So far, chivalry has been the scariest thing I have dealt with as a transgender woman.
It is scarier than coming out to my entire Facebook friend list. Scarier than the first time I used the lady’s room. Scarier than giving a speech as a woman to a room of hundreds of people.
And all those things were scary.
But chivalry? Worse than those things? Yes. Let me explain.
Tonight I took two of my children to a traveling magic show. My parents had two free children’s tickets. I only had to buy one adult ticket for myself.
We sat near the back. The performer thanked the local Masonic lodge who organized the event. He pointed out the row of half a dozen Masons, sitting in the row directly behind us. We all clapped to thank them.
The show began. At one point they paused the show to give parents an opportunity to buy their children an overpriced candy bar. Some of the wrappers had red dots inside them, which meant you won a free glow-stick magic wand. I didn’t have much cash on me, but I was going to buy one for the three of us and we could split it.
One of the Masons behind us says, “Do you kids want candy bars? I’ll get them for you? Do both of you want one?” They said yes. We politely thanked him, and the two kids went up with him to the back of the line at the stage. He proceeded to buy seven candy bars, two for my kids,one I saw him give to someone else on the other side of the room, and I don’t know about the other four.
Something about it felt weird. Then it dawned on me. There I sat with my son and daughter… and no wedding ring.
Now someone could say, “Well, that could have happened to you as a married woman or as a single man. You don’t know that’s why.” No, you’re right. I don’t. But I’ve lived a lot of years as a man. And no man ever came up and offered to buy something for my kids.
No, men do not typically offer gifts to other men, or to children of other men. It would be perceived as… what? I don’t know. It’s hard to say because it’s all non-verbal. But if I had to try to put it into words, it would be perceived as attacking his masculinity. You’re implicitly saying that he cannot provide for his kids.
And that’s why it’s scary for me. I just benefited (or rather my kids did) because I was presenting female instead of male. But what if he finds out I’m transgender? What if he finds out that he just crossed this unspoken “man-boundary” because I “tricked him?” Would it hurt his pride? Would he want to retaliate? Would he want to hurt me?
Moreover, having lived most of my life according to the “man-rules,” I actually DID feel like he was attacking my… well, not masculinity… but competency, I guess. I may be a woman, but I still have that old knee-jerk reaction to defend my masculinity. What if I had unintentionally acted non-verbally? A flash of the eyes, a facial expression, a body posture. Would I have given myself away?
Probably not. But it’s a very scary space for me to occupy as a recently-transitioned woman.
Then after the event, one of the other Masons came up to me and told me how much my son was getting into the music. My son has musical ability, he said, and I might want to look into enrolling him in some musical program. I told him I’d consider it, and we quickly left.
Again, I could be reading into it. It is possible that he may have said the same thing if I was presenting as a man. But I highly doubt it. Men don’t give advice to other men on how to raise their children. Well, not to strangers, anyway. But to a single mom, who’s lousy husband left her alone to raise the kids, well maybe he thinks she “needs” that masculine input.
Actually, it felt more like maybe he was looking for an excuse to strike up a conversation with the single mom without a wedding ring. What would he do if he found out that this average-looking soccer mom he was considering hitting on actually used to be the lousy husband?
I’m not saying (yet) that I think chivalry is necessarily bad, though a lot of people I respect would say exactly that. At this point though, I’m more concerned about making sure I present well enough that I’m not scared for my safety.
Image: God Speed! by Edmund Blair Leighton, 1900