Gender is who we feel we are and it is not defined by one’s biological sex. However, it is also a social construct. In the Indian patriarchal social construct, belonging to a certain gender and biological sex means entry to an exclusive club of gender privileges with a hierarchical privilege ladder to climb. Being a transgender man, it always amazed me how belonging to a certain class, caste, religion, sexuality, gender, biological sex or how masculine you are; can make you climb more steps in that privilege ladder. The more steps you climb, the more privileges you get.
When I was a teenager I started dressing up as a ‘female’ and tried living as a ‘female’ because of family pressure. It takes lot of effort, time and energy to be someone else which in turn is emotionally, mentally and socially exhausting. However, in my early 20’s when I heard “Arre ab to yae bhi badi ho gyi hai isski bhi shaadi ka sochlo” from my aunt’s mouth, I knew I had had enough of this.
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I took one step at a time: got my first job and used that money to get a short haircut, paid my college fees and then started my transition after four years. Transition is a process of matching one’s internal sense of gender identity to one’s gender expression and/or sex characteristics. It’s been seven months since I have been on testosterone. Now, I look like a boy in his late teenage years, wear a chest binder to flatten my chest and give myself a masculine appearance and because of this I am able to pass as a cis-male. This transitioning period made me realise that there is a shift in people’s attitude towards me- maybe I am getting entry into that exclusive club of gender privileges.
Gender is who we feel we are and it is not defined by one’s biological sex
During this transitioning period, my dysphoria has lowered to a certain level. It gives me the opportunity to be more focused, confident and expressive. It has also introduced me to certain cis-male privileges. Suddenly I have become more funny, get taken seriously, I rarely get interrupted while expressing my opinion and when I smoke or drink people don’t try to lecture me about how it is bad for health.
Now I am Sir, Bhaiya or Bhai now and people want to talk to ‘man’ of the house. “Bhaiya kaha hai? bhaiya se baat karni hai connection ke baare”. Few months back, we applied for a new internet connection and the internet guy only wanted to talk to me; not my partner or our domestic help. Even while using cabs, drivers have become friendly. Many share their stories with me, complain that women and old people should never take shared cabs or Uber Pool. “Bohot chik chik karte he wol log” – referring to women passengers.
It is a cis-male privilege to travel via public transport or access public spaces without any fear of violence
In 2013, when I joined my first job as a teacher (during my pre-transition period), I used to travel by bus every day. On one such day, I missed my bus and was waiting for the next bus to come. There was no one in that bus stop except for me. It was a secluded road in Rohini. Suddenly one car stopped and its door opened. There were two guys sitting in the back and one guy who driving, all of them in their 20s. “Aaja! Bethna” said one guy who was sitting at the back said after few seconds. “Bethna! Kya drama kar rhi hai”, and the guy who was driving got impatient. I had no idea what was happening as I panicked. The guy who was sitting in the back came towards me and tried to pull me in. Somehow, I snatched my hand free and ran without looking back. I was so shaken and scared that I never went to that bus stop again or any secluded road in Delhi. But it was not the first experience of sexual harassment I had faced while using or trying to use public transport before transitioning.
Due these incidents, there was always a fear of violence in my mind which kept me alert at all times and made me uncomfortable standing with so many men around me. However, now I comfortably travel in metro compartments or in DTC buses full of men. I can travel through a secluded road without getting stared at. It is a cis-male privilege to travel via public transport or access public spaces without any fear of violence. This is not to discredit the amount of fear I still have – What if they get to know my about identity i.e. I am not a cis-male?. But my male gender expression has allowed me to pass as a ‘man’ in various public spaces as compared to my earlier days.
Now I get cheap haircuts from salons as men’s haircuts are cheaper. I do not get nagged for having body hair, I can spread my legs, take as much space while sitting anywhere and adjust my pants or shirt in public without anybody staring at me. Nobody expect me make any sacrifices to prove that I am a ‘good girl’. Most interesting societal aspect I realised is that I can get away with many things due to the ‘Men will be men’ or ‘Boys will be boys’ or ‘Voh toh ladka hai aur ladke aise hi hote hai’ thought processes people have.
We all have our privileges and de-privileges according to our gender, biological sex, caste, class, religion, sexuality or so. I know there is a difference between cis-male privileges and cis-male passing privileges. Yet getting these cis-passing privileges sometimes amuse me and make me think about how experiences of life are different for different people.
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