I don’t generally like to compare issues of trans women to those of trans men — or really talk much about trans women at all — because I’m not a trans woman. I don’t know what that’s like and I’m not sure I can talk about it without doing trans women everywhere a vast disservice. However, this is an issue that comes up often enough that I feel I should say something on the matter, even if it’s brief.
There are a few different things to consider when looking at societal support for trans women vs. trans men. First is public knowledge. Is it easier for someone to learn about trans women or trans men? I’d say trans women simply because people realise they exist. Usually they’re referred to in disparaging terms that range from she-male to dude in a dress, but the knowledge is out there. Most trans-related sites cater to trans women unless they have been specifically designed for trans men. When you see a support group for gender variant people there’s a very good chance that it will be made up entirely of people who were born male, whether they’re trans women, crossdressers, or someone in between. In this particular area I’d say trans women win by just the tiniest hair.
On the flip side, there’s public misinformation. Trans men don’t have to deal with much of this simply because most people don’t realise we exist. That’s slowly changing now that we’ve entered the era of Chaz Bono and Thomas Beattie, but for the most part we’re unheard of. Trans women, on the other hand, have to deal with misconceptions ranging from all of them being perverts to a lack of hormones making a post-electro/laser woman grow a beard. While being invisible does have its own problems, I’d say having to deal with all the nonsense people think about trans women is probably more difficult.
What about public perception? This is a bit different from public knowledge and misinformation, it’s more about how people react when they see a trans person walking down the street or — god forbid — using a public restroom. In my experience, it’s a hell of a lot easier to be seen as a butch chick than a dude in a dress. I’ve gotten both at various points in my life and while being seen as a butch woman is a pain in the ass (mostly because I’m neither butch nor woman), being seen as a guy in a dress is just plain unsafe. There has been no other time where I have had to worry about people acting violently towards me simply because I exist. This is another area where trans guys generally have it a bit easier.
Now it’s time to start looking at more private relationships. In terms of coming out to family and friends, it seems to be a mixed bag. I’m the only trans guy I know who got sent to de-queerifying camp (where I actually met the guy who lets me steal his webspace for this blog) and then disowned when it didn’t stick. I’m sure there are others, I simply haven’t met them. I also haven’t met any trans women who’ve had to deal with that so apparently it doesn’t happen very often. I’d say there tends to be a pretty equal response when it comes to telling family and friends. No matter which way you’re transitioning, there’s always going to be an adjustment period.
Workplace issues are another sore spot. I honestly can’t say on this one because when I was working I was in a place that had something like six people transition within three years. It was a ridiculous little trans haven, don’t know how it happened. I’ve heard a few different stories about trans women dealing with some shit, but I’ve also heard stories about everything going off without a hitch. What little data we do have shows that trans women tend to be higher educated, but vastly underemployed while trans men tend to have lower education levels and jobs to match. I’m not sure which of those is worse, to be honest.
Then of course there’s the child rearing aspect. Trans men tend to get less crap growing up because it’s socially acceptable to be a tomboy until around the time puberty hits. Boys and men don’t have that kind of freedom, it is still considered appropriate to tell a boy that he can’t be a ballerina or a fairy princess. Obviously this varies by family, but in general it’s usually easier to be a gender variant little girl/budding trans man than it is to be a gender variant little boy/budding trans woman. This may be why we see so many more trans women doing the overcompensating, emulating stereotypes thing than trans men.
Medically there are differences, particularly when it comes to “how well” a particular treatment works. Trans men are very lucky in that testosterone makes us almost indistinguishable from cis men. While HRT for trans women is certainly effective, they do have to go through more steps before passing than we do. However, there is the genital aspect. Surgical options to create a vagina are pretty damned good these days, to the point where some doctors may not even realise a woman is trans after examining her. The various lower surgery options for trans men are not quite up to that standard. I think this one may be a toss up.
Access to care is another major issue. I know many trans men who started T without ever seeing a therapist, but I’ve yet to meet a trans woman who was able to start HRT without doing so. I know that it’s possible because the clinic where I got my first prescription has a form, I just don’t know anyone who’s done it. Trans women are also more likely to be required to do the one year “real life test” which is almost universally ignored for trans men (at least in the US). For some odd reason doctors seem to be far more willing to allow a female to transition than a male. Possibly it has to do with the same gender beliefs that make life more difficult for effeminate boys than masculine girls, I wouldn’t know. Either way, trans men do seem to have it a little easier in some areas. In other areas it’s near impossible to find a doctor who even realises trans men exist so this ends up being another tie.
When we talk about trans people it is necessary to talk about violence. In this case trans women win the “people hate me” award by a landslide. Partially because it’s more acceptable to be a butch woman, partially because it’s damned near impossible to tell who’s a trans man and who’s not without removing clothing, and partially because people just plain suck. Whatever the reason, trans women are far more likely to be the victims of assault and/or murder than trans men. Trans Day of Remembrance is Friday and as usual I’ve gone through all the lists of victims so I can add them to my giant spreadsheet. Trans women make up approximately four out of five trans-related murders world wide. In NYC and Buenos Aires (who knew?) it’s nine out of ten. It gets slightly more balanced when you include violence overall with there being a 70/30 split leaning towards trans women, but we still get the better deal. Trans women are also more likely to be the victims of random attacks while trans men are almost universally assaulted/killed by people they know (usually sexual partners). We all have to deal with transphobia, but when it comes down to the ability to simply exist, trans men have it easier.
So what does this all say? I couldn’t tell you. It’s virtually impossible to say whether a particular area will be more accommodating of a trans man or trans woman, even if for no other reason than that it depends on who’s in your social and work/school circle. Overall I’d guess that trans women have a slightly harder time of it simply because there’s so much more social stigma against being a “girly man”. Does that mean life is easy for trans men? No, it just means that our struggles are different.