Transwomen vs. Transmen: Who has it harder?

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.

8 Replies to “Transwomen vs. Transmen: Who has it harder?”

  1. Sorry to bother you, but could you tell me where you found the statistics about Buenos Aires? That’s where I live, so I’m interested in any research about trans people over here. Thanks!

  2. Well, in every area you’ve just compared, either trans women have it worse or it’s about equal, so I wouldn’t call that a toss-up – it’s pretty clear that trans women have a lot of disadvantages that trans men don’t.

    There are some arenas you didn’t consider, though. For instance, while being accepted as male after hormones is usually pretty easy for guys, they lose their privilege of being gender variant without great consequence. In other words, for femme guys like us we end up having to deal with the same kinds of things that trans women would be dealing with prior to transition (and after, if the majority of society still reads them as male).

    There is also the fact that the female gender-variance privilege actually works against us in being accepted without hormones. This is a huge part of the reason why the RLE is usually skipped for trans men – people are so used to seeing females do masculine things that they often assume that’s what we are, too (unless we have the right set of facial features – some trans men do pass better without treatment than others). In those cases, it’s impossible to live full-time without the help of hormones.

    Then there’s the day-to-day interaction arena, which has less to do with trans-ness than gender. Many trans women find that when people view them correctly as women, men will talk over them, ignore them, and otherwise treat them like their opinions are second-rate compared to male opinions. (This cannot be put down to female paranoia – they have also seen the world from a male perspective, so they’re in a good position to gauge the difference.) On the flip side, I have found that when I am viewed as male (currently only on the Internet), thanks to the bad behavior of my cis male predecessors, I am seen as more threatening and more forceful, and on one forum my complaints and feelings are considered less valid because I “obviously” have a load of shiny, new male privilege that I’m not owning up to.

    And quite frankly, unless your parents are really flexible (like yours), growing up as a female-bodied guy can really suck. I was “lucky” enough to get fundamentalist Christian parents, who spent my entire life telling me about all the things I couldn’t do because I had my very own vagina. I also had the very common experience of being told that I had no reason to complain about gender inequality because feminism happened and now I could do everything that a man could do (and furthermore, because of that, I had no reason not to LOVE LOVE LOVE being a WUH-MAAAAAN). Being a trans man, I was perfectly well-equipped to see that was baloney. Women do not typically propose marriage to their boyfriends, get married in pants, get treated as though they are serious opponents (“I’ll never hit a girl!”), wear particularly short hair (unless they are lesbians) or open doors for other people. Now, I do have a mom who is very accepting about gender variance, and she never had a problem with me playing with boys’ toys, wearing boys’ clothes, etc. – in fact she tried to get me to start playing with trucks – but she still made sure I wore dresses to social gatherings, grew out my hair, and avoided whatever behaviors weren’t “ladylike.” Trans women are encouraged to be masculine, which can be traumatic enough, but at least the idea is that they are getting the best deal possible. My own parents’ attempt to convince me of that consisted of frequent denial of blatant sexual inequality both in their personal circle and the rest of the world (which I was able to notice quite handily without any feminist training because… well, when you really want to be a guy, you tend to notice what you’re missing out on).

    And then there’s the period. No comparison should be without that nightmare, which is so bad that even most women don’t want to deal with it. Hello, gut-wrenching cramps and PMS and a cheerful message from your body saying “Hi! Still a woman down here, yes sirree!”

  3. As a trans woman partway through transition, I’d like to say what a fantastically balanced article this is. It’s interesting to read the trials and tribulations of the ‘other side’ of things.

    As a child it was ok for me to say i wanted to be a girl, well up until I was about 4 after that it became less ‘cute’ and I got berated more and more, and the trouble I go in (repeatedly) for borrowing my mums clothes. I was told there’s somethign wrong with men who dress as women, they’re sick. Luckily now, my family are very supportive, not sure how I’d cope if they weren’t.

    As you said, there doesn’t seem to be a stereotype developed around transmen, for us girls, there’s plenty of negative imagery. from drag acts to even documentaries on TS women featuring the worst we have to offer, I really don’t want to be represented by that. I’m lucky enough to be able to pass without any real issues, hormones are helping greatly there, softening facial features etc.

    Hair removal sucks though you guys are so lucky on that front.

    Work is an issue that still scares me though. being a girl with short hair is quite acceptable, I get grief for having long hair though not as much as when I had hi-lights done.

    As for the op, I think us girls have it slightly better from what I’ve heard. Hopefully in time the tech will catch up for you too.

  4. As a person of the male sex, who identifies gender wise as androgynous, I thought you should consider one advantage that transwomen and many other variants off of men get. Because of the hierarchy of gender and male privilege, when someone like me comes out it is often seen as giving up privilege and because of that I had the highest level of support from self-proclaimed feminists, as I am in a sense am willing giving up the benefits of manhood and in a sense affirming that femininity is something to desire and to emulate (although I am very masculine as well). I also find more support in the queer community (although the homosexual does attract some transphobic people), and my friends who are actually transwomen have all had similar experiences. Yet whenever one talks about transmen, some “feminists” and “queers” see it as an assault on femininity. People who I would never hear saying such things to transwomen might often say to transmen “WHat is masculine/feminine? Why do you need to change.” It seems the people are more careful around ftm people because it is seem as “trying to fit into the heterosexual/chauvinistic framework.” This is a bullshit opinion and most allies do not have it, but I feel an ally is more like to be critical of transmen which is unfortunate.

  5. “Transmen 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.”

    It doesn’t get any easier for transwomen as they get older. I have a lot of transwomen friends. The discrimination still happens in places where sticking to the dress code is required.

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