The Secret Lives of Boys

Reading a novel I just finished*, it occurred to me that, as a trans woman, I (we) have a unique perspective. While I sometimes regret not having had a proper girlhood, and I didn’t really have a proper boyhood, because I was never more than pretending to be a boy, as an outsider, I had an intimate glimpse into the secret life of boys that few women are afforded. Most of the time, I just feel like a survivor, but I enjoyed my strange childhood (bullying, teasing, and my internal dysphoria notwithstanding), albeit not nearly as much as I do my queerhood. As I reflect on my transition from being a perceived-male leader to a woman leader in the workplace, and I continue to learn to understand (& frequently still wonder at) my male peers (although I’ve had more female than male bosses, and even my favorite engineering supervisor was a woman … I’m not so unsocialized as a woman), I actually think it’s quite a gift to have had this.

I’m a feminist, and I really believe I try to be a truly radical one, but the part of me that doesn’t wish I were an upper middle class British daughter in Jane Austen’s day makes me wish I were a 50s housewife**. I’ve adjusted pretty readily to my current life, where I’m the breadwinner, and am entirely likely to make far more than my girlfriend, for the foreseeable future, even if she is the man of the house***. She has taken on some of the yardwork, but I also do the vscuuming and the laundry and the cooking and the majority of the dishes, so I’m kind of the housewife also. And damn me, but I like it, and I even kind of like it when my partner feels me up while I’m cooking instead of helping. It’s fulfilling****.

I also could’ve been the other Boleyn girl, but that ended a bit badly….

But, I did spend my childhood riding bicycles around the neighborhood, pushing how far we were allowed to explore from the house. We put playing cards in the spokes to make motorcycle sounds and our moms got mad when the deck was missing the jack of clubs and the two of hearts. We explored the undeveloped land at the end of my street, which was maybe two acres, but felt like an empty national park, and we played king of the mountain. I sucked at this. Once, we went to the corner ice cream store. I didn’t wear shoes, and my friend Paul didn’t wear a shirt. The sign said, no shirt, no shoes, no service, and I think they wouldn’t have turned away two six year olds, but I lent Paul my shirt because his shoes didn’t fit me. My mommy was mad that time also – Paul’s mom wouldn’t give him money, so I shared mine, against her wishes. We also once ate cat food that came in a sample package in the mail, because the box said it was for ages six and under (now this should go in a footnote where I can minimize embarrassment). I had boy adventures. I got to come up in the treehouse where the (other) girls weren’t allowed. I got to shoot a hunting rifle when we went to see somebody’s hick cousin outside town (I’m Indian … I have lots of cousins and none of them have guns). Sure, there were girls in our little gangs, most of my childhood. There was one in my earliest group of friends (she was a jerk though, and mostly friends with Paul … maybe she viewed me as competition! Probably they’re married now…), and later I occasionally managed to score a separate clique of girl friends, who included me on girl imaginative play that delightfully involved less killing things. But I was also included, especially in those young years before puberty, in pretty much the full boy experience, and they weren’t.

In fairness, there were also eras (most of adolescence) when I also really was excluded from the world of the young men, and I can tell you that sharing the boys’ locker room during puberty was terrible, and where the bruises from the kids punching me for fun, were incurred. Boys making fun of my nipples was pretty terrible (they’ve, erm, grown on estrogen, but they looked more like girls’ nipples even then, just like I’ve always had hips, at least since adolescence).

To some extent, this inclusion in the boys club did pick up again after puberty. By eleventh grade, the teasing had largely ended. I had a clique again of intimate friends, still mostly boys with a few girls, and I started being included in some guy stuff again. I really loved and valued my friendship with my freshmen college roommate, and my two best friends still, whom I met at orientation, although I increasingly seemed like an awkward fit into the boys’ hall in the dorm (my roommate and I were both odd fits in our hall full of Long Islanders).

After college, there was a summer when we would hang out at my friends Calvin and Chris’s place, and play tennis or swim until it got dark, and then Wei would cook steaks shirtless (this looks like the same story you’re imagining where all the people are white, except with less body hair). I was already shifting to spending more and more of my time becoming platonic friends with women (other women, but I wasn’t ready for that clarification quite yet … this was a gradual progression, and as I’ve learned to navigate not getting crushes on them, because I don’t really feel attracted to feminine women, they make way more sense for me as close friends than men, outside of the handful with whom I share decades and who will own my heart until the day I die). And so, yet again, this inclusion faded over time.

Nobody has invited me to a poker party in a long time, and the only Super Bowl party invitation I can think of in years came from one of my female best friends, Lisa. We went out to a restaurant my friend manages. There were root chips in ridiculous quantity. I had a mixed drink and later got food poisoning. Anyways. The truth is I’ve been an outsider to the private lives of men for years, and even any male privilege I retain now is largely eroded by the well known facts that I love pink, watch romantic comedies way too often and cry all the time (also when telling stories about our autism kids), and like brunch way more than yard work. And trunk sales way more than power tools. Way, way more.

These are still way better for making bicycles make cool motorcycle noises, although my friend Wei is now apparently a coolly competent card sharp at the poker table

As for the boys, I retain their sense of adventure, and although it’s shaded with body image issues and shame and guilt that any other woman who survived anorexia knows well, most of the time, I share their sense of agency. Like them, I still thrill when I can use my talents and when I solve problems. Like them, I enjoy it sometimes when life is quick, when it is unpredictable, just as I enjoy (sometimes) running to the next terminal at the airport 10 minutes before boarding, to get Starbucks, and weaving through the slow moving passengers a I dash back to get “in before the lock.” (Okay, I did this right before the flight on which I wrote this post, and, uncharacteristically for me, I did not get a peppermint mocha, nor did I get a birthday cake pop.) And I also have some of their battle hardening, from the time I had to rescue an engineering project that had lost more than three years of its four year development cycle, and get it out the door, essentially flawlessly, in all of eight months. The battle scars from coming into my Center, driving out the people who were killing it like Jesus in the moneychanger section of the Temple or a World War I soldier invading an enemy foxhole. Sometimes I feel like it killed the little girl inside, a bit, but I also am proud of my survival (and overcoming anorexia is a pretty good girl template of overcoming … hardly any guy is strong like a girl who survived that!).

Thus, in ways, I’ve been working on the problem of how to be a professional woman, just like any other woman, long before I transitioned. But some of this won’t really come into fruition until I’m full time, in the next couple months*****. A lot of the leaders around me are women, in this environment, but a lot are men. It is kind of useful to have grown up with their kind, at a level of intimacy girls don’t have. Maybe I’ll make a good double agent for other career women. Like most of my female leader peers, I think our femininity adds to, not subtracts from, the workplace. I think mine already has, because I’ve always been feminine, and when the last vestiges of pretending are gone, it will, even more so.

But I don’t dream some Amazonian vision of the future where men are obsolete. I think they bring a lot to the workplace, too. I wonder at them. I admire their strength, physical and emotional, although I think we push our boys too hard, to be too strong, too hard, and too soon. Nonetheless, I like their strong arms****** and their strong hearts. I don’t think that women are better than men, and certainly I don’t think men are better than women. I think we’re just different. I don’t think that every child needs a mom and a dad (two moms or two dads is great, and one of either suffices for many in a pinch), and I dont think that because it was Adam and Eve, that Adam and Steve can’t look equally cute together. I do think women and men complement each other, and that masculinity and femininity complement each other, on a broader scale (and in my, ahem, private life… I love being in love with a butch). We are better with both, albeit letting both develop naturally, and not policing our boys into masculinity or our girls into femininity.

And thus, I’m thankful that I got to be a girl in deep cover*******, and I think it adds to my womanhood rather than subtracting from it. My therapist thinks I carry way more male privilege than I do, and warns me about how I’ll withstand loosing it. I wish she would listen better and talk less, but my undercover girlhood amongst the boys, paired with my increasing comfort in and confidence with my feminity, will help me navigate my womanhood with grace and courage. And I shall wear my scars, both scars of bicycle crashes and scars of the heart, proudly. They are badges of honor, and even when I conceal them with makeup, they make me more beautiful.

* Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon, our at-the-time-of-writing current book club book…it’s excellent, I really enjoyed it. And I didn’t pick it, so don’t start with me!

** Just for those of you who don’t know me well, the vast majority of me is too busy being in love with this moment and and this life to spend too much time thinking how good I’d look with alabaster skin and a corseted dress or my hair in pins and a tweed skirt and cape. Although I do have a tweed skirt and hairpins….

*** Not to be insensitive to my girlfriend or to overdo the idea of the butch-femme relationship mirroring the heterosexual relationship, or to give too much ammunition to the fellas who want to know “who’s the guy,” but this is pretty much the way it is… I’ve even caught my girlfriend mansplaining things to me, like how I should manage the $2M budget of the clinic I build from ashes with my bare hands (and my team, whom I love, it really was NOT all me… After we got rid of all the people who were snakes in our midst, the people we have left are my true family, and it would break my heart to leave them).

**** The tail end of second wave feminism and the very beginnings of the “land grab” era did at least lead to things like questioning the feminism in belittling a woman for liking to keep house.

***** It’s so close. I ordered girl business cards. I have a skirt suit. And a transition plan for work. I probably can submit my paperwork to change my name in about a month. And I just can’t wait.

****** As long as they’re not ridiculous. All the ladies know exactly what I’m talking about.

******* I borrow this – Jill Davidson, a fellow trans woman psychologist, called her memoir Undercover Girl. I like Connected Queer still, but I have to admit she aced it with that title.

8 thoughts on “The Secret Lives of Boys

  1. This sums up my past in so many ways;
    “I stood among them, but not of them; in a shroud of thoughts which were not their thoughts” Lord Byron
    I have crossed the divide now and I can happily say that it does not apply to my current life.

    • Standing in the doorway between worlds is sometimes painful and sometimes pretty wonderful… I’m never really sure which. There was a time when I wished I were cisgendered. The truth is I wouldn’t even recognize me if I had been an actual boy. Likewise, I’d like to have had a girlhood, but there’s some unique charm to this strange path to womanhood. 🙂

  2. Julia Serano also talks about being a double agent in The Whipping Girl.

    And I guess my only question is, why not the other way? Why is the narrative that transwomen can explain the secret life of men to other women, but not that transwomen can explain the secret life of women to men? Or that transmen can explain the secret life of women to other men? Or that transmen can explain the secret life of men to women?

    I guess the fact that the narrative only includes transwomen having secret knowledge of how men work that they share with other women just… rubs me the wrong way. Like it assumes that, as a transwoman, you still have male privilege and “think like a man” and a bunch of other misogynistic bullshit.

    If I’m being offensive, I’m sorry, I truly don’t mean to be. The question bothers me, and I feel you are the person who could explain it in a way that makes sense.

    • Those are really great points. To me, I feel like I’ve been acting as a gateway to help men understand women, for a long, long time. I’m pretty readily accepted as having feminist views, and that’s been a known about me for years and years before I began coming out. With the people I lead, I do point out things that seem like they make the environment less comfortable or accepting for my female staff members. My team is 90% female, but it’s quite something that issues that make the environment less comfortable for women happen at least as often as those that make it less comfortable for men, although I think overall it’s a better place to work as a woman right now than as a man, inside my Center, that is. It is something I think a lot about, because I want diversity on my team, for instance, and having very few male staff to me is a diversity issue. So the first point I think is that we do this – at least, I do. And I have been for a long time.

      I have another answer, which is a little scarier, to me, and wrapped up in our experience coming out in a not always fully ready environment. That is, I think for binary transsexuals, we spend a LOT of time during transition trying to demonstrate that we get being men or women, out of fear that someone will look at us and say, “No, you… I could see someone else, but you’re a dude.” Let’s be clear no one has ever had a conversation like this with me. But I think I’m still afraid it’s what everyone is thinking? And so I spend a ton of time probably, demonstrating that I can show the secret life of women, because I’m afraid I won’t be believed.

      • Okay; I’m glad that you do it. It still bothers me that it’s not the prevailing narrative, but that’s not your issue to fix, it’s your issue to do what you can to make sure that you create a welcoming environment for all, and I have no doubt that you do it.

        I’m still in internet love with you, sweetheart. And I’m not surprised that no one has ever had the conversation about you actually being a dude with you– all the little things that make up a perceived gender are very evidently feminine, about you (except, I’m assuming, your biology, but then… that is changing, so). The point is, I’m glad you recognize that it ought to go both ways 🙂

      • Awww, no, don’t think you’re getting out of our mutual internet crush that easily!

        I was thinking much more of responding back to the trope of the “woe is me” narrative, you know, that we’re just survivors of being trapped in these bodies and under these hormones that don’t fit us and hat our lives were pure misery until we transitioned. It’s not that simple for me. But I think you’re absolutely right – the doorway you have the privilege of standing in is gives you a distance from both of the two worlds that cis women and men occupy and only know – we see and understand both men and women in a way that cisgender people would struggle to, because they – many of them – grew up with their every experience deep within the binary, whereas even for binary trans people like me, I never had a proper relation with the binary until after transition.

        I also think that’s why everyone finds transmasculine people so damn sexy. 🙂

  3. Pingback: On Reconciling The Binary with Fighting The Patriarchy | Mira Charlotte Krishnan

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s