I walk through my day bearded and frumpy looking. I’m that white dude down the street that looks like he stopped trying about 3 years ago, but still has just enough of his shit together to go through the motions. People are on the whole friendly with me. I don’t usually have to make space for myself unless I’m in a space of predominantly white dudes. It is easy for me to move through the world. I’m just below average height: unthreatening to most people, but not quite small enough to be an easy target. I’m just going to smoke my cigarette and quietly long for the embrace of death, it’s an arrangement I’m comfortable with. But here’s the thing, no one ever treats me like I’m frumpy. No one ever looks at a white man and thinks “oh no, he’s really let himself go” unless it’s like an actual loved one and you’re truly concerned for their well being. But oh boy this same sweatpants, unshowered look on a black guy, he’s probably going to be treated much differently: the convenience store clerk suddenly keeps her hand on the alarm when he walks in, neighbors stop him on the street to ask him if he lost. Not me though, I walk around unscathed. But I can’t help that. I can’t force other people to treat me worse because they would treat a black person worse. And that sounds counterproductive to the long term greater good anyway. But I can say I see it. I am capable of understanding how being unimpeded in my day is in fact a privilege. It wasn’t that long ago that privilege was not afforded to me.
It is almost impossible to describe how invasive people are to women’s personal space. As I’ve gotten further and further into “passing” as male, the amount of personal space I’m granted has grown exponentially. Living in the world as a woman has always meant forgoing some amount of control. Don’t makes waves. Be proper. He was just being nice. Why won’t you smile more? Every moment of every day you are on alert because if you aren’t on alert anything that happens next is completely your fault. And now 90% of the year I can pass through my day on effective autopilot, immune to consequence from my lack of awareness. Even for me, it’s hard to imagine the crush that women feel daily and I see it everywhere. I can empathize because I’ve been there, it’s not about being weak, or emotional; it’s the simple fact of existence for prey in a world of predators. Men can be victims, but they are not prey. An individual man can be preyed upon, but no one is preying upon “men”. I’m not prey anymore. I’m no longer forced to walk through my day in flight or fight mode. It’s phenomenal. Men, you should bask in it. But part of basking in it, should be acknowledging that it doesn’t exist for half of the population.
I see versions of myself present in the media constantly. Growing up my role models were Kurt Vonnegut, Michael Caine, John D Rockefeller, Walt Disney. Names we were exposed to in school, on television, etc.; people I didn’t need to research specifically. Lately I see less of myself in the white men portrayed in the media. For one I’m a transman, so I straight up don’t exist in the media. And two, white men are finally being portrayed the way I’ve always seen them in practice: as egotistical babies. I was raised in a household that was overwhelmingly feminist, except that we ascribed to the belief that men were incapable of seeing the superiority of women and it was better for everyone if we just padded their egos and then did what we wanted behind their backs. That’s the natural order. The media was allowed to be slathered with white male heroes because men needed the ego boost; women just know how to get shit done. White men need something to strive to be because they can’t achieve it on their own. There are a ton of conservative women that feel this way. “Behind every great man is a great woman.” Nevermind the fact that there is a cliche for everything. “Opposites attract.” And just because the words sound nice doesn’t mean they have to be true.
I am now 34 years old and overwhelmingly manly. Also, very much so in love with being a man. Media portrayal of white men didn’t bother me because I saw myself in them. I couldn’t want to be a boy because in reality they were so much worse, but in fantasy they were perfection. Since the boys weren’t going to grow up to be the heroes on the screen, it didn’t seem incongruous that I wouldn’t grow up to be those heroes either. I didn’t realize that the boys saw their dreams as achievable, and thus would feel entitled to it. I didn’t realize the narrative that was being built in our collective subconscious. It’s ironic to have transitioned right before the start of the #metoo movement. For the first time in the history of men, we have to actually take a look around and see other people. We have to be cognizant of our space in the world so we don’t encroach on others. But I have a headstart: I was raised to keep myself small, not to intimidate the easily startled men, and be conscious of everyone around me. Yes, I know I’m being more closely watched in my day now than I was 2 years ago, prior to #metoo. But it is still nothing compared to living in the world as a woman.
Much like every other white man, I can’t help being a white man. I can’t help that I may make some women or minorities nervous. I can’t help that I’m less likely to get pulled over. I can’t help that I’m more likely to get a promotion. I can’t help having privilege. And that’s what makes it a privilege. Special benefits afforded to me that I can’t help but receive, and I should use to my fullest. Talking about this privilege won’t even make it go away. We are so far from eradicating racism, sexism, systemic discrimination and dehumanization. These things won’t die in my lifetime, even if half the population turned around tomorrow and said “I believe you. It’s real. Let’s fix it.” Since I can’t help so many of these things, the least I can do is say “I see you.”