Blog Archives

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

Attire: Belts or Suspenders

After a brief pause in writing, due to midterms, we’re back!

So, you’re suited up, looking sharp for a day at work, or a night on the town: but how to keep those pants up? A belt or suspenders? Good question, and the answer depends on a variety of factors, such as the event type, time, attire, and  your general style.

First a few quick notes:

  1. A belt and suspenders should never be worn at the same time. There’s an old saying: “he’s a belt and suspenders kind of guy.”  Meaning, a man is so paranoid that his belt will fail, that he wears suspenders, just in case. It speaks of a man who refuses to take risks, for fear of embarrassment or exposure. It’s not a flattering metaphor, and an image you want to avoid.
  2. A lawyer once told me that if you’re going to wear suspenders, don’t do so with pants that have belt loops. The loops draw an observer’s eye, and it is more obvious that you’re not wearing a belt. So, if you’re going to do suspenders, have a tailor remove the belt loops. This isn’t true at all times: for instance, if you’re not going to take off your jacket, no one will see belt loops. However, if you’re going to make suspenders a regular part of your suit, you may want to remove those loops.
  3. No matter which you choose, belt or suspenders, make sure they match. Make sure your belt matches your shoes. With suspenders, make sure the leather ends (where they attach to your pants), match your shoes. Also, with suspenders, make sure the color matches your tie, shirt, or other color you’re wearing.

Now, which to wear? Generally for professional events (work, interview, career-related cocktail party or networking function), I would suggest a belt. Unless you’re over 40 years old, suspenders may look out of place. The belt is more appropriate for these types of events. That being said, if you’ve got the suit for it, and the sense of style – do it! I’m all for bringing back suspenders.

But suspenders can be worn in other places. When attending events where you can play with fashion, rock those suspenders, if you so wish: weddings, formal or semi-formal social events. Not only that, as you can see in some of these photos, suspenders can be worn in casual attire as well, for the truly dapper look (or Larry King – if that’s you’re style).

There are two types of suspenders: formal and working. Formal suspenders have button holes and attach to buttons inside your pants. Formal suspenders will need pants with suspender buttons (which can be sewn in by a tailor). These suspenders are appropriate for formal or professional wear. The ends of formal suspenders are shaped like a “Y” and made of leather (that should match your shoes, as previously mentioned). Working suspenders have clips (or alligator claws), which can be attached to the waistband of your pants. Working suspenders are appropriate for semi-formal or casual wear.

No matter how you decide to wear them, I say wear them with pride! Suspenders are a dapper, fashion forward accessory that I wish were more common. Help me out guys, and bring them back!

Considerations for Transmen

One downside for transmen with suspenders: if you haven’t had top surgery, suspenders may accentuate your chest. If that is a concern for you, I suggest sticking to belts for now. Also, suspenders come in a variety of colors and patterns. If you don’t want to accentuate your chest, stick to solid colors; patterns will draw attention and highlight any swell in your chest. Lastly, if you’re not very broad in the shoulders, make sure to get thinner suspenders, as opposed to the thicker width.

Thanks for reading everyone! Now that midterms are over, I’ll be posting more often. And please feel free to contact me with any questions.

Cheers – Mason

Grooming: Scents

“Do you have any suggestions about scents? I know it’s mostly a personal choice, but I was wondering if you had any advice. I’m looking to move out of my Axe-scents since I’ll be turning twenty this year, and that tends to be more of a teenager’s scent.”

A great question, and thanks for the submission! First, your instincts to ditch the Axe (or Tag, Bod, and other body sprays) are correct. These scents are not only targeted for the teenage sets, but I’ve also heard a number of people (women and men) complaining about these fragrances. Across the country, young men are using these sprays in over abundance; as if the more spray you use, the more masculine you will be perceived (for more reading on this phenomenon, check out this NY Times article). So, toss out the sprays, and opt for a more mature scent.

Now, there is a right way to do scents, beyond these sprays. As you said, it’s a matter of personal choice, however, I have some tips, to find your personal style. First, it’s important to understand that there are two (typical) ways to do scents: cologne and aftershave. I’ll discuss each of these choices, individually, followed by general rules for wearing scents…

Cologne

When discussing men’s fragrances, the most common reaction is to reach for the cologne. Colognes are the strongest and most noticeable way to do scents, so I would advise to tread lightly. These fragrances are typically activated by body heat, so be aware of where you put cologne (pulse points, versus spraying it on your shirt). Also, all fragrances smell different on each person: just because your dad has worn Old Spice for as long as anyone can remember, doesn’t mean that this scent will work for you, like it has for him.

When selecting a scent, you’ll need to actually go to a store and see for yourself (sorry, no online buying on this one). If you’re in a relationship, I suggest bringing your significant other (“Sig-O”) along with you. Let’s be honest, their opinion is probably important to you. If you’re not in a relationship, bring a friend. If you’re not out, or only newly out, make sure to bring someone who is understanding about your identity (I’ll speak more about Trans-specific shopping a little later).

So, you’ve got your friend or Sig-O in tow, and you’re facing the cases or shelves of fragrances: now what? First, if you’re at a department store, avoid getting attacked sprayed directly by the salespeople. How can you identify each individual spray, if you have another scent lingering on your shirt? Typically, department stores will have cards to test out sprays: use those. If this is your first foray into scents, ask yourself what types of scents appeal to you: citrus, woods, spices, flowers, musk, or some combination of these. Once you have a type (or two), narrow things down from there. Personally, I have a very sensitive nose, so I have to take a break when choosing a scent. Take a few minutes, walk around, and come back to the fragrances (a good opportunity to buy your friend or Sig-O a cup of coffee). If you’re at a drug store, there may be less opportunity to test out sprays: sometimes there may be a tester bottle available. Again, avoid spraying it directly on you, at this point in the process.

Once you’ve narrowed things down to a few different scents, try them out on your wrist. Remember, things smell different for each person. Placing cologne on your wrist will give you a correct characterization of how it will smell on a regular basis (remember, pulse points). Also, move around a bit, after applying cologne: the scent will react to your body chemistry, so working up a slight sweat may change it, subtly. You want to make sure your scent works both at rest and while moving around. From there, it’s all a matter of taste. Get your friends or Sig-O’s opinion, and go with it. If, later, you find you don’t care for the scent, try something else. But at least you’ll have a better idea of what you’re looking for.

Be aware, cologne can be expensive. If you want, go to the stores, find what you like, then check out the prices online. Also remember, a bottle of cologne should last you a year or more (if you store it correctly, out of direct light, it can last up to five years).

When choosing a cologne, your age is also something to consider. I know many of my readers are in the 18-24 range, so here are a few “younger” colognes that I’ve heard positive things about:

  • Lucky You, for Men (this is my personal choice to wear when going out)
  • Davidoff, Cool Water
  • Abercrombie & Fitch Colognes (any of them, from what I hear)
  • Swiss Army, for Men
  • Intimately Beckham (David Beckham’s line)

These are just a few; and remember, these may not work for you, personally. But, it’s a starting point, if you’re at a total loss. If you’re interested in more mature scents, let me know, and I will add those to the list.

Aftershave

Aftershave is, as I’m sure you guessed, what you apply after you shave. It comes in a variety of forms: liquids, lotions, balms and gels are the most common. The purpose of aftershave is to close your pores, after you shave, and leave you smelling good. So, when buying aftershave, you have to consider not only the fragrance, but the feel of it, and your own complexion, as well.

Since aftershave is applied to the face after you shave, the fragrance won’t last as long as cologne. If you’re going for lasting fragrance, go with colognes. That being said, I’ve found aftershaves add enough fragrance for my day, on most occasions. Also, be aware, if you’re applying aftershave liquids or gels, after you shave, it may sting. This is not usually true for lotions or balms.

An important note: depending on your own complexion, aftershave may dry out your face, or aggravate any acne. If this is a factor, look for oil free aftershave balm , particularly from the companies that do acne treatment (Neutrogena, Nivea, Clearasil, etc.).

If you choose to do cologne on a regular basis, but want to use an aftershave to soothe your skin after shaving, make sure to do an unscented aftershave, or one that compliments your cologne (same name/brand).

Wearing Scents

One rule to remember with scents: less is more. You want your scents to accent your personality, not dominate other’s perception of you. If the first or last thing a person remembers about you is your cologne, you have a problem. Of course, when used effectively, colognes can leave people with a very positive impression of you.

I would advise to never wear cologne for the first time to an important event, such as meeting a Sig-O’s family, interview or first day on the job. Generally, cologne is a “night out” type of accessory, and not something to use on a regular basis at work or school. For everyday wear, I would advise using aftershave as your fragrance, and save cologne for cocktails, dinner parties, or weddings.

When wearing cologne, as I said, it should be applied lightly to your wrists, neck (I do a dab behind each ear, and a dab on the back of my neck), and sometimes chest. Don’t use the “walk-through” method, where you spray it into the air and walk through the mist: this method can give you too much fragrance, and may harm your clothes. You can also apply cologne to the back of the knees. Sounds strange, but applying it there will make the scent rise throughout the day.

Considerations for Transmen

Heading into the cologne department in a large store can be a bit intimidating. However, by bringing a friend or Sig-O along, you can ease some of this tension, as well as get their input.  Make sure that your company on this trip validates your identity: having someone who is questioning your gender will make this process more challenging than it needs to be. If, at this point, you don’t have anyone who validates your identity, reach out to the community, and find other Transguys who can help. Ask to meet up at a mall, for instance, and get their advice on colognes.

If you’re on T, just starting T, or about to start T, be aware that your body chemistry is going to change. This means that the way colognes or aftershaves smell on you may change as well. You may find that colognes that used to work very well on you, no longer smell as nice. If you’re about to start T, or in the first year of T, I would suggest getting a small bottle of cologne, first. That way, if you find you need to change things up because of a change in body chemistry, you’re not wasting money.

Also, in the first year of T (or years, for some of us), acne is an inevitability. So, when choosing an aftershave, I would advise something in the “skin care” lines, that is oil-free. These won’t make the acne go away, but it will at least ensure you’re not making the problem worse.

I hope this answered your question! If I missed something, or if you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to ask. Good luck!

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

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

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 39 other followers