(CW: a few short discussions of sexist behaviour. Very brief.)
First of all - apologies for using binary gender assumptions in the title. (It was a reference to... look, it's a long story, but the title has meaning to me.) Ahem, anyway...
Last time, I wrote a bit about how I had underestimated the scale of personal change transitioning would entail for me, and how this meant I had underestimated and even been a bit dismissive of the complexity of this experience for friends of mine.
This time, I want to muse on some broad and general observations on how the way people I know relate to me, and I to them, has changed in the past year. Specifically, this is going to be about friends & acquaintances - discussions of broad social treatment is something else entirely.
To get a few things out of the way - I will, be force of necessity, need to make some generalisations here. None of this is intended to be a men-are-from-mars type thing.
To kick off, I need to once again re-iterate something you've probably heard me write about quite a few times if you read my blog even a little bit. Gender is not a binary, and is better represented by a series of spectrums - identity and presentation being the two most obvious ones.
It doesn't matter if you feel "I'm a woman" or "I'm a man" and have had no issues with this, you will probably still find you can pick somewhere on each of these two continuums you fit on.
I've known plenty of men who, while they still identify as such, have always felt a little ostracised and uncomfortable around particularly "masculine" (in the traditional sense of the word) men. Like they're still... a little bit 'other'. It may cause a problem, or it may not. Depends entirely on the person and the social situation.
Same is true - perhaps even more obviously - for many women. I've had a few friends tell me thing like, "I'm not really sure I identify as a woman". Clarifying to me, it might be that they don't emotionally relate to other women that well, despite not feeling any particular kinship for men, either.
You may have an image in your head right now of the sort of woman who told me this as sort of masculine/androgynous or tomboy-presenting women, but you'd often be wrong. How someone presents is a separate spectrum from how they identify. There might be overlap, but there might not be. Just the same as you might not see a somewhat masculine-presenting woman and assume she's a lesbian (well, hopefully not, anyway, because that's not a good indicator of anything except your own bias), assumptions about how someone identifies and (often, therefore) relates to other people can't be assumed by how they present, or even what they do.
By which I mean, a handful of women who've talked to me about a degree of estrangement emotionally from other women are mothers, and even have noticeably maternal and even quite feminine character traits. None of these are mutually exclusive things.
If it seems I'm focusing more on women here than men, I think it's for two reasons. Firstly, because I relate a bit better to women generally, and spend more time talking to other women. Always have. Secondly, because for many men, gender is invisible. For plenty of men it's not, of course (especially those I talked about before who don't feel entirely uncomfortable around particularly masculine men), but a common theme in many articles I've read is that "gender isn't important for men". When you are most likely in a very privileged position where you suffer few challenges socially as a result of your gender, it's not something you often think about. In short? It's very easy for privilege to be invisible.
(Oh, and before I launch off into the behaviour and relations stuff, to briefly touch on non-binary people... actually, that's really simple. It may not seem it, but it is. When a friend of mine is either uncomfortable with gender binaries and/or actively rejects them, I find myself not having to make any assumptions about them based on what I perceive their gender performance or assume/know their gender identity to me. It's actually quite liberating, and while I can't and won't try to speak to what that's like, I can at least say that on a purely selfish level it's quite easy for me to just jettison behavioural assumptions when talking to one of my NB friends, and I actually appreciate it quite a bit.)
So, there are a lot of ways I can break down the way I've found my relationships shift as I transition, and at its very core it tends to come down to two factors: how someone identifies, and how important that identity is to them.
I have found that particularly feminine women are often the people who are most quick to be warm, friendly and want to get to know me better. I suspect a part is that if your identity as a woman is so important to you, then relating to other women is a much more personal and gratifying and important experience. These are often women who have very close female friends more often than male ones. Perhaps as it's easier to relate.
I don't always present particularly feminine, but I certainly identify as very strongly on the feminine side of the identity spectrum. Which also contributes here. But even if it didn't, the fact is that gender is, right now, a huge factor in my life. I am experiencing a totally shifting social environment and going through many of the same physical discomforts and experiences that cis women go through. So, regardless of how strongly I identify as female, that my experience at the moment is so heavily gendered and new to me means that my relationship with women for whom gender is a major part of their life was probably always going to be matter too.
Fact is, I love these interactions. Hanging out with intelligent, strong, feminine women - or women who have a huge interest in gender generally - is one of the greatest pleasures and the most intellectually & emotionally stimulating parts of my life right now.
You hear a lot about "the sisterhood", unless you've been living under a rock, and I suppose what it refers to is the sometimes-instant connection and support you can have for, and from other women, especially in certain situations.
When you have a shared experience that isn't always good - even when it's through something as massively varied as your treatment based on your gender - solidarity becomes a very common reaction. And in this case it's an amazing experience. The instant need or desire to help other women and the delight at how supportive they often are to you is something I didn't expect to this degree, and something I had no previous experience with.
I'm not saying that male-to-male friendships and camaraderie isn't a big deal or particularly empowering... I'm saying I wouldn't know. The more I accept that I don't and never did comfortably identify as male, the more I realise that none of my relationships with men sat right with me. Not the gendered relationships, anyway. I had plenty of friendships with men through the years, but any where the relationship was heavily based on gendered behaviour or shared experiences as men just didn't work for me, in a way that makes perfect sense now.
Which brings me to masculine men. Men who are very comfortable identifying as men. Many have specific set behaviours reserved for women. Things you do or don't do. It may be their idea of chivalry, or it may be sexist behaviour, even if they don't recognise it as such.
My relationship with these men has changed the most.
I didn't have many friends that fit into this category, of course, but the few I knew... everything is different. If they are even comfortable with my transition, they are often more shut off to me. More cautious, and, strangely, more polite.
Oh, and... the ones who are the most uncomfortable around me? The ones who have the most difficulty with me changing physically?
Yeah. They're the really sexist ones. It's so obvious. The ones who see women exclusively as potential sexual conquests or eye candy. While I was perceived as male, they so obviously saw me as one of them. But now I'm Other. I'm, at best eye candy and depending on how they feel about trans women, a sex object. At worst... I'm something very, very uncomfortable to them. Someone who they perceive as actively rejecting masculinity (as opposed to the truth of never functioning within it, even if it looked like I was). Someone who muddies the waters for them regarding the simplicity of women as walking vaginas for their personal enjoyment.
Fortunately... I didn't know many of these, but it's hard not to be strongly affected as I realise who they are and try to cut them out of my life as quickly as possible.
Between these two extremes lie probably the majority of my friends & acquaintances. Most of these are men. Some are women.
People whose behaviour toward me hasn't changed that much. Who, it's clear, never gendered me particularly strongly. For whom my secondary sexual characteristics or gender identity didn't factor that strongly into being friends with me.
These, I think, tend to be people who don't identify particularly strongly as either gender, whether they've expressed this to me or not.
They can be some of my best friends, and it actually can be just as nice an experience to realise someone treats me the same as it is to find people who are warmer and more comfortable with me now.
When I began transitioning, I think I tried to imagine most of my friends would fit in this camp. People who I assumed were somehow 'above gender', like that's a good thing.
But it's not that simple. Gender identity and expression is incredibly personal, and can have varying degrees of importance in your life. For people who sit somewhere in the middle but not quite so centrally enough to identify as NB or similar, I am beginning to suspect gender can be quite a frustration at times.
Assumptions about their own behaviour based on presentation and their body must be tough if they just personally don't care. If you want it to go away. If you have friends for whom gender is equally unimportant. If you'd rather not discuss feminism or inequality or gender biases because it's not a huge part of your life (or you feel it isn't).
There are a ton of reasons this might be you. Factors might be how you were raised, how you identify, or that you simply didn't see much gendered bias in how people treated you over the years, and haven't had an issue with it. These are all perfectly valid experiences and feelings, of course.
And I wish in a lot of ways I fitted in this camp. It'd be nice for gender not to dominate my life so strongly, really.
But it does, and will continue to do so probably for a lot of the remainder of my life, as it does for many people.
Of course, it's also very possible to fit in this "not very strongly gendered" camp and yet still have a deep interest in gender. I know plenty of you. Awesome people who ask me questions and give me interesting observations from your own wide experiences.
But some people are just not interested in gender at all. They have no questions, aren't particularly interested in what I blog or post about, and may even be a little confused as to why it's so important.
Perhaps for these people it's the hardest to understand someone transitioning.
If gender is not a big factor in your life, it must be even harder to imagine how it can be for someone else.