Recently I got a job for no other reason than because I am a man. It was interesting, but it was also pretty awful. This kind of situation can be very challenging for trans men, especially if we only transitioned late in life. Here is my story of how that went for me. As trans men who pass, people sometimes have expectations that we simply cannot meet.
Semi-Retired Man Required for Groundsman Job
So a few months ago I applied for a job that needed a semi-retired person to do general chores and grounds keeping. My income from this blog is minimal, so it seemed like a good idea at the time …
Getting a Job Because the Employers are Sexist
I got the job with pretty much no questions asked. I know for a fact (because it was later spelled out for me) that the job would not have been offered to a woman. The employers did not see this as discrimination.
However, they were looking at the world through their own gender bias. They took it for granted that an older man would know how to do a whole lot of mechanical things, and that he would not mind getting his hands into a toilet or a sewer.
They were right on the latter point, but almost entirely wrong on the first point. The only saving grace was that I have always been a gardener, so at least I was not totally useless on the grounds.
Trans Men Don’t Get the Benefits of Testosterone as We Grow Up
As a trans man, I did not grow up with the benefits of testosterone flooding my body from the age of 12. That meant I did not develop typical male height, bone density, and strength.
I started on T at the age of about 43, which was far too late to ever make up for the years without T. Like most trans men, my strength on testosterone is much greater than my strength pre-T. For example, I can do 10 push-ups, but I could not do even one pre-T.
But the fact is that my strength will never equal the strength I would have had, if I had been in the right body from the get-go.
Trans Men Don’t Get Man-Training as We Grow Up
Also as a trans man, my father did not teach me the things many fathers teach their sons. My school curriculum did not include shop or any other manly skills. On the contrary, I have memories of red-faced, furious women trying in vain to teach me girly skills like sewing and cooking. It was a lost cause.
And as a geeky person anyway, I never had much interest in hands-on mechanical stuff. I was always more comfortable learning how to program computers than figuring out how to fix cars.
Probably even if I had been a cis man, I would not have been the most “manly” of men.
I was Pretty Much Hopeless …
I would have been a geeky cis man, but I would have been stronger than I am. As a trans man, I am pretty much hopeless at being a “man’s man”. True, I have been improving in the almost 2 decades since I started transitioning. For example, I have learned to do a whole lot of things I would never have dreamed of tackling before. Such as, I can start generators and lube bikes. But I am still light years away from having the skills of most cis men.
So when I started work last summer, it was pretty horrifying to suddenly be expected to know how to build things with wood, fix motors that did not work, and in general have a whole lot of skills that I simply did not have.
Sometimes the boss would give me an order and I would stop at the washroom along the way to Google what he was talking about. Once I even phoned my wife in desperation to explain to me how to do something. Yes, my wife is better at most of this “guy stuff” than I am. I am not proud of it, but what can I say – I am who I am.
Terrified by Garbage Bins
My biggest challenge was that often I had to lift very heavy things up to (for me) very high places (garbage bins). Those giant garbage bins pretty much terrified me. I had to lift bags of garbage that were sometimes bigger and heavier than me, and get them into bins that were considerably taller than me. And did I mention that I am no longer young?
I tried various techniques, such as dragging giant rocks up against the bins, so I could climb onto them. Nothing really worked, because then I had a balance problem. I ended up pulling my rotator cuff and then had to work even harder to hide the injury.
My boss was often visibly irritated by me. But we were in a situation where it would have been tricky to replace me, so he reluctantly put up with me. And I was in a situation where I needed the money, so I reluctantly stuck with the job.
Takeaways from Being Hired for a Job ONLY Because I am (Now) a Man
What were my takeaways from that job? Well, first of all, I will never do it again. I am lucky I was not more seriously injured. And frankly, it was tough and scary, and I often felt downright humiliated. My inadequacy made sense to me because I know my life story, but to my boss and my workmates, I am sure I just seemed like a total failure.
Second, most workplaces are still hopelessly sexist and gendered. That worked for me when I was still doing white-collar jobs, because I was paid more than I was ever paid while living as a woman. (That’s another post I need to write.) But it worked very much against me when I was doing a physical job.
Third, as a trans man, I will not in future under-estimate the impacts of living for 40 years as a woman. It was a very, very different life experience. Living as a woman does not necessarily prepare one to live as a man. Regardless of how entirely male we feel.
On the Plus Side
On the plus side, it was continuously gratifying to me to realize that – despite my inadequacies – no one ever questioned my masculinity. I loved being one of the male work team. I loved when the boss said things like, “Let’s go, boys!”
It was great to be one of the boys, even if I was undoubtedly the weakest link.
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