Xander Biamonte is a straight, transgender male. He recently posted on Facebook about the ways in which his privilege increased as he’s begun to pass as a male in public: “Since I’m transitioning, I get to have the unusual experience of knowing what it’s like to live life as both a man and as a woman,” he says. “I’ve hit a point now where I’m perceived, more often, as a man, and let me tell you something – however severe you think male privilege is, double it. Triple it. I have never, in my lifetime, been treated so well, so consistently, by complete strangers.”
FLURT’s Managing Editor Danielle Eleanor caught up with Xander over email to ask some follow up questions about how this change in privilege has impacted his daily life. Xander wants to recognize that his experiences transitioning have been positive overall, and he feels lucky because this is often not the reality for many trans folks.
Danielle: At what point did you begin to ‘pass’ in public? Did you notice an immediate contrast in the way you were treated by strangers?
Xander: I would always somewhat pass as male in public. Prior to transitioning, I was regarded as “sir” maybe once a week or so. Now, I have been taking hormones for about three months and with the drop in my voice and noticeable facial hair, it’s a constant and consistent recognition. My assumption is that the real difference is that now people feel certain about my gender as opposed to having to guess. With that comes comfort and a change in behavior.
D: On Facebook, you spoke about increased privilege once you began to be perceived as male regularly. Can you elaborate on that?
X: It’s privilege in the sense that strangers are a lot warmer towards me, even simply in passing. There’s an undeniable air of respect and acknowledgement when I enter a room. There’s an underlying assumption that ‘I can,’ as opposed to the assumption that [‘I can’t’ and] I’m going to need assistance. I’m suddenly perceived as much more of an authority and reliable presence.
Honestly, the main reason I found it so jarring was because it essentially happened over night – which I find almost amusing, because I’m exactly the same person I always was. So all of this is strictly coming from an outward perception. Whether or not that perception stems from now being looked at as male or as a straight male I can’t really say, but I imagine both come into play.
D: On the other hand, have you experienced any negative differences since beginning to pass as male?
X: That is kind of an interesting question because in regards to myself directly, I haven’t experienced any negative treatment as a man – but in regards to how some men expect me, a fellow man, to treat women, there have absolutely been some off-putting experiences. Going to a bar, ‘as a man,’ for the first time was interesting because you’re certainly monitored a lot more – which I personally found annoying because it’s not something I’ve ever had to deal with. However, [I encountered] a group of guys who were encouraging each other and myself to do some extremely unacceptable things to women. All women have had ‘those’ experiences with men, and getting to see it from the other end… frankly, it was incredibly horrific. This is, of course, in no way a testament to how all men act, but the idea that a few can ruin it for the bunch is absolutely valid.
D: Are you a student or are you employed? If so, can you describe how passing has affected your daily life in those settings?
X: I work full time at a job I had prior to starting my transition, and no one treats me any differently than before. When I was initially hired, however, my immediate supervisor thought I was a man (pre-transition) and actually took me aside, on my first day, to tell me that if my fellow, female trainee needed any extra help, to make sure I assisted her and explain things so that she would understand the work. She was more highly educated and more qualified for the job than I was.
As far as my transition and my physical changes, no one brings it up. I feel like people probably assume that if you want to talk about it you will. At a certain point I felt a need to casually mention something here or there (with the appearance of facial hair, for example), but that was just my own need to explain and not a result of any sort of pressure I was experiencing. When I mention it, a couple people have asked me if it would be okay to ask me questions, and the others just accept it. The guys at work refer to me as one of the guys, stopped adding ‘ladies’ into conversation when it’s just me present—it’s really nice.
I find the name issue is the most difficult question, since all my official paperwork says Xandra but my name in my daily life is now Xander. It is hard to know how to introduce myself in a professional setting. I’m also starting to slowly stress out about change rooms – it’s one thing in a setting like a gym where the people don’t know you, but at work it’s rather different. I’m at a point now where there’s the odd time a woman will be in the change room that I have never met before and their initial reaction upon seeing me is alarm.
D: What are your interactions like with men when you’re perceived as a man? What are your interactions like with women when you’re perceived as a man? Do the ages of these folks seem to factor into their treatment towards you in any way?
Q: I’ve noticed the biggest difference in my daily interactions with men. Prior to transitioning, men paid me no mind for the most part, and I paid them no mind in return. Now, however, it seems like every guy I meet wants to be friends – [this is] by no means a complaint, but certainly an adjustment. As far as being treated better generally, going back to the whole privilege thing, it’s not gender specific. Male privilege is perpetrated by both men and women.
The only time I notice age playing a factor is when it comes up that I’m transitioning. Older generations are typically not very understanding of it, but so far everyone I have encountered in my own age group have been incredibly supportive, regardless of whether they knew me as Xandra.
For further reading on the topic of how transitioning affects privilege, pick up Kate Bornstein’s book, ‘Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us’
Read the rest of the summer 2017 issue and order it in print here.