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What Surprised Me About Transitioning: Gender Expectations Still Apply

For Transgender Awareness Week, transgender writer and activist Basil Soper is taking over our blog. Each day this week he will be talking about one thing that surprised him about transitioning from female to male. Transitioning (when a person begins living as the gender they identify with rather than the gender they were assigned at birth) can be liberating and life-saving, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a perfectly smooth process with no complications (or complicated feelings).

Before I started presenting as male, I had no idea just how toxic cis (meaning you identify with the gender you were assigned at birth, or are not trans) gender norms were for men in the United States. I was assigned female at birth and grew up feeling the pressures of female gender and beauty standards. I always assumed that these standards had a much more damaging effect on women than on men. Then I began transitioning, and I began to feel the pressure of male beauty standards and gender norms.

As a trans man, male culture can be difficult to navigate because self-worth is often based around genital size, financial income, and the absence of any “feminine” personality traits. This has placed a lot of pressure on me to pass (“passing” refers to when a trans person is assumed to be cis by others). The hardest part about facing this reality is that while cis women have made large strides in being inclusive to trans women, I have found that cis men have not been as accepting to trans men, especially if they don’t pass.

Many trans men, myself included, have a pattern of fantasizing about the cisgender experience. I’ve regularly beaten myself up for not being “man enough.” There have been times when I compare myself to what “real” men look like so much that I am unable to be sexual with my girlfriend or be very social.  While most men (trans and cis) probably feel inadequate at different times, this feeling can still paralyze me.

It takes constant work to remind myself that I am “man” enough. I don’t need a beard, a certain kind of genitalia, a six-pack, or male affirmation in order to be one.

Basil Soper is a transgender writer, activist, and Southerner who wears his heart on his sleeve. He is the founder of the traveling trans documentary project Transilient. To learn more about Basil visit www.basilvsoper.com

The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center is located in New York City. It provides comprehensive, confidential, judgment free health care at no charge to over 10,000 young people every year. This column is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual, only general information for education purposes only.

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