a gentleman. We grow up imagining the men we want to be, despite what the world tells us we “should” be. Sometimes, however, as we begin our journeys, we forget: it’s human nature, and there’s nothing wrong with that. We forget the image of the men we wanted to be. Wherever you are in your journey, I suggest taking a moment to remember the man you imagined yourself as, and use that as the inspiration for your own Code.

Additionally, don’t just think about it. Sit down and write out your Code by hand. Keep this handwritten Code in a place that you can find it easily, edit it when need be, and reference it when you feel lost. Personally, I keep mine in my journal.

Take this seriously. By writing and adhering to a Code, you are following in the footsteps of knights, leaders, kings, presidents, and other great men in history. It wasn’t silly when they wrote and followed a code, and it’s not silly for you to do so either.

As I said before, I encourage you to share your Code in the comments below. Let’s learn from each other! Thanks everyone, and I look forward to reading your own contributions.

Cheers – Mason 

Grooming: The Barber Shop

I don’t know about you, but getting my hair cut has been a struggle for many years. Some people want to give me a “feminized boy cut” others didn’t know how to work around bad cowlicks, or stick-straight hair. Needless to say, I’ve suffered through more than my fair share of ugly haircuts (and I have photographic proof, if you don’t believe me). When someone suggested the barber shop, I was skeptical – skeptical and nervous. And with good reason: the first barber shop I walked into, promptly informed me that they didn’t cut women’s hair, and shooed out the door before I could even defend myself. It was another four years before I tried the barbershop again. Now, I don’t think I can ever go back.

But, before you walk into any old barber shop, I thought I would share with you some of what I have learned, some suggestions, and, as always, considerations for transmen. Of course, comments or questions are welcome (just don’t ask for those photos of my bad haircuts!).

Research

By now, you may have guessed that “research” is, in fact, my favorite word; and barbershops are no different. Not all shops are alike: some shops are manned by ignorant, sexist, brigands whom I would rather not give my money to. Take, for instance, my first barbershop experience. The shop was empty, dirty and, clearly operated by individuals who would rather pass up my money than open their minds to gender diversity. As horrible as that experience was, I’m thankful I never had the opportunity to hand over my money to them. Nevertheless, don’t walk into the first barber shop you see.

First, ask the community. If you know other transmen in your area, ask them where they get their hair cut, and who they would recommend (and for that matter, who they would avoid). No transmen in your area? Go online, and ask around: look for reviews, post some questions, and see if you can find anything helpful. If you can’t find anything that way, drive by a few places first. Does the outside of the shop look clean? Are guys walking out with haircuts you might like? How many people are in there (a packed house can be a good indicator here)?

If you don’t know where to find a barbershop, one of my favorite sites, Art of Manliness, has a helpful barbershop locator: http://artofmanliness.com/barbershop-locator/

Barbershop etiquette

Barbershop are not the type of place you make an appointment, or put in your name to be seen. This is a strictly “first come, first serve” deal. When you walk in, take note of who is there before you. Those guys are going first. Typically the barbers are paying attention to this as well, and will make eye contact and a gesture to the next guy up, but pay attention as well. If the barber calls you up, and you think someone is ahead of you, say something. It’s courteous.

Barbershops, at least here in Northern New England, are as much about conversation as they are about hair cuts. If you don’t feel comfortable, don’t take part in the conversation, or just listen in. But it does help to loosen up the nerves to chat with the folks there. Your barber may ask about you, where you’re from, what you do, who you’re related to in town, etc. If you don’t want to chat, that’s ok, but be polite about it: answer briefly, and maybe, ask them about their family, or home, or anything else. I know the few barbers I have seen chatted my ear off about their kids, growing up in some town I’ve never heard of, or anything else. I was happy to listen, because that meant I didn’t have to do the talking.

Also, after your cut, don’t forget to tip. Personally, if the cut costs $14, and I like the cut, I hand them a $20. That may be a little high for a tip, but if this person is going to be cutting my hair regularly, I would want to establish a good relationship; for a business, part of that relationship is money.

Talk the Talk, Walk the Walk

Well, truthfully, this is more about the talk than the walk. One of the most intimidating factors in the barbershop is the language. The first time I went in, and the barber asked me what I wanted, I stammered out some kind of description that probably made less sense than a two year old. So, a few tips on language.

Do a little research on what you want (there’s that word again: research). Personally, brining in pictures was never my style. Don’t ask me why, but I just couldn’t bring myself to cut pictures out of GQ and bring it to a barber shop. Thus, I had to rely on my research. I spent some time on google, looking for different examples of haircuts that I liked. There are several great resources out there. Here are a few examples:

I try to be a clean cut guy, so a “fade” was the best option for me (here is some info on different types of fade haircuts: http://www.bukisa.com/articles/414477_different-types-of-fade-haircuts). When I initially walked in, with no language and no concept of what I wanted, I told my barber that I liked it short, but not so short that you could see scalp on the sides. He translated that to what he calls a “3-2-1 on the side, and finger-width on top.” This has been the perfect cut for me. But, again, this is just my personal experience and style. The point is, if you can’t find something you like online, make sure you can describe to a barber what you want.

Considerations for Transmen

The barbershop is one place that “passing” is particularly stressful. If you’re pre-T, early on T, or not planning on T, the fact that you were FAAB (female assigned at birth), may be more apparent to a barber than other people. A barber may notice things like a lack of facial hair, sideburns, or balding and receding hairlines. Personally, if you are worried about not passing, I think it may be helpful if you figure out how to ask for exactly what you want, in barber shop terms first, then try going to a barber. If you can find an LGBT friendly barber, that may be a good place to learn the ins-and-outs of getting a good cut. Or, if that’s not an option, try a supercuts, or some other “unisex” hair place, so that gender isn’t an issue. If you feel comfortable, and you like a cut you get somewhere else, ask the person behind the scissors what they did (guard on the clippers, what style, etc). That way you can tell the barber what you want.

If you have a bad experience, like I did, just remember, if they’re that mean, you don’t want to give them your money.

Also, this obviously doesn’t apply to everyone, but bringing my wife along to places has given me some credibility. She went with me to the barber, and told the barber exactly what she wanted for me. Something about the wife taking control gave me credibility with the barber, and passing didn’t seem to be an issue.

I hope these tips help, and, as always, please feel free to ask questions!

Cheers – Mason

Etiquette: Meeting the Parents

Around this time of year, many significant others (or as I call them “sig-o”) come to us and say those dreaded, yet inevitable words: “Honey, I want you to meet my parents.” We spend days or weeks (depending on the advance notice) fretting over what to wear, how to act, and how we can make these total strangers like us: it’s downright stressful! Never fear, I have a few pointers.

(And, as a side note, after three years of marriage, my in-laws STILL like me.)

Attire

I always run my attire by my wife before I go to any social event. You may want to do the same. Remember, it’s always better to be a little over-dressed than under-dressed, so err on the side of caution. Before getting out of the car, or knocking on the door, ask your sig-o to give you a “once over:” tie straight, hair in place, glasses clean, not lint or dirt? Good to go. Now breathe.

Greetings

First and foremost, with all these tips, do your homework! Talk to your significant other and find out what makes their parents tick: are they very casual people, or a bit heavy on the manners? Next, if it’s appropriate (again take your cues from your sig-o), bring a small gift: a bottle of wine, box of chocolates, fresh backed goods, etc. This is especially appropriate if you’re having dinner or attending a party they are hosting.

I know you may be nervous, but smile! Be positive. Offer your hand for a firm, but not over-excessive handshake. Insert pleasantries here: “it’s great to finally meet you,” “I’m so glad we could finally meet,” etc.

Conversation

You know that old saying about avoiding religion, politics and current events at social gatherings? Stick to it. Again, ask your sig-o for guidance. Do you and their parents share any common interests? Play up on that. But, whatever you do, don’t FAKE it. Just because dad is a hunter, doesn’t mean you need to pretend to hunt as well, just to garnish any favor with him. If you’re found out, it will look bad, and, even worse if he asks you along on his next deer hunt.

Be prepared for a little grilling. They will ask about your job, your education, your parents, your future plans, and everything else that will make you sweat. Once again, be honest. But, if there’s something you’re not too proud of that you think might be brought up, prepare for it. Ask your sig-o how much they know about you already, so that you’re not just shooting in the dark.

Prepare for lulls in the conversation with questions about their hobbies: “Mrs. So-and-So, I hear you’re involved in the local charity? That sounds fascinating.” Again, go to the sig-o for tips on this. You don’t need to prepare a hundred of these (at some point, the responsibility of keeping the conversation going shifts to the other parties), but one or two are helpful.

One or two faux-pas are inevitable. You mess up someone’s name, drop a butter knife, sneeze too loud, etc. Don’t stress over it. Apologize, and move on. Above all else, be positive and confident. If you’re nervous and jumpy, it may cause suspicion. If you get too nervous or freaked out, excuse yourself to the restroom and take a few deep breathes. It may be intimidating, but these parents are people too. Long before you got here, they were stressed about meeting their in laws.

Considerations for Transmen

Knowledge is the most important factor here: what do your sig-o’s parents know? Are you looking at a night of female pronouns, or total ignorance? Have a frank and honest conversation with your sig-o about this, and talk together about the best course of action. Although it feel very personal, this is more about your sig-o than you. Are they out to their parents about their sexual orientation? What is the status of their relationship and communication? You and your sig-o need to make sure you’re on the same page about this. If female pronouns are possible, and unacceptable, you need to talk to your sig-o about what they can or plan to do.

What about an awkward dinner confrontation? If your sig-o and their parents get into a heated conversation about you, stay out of it as much as possible. Although they are mentioning you, it is not solely about you: it’s not (likely) personal. Unless the parents are hurling insults at you, stay out of it. Getting involved in an argument may only make things worse. Just be there to support your sig-o, emotionally.

If your sig-o’s parents are asking invasive questions, and making you feel uncomfortable, be prepared with a kind, but firm statement expressing your boundaries: “I’m sorry Mr./Ms. So-and-So, but I don’t really feel comfortable answering that question. By the way, honey, didn’t you want to tell your parents about that recent scholastic/employment accomplishment?” Never underestimate the well timed topic switch. If possible, don’t end your statement with the denial, because that may make the parents feel defensive; use a topic switch to take the heat and confrontation out of a potentially explosive situation. If the parents aren’t taking a hint, see if your sig-o can get the point across more bluntly: “Mom/Dad that’s not appropriate, please stop.”

Like I said before, be positive and confident. This includes statements or confrontations your identity. If you’re defensive, your sig-o’s parents will be defensive, and no one will walk away with fond memories of the meeting. Be patient, be friendly, and, if you can, be charming. As always, thanks for reading and have a wonderful winter season.

Cheers – Mason

Careers: The Interview

As a third-year law student, I have recently found myself in job interviews on a more regular basis. Of course, I put a great deal of thought into my presentation, attire, and general attitude going into an interview, and I figured I would put my thoughts to paper (or keyboard). As always, if you, good reader, have any thoughts, don’t hesitate to contact me. At the end, you will find interview considerations for Transmen…

Attire

I believe the default attire for any interview is a suit (tie and jacket included). That being said, there are exceptions to this rule; but generally, stick with a suit. Of course, there is a great deal of diversity in choosing a suit, as well as the manner in which to wear the suit. Overall, the best advice I ever received in interview attire is this: you NEVER want to be better dressed than the person interviewing you. So leave the solid gold tie chain, expensive tie, or $500 shoes at home.

For most interviews, I would advise to dress conservatively. Plain white or muted color shirt, blue, black or grey suit, minimally patterned tie, belt and shoes to match, and of course, appropriately colored socks. Some people opt for a pocket square; personally, I leave it at home. Although classy, I like to make my resume and personality do the talking, and not my attire. Make sure your shoes are well shined (seriously, the care one puts into their shoes speaks highly of their attention to detail and over-all social competence). My wife often gives me a glance over before I walk out the door to any interview: this isn’t just an endearing gesture either. If you have a friend, spouse or family member available, ask them to give you a glance over before your interview – they may see things that you missed, like a loose thread on the back of your suit, or a tie slightly askew.

Grooming

I know you’re probably nervous and stressed, but put care into your grooming before going on an interview. Personally, I have a little pre-interview grooming ritual; this helps keep me calm, focused and centered on the task ahead.

Like your suit, keep your hair conservative. Yeah, I like to spike my hair up on my days off, but for an interview, brush it down. Consider getting a cut a few days before your interview. I say a few days BEFORE for a few reasons: 1. For me, those little clipped hairs end up everywhere, and I would hate to go into an interview with hair in my ears from my haircut; 2. You don’t want it to be too obvious that you’ve just had a haircut; and 3. Personally, I like the way my hair lays a few days, even a week, after the cut, rather than the day of or day after the cut. Don’t try something new before an interview either. Don’t try a new part in your hair, or a new haircut style, even if you think it will look good. Go with what you know, and it will give you one less distraction for the interview.

As for facial hair, the same “new” rule applies: don’t try something new that you’ve never done before. If you are clean shaven, make sure to shave before your interview. If you have a goatee or mustache, make sure you are well trimmed. It seems like this would go without saying, but you would be surprised to know I’ve seen many guys going into an interview with substantial stubble. Like your shoes, your grooming speaks highly of your attention to detail and social awareness.

Also, if you use cologne, don’t overdo it for the interview.

Accessories and Preparation

If you have a briefcase (in good condition), bring it. If not, leave the backpack at home, and opt for a portfolio, like this:

No matter what, make sure to have a pad of paper with you at the table during your interview. Before the interview, write down three (or more) questions for your interviewer on the first page of your pad of paper. ALWAYS go in to an interview with questions. Personally, I also like to do research before my interview, about the company I am interviewing with: what is their company mission statement look like, do they value diversity in the workplace, how many locations do they have, etc. You can use some of this information in your interview questions (Ex “I see that you’re mission statement talks about XYZ, can you tell me more about that?”). Also, bring a copy of your resume with you, as well as business cards, if you have them. You never know when your interviewer may lose your resume, or ask you about a particular element. It’s just good to make sure you bring it with you. If you have multiple interviewers, make sure to bring a copy for each.

Of course, make sure your cell phone is on silent.

During the Interview

Smile…seriously. You may not feel like smiling, but it shows you are comfortable, competent, and approachable. And really, that’s what we’re going for here, isn’t it? Go into this confident, knowing that these people want to hire you, and the interview is just a chance to show them WHY they want to hire you. Be polite, don’t interrupt your interviewer. Sit up straight, but be comfortable (not stiff). Also, go into the interview with your suit jacket buttoned, but make sure you un-button it when you sit down.

And lastly…breathe. Relax. Like I said, these people want to hire you, they just don’t know it yet.

Considerations for Transmen

If you’re early into your transition (or even if you’re not) the issue of disclosure is something to think about. Naturally, a lot of this depends on whom you are interviewing with: for instance, disclosure during an interview with an LGBT organization may not be a big deal. Personally, I have disclosed my Trans-identity in a number of interviews, because that it what I felt comfortable with. You may not, and I fully understand that. If you decide you want to disclose, here are a few things I have learned:

  1. Be comfortable with your identity and talking about it. If you’re comfortable and happy in your identity, it will show, and your interviewer will be put at ease, even if they wouldn’t normally be.
  2. Don’t lead with your identity. Introducing yourself as “Hi, I’m So-and-So and I’m Trans” is probably not going to come off right.
  3. Time it well. Don’t interject your identity awkwardly into the conversation. For me, because I have worked with various Trans groups, professionally, I usually bring it up when talking about my prior work. Like so: “You may see that I’ve worked with XYZ-Trans Group. I want to let you know I am transgender-identified. If you have any professional questions about that, I would be happy to answer them.”
  4. Don’t over disclose. If your interviewer asks about surgeries, you have the right to decline to answer. Questions about the status of your genitalia are never appropriate. During an interview I have been asked if I planned to have surgery. My response was something like: “I don’t believe my future medical plans will have any negative effects on my job performance.” And, honestly, I don’t want to work for a company that thinks it has a right to peek into my pants, if that makes sense.

There are a lot of thoughts and considerations that go into disclosure. In the end, the decision to disclose is yours. You may think, going into the interview, that you will disclose, but then, when you talk to the interviewer, realize that you no longer feel comfortable doing so. Go with your gut; if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.

These are simply cursory observations and considerations. If you have any questions about specifics, please don’t hesitate to ask. Good luck, out there. Remember, they want you hire you, and the interview is a chance to show them why.

Cheers – Mason


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