It Gets Better…When You’re a Straight Man

Once I became a man, I was finally legally married.  A few years earlier, while still a woman, I had married my wife, but the backward state where we live didn’t recognize our union.  Once my name was changed from Mary to Mark, we were legally man and wife. Well, a trans man and a lesbian wife. Nobody checks your chromosones.

That was the first indication that many things were going to get better for me.  Better on the street, at school, on the job or even at the grocery store; life is way easier when you’re perceived as a seemingly straight man.  

As a man you're:


As a butch lesbian, I’d get harassed. I was the ubiquitous coffee house dyke and had to walk just three blocks to my job, but I had to lace keys through my knuckles, I’d get three guys in shitty cars offering to give me the ride of my life as I walked to work. 

Not having those interactions anymore is so relaxing. The ability to walk around in this world without fear of harassment or violence is something I am fully aware is an enormous privilege. I knew this was part of the journey, but I had no idea how much stress would be alleviated by not having to be a woman out and about in the world.


I was able to experience university from the perspective of being viewed as a member of both genders. The level of attention and respect afforded my words in a classroom as a woman versus as a man was astounding. People tend to block out a butch woman extolling feminist ideas ("here we go again says the eye roll”)

But when a man volunteers to defend feminism as a political ideology from a list of dozens of ideologies in a class exercise, people are fascinated and listen in rapt attention. 


When I was first offered my current job, my boss made a big deal of the fact that the head guy was going to start me at a little more--something like $1,000 in total.  I couldn’t believe it, but there had never been a guy working there when he was in charge.  From her perspective, I was most educated and most overqualified (with a masters no less) but I was the first guy. They employed a lot of women, but they were leaping to pay more to this person because he’s a guy.


My office throws birthday parties and someone is always assigned to do the planning. I have never been asked to plan one. I have also never been asked to help clean up, and when I jump in to help out they act like I've walked on water. It feels like people gushing and giving credit for just being nice person. 

I’ll get a dozen flowers and give everybody one on mother’s day; they’ll say, “Nobody has given me flowers in years; no one has done this for me”. Or I’ll bring in treats for breakfast. It’s very strange--guys don’t think of that, guys don’t do that. 


The big boss also doesn't allow people to work overtime by themselves because, he says, he worries about people being alone. This was apparently a gendered concern, as he had no problem allowing me to do it. I can interpret this a few ways: a basic case of not worrying that a man leaving the building alone is in danger due to our proximity to a sketchy area, or more problematic, that he actually trusts me to work unattended in ways he does not trust others

I would not have expected increased trust, in large part because I am unlikely to trust a man over a woman (That's my female socialization here, clearly). 

My job involves a lot of contact with the public.  Guys always want to shake my hand  just for doing my job.  If a woman helps them, they’ll walk away, thinking she’s just supposed to serve them.  Once I saw how differently one man interacted with me versus my women colleagues; to me, he wasn’t  a jerk or condescending, but gave me a handshake.  And I immediately sanitized my hand. 


I didn’t realize, how often-- until it didn’t happen any more--and how badly I was treated as a butch lesbian.  In stores, people would be glaring, sullen, and not delivering customer service.  Now they smile brightly when I walk into the store and are fawning to help me.  

I tend to get more service. I’ve noticed a shift recently. I get it more from older women and less from younger girls.  They throw in discount coupons at the cashier.  The clerk at the oil change place is suddenly more friendly with me than with the women who are waiting. 

As a butch lesbian I used to dread getting my oil changed.  At the garage, there was guy who was overfriendly--he remembered me after I transitioned, he’d tell the others,  “that’s not a dude”.  It's such a masculine space where I feel like I’m going to be harassed, they talk to me like a guy’s guy. It’s less uncomfortable, I don’t feel threatened.  They’re not going to harass me further.  It’s so much more pleasant than it used to be

Men over 60 feel like I’m a gentleman and love me; young men these days are never as nice and polite. Older men feel as though they’ve met someone who was raised the way they were. 


It shocks me on a regular basis how quickly people give credit to a man for being  a decent human being.  I took a friend’s kids to Costco one evening. The looks I got from people were amazing, as if they thought I was the nicest guy in the world for taking whom they assumed was my kid to Costco.

In the end, it’s actually more different being straight than it is being male.  I have a picture of my wife in her wedding dress, I put it in my office when I first started.  It tells everybody:  I’m just like you--at least on the outside. And that's the way people treat me now.


This interview with the pseudonymous Mary was condensed and edited.



Image: Diesel Demon via flickr