EXCERPT | Transitioning Later in Life: Loss/gain of male privilege

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In her book, Jillian Celentano shares that she lived most of her life not accepting who she was. However, since beginning her transition at the age of 55, she has been able to live authentically as her true self. Illustration photo by Getty Images
In her book, Jillian Celentano shares that she lived most of her life not accepting who she was. However, since beginning her transition at the age of 55, she has been able to live authentically as her true self. Illustration photo by Getty Images
  • Jillian Celentano lived most of her life not accepting who she was. However, since beginning her transition at the age of 55, she has been able to live authentically as her true self.
  • In her book, Transitioning Later in Life, she offers advice to other people who are transitioning.
  • Drawing on her personal experiences, she explores topics such as coming out to children, spouses and family, coming out at work, finding your authentic voice, experimenting with style and clothing, and stepping out in public for the first time. 
  • Below is an extract from the book.

Male privilege is very prevalent in today’s society. Trans women will notice the loss of this privilege (a sort of demotion), while trans men will notice the gaining of this privilege (a sort of promotion).

I did not give male privilege much thought when I transitioned, thinking this was not going to affect my way of life and was not going to be a big deal. Well, it is a big deal and has been one of the biggest challenges and adjustments I have been dealing with from the beginning of my transition to the present time.

Sometimes I think it is worse to have had male privilege taken away than to never have had it at all. For me, one of the most frustrating experiences was not being taken as seriously as I was before my transition.

It seems like my thoughts, opinions, and ideas now have to be repeated multiple times when I am trying to express them. Sometimes my opinions are dismissed before I’ve even finished speaking, something that feels very demeaning and insulting.

I know this may not happen to everyone, but it does happen more frequently to me now that I present as female compared to when I was presenting as male. I will not deny that I find this extremely frustrating because I am still the same person, with the exact same intelligence.

I guess I will just have to continue to find ways to adjust to these socially challenging experiences. 

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Another new experience since transitioning is that my IQ has lowered in the eyes of some people (especially males). I have noticed that guys tend to speak to me more slowly and articulate their words more. They also feel they must repeat themselves several times.

According to some of my friends who are cis women, the term for this is “mansplaining.” Before my transition I was a restaurant owner and a real-estate agent. I was always looked upon as an in-charge person and a decision-maker who was well respected for that.

Today I am still that person and consider myself to be a strong, independent woman. However, when I have a strong opinion or challenge someone else’s opinion, I am now considered, for lack of a better word, to be a “bitch.” It amazes me how the exact same opinion can be interpreted in a totally different way if it is being expressed by a male or a female.

So, those of you who are transitioning from male to female, be prepared to discover different ways to communicate with both men and women when expressing opinions or making a statement. As mentioned previously, trans men gain male privilege. This is something that may take time to get used to.

Many trans men I have spoken with express feelings of guilt for having such a privilege handed to them (basically overnight) but they still need to learn how to work with this new-found privilege. Trans men will earn respect, and many of them have shared with me that they feel their social experiences have become easier.

Some of the most common experiences of their newly gained male privilege are feeling less fear when walking at night, or gaining more respect from other people. Almost every trans man notices how other people listen to them more intently post-transition.

One trans man theorized that a deeper voice gains more respect and attention compared to a softer voice. Whatever is true or not true, there are differences in the way society treats men and women simply because of their appearance or how they sound. 

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I could write an entire book on bathrooms and the transgender population. This is a constantly developing discussion and debate and there is no doubt it is one of the top anxiety-producing challenges we have to face as trans people.

Sadly, what most people do not realize is that all we want to do is to “do our business,” and that’s it (hopefully wash our hands too). It seems like every time a trans person uses a bathroom, it makes headline news, usually with a negative spin to the story, such as men dressing as women because they are predators and like to stalk people in bathrooms.

When someone does not understand something or feels threatened by a situation, it can be easier to apply negative or harmful scenarios to focus attention on the subject, something that many lawmakers unfortunately practice.

It angers and saddens me that inexperienced and uneducated lawmakers and leaders make these accusations to pass unfair laws against the transgender population, simply because of their own irrational beliefs.

To my knowledge— at least here in the USA—there have been no reported cases of a transgender person assaulting or attacking anyone in a bathroom.

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On the other hand, there are many reports of transgender people being attacked and severely injured in bathrooms. We must all be aware of our surroundings and always practice safety first. 

Ladies’ bathroom When I first transitioned, I was petrified of using the ladies’ room and was constantly devising strategies for avoiding bathrooms altogether when out in a public place. I would put my health at risk by not drinking anything so I would not have to use the bathroom.

I was constantly dehydrated and putting tremendous amounts of stress on my body. There were some days I desperately needed to go to the bathroom but would spend the day in constant discomfort by holding on for six or seven hours until I got home.

I avoided public restrooms for years not only for safety but because I did not want to upset other people who may have been offended with a trans person using the bathroom. As I became bolder and started to use the ladies’ room more often, I quickly realized there were going to be some great stories to share in a book someday.

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I hated waiting in lines (something I hardly had to do when using the men’s room), I hated speaking because of my deep voice, and I would never make any kind of eye contact.

If all that was not terrifying enough, next came the conversations that seem to be an accepted practice when in the ladies’ room, something that I was definitely not used to (I was used to the unwritten rule of never speaking to other guys in the men’s room, especially at the urinals).

On the positive side, when someone began speaking with me, I found that validating. However, on the negative side, I now had to use my voice, but I somehow pulled it off with lots of head nodding and using as few words as possible.

They probably thought I was a bitch, but I really was terrified and wanted to exit as quickly as humanly possible. Having experienced using both bathrooms, I find women’s bathrooms are nicer, have great mirrors, smell better, and many are decorated with flowers.

These days I have much less anxiety using the ladies’ room, but there are still times when I do not want to deal with the “what ifs,” and I shamefully admit I will sometimes wait until I get home to use the bathroom. 

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We should never have to put our health at risk in order to please the public majority. Unfortunately, though, avoiding bathrooms is a fear that accompanies the transition process, whether it is for safety reasons or anxiety reasons.

To keep yourself safe and to lessen your anxiety around using bathrooms, there are a couple of strategies that I have found helpful. First, become familiar with the gender identity laws in your state, especially the one that pertains to bathroom rights.

Also keep in mind that even if the law protects you, that does not mean the entire public will follow the law. Second, if possible, try to become familiar with public bathrooms in the area that have single stalls, gender-neutral bathrooms, or even doors that go all the way to the floor.

Fortunately, more and more places now have, or are converting to, gender-neutral bathrooms. Becoming familiar with bathrooms in your area will help to ease your anxiety and safety concerns. More importantly, it will keep you from damaging your organs.

There are even some apps available that list gender-neutral or single-stall bathrooms in your area, so that may be another option to use. 

homosexual, transwomen, transgender, gender, pride

* Transitioning Later in Life is available for purchase at selected bookstores.

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