Trigger warning: aspects of this post are political in nature, feminist, and potentially construed as either misandrist or misogynist. The issues are complex, and if I offend or get it wrong, then I would love to hear how and why.
I have made a new friend. I don’t know if they are male or she is female, or whether they are both present and they are they. The introduction was made by my favourite therapist, thinking that we would like each other, perhaps become friends. Assigned male at birth, definitively trans, these questions have not yet been answered by them…and so s/he finds themself living between male and female, a kind of modern-day Orlando.
It took some doing, some false starts, and then we met on the streets of New York City. The day we met, he was he, a very gorgeous man. I mean gorgeous. There are not so many people who can effortlessly do gorgeous as either sex. They is one of them. And I was surprised that I felt calm in their presence. I usually don’t like being around men, sometimes even men that I have known for a while, as gender expression seems to bring out issues of male sexuality for the people I am with.
The fear I expressed to my favourite therapist about meeting this person was that they were “gay”. As in, liking men. Wanting to be female for a man or being a man with a man. I didn’t know.
Her response? “Tell them. Tell them it makes you feel uncomfortable.” So, after riding around a bit in his car, and then getting out and going for a walk, we were soon chatting at a picnic table in one of NYC’s parks on a glorious spring day.
“I don’t like men,” I said, “and I was afraid of meeting you that you present as gay.”
“I’m not gay,” they said as easy as the breeze, “I’m not a man,” they replied, looking every inch a man. Unshaven, rugged, but also beautiful. “When I am with a man, it is not as a man. I do not live my life as a man. Whether I am expressing my feminine side or my masculine side, I am always still neither. I do not see myself as gay. I am not into gay. Instead, my energy matches the energy of my partner…if I am with a man, then I am a woman. If I am with a woman, then my male side is expressed.”
I found this reassuring, as I don’t really like the idea of a man being attracted to me. It used to happen a lot more than it does now. Many gay men like twinks. I am too big to be a proper twink, but I am definitely in that direction energetically, submissive, skinny, clearly not butch. But once I came out as trans, the few men who had malfunctioning gaydar trained on me kind of dried up. Gay men do not seem to like trans women.
There was a moment I felt real tenderness towards them. I say “he” because that is how he was presenting in that moment. He turned to me and said, “I am afraid of the vagina.” And I just felt myself go all gooey inside, ‘oh baby,’ I wanted to say. It was really vulnerable and appealing to me. “The mystery of the vagina, the fear it represents, what you describe, is a big part of why I want one,” I answered. I think that he/she/they is a transwoman, still figuring out where they are on their journey, and I know that many trans women and trans non-binary, and trans men, never take the surgical step, and I respect that, and I definitely don’t believe that we should be defined as humans by our genitals.
There is no doubt, however, that having a vagina makes us more vulnerable than having a penis. Physically, health-wise, even socially. Does that vulnerability extend to rights? You bet it does. All of society has a duty of protection to all forms of vulnerability in society. That we systemically fail to do this for over half the population is outrageous. It is this added vulnerability, and the shedding of privilege that goes with coming out, that makes my journey encompass an eventual future sex change operation.
But now, I have a male colleague hitting on me. Asking me for a date. He knows exactly where I am in my transition, and while he has never explicitly stated he is gay (or straight), I know he looks at me significantly. And I am uncomfortable with that from every angle…I don’t want to be seen as male and wanted as a man by either a man or a woman. I don’t want to be seen as “safe” female by a man who is afraid of a real woman. I don’t want to be someone’s walk on the wild side.
I can understand why so many trans women end up with trans women. And you know what? It does just seem easy.
Thus far, the people I am finding I am most comfortable around are sex workers. My closest female friends don’t like that. They don’t want me to see sex workers, and are trying to convince me that I shouldn’t be doing it. But if I am not having enough sex with vanilla people, then why not. Their response? “It sets an impossible standard.”
This is not them being fearful for me and my ability to find love, but rather the fear that they have in their personal lives.
Separately, the number of women who have lamented to me of late, and this seems to come up a lot in relation to conversations about my divorce, is that women over 40 are really afraid and vulnerable. They also seem to express resentment that they have fewer options than men over 40. I was in conversation with some very close friends, a couple, and we pulled up a chart that shows peak attractiveness for women is 5-7 years younger than for a man.
I have read elsewhere that a man in his early to mid-fifties is considered the hottest age by so many women. Why? Because a man in his fifties is not afraid to be vulnerable, has gotten rid of his silly baggage, is not a baby or a child anymore, is financially stable and at peak earning power…in other words, is as my friend said, “a safe partner to raise babies with.” And I am thinking that male fertility, though diminished, has this biological clock which runs longer for a reason.
Am I straying into uncomfortable territory?
What most of these arguments fail to discuss, and this is a line which has been made by women in my life that fall into this demographic, is that female attractiveness, not just male attractiveness, draws on all of the same features: financial solvency, success, mental health and stability, physical health and stability, sense of humour. Amiwrong?
Certainly as I think in an abstract sense of what I want in a partner, it is certainly not a woman who is going to be financially dependent on me, and this is no matter how beautiful she is. A woman who cannot say “fxxk you” and walk is not a woman who is strong enough to be with. One of my dear friends, an incredibly successful career woman, described a period in her life when she had just given birth to her third child, and was speaking with her mother about staying at home, raising the kids, being a housewife.
Her mother said, “are you nuts? Never give up your independence.” Today, divorce law levels the playing field for many, in many countries, so that both parties get half of all marital assets. But that does not speak to the fear that someone who has likely given up their independence is likely to feel. Often the female partner.
I thought about this a lot as one of my friends who lives a very comfortable, if not wealthy life, lamented about this huge disadvantage women face, and how much harder it is for a woman to attract a partner at our age than for a man. I wasn’t comfortable with this. She is beautiful. But she is living off of alimony. She made choices in her relationship with her former husband that meant that she had no career. In fact, she never had a career.
Some women lament that men don’t like successful women, are afraid of strength in women. That simply means the man is weak. But what of the woman who never chooses to have her independence? She was dependent from the outset. It is a massive discount to her attractiveness.
She was annoyed with me because I am dating actively, and not using apps to do it. I just meet people. She has been trawling the apps and going on horrific dates for years to find the needle in a haystack, but it is all part of the equation. You cannot lament without considering all dimensions of attractiveness.
My career-woman friend referred to above listened to her mother, started a company, and now has 500 people working for her. That may be extreme success, but she also has a lovely man in her life, who doesn’t have the macho bs baggage that her former husband had, and he is a faithful and stalwart partner. Her income dwarfs his, but he is professional successful, has his own source of confidence.
As a man did I ask to be forced onto the career treadmill and pushed out of my children’s lives by my wife’s insatiable need to carve a role for herself, to find meaning in her life, by being the mother to our children to the point of making it hard for me to be there? No? Is some of that biological? Almost certainly.
But we started a business that could be conducted from home and that we were both able to participate in and contribute to, and that worked for a good long while, until it didn’t anymore, mainly because she didn’t do the work in the business that needed doing, and our roles over time gradually migrated to her being a housewife and me being the breadwinner.
As a transwoman, that was not great for me, as it suffocated me. Eventually it forced me back into the workforce, as our business, though successful, was not successful enough to sustain the lifestyle that we both wanted. That’s not what I married. People change.
But as I cast about and meet women and allow my naturally monogamous desire take root, I find that it is those women who are strong and independent, who have drive and a desire to stay independent that are most attractive. A woman who is living on alimony is a danger sign for me. Not because she is a predator, a “gold-digger” [how awful], but because it is a sign that she was willing to sacrifice her independence, and that for me is the fatal sign of a weak woman.
[I apologise for how outrageous this sounds and do invite a roasting.]
Please ride with this for a moment longer. The implication of a world built on these precepts is a scary one for women (and loser men), because it means that the woman has to be the kind of woman described in the Enjoli perfume commercials from ages ago, where the beautiful woman in a business suit sings, “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never, ever let you forget your romance, because I’m a woman, Enjoli.” Is that setting an impossible standard or what?
Women already get the short end of the stick. We live in a patriarchy. Wage inequality is real. Men really are threatened by strong women, by professional success. Even enlightened feminist women undermine themselves or bat for the patriarchy at times. So now am I saying that she has to be all these things? I guess I am. But isn’t this what we ask of men? Perhaps the lament of women in this mix is different than the lament of men, she might say “he doesn’t pay enough attention to me,” or is patronizing or belittling, or some variation on the theme. But doesn’t dependency create that dynamic?
Is a woman who is dependent on her husband not automatically subject herself to being “little girled”? Is not how we sexualise women, their clothes, the entire aesthetic of sexy attire, baby-dolls, infantile clothing designs, just reinforcing all of this already?
To call any of this biological is not okay? Even if there are aspects of our nature which are more nurturing or more entrepreneurial. No, it is not okay. Equity can be founded on many things, and any relationship that is without a near match in equity is doomed to fail.
Is a man who submits to a woman reducing his level to hers, based on his perception of lower power? Is he apologizing to her for being a man in a society which makes everything more difficult for women? I know some people think it is the former and others the latter. I was firmly in the latter camp. Are there other reasons?
This all means several different things to me. No matter how you slice it, it is harder to be a woman than it is to be a man. Period. When you spell it out like this, even more so.
Many women resent feminism, resent trans women, resent challenges to the patriarchy, resent challenges to clearly defined sex roles, because there is tremendous comfort in a model wherein they are cared for. Who wouldn’t want that? But there are risks. Taking this passive role is reducing her equity massively. Maybe she is lucky and she has a “good man” who will never stray, a man who loves that she is a housewife, a submissive, that cares for him. The arrival of children is the greatest trigger for this disequilibrium, and why so many women today are choosing another path. But how many childless women, especially those who cannot v. those who choose not, feel “useless” as women because they do not fulfil their reproductive function? What a horrible feeling.
And for me to say that being dependent on her partner is a recipe for trouble, gosh, it makes it worse. But it is true. It is not an excuse, but so many men stray. I don’t think they stray because they think some young thing is “hot”, but rather they stray because they lose respect for their spouse. I mean, everyone finds hunks and hotties hunky and hot. Regardless of who we are. But we don’t act on it. To act on it, we have to have lost respect. And no, I am not speaking from experience. Just speculating.
All of the sex workers I have known personally, whether they are clients or friends, all women, are more financially successful than their partners. Is this because a successful man wouldn’t want to be with a successful wife/woman/partner who was a sex worker? Why should it be the case that this is so? Is it true? If there are any readers out there with direct experience of this, I would love to hear your thoughts…But I do suspect it relates to equity and to the differing standards we are held to and hold each other to.
I could easily see myself with a sex worker as a partner who is financially more successful than me. The “threat” imposed by her financial independence, her skillset and intimacy with others, and her obvious charms are just the kinds of things that reinforce all that is the best in me in relation to being with an S.O. Why? [And this is not submissive me talking…not one bit. What I find attractive in a woman is strength, independence, and freedom. Submission has nothing to do with it—if anything, it is a distraction].
Because it is when we can take nothing for granted, that every day we need to earn our place in our partner’s heart, that is when a relationship thrives. That every day you are reminded how blessed you are, what a treat it is to be with her. That is what gets you up first to make coffee for her. That is what makes you wait patiently for her whilst she gets herself ready. That is what it feels like to be bathed in joy when she smiles at you, because it really means something. And to want to work for that, to cultivate it, and to know that love is earned, and must be fed and nurtured and earned again and again every minute of every day, well that is the hallmark of a long-lasting love.
And when you play the game of dependency, you lose options. So, yes, when I celebrate women, I think that everything about being a woman is more difficult than it is for a man. That is why I love to be around women, because hardship builds character and strength, hardship overcome breeds admiration. That is another reason why I love being trans, because everything is harder. Everything.
I did life as a man. It was easy. Kind of like a video game, now it is time to step up to the next level. It isn’t about making things harder for ourselves. But it is about mastery. Self-mastery. Life and society asks this of women from a very young age. So many men ignore the ask in themselves and are content to remain boys forever. Some become men. Some women do the same.
But we cannot lament how others have it easier than we do…particularly in the world of attraction. We all have our own challenges, but if you spend years coasting, you won’t be developing, and if your partner is developing, then sooner or later you may wake up and find your partner gone, and because you have been coasting, you might find that you cannot readily replace your partner with one of equal or better stature. That’s life, but it is also our choice, it always has been.
Be the life you want.