I want to preface by stating that everyone’s transition and experiences are different. I started living and presenting as male for more than eight years now. I have been on testosterone for more than five years. Not all trans individuals transition physically or present the same way. This personal essay is to share some things I’ve learned throughout my transition as a transgender man.
I used to work and live that call center life. I was glued to a headset most days and helping people around the country install cable boxes and internet modems at the time I had started taking testosterone. Most people in the call center were friendly and supportive, but what surprised me was discovering customers’ reaction to my voice.
During my first few months at that job, my voice was pre-T, meaning that I had not started taking testosterone yet, and a bit higher. Cable customers calling in for help are not usually the most patient or happy people, so I was never really shocked to hear people sigh when they heard me say my intro.
“Thank you for calling Comcast Self Install Kit Support. My name is Chris! With whom do I have the pleasure of speaking with today?”
I was used to people being grumpy, so I just shrugged it off and tried my best to get through rough calls.
After my voice started to get deeper, however, I noticed a huge shift in the treatment I received from the other end of the line and the management. I heard a huge difference. It kind of blew my mind. The customers were still pretty angry most of the time, but they seemed to have this dumb idea that women could not help with tech issues. It made no sense, and I couldn’t believe some would say things, like, “Oh, thank god! Finally! I’m so glad I got someone who can fix this. I had a woman answer my call last time.”
Whenever I got calls like this, I would say, “I’m glad you feel confidence in our teamwork today and we will take care of this together, but I want you to know I’m surrounded by amazing women on this team who can get this done too!” I know it does not seem like much, but little things like that are a start to making someone think differently. Letting people make comments like that and not saying anything about it is part of the problem.
The treatment at the call center wasn’t the only big shift I noticed. Once I began passing more as a cisgender male, a person whose gender identity aligns with the gender assigned at birth, it seemed to unlock weird conversations and unexpected male privilege. Management started to trust me more. Men I worked with would start casually talking with me about women they were attracted to at the call center, and things like that. Things men tell you when they have no idea you’re trans are wild. They will make sexist jokes and act like it’s normal. It’s pretty gross.
I sometimes see other trans men fall into a pattern where they are fine with this attitude, making misogynistic jokes and viewing women a certain way. You’ll see it on social media and in person. You can be whatever kind of man you want to be, but, please, don’t buy into the toxic masculinity or privilege that shows up on your path. As you progress in your transition, please don’t forget where you started, what you’ve been through and seen.
Sure, it would be easier to just let those jokes slide and laugh along, but who is that ultimately helping? I always remind myself that people who don’t want to understand why sexism is wrong are not people I need on my friends roster.
We need to acknowledge the male privilege that exists when you are read as male. We need to speak up. This goes for all male-identifying folks. If you see or hear any sexism in your workplace,or in your life, speak up. If one of your buddies makes a sexist joke, let them know it’s not alright and that attitude is part of the problem. We all have internalized problematic thoughts to work through and unlearn, but being aware of it and how others are impacted by our actions and words is necessary to being part of the solution to make it better for everyone.