This is a guest post by Nicole Balcom. It was originally published here.
A tiny part of my personality is growing rapidly, and I don’t like what it’s becoming: androphobia (the fear of men). I am quite certain that I’m not mistaking my feelings from misandry, as I hold no dislike, contempt, or ill will towards men; they just make me feel uncomfortable, with a side of uneasy, and a touch of fear. I do not believe that I have androphobia, and I hope I can get a handle on the situation before it becomes that, but I don’t have a better word at the moment.
First, I should be clear about a few things, as they relate to why I’m writing this.
I am a transsexual woman, and I have been living full time for about 7 months at the time of writing this. This means that I am pretty new to living a life where I am perceived as a woman, and my previous understanding of what women dealt with has in no way prepared me for living it. As a point of reference, living my life as a woman causes me just as much fear as living my life as a transsexual*.
*This is not true for all transsexuals and I don’t want people to think that it is. I have “passing privilege”, which means when people see me, their perception is of a cis woman, not a transsexual, so a lot of the discrimination and prejudice that I deal with is based on that. Cissexism/transphobia is a very real and scary thing, however this piece is not about trans* issues, so I will not elaborate on those here; please see my other essays for more on that subject.
Being educated on issues, an outspoken activist, or even understanding discrimination as it relates to a different “ism” is not the same, and can’t prepare you for the experience of sexism as a woman. There aren’t enough words to convey the fear associated with walking at night, feeling like you can’t speak out against misogynistic jokes, or feeling like you don’t have respect or ownership over your own body.
I used to glance over my shoulder when I heard a sound behind me; I now glance over my shoulder every few seconds to make sure that there is nothing there to make a sound.
I used to speak up when the misogyny came out at work, and was ‘fighting sexism’; I now can’t speak up because you still seem to view me as ‘one of the guys’ (ouch), and if I say something, I become the subject.
I used to be ok with physical contact from men; I am no longer comfortable with being touched, even by close friends, and if you’re a stranger and male? please stand over there, and never behind me.
This list could go on, but there are already so many examples out there, and this last one is what really caused me to realize and evaluate where these feelings were coming from, the physical contact.
Why is a hug, that 8 months ago I welcomed, causing me anxiety? Why is accidental bumping, because I can’t walk in a straight line, annoying me? Why is your hand on my shoulder making me uncomfortable? Why do I feel violated when you stand so close to me?
I no longer have the safety blanket of maleness, and I live in a completely new world that I do not feel safe in. No, not all women are physically assaulted. No, not all men are perpetrators. Yes, the media fans the flames and sensationalizes issues. This does not change the fact that some men are perpetrators of assault on women, and I don’t know which one you are.
I know that I’ve taken a few steps past where I’d like the line to be, and that being uncomfortable with ALL male touch is not healthy. However, I’m new to being perceived as a woman, and I don’t know where I’m comfortable drawing that line yet. I am in the process of relearning every social cue I have ever known. I don’t know why you’re standing so close to me, I don’t know what your hand on my shoulder means, I don’t know if you think I’m showing affection when I bump into you, I don’t know why you rubbed my back during that hug. No, I am not over thinking things. I am trying to balance being friendly with being safe, and since I will apparently be negatively judged for being too friendly, too safe, or anywhere in between, I am defaulting to ‘deny all, permit by exception’.
There’s so much I’d like to say on this particular topic, from the pervasive threat of violence to the passive undertones of discrimination and disrespect, but the constant fear I now live with is a subject I would like to let stand on its own.