People Are Nicer When You’re Gender-Conforming

Over at Alas, A Blog, Ampersand raises the topic of being better-liked after weight loss:

When I think about losing weight – and like nearly all fat people, my mind sometimes strays there even though I’m against trying to lose weight myself – this thought always bothers me. I’ve read enough studies – and seen enough life – to be convinced that I would probably be better liked, and treated better – not by my close friends, but by acquaintances and strangers and business associates – if I lost a lot of weight.

But I think that would in turn make me paranoid. How could I make new friends, for instance, if at the back of my head I’m wondering if they’ll drop me if I regain the weight (as most weight losers do)? Would I take every instance of nice treatment as an opportunity to think “if you saw me two years ago, you wouldn’t be being this nice?”

This is a depressing reality, and as a thin person, I’ve never had to deal with it. It did get me thinking, though, about the ways transition has simultaneously improved and imploded my social life. People are just so much nicer to me now that I fit neatly into the male box. Cashiers and waiters meet my eyes; guys slap my back and call me brother; children don’t gawk at me in the street.

It was damn stressful being visibly gender-nonconforming. Every new interaction was laced with anxiety. People disrespected me in subtle ways every day. But more than that, people just kept their distance. A subtle chill seemed to follow me everywhere. People kept their eyes and bodies averted, stood a few feet away from me. Some may have been disgusted; most, I think, were just confused, overwhelmed with the awkwardness of meeting a person who might be a “he” or might be a “she.” Maybe they were even trying not to stare to be polite. It felt like shit, though.

Now, I’m some kind of golden boy of the system, and people are nice wherever I go. Women flirt with me, men get buddy-buddy fast. From bus rides to job interviews to bars, people seems easy around me. The few people who are rude or cold are probably treating everybody that way. A slew of single-syllable terms of familiarity, all of them gendered, follow me around the city, little olive branches extended everywhere I go. Bro, dude, man, bud, kid, sir.

I really enjoy the warmth and ease that have emerged in the last few years. It’s nice to have friendly chats with strangers, to be on a first-name basis with everyone in my classes.

But I take it all in with a more than a bit of suspicion. How conditional is this kindness? Will it drop if they find out I’m trans? In my limited experience of coming out, no–apparently, you’re good once you get through the door. More insidiously, then, the nagging suspicion that these nice-seeming people would’ve been completely different if we met when I still looked like a butch/he-she/dyke/freak (to use some frank terms).

Since transition, I’ve gained dozens of friendly acquaintances, but no close friends. The kindness is cruel; my general social trust has disintegrated. How can I open up to people now that I see just how two-faced they really are? It’s part outrage, part fear, part disgust, part loyalty to my past self, part internalized transphobia. I enjoy the superficial niceness for what it’s worth, but I am extremely hesitant to get close to anyone. How can I accept such gifts, now I see on what basis they’re given?

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4 comments

  1. Lesboi

    This is interesting. I have no doubt that society treats thin people better than over-weight ones or that gender conforming people are treated better than gender non-conforming people. It reminds me of something that happened to me a while back while taking my trash to the community dump (yes, I dump my own trash) which is probably the most manly place on the planet. A random man came up and started a conversation with me about my dog and asked my opinions on several he was considering getting. Once he was done he shook my hand and smiled at me. I thought, “huh, that was strange.” But then it occurred to me that he thought I was a fellow male there emptying my recycling bins. I got a little taste of what you’re speaking of here. And I did wonder if he would’ve been so friendly if he thought I was a woman. I think I would enjoy more interactions like this one but, like you, I’d probably wonder how they’d be if they knew my past. Personally, I think deep, lasting friendships are hard to come by and if you end up with a couple of them in your life you’re doing pretty well.

    • rimonim

      That’s exactly the type of interaction I mean. The friendliness between men surprised me at first. It certainly makes things more pleasant! You’re right about deep friendships–I’m quite lucky to have those that I do.

  2. genderneutral

    This has me thinking. Have I just lived in open-minded places all my adult life and therefore not been impacted or do I have blinders on to others negativity towards me. It is likely a combo of the two, and to be completely honest, I am really good at blinders and living in a personally constructed reality that is all good. Like Lesboi I have been recently having more encounters with others who see me as male and treat me so much better than when I was a gender non-conforming female. More easy, more flowing and open somehow. Interactions I left feeling seen, respected, and revitalized. I long for the day tho when we gender benders can feel the same as gender normative folks in all our interactions with the world. Where it really just doesn’t matter. And yet human nature is complicated and those with biases don’t need a lot of reason to maintain their biases, be it color of skin, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, socio-economic status etc.. Opening my eyes more to the reality of the world around me saddens me. And it is essential for progress.

    • rimonim

      My guess is that blinders play a role–I’ve lived my whole life in open-minded areas known for their acceptance of LGBT people (well, mostly LG, you know how it goes). I didn’t really see how oddly cold people had been towards me until it shifted. I also hope for the day when people will be treated with warmth and respect regardless of weight, gender/gender presentation, socioeconomic status, race, disability, etc.

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