The Patriarchy Said to a Trans Boy: “Smile Baby”

I. Pirates

          A. For the first two years of high school, I took the bus to and from school every day. Here are some estimated statistics about what I encountered during that time:
                    1. Stalkers: two.
                    2. Drunks That Hit On Me: about two hundred and thirty-six. But that’s just a guess.
                    3. “Smile Baby’s”: I lost count a long, long time ago. Guys come up to me everywhere: on bikes, in cars, walking down the street and on buses, endlessly shouting that one, creepy phrase.
                    4. People Masturbating Toward Me In Public: only once, thank god.
                    5. Pot Salesmen: I’d say a stranger has offered me discounted pot “because of my good looks” somewhere around twenty-six and a half times at this point.
                    6. Guys Who’ve Chased Me: two.
                    7. People Trying To Pay Me To Have Sex With Them (Because I am Clearly A Prostitute): at least three times I think of, off the top of my head.
                    8. Guys With Eyepatches That Hit On Me: Again, once. But I’ve used the term “pirate” to describe pedophilloic creeps ever since.
          B. I’m a trans1 guy. I came out about half way into high school, around the same time that I got my driver’s license, and stopped having to ride the bus. These statistics are mainly from my freshman and sophomore year of high school, the time I spent parading through town in tight skirts and short dresses, riding the bus on my own every day of the week. I was fourteen and fifteen when most of this happened. I looked like a girl. Not a woman, a girl.

II. I Named the Dusty Box on Top of My Wardrobe “Depression”

          A. I’ve had depression since I was a kid, and I could never explain why.
          B. It’s a hard feeling to explain in the first place, really, even without trying to pinpoint a cause. It’s been described for years like being in a pit you can’t climb out of, or like feeling hollow inside. I think the best analogy I can give to it is this: feeling like someone has just finished scraping out your insides with a melon baller, and now all of your hopes, dreams, and complicated emotions are sitting in a fridge somewhere, rotting in tupperware.
          C. What I’ve learned in recent years is that my depression is correlated with, but not caused by, my dysphoria2. I’ve always known that there are whole layers to this thing, and that pointing to my alcohol-prone parents, gender identity, repressed sexuality, hormone disorders and whatever else it could be simply isn’t the answer. That’s really the problem with depression. There is no answer. When it comes down to it, I’m depressed because I’m depressed. There’s not really a good, singular reason for it. My brain just has a lot of fucked up chemicals in it that like to party. There’s not much else to say.
          D. I’ll tell you this, it sometimes makes it really hard to smile at bus stops.

III. #MeTooExceptWaitNotReally,I’llLetYouGuysTakeThisOne

          A. In December of sophomore year I had one of the worst nights of my life. I was fifteen, in a short dress, horribly depressed, addicted to about three different drugs, and pretending to be the bouncer at the door of a bar. I know this sounds far fetched. But the entire night ended up being rather far-fetched. I had just broken up with my boyfriend, who would later come out as gay, I had just had a bunch of fights with my friends, and I was the only one putting any effort into the benefit concert the bar was hosting that night. It was through a school organization and all proceeds were going to the homeless. That was why I was playing bouncer. We held it at an actual bar, which meant someone had to sit by the entrance and direct the drunk adults and excited high schoolers into separate rooms. The teens got the half of the bar with the stage, the adults got the half of the bar with the drinks. In a nutshell, a lot happened that night. So much that three of my best party-stories are from that night. But one other thing did too. A drunk man came up to me, and didn’t know when he had crossed some boundaries. I doubt he even knew I was fifteen. I didn’t push him off me. I hated myself at the time, and I let him grope me without so much as a word. I didn’t resist.
           B. The #MeToo movement started shortly after I came out as a guy, sometime at the beginning of junior year.
           C. I’ve always been unsure of my place in the movement. I was never sure what I was supposed to say in classes where it was the discussion topic. I have never been sure if it is acceptable to bring my perspective to the table here.
           D. All I know is that I have felt isolated by the movement. And I don’t want to say that, because I quite like the movement. The problem, though, is when a teacher will only briefly mention that it excludes trans people. A while back, when the dialogue was started, it started in a completely binary perspective. Men sexually assault women. It’s a problem. A real one. The problem is that I’m a boy, who was sexually assaulted by a man. The worst bit is, I don’t want to bring that up. There’s already a harmful stereotype that all gay men are pedophiles, and my last choice would be to perpetuate this. The man in question was straight. At least by my measure. It was while I was a woman. Except that I never was a woman. Only seen as one. So the problems occur when I’m sitting in class, likely the only person there who has actually been sexually assaulted (in a high school class of maybe fifteen kids), and I’m grouped in with the men. And rightfully so. And we have a discussion about gender dynamics in this country, a long one, and I feel all but forgotten. And then, near the end of class, the woke teacher will remember I’m sitting there, and he’ll bring up trans people. That we exist, and, while we’re talking about it, that queer people have one of the highest rates of being sexually assaulted. But we don’t have time to talk about that right now. That’s not what this movement is about. This movement is about women. Not about people who were put through hell at fifteen just because some drunk asshole thought they were a woman.
           E. I hate complaining about this because the teacher is already trying so hard. Simply by talking about it, there is so much that’s being done right. It feels just plain whiny to complain.
           F. There is a group of people I truly can’t stand, and it’s those “NotAllMen” guys. They don’t understand the purpose of the movement at all.
           G. I’m still not truly comfortable bringing this up in the context of the #MeToo movement. It isn’t my movement, it’s not my place. It would distract from the central message, the central problem that it’s trying to get at. Gender dynamics in this country are screwed up. Power dynamics work in such a way that women are constantly having to deal with sexism at its absolute worst. If I brought this up, it could validate “Not All Men.” It could hurt the gay community. I don’t want to muddy the waters of the movement. I want to make it clear as day that women have to put up with an unthinkable amount of bullshit on a daily basis. This isn't my movement. Not yet. Trans people won’t get to be people for at least another few decades.
           H. Oh, and me too.

IV. Mansplaining and Other New-Found Horrible Habits

           A. I’ve found that as I’ve transitioned3, a few of my habits have seen a recent, weird flip. For instance, mansplaining. I used to hate it. Now I do it. I still hate it, but I’ve found that I’ve unconsciously picked up on societal signals that it’s okay to talk over women. That if I paraphrase an idea in class that a girl has already shared, I will be accredited with it. That idea will be referenced as “Harry’s Point” instead of “Elizabeth’s Idea.” It’s a shit thing. It’s odd too, because in this instance, binary sexism is a more prevalent issue than transphobia. People are sometimes more biased against any expression of femininity than they are against a trans guy. I long expected the opposite to be true. But people value masculinity. I think I gain a certain amount of subconscious approval in people’s eyes because I have embraced masculinity and rejected femininity. It’s a very strange phenomenon that speaks to how ingrained sexism really is in our society.
           B. I’ve also found that toxic masculinity seems to have been accidentally carved into my brain. I shouldn't have any. It makes very little sense as to why I would have it. But I do. I find that I think signs of weakness are feminine. That signs of femininity are weak. I prefer hanging out with “my bros,” where we refuse to talk about our emotions. We even sing “Boys Don’t Cry” unironically with each other. And it’s bizarre to me to find that I have this bias. I grew up under the expectation of femininity. When I’m actually thinking about it, I associate being feminine with being strong. I am a feminist, with four years of gender studies classes under my belt. With actual experience being treated like a woman in the world. And yet, subconsciously, I all but have the moral compass of a surfer bro.
           C. Not that having bromances4 is a bad thing. I would actually say that they can be very healthy, very beneficial, and at times, very raw friendships— if they involve the sharing of emotions. It’s unlikely, but it can happen. They are possibly one of two instances of healthy masculinity that the world has to offer. The other, of course, being healthy gay relationships.


           A. Yes, I intended that transition to be rough.
           B. I have had some very strange moments recently, in regards to the dysphoria I get in the morning. This specific kind of dysphoria is made worse by the fact that I pack5 at night, and by the fact I often have very awkward and confusing dreams, where my invisidick6 becomes real. One specific instance of morning dysphoria occurred a few weeks ago, when I got up one morning, needing to pee. I had a sock in my underwear, as per usual, and was so tired that I wasn’t very aware it was a fake. So, I got up, walked to the bathroom, walked towards the toilet (facing it), pulled down my pants, felt the socks fall to the floor, and instinctively yelled the words “Oh no! My dick fell off!”
           C. It took me far too long to realize that no, no it didn’t.
           D. Just like most teenagers, I find my life plagued with crushes. Crushes are wonderful, but soul-crushing. They are an aptly named concept.
           E. Like everyone, I want to be loved. And like everyone, that feeling hurts me. 
           F. But it also hurts in a different way. It hurts that anyone I could date will have to be pan7. It hurts that gay guys and straight women will never see me as real. It hurts in fairly obvious ways that no one really mentions. 
           G. The problem is that trans-exclusionary8 sexualities can’t be helped. And I don’t judge people for that. But it still hurts. It’s one of the things about being trans that hurts the most actually. It’s almost as bad as the fact that my family has no idea who I am. It hurts to fall in love with people that are kind and accepting, but who won’t ever see you as cis9. And, well, rightfully so. H. I love myself, now at least. But this is the thing that makes that hardest. Because at heart I am a hopeless romantic. A hopeless, ultimately delusional, romantic.

VI. The Perks of Being A Trans Boy

           A. Honestly, baths.
           B. Seriously, baths. My (cis) brother, for instance, can’t take baths. Mostly because he’s afraid of being judged by my mother. Baths are seen as a feminine thing in our house. But since I’m not out, I can take as many baths as I goddamn like. Which sounds like a miniscule upside, but is a true luxury. My mother thinks I’m a girl. It’s mostly hell, until you remember the existence of bubbles.
           C. I have already established friendships where hugging one another is completely normal. No one stopped hugging me when I came out as a guy, so nowadays I can go around as a guy and hug everybody I know, and believe it or not, it’s not weird. I can easily show affection to platonic friends, guys especially, and no one gives a fuck that it’s kind of a femme10 thing to do.
           D. “I see you’re trans, so would you like some extra pity with your order sir? How about some easy A’s?” (I might not be a morally perfect human being for accepting this offer, but hey, it was a rough year).

VII. Gender is an Illusion, a Reality, and a Chocolate Chip Cookie

           A. Fuck it, let’s talk about gender.
           B. As I was figuring out the obvious11 fact that I’m trans, I forced myself to sit down and define how I perceived the concept of gender12. This was a fun time, as you can imagine. It’s a complicated topic, and has been (somewhat accurately) studied by academics for as long as “gender studies”13 has been a college major. So, when I embarked on this daunting, highly intellectual task, I sat down and did what any college professor or kindergartener would do: I drew a circle. A nice, big circle.
           C. In this circle I drew a bunch of dots, scattered around haphazardly, with no meaning whatsoever. Kind of like chocolate chip cookies. The circle was meant to represent a person. And each chocolate chip was supposed to represent aspects of who someone is, facts about them, personality traits, each thing that makes them them. Now what society has done is complicated. Society went in, and drew two smaller circles on the cookie (in Sharpie no less! like some evil person who doesn’t like cookies and invents harmful concepts like “gender” for people to reckon with14). One circle was called “male traits,” and another “female traits.” And many traits fell into the circles, and some fell into neither. And it kept evolving, and evolving, until one day it reached such an extent where “putting a fuming chemical on your fingernails” was something that people with ovaries had to do, and if you wanted to be described as “masculine” you would need to drive around an instrument that cut grass for you. And that “eating graham crackers,” didn’t define you at all!
           D. That, in short, is Gender.
           E. But how does this work in terms of being trans, you ask? If you apply the cookie to people in more realistic ways, it starts to become interesting. One of the most harmful parts of the societal concept of gender is that sex has anything to do with it. When society took the Sharpie and ruined that perfectly good cookie, it included sex in its definition. Now, we are very slowly starting to free those chocolate chips from the circle, and are taking them out of the cookie altogether, and just thinking about eating them because they’re just sitting on the counter, andno one’s looking anyway.
           F. But back to your question. No one person has their chips fall perfectly in any one circle. There is not one masc person alive without at least one femme quality, and vice versa. So when you look at what gender you are, you are just trying to look for the general trend in where the chips fall. If they clump closer to the “masculine” circle, then you probably define yourself as masc. Same goes for the femme circle. If they fall evenly around the cookie, then you might identify as agendered, bigendered or anything else along those lines.
           G. In truth, those circles are just a good metric of how you fit within society’s definition of Gender. Gender is, technically, a made-up concept. But where you fit within its boundaries is important to how comfortable you are in life. Gender is an integral part of how our society functions, whether we like it or not. In this way it has become real. Being told to fit into a circle you aren’t made for is hell. The circles have just been drawn on, yes, but the chips are baked in. They aren’t moving. (Well, they are, because you as a person are constantly changing, so it’s more of an ooey-gooey cookie that’s straight out of the oven.) But when your chips don’t fall in the right place, your life becomes an constant battle of assumptions. People will assume you like all the things in the wrong circle, to act in all the ways you don’t want to act. That part of society isn’t going anywhere soon, so living in the wrong circle means you constantly feel out of place. You constantly feel like something’s gone horribly wrong.
           H. Gender is an illusion, but one we put in practice. We will always define ourselves in the terms society has laid out for us. So, because of these facts, Gender is very real. It matters just as much as a chocolate chip cookie. A hell of a lot, but in a purely relative sense.15

VIII. That Pirate Doesn’t Know How Gay He Is

           A. Of the two guys that chased me, one yelled “C**t” and one yelled “F****t,” and I am somewhat happy with the progress. That’s transitioning for you.
           B. It’s been odd, each time I’ve been hit on after I came out. I sometimes still ride the bus stops, and getting harassed is near inevitable when you don’t pass16 as a guy yet. But it’s still odd, and I’ve never known how to react.
           C. I’ve often thought about telling them I’m a boy. Leaving them to simmer in their definitely sexist and likely homophobic minds, and just hope their confusion will lead them to progress.
           D. But I fear retaliation, or denial of what I’ve just told them. I don’t want to make a creep angry, as I’ve learned the hard way. And I don’t want some stranger to reject what I’m saying and tell me bluntly that I look like a girl.
           E. I hate being seen as a girl. I hate having to clarify and draw attention to my dick-less-ness in the process. I hate being embarrassed of myself in unavoidable ways.
           F. I love myself more now than ever before. I am finally proud of myself, I am finally proud of being trans.
           G. But really, I just want to be cis.

1. A quick note: unless in reference to myself, whenever I say “trans” I mean it in the sense of all inclusive trans-ness. The Big Umbrella Trans, that includes all non-cis and non-gender-conforming folks, not just those few of us who fall into binary categories.

2. (Gender) Dysphoria: Basically distress caused over not fitting the gender you were assigned at birth. Feeling all wrong because you’ve not got the body you think you should have, because you don’t fit in society in the way everyone expects you to, and feeling horribly uncomfortable in realizing that you’re (umbrella) trans.

3. Transitioning: The process that happens after you know you’re (umbrella) trans. Coming out, buying clothes, haircuts, hormones, the whole shabang. Essentially, doing something about the fact you’re a different gender. Changing your life so that it fits.

4. Bromance: A close, strong friendship between two “bros,” usually two masculine, platonic friends. Not exclusive to just friendships between guys.

5. Packing: Shoving something down your pants to convince yourself it’s a dick, intended to lessen the symptoms of dysphoria; usually a pair of socks for me.

6. Invisidick: Made-up term that I invented to describe the penis I think is there, that in reality, just isn’t. In other words, what I named my dick. Because I’m classy like that.

7. Pansexual (Pan for short): Having the capacity to be attracted to anyone, based on personality instead of (as well as?) genitalia. Used in a sentence: “I, Harry, am pansexual, since I have never understood how attraction could be based along such simple lines as gender or sex, but I guess that’s a me-problem.”

8. Trans-exclusionary: Won’t date trans people, sometimes just nonbinary people.

9. Cis: Not trans; assigned the correct gender identity at birth.

10. Femme: Sort of shorthand for “feminine,” but with a much broader meaning I can’t hope to explain in a footnote.

11. Really not that obvious.

12. Which is what the rest of this section will be about, just, how I perceive it. You are welcome to disagree, as you almost definitely define it very differently. This is not a solid definition, and by no means is supposed to say how everyone should feel about gender.

13. Did you know? Not all “gender studies” students are lesbians!

14. You can’t see my bias, can you? But seriously, I joke. No one person is at fault here, except maybe a few sexist kings of England. But the way gender has developed in society is not due to any one particular thing. It’s mainly due to the facts that vaginas birth and salt exists. And it’s not entirely harmful, and it’s not a delusion either. It’s complicated, so sit down and keep reading.

15. In case you were wondering, yes, I did just write a several page breakdown of gender theory while Really Really wanting dessert.

16. Passing: Looking like the gender you are, instead of the one you were first assigned.

HARRY PLYMELL is a seventeen-year-old high school senior in Denver, Colorado. He’s been published four times to date, twice in Calling Upon Calliope Magazine, once in Blood and Bourbon Magazine, and once in So Say We All's 'Black Candies: The Eighties' edition of their magazine. He writes mainly comedy and absurdist short fiction, but likes to throw in the occasional lyric essay.