Be Yourself! But Not Like That!

A while ago, I tweeted something like this:

“Cis society: Be yourself!
Trans people: Yes, okay
Cis society: No, not like that!”
It’s been running through my head a lot since. I figured it deserves a blog post.

I see this as a sibling post to my often shared post about the pressure I feel as a bi person to “choose” to “be straight”… Because I feel a similar pressure to “choose” to be cis.

There is a very strong message that often comes from within trans communities as well as from cis society that says that being trans is so, so intrinsically awful that nobody would (or *should*) be trans if they could possibly avoid it. Indeed, many people spend months or years trying to convince themselves that they don’t want to transition when they actually do because of this very prevalent idea.

And just as with sexuality where most people will concede that some people can’t choose not to be gay, it’s understood that some people can’t be cis but it is frequently suggested that some people do have a choice – and that the “correct” choice is to be cis if at all possible.

I would be rich if I had a quid for every time someone tried to convince me that I should be able to live as a cis woman instead of as a trans man.
People told me (as if I somehow didn’t know) that women can dress in men’s clothes, that women can do and be anything men can, that it’s okay to be a lesbian, that it’s okay to be butch, that women can be androgynous and still be women… And I don’t disagree with any of these things! They just aren’t reasons why I should be someone I’m not.

I also frequently get told that I’d be “prettier” as a woman, that more men would be attracted to me if I lived as a woman, that more women would be attracted to me… And I don’t believe that. Authenticity is much more attractive than forced cisnormativity ever could be and even if it weren’t, I wasn’t born to be attractive I was born to be my best self.

The ways people have tried to convince me to stop being a man say a lot about why they think trans people transition. I’m not trying to become more attractive, I’m not looking at the clothes I want to wear and trying to make my identity “match” the side of the shop I find my clothes in. I don’t think that men are any better than women and I’m not trying to avoid homophobia. I know that women can be butch or androgynous – I’m not trying to escape one set of restrictive gender roles by fitting myself into another set.

I am, quite simply, trying to be myself.

While pretending to be a girl / woman made me deeply unhappy and caused me mental pain and anguish, that isn’t even really the reason I live as a man. I live as a man because THAT IS WHO I AM. There is no good reason why I should try to “be” anyone else but me.

Think about it, especially if you aren’t trans. Can you really imagine people telling you that who you are is wrong and you should be someone else instead? Imagine for a minute being told to act like someone else for the rest of your life and being told that the other made up, false “you” was actually more real than anything you thought or felt about who you are. Like going undercover or acting, say, but forever. It’d be doable, sure, but could you be happy? Could you be even satisfied with a lifetime of being someone else, even someone almost but not-quite like you? Or would the not-right-ness wear you down? Would the pressure of hiding anything that might blow your cover eat away at you? Would you be tempted to call it quits and just be yourself and hang the consequences?

I could, in theory at least, live as though I were a cis woman. But why on earth would I trade my integrity and authenticity for a thin veneer of cis privilege?

If you feel like you’re pretending to be someone else and you want to try being yourself, you don’t need to wait for the facade to be killing you to be “allowed” to drop it. Whether that’s a gender, a sexuality, a religion, a relationship, a career or something as simple as having a name that isn’t working for you, you don’t have to wait for things to feel completely intolerable to make a change. You deserve to be your self, with integrity and authenticity, right now.

I don’t need to earn the right to be myself or to suffer through every possible attempt to find a way to me kinda like myself but not trans before I can be the trans man that I am. No one should have to exhaust every other option before being who they are just because who they are is trans.

To expect otherwise (and many people do expect otherwise) is to insist that being cis or appearing to be cis is innately better than being trans. It’s not.

We all deserve to be ourselves. So don’t you dare tell me it’d be better if I was someone else instead.

To my fellow men with love

This post has been a long time coming. I was working on it in my head for weeks before some guy decided to go on a killing spree because “hot girls” didn’t fancy him. In the wake of that, it didn’t feel appropriate to publish a post like this, not while people were still mourning, not while every woman I know was feeling terrified that any of the men in their lives might secretly think like that guy… women were hurting and their needs ultimately came first. Yet the aftermath of that tragedy showed me that this post had to be written, that men and boys had to be presented with another, better, truer view of the women and girls in their lives. The post below draws on stuff that I already tweeted about on the #AllMenCan hashtag and it’s stuff that men and boys need to hear.

So, here it is. From man to man, I want to teach you some things that you maybe already know or half-know or maybe never learned before at all. If you didn’t already know this stuff, that’s not your fault but it doesn’t mean you’re excused from learning it now. Every man, whether heterosexual, gay, bi, queer or asexual, cis or trans, young or old, needs to learn these things and practice them until they are as natural to him as breathing.
Why? Because every single one of us knows at least one woman or girl and every woman and girl deserves to be surrounded by people who treat her with respect and dignity. Why? Because all people deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and it seems that men, as a group, have been taught that we don’t have to respect women. We can and must change this for the better – not just for the women and girls in our lives but also for ourselves.

Here are the lessons you need to learn:

1. Women are people.

Not only if you find them attractive or only if you find them unattractive. Each and every woman you meet in your life is an individual with her own desires and her own goals and her own life. This likely doesn’t surprise you but I want you to really, really keep it in mind whenever you interact with a woman – from the barista to the cute woman on the bus to your girlfriend to your mother. Every woman is unique and has her own independent life going on. The extent to which her life is going to involve *you* cannot be decided by you alone, only by you and her together.

2. Women are all unique and different from each other.
Because women are all different and unique, anyone trying to teach you tricks or skills for interacting with women (particularly for dating women or initiating sexual relationships with women) is selling you snake oil. To be blunt, they either don’t know what they are talking about or they know they’re telling you bullshit and are hoping to gain something by getting you to fall for it. Treat ANY dating advice that claims to work on all or most people of one gender only with extreme SUSPICION. While there are some very general skills for interacting with *people* you can learn, skills that are gender-specific and dating-specific are few and far between. If you think you may need help (and indeed even if you don’t think you do) I recommend Dr Nerdlove, Captain Awkward and Real Social Skills as good places to start looking.

3. Sometimes women don’t fancy you and you’ve got to be okay with that
If a woman (or any other person) doesn’t like you or isn’t interested in you in the way you’d like her to be, there is likely nothing you can do to change that and you shouldn’t try. I know this is hard to hear but it has to be said. No matter how much you like her, she doesn’t have to like you back or date you or give you “a chance”. You remember how she’s got her own independent life and goals? If she doesn’t want to spend time with you, she doesn’t have to. If you’ve ever been assigned a “friend” by a parent or teacher who you didn’t actually like, you’ll see why. Hanging out with someone you don’t want to hang out with is no fun – can you imagine dating someone you don’t like? That doesn’t sound fun either and if you insist someone give you “a chance” that’s what you’re asking them to do.

4. Nobody owes you.

Friendship, love, romance, sex, dates and social time are all great and I hope you experience lots of these throughout your life. However, nobody owes you them. You can ask people if they’d like to share them with you but you can’t demand them from anyone or take them without asking. These things can only really exist if everyone involved wants to be there, with those people, sharing that experience, at that time. It’s mutual and consensual and that means that it stops the second someone involved wants it to stop – even if you’d rather continue. This applies to every person you ever meet, whatever their gender or relationship to you. And it applies to you too! If you’re not feeling it any more, sex or a date or a friendship or a relationship can stop. You don’t owe it to anyone to continue and they don’t owe that to you either.

5. “No” means “No” not “I secretly hate you” or “You are objectively undateable”
This one follows one from lesson 4. Remember how you can ask people to share experiences with you (like a date or a friendship or a sex act or even to get married) but not *demand* those things? The difference between asking and demanding is that you have to be able to hear and accept a “No”.
A “No” to, say, “Would you like to go on a date with me?” can be upsetting to hear and it’s okay to be upset. The slightly more difficult lesson to learn here is not to read loads of things into that “No” that aren’t there. If someone doesn’t want to go on a date with you, that means she doesn’t want to date you. It does NOT mean that she also secretly hates you or she thinks you’re ugly or undateable. If she later says “Yes” to an offer of a date from another man, that doesn’t mean she thinks he’s better than you objectively, just that *right now* she individually is interested in going on a date with him. As a unique person with her own tastes and her own life, she gets to make her own choices – even if you don’t like those choices or can’t understand them. She is not a stand-in for “all women” so her not wanting to date you tells you absolutely nothing about whether *other* women might want to date you.

6. “No” means “No” not “Talk me into it”

If you ask for something from someone or offer someone something and they say “No”, respect that. No matter what your genders or your relationship or their age. You cannot argue someone into wanting something they don’t want and it’s inappropriate to abusive to try. If someone doesn’t want to come to your houseparty, accept that. If someone doesn’t reply to your message on a dating site or replies saying she doesn’t want to talk to you, accept that. Read Captain Awkward’s Guide To Dating for more on this. Where this links with the previous lesson is so important I’m going to make it into its own lesson.

7. YOU CANNOT PERSUADE SOMEONE INTO BEING ATTRACTED TO YOU.

Sorry for the allcaps but this is important. Attraction, whether romantic or sexual or both, is a feeling. Feelings are not things you can talk someone into or out of. Trying to persuade someone to feel a certain way about you or to persuade someone that you know how they feel about you better than they do is wrong and abusive. I can see why it’s tempting (like, I am gorgeous and awesome so why wouldn’t people be attracted to me?… because they are individuals with their own separate independent thoughts and feelings that’s why) but please never do this. And if anyone ever tries to do it to you and you notice it, please run. Either they are a bit clueless and going to learn the hard way that you can’t make people feel things they don’t feel or they don’t have your interests at heart. Please don’t wait around trying to work out whether they’re clueless or harmful – you don’t owe them a second of your time either way.
If you’re inclined to believe that feelings are things that people can be argued into and out of, please read these three links on Geek Social Fallacies for more information on difficult situations this mistaken idea can cause and ways out of them.

8. Being single and/or not having partnered sex for some time won’t hurt you
There is nothing wrong with being single, even if you’d prefer not to be. It doesn’t really say anything about you as a person or reflect on you. If your friends are taking the piss about you being single, tell them to knock it off and even get new friends if they don’t. The world doesn’t owe you a partner and no particular person owes it to you to become (or indeed, remain) your partner. Being someone’s partner is a wonderful experience to share with someone – doing so out of a sense of obligation is awful for all involved.
Being a virgin or having been without partnered sex for any length of time is not a bad thing. It doesn’t mean you’re not attractive or that no one will ever want to have sex with you – all it means is that the people you’ve asked have said no and you’ve said no to any people who’ve asked you. If you haven’t *asked* anyone if they’d like to have sex with you, that is probably part of the reason it isn’t happening. Remember that everyone (including any women!) who you ask could say “No” and you have to respect that and not argue. You’re going to hear a lot of “no”s. We all do. Remember that “No” isn’t an indication of how attractive or manly or awesome or whatever *you* are, it’s about the other persons feelings, desires and choices not lining up with yours right now.

9. Women are not all the same. Neither are men.

We’ve all heard sentences that start with “Women like…” “Women don’t like…” “Women want…” but beyond “respectful, equal treatment as a human being with her own interests capable of making her own choices” there is *absolutely nothing* that all women want. There’s a lot of people very invested in getting you to believe that women want things like flowers and teddy bears and diamond engagement rings.. and some women do want those things! And some women don’t want those things and they aren’t being a woman “incorrectly”. There are as many different ways of being a woman as there are women. So, if you’re a friend, boyfriend, husband, son, brother or colleague of a woman, you’ve got to learn to recognise that she is not just “a woman” she is one particular woman with her own likes, dislikes, goals and desires that may or may not be similar to those of other women you meet. How will you find out what she likes, dislikes, wants etc? The only way is to ask her. Ask her and take her words at face value even (especially) if they aren’t what you expected or wanted to hear. This applies equally to other men – don’t assume, ask and then accept and respect the answer.

10. Set an example to other men and teach any boys you know

Whether these lessons are new to you or just a refresher of stuff you already know, just knowing this stuff isn’t enough. You have to practise it in real life, treat every woman (and man, and nonbinary person and child) you come across as a unique person with goals capable of making her own choices. You have to ask people for things you want and be able to hear and accept “No” as the answer. You have to ask the people you know what they want and like and accept their answers even if they go against gendered norms. If other men try to tell you that women owe you “a chance”, tell them why no woman owes any man any such thing. If they try to tell you “tricks” to “making” women like you or insist that “women don’t know what they want”, tell them they are wrong. It may not be their fault if they were never taught this but all men (and people of other genders but primarily men) need to learn how to treat everyone with respect and dignity. Teach your sons and nephews and cousins and godsons and students that girls are not strange alien creatures totally different from boys, but just as much people as they are. Teach them to ask for things and to accept and respect “No”. Teach them now so they can teach the next generation of boys when they are men.

We didn’t ask to be born men in a patriarchy. We didn’t ask to become so alienated from women as to need reminding that they too, are people. We can change things now so the men of the future will never so much as question the humanity and equality of women.

The world can be freed from patriarchy, piece by piece and you and I and every man and boy we know can help by learning to treat women as our equals from today.