ONTD Political

What Men Say About Women When They Think You've Never Been One

5:15 pm - 04/25/2012
Editors' Note: Guest blogger Levi Pine is a trans man and a union organizer in Chicago who spends a lot of time with Fierce Ladies in housekeeping uniforms. He appreciates leotards and has spent years talking about starting a fag-punk band called Global Business Solutions.


I'm a trans man who's been on hormones for about 5 months. My voice is a lot lower than it used to be, and I have a pretty cute, if wily, crop of facial hair going on. As a result, I've started passing as male pretty much all the time. It's a new thing, and it's a lot to digest.

People often ask me if I get treated differently when I'm read as male versus when I used to be read as female. Hmmmmaybe. Really, there are too many subtle wavelengths to any human interaction to know which are directly connected to how people are reading my gender.

But there is one stark and tangible difference in how the world responds to me, and that's the types of things that men (specifically cis-gendered straight men) talk to me about.

Men say horrifying and revolting things to you about women when they think you've never been one.

Here are some of the more outstanding examples.

1. "What's that bitch doing begging? Doesn't she know she can sell her pussy?"

This was said to me by a cab driver at 4 am taking me to the airport in New Orleans. I learned a lot of things about him in that half hour. He was a black man, and a republican, and his life had been completely shattered by the hurricane in 2005. He made a lot of comments about white tourists in town for Mardi Gras (which I was, which he knew), and the things that white people could get away with that he and many people he knows had been incarcerated for doing. By the time he got to the golden quip above, he'd already established that he almost categorically mistrusted me. I didn't blame him. And, stumbling over white- and class- guilt and 4-AM-brain, I let the above statement pass without saying a thing.

2. "What's black and blue and doesn't like sex? The eight-year-old girl in my trunk."

This was a "joke" somebody told me a few weekends ago while we were rock climbing. He said it was ok because he didn't come up with the joke. He was standing ready to catch me while I was climbing to make sure I didn't fall and crack my head open. He was also giving me lots of good advice about climbing. Rather than risk seeming somehow ungrateful for his spotting and good advice, I shamefully kept quiet about his joke.

3. "That bitch ________________________."

The above sentence can be finished or reorganized in any number of common ways.

"That bitch is stupid."

"That bitch's mouth would look a lot better on my dick."

"Don't listen to her, she's just a bitch."

All of those are things people have actually been said to me.

Bitch is an oppressive word. It constructs women as unintelligent, incapable, and subservient. Women are "bitches" when they challenge male privilege--when they are assertive or self-possessed, or just not deferential enough. "Bitches" are also objects, to be manipulated for male sexual gratification.

Another equally disturbing thing that happens, if not more disturbing, is that it's not just men who call women bitches when talking to me. Women do too. And I don't mean the occasional "bitch, please," I mean like "She should stop being a bitch and just sleep with him." Women participate in this because of some internalized bullshit - as though to demonstrate subservience or to show me that they're not a threat to my male privilege.

Inside our radical and queer communities, these kinds of comments are shocking, and they're not. What really sticks out to me is the fact that I'm only now hearing them in real time from real live people, as opposed to in songs or pop culture. That means people who say these things have begun doing so because they think I'm "one of them," and that they didn't say these things to me before because they read me as female and understood some element of how fucked up these things are, and so held their tongues because they didn't want to offend.

I once got in a big argument with a (white) close friend of mine who had taken to saying "n*gger" in casual conversation.

"But I'd never actually say it in front of a black person," he insisted.

"Why not?" I asked.

"Because that'd be completely inappropriate."

"Why would it be inappropriate?"

"Because it's a really degrading and offensive word."

Yes, and when you try and throw a private degradation-of-black-people party between just you and me, you're assuming that saying racially oppressive things is both less oppressive when you do it in private and also something I think is cool and fun. Neither are true.

My impression is that cis-men make these kinds of comments to me with the intention of establishing camaraderie, bringing me into the fold. I think it's an impulse towards some weird version of intimacy--establishing our common reality as "men." Unfortunately, the reality described (and produced) by the above comments is not the one I live in. I say "produced" because, for the same reason that saying n*gger in private amongst white people creates enduring racism, making these kinds of disgusting comments about women amongst "just men" (which, as a category, is less coherent when I'm included) creates enduring sexism. Our words become our thoughts, which become our habits.

In almost all the examples above, I was too cowardly to speak up against the offending commenters. I was scared of outing myself as trans, and also scared of how these men would react if I rejected what I think amounts to a bizarro form of hospitality - an invitation into the clubhouse.

That's not ok, and this is my commitment to change my behavior. We all need to make a commitment not to tacitly condone these private oppressive rituals of maleness, whether as trans men, as cis-men, as women, and everyone else. Yes, I have roots as a female-bodied and female-identified person, but you don't need to have history as a woman to respect women.


This came to my attention when one of my college softball teammates posted to facebook that his article go onto a "fancy important website." Interesting - if not enraging - read.
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bestdaywelived 25th-Apr-2012 05:48 pm (UTC)
While he's not wrong, I don't fucking see how women are supposed to stop men from being douchebags. I think it's on men to stop being shitheads, and to call out other men who refer to us as bitches.

I hope that the dude here reported that cab driver for what he said about that woman. WTF.
spiffynamehere 25th-Apr-2012 05:56 pm (UTC)

Cause, uhhhh. I'm expected to be the one changing how men behave in private... how?
gretchystretchy 25th-Apr-2012 05:59 pm (UTC)
shocking, a lot of the comments are from men bawwwww'ing about how "not all men are bad, stop stereotyping, sexism goes both ways you know"

and by shocking, I mean completely fucking unsurprising
bestdaywelived 25th-Apr-2012 06:03 pm (UTC)
It makes me want to rage quit life when I see men claiming that they are the victims of sexism. Uh, no, you are the "victim" of no longer getting everything you ever wanted handed to you on a silver platter in every instance.
lickety_split 25th-Apr-2012 06:02 pm (UTC)
In before white knighting!
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papilio_luna 25th-Apr-2012 06:07 pm (UTC)
Also easily observable in any internet space where the large majority of eyeballs are assumed to belong to men. If there's one thing I can thank the internet for, it's constantly reminding me that just because I don't generally irl hear misogynist statements, it's not for lack of dudes thinking them or using them amongst themselves when I'm not in earshot.
seasight 26th-Apr-2012 05:29 am (UTC)
That's one thing I love about LJ/tumblr/fandom. It's one of the only places/situations/communities I can think of that defaults to female, on the whole. (Not that advertisers/outsiders really realize that).

I love that it's a female community, and it's not constrained by social anything. I don't know if we've had that, until recently.

(Gaming, or the military, or the police, or an office, or neutral pronouns, or grammar exercises, or figures of speech, or anywhere in the rest of the universe is male by default. I love that LJ isn't.)

(You can assume that I don't hate men. I just love having a space where they're not the dominant presence.)
mskye 25th-Apr-2012 06:13 pm (UTC)
You know, as a cis-woman, I've never really heard men talk like that off line. However, on the internet, suddenly this kind of language is rampant (especially example 3). I wonder if it's because a lot of dudebros really believe that it's mostly men on the internet?

EDIT: papilio_luna must have submitted her comment while I was still typing mine, lol

Edited at 2012-04-25 06:19 pm (UTC)
toxic_glory 25th-Apr-2012 06:28 pm (UTC)
One the internet, you're faceless, so you're seen as the 'default', which is usually 'white, Western, cisgendered male'.
(no subject) - Anonymous - Expand
(no subject) - Anonymous - Expand
one_hoopy_frood 25th-Apr-2012 06:31 pm (UTC)
Yesterday I reposted that article about creepy dudes on fb and one guy I used to work with who was definitely creepy responded: "honestly I hate being called a creep. And I have been :(" I am so fucking sick of men. Whatever.
bestdaywelived 25th-Apr-2012 11:41 pm (UTC)
Ugh there was a dude that works with a friend of mine who is a total creeper - like a girl caught him trying to sniff her hair creepy (at a party, so nasty, I was there). He was hurt and offended that people thought what he did was creepy because it was "just a joke". Right.
thecityofdis 25th-Apr-2012 06:41 pm (UTC)
Just a suggestion, but this article probably needs at least a handful of trigger warnings, especially (but not only) for the comments about child rape.
polietics 25th-Apr-2012 06:52 pm (UTC)
I don't know what it says about my social group that I'm a cis female and none of these conversations would be out of place in my earshot. Terrible, fucking awful things, most properly. :/
bellonia 25th-Apr-2012 07:16 pm (UTC)
Honestly, yeah. I've heard them all, too. I kinda came into this with dread like... if it's worse than what I already hear... and now the feeling is that I'd hoped it was a select few assholes who say shit and instead it is, in fact, everywhere.
frensky help please?25th-Apr-2012 07:58 pm (UTC)
I'm sorry to go off topic but I'm really, really desperate. I have to write a research paper on a current issue only using peer reviewed sources. I wanted to do women portrayal in televison but my teacher said that's not quite relevant enough. I then tried to do the student loans debate right now but there are no published peer reviewed sources out on that. I'm to the point where I'm ready to have a breakdown worrying about this project - does anyone have any topic ideas for me? Any ideas are appreciated.
maenads_dance Re: help please?25th-Apr-2012 08:05 pm (UTC)
-debt crisis
-history of food stamps in America
-effects of Super Pacs on presidential campaign
-supreme court precedents and how they'll effect their ruling on the health care law (there should be a ton on that)

Also: have you talked to a reference librarian? They're often a lot better at database searches than you're going to be. I wouldn't be surprised if there were plenty out there on student loans that you just hadn't been able to find.
hashishinahooka 25th-Apr-2012 08:47 pm (UTC)
Men say horrifying and revolting things to you about women when they think you've never been one.

Eh, I've never met a man who had qualms about saying this in front of a woman if that's how he thinks. Douchebags don't stop being douchebags just because a woman is in the room.
kalikahuntress 26th-Apr-2012 01:30 am (UTC)
luminescnece Your friendly neighbourhood ninja native on report25th-Apr-2012 09:04 pm (UTC)
I've lived my entire life making people uncomfortable by stopping them in their tracks with their First Nations racism by explaining politely that I am Metis and they should stop talking.

I figured it was a racism thing, but never really considered gender. But yeah...
redstar826 Re: Your friendly neighbourhood ninja native on report25th-Apr-2012 09:15 pm (UTC)
I see it a lot with regards to homophobia, since the tendency is to assume that people are straight, and I'm in enough situations where I am not out
grapesheezy 25th-Apr-2012 09:11 pm (UTC)
And this is why I'm constantly ranting.
fornikate 25th-Apr-2012 09:31 pm (UTC)
i know him. clash of the two worlds.
redstar826 25th-Apr-2012 09:36 pm (UTC)
Inside our radical and queer communities, these kinds of comments are shocking, and they're not. What really sticks out to me is the fact that I'm only now hearing them in real time from real live people, as opposed to in songs or pop culture

and I think that is the big flaw with this essay. The vast majority of us do not spend the majority of our time in radical and/or queer communities and hearing this sort of stuff is nothing new.
johnjie 25th-Apr-2012 10:09 pm (UTC)
This surprises me not at all - I mean, I used to hear watered down versions of these conversations all the way back when I was the only girl in Cub Scouts. These were 9, 10, 11 year olds, who had already figured out the way to forge homosocial bonds was the put down girls and women.

THat said, I do not think that the onus should be entirely on women to change men's behaviour. Men need to call out other men who are vile about women/minorities/queer/disabled people in private.
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