Am I a “real woman”? I am real, I assure you. Quite solid. But do people “see me as a woman,” and if not, does it matter? It is almost the first thing even trans folk notice about another person, and if we can’t decide we are as uncomfortable as others are, so often- which is, really uncomfortable.
I met F and her friend Nan, and later F asked me to help move furniture. She told me Nan had suggested it: “so she saw you as a man”. Well, I was happy enough to move furniture, and strong enough for the load F had; and I took my wig off so as not to get too hot doing it: we were out in the country, no-one but F’s removal team of one man and one other woman would see me. Women can lift and carry too, even if on average we are smaller lighter and less strong than men.
Nan had been reasonably polite. We met at the theatre, and had a good discussion about the play, though not about personal matters. So whether someone “sees me as a woman” is different from whether they are polite, or even willing to form a friendship. I asked K if she “saw me as a woman” and she said “I see you as you“- dodging the question- but I call her a friend. I still tend to feel that if someone does not see me as a woman that is a disaster, they will see me as some kind of weirdo, they will be horrified and disgusted, they will snub me- but people don’t, and that is my internalised transphobia. It is me thinking I must not appear trans as if being trans is a bad thing.
And that group of lads in a car, catcalling as they drove past: that could have been because they saw me as a woman. Women get cat-called.
It matters whether I think I appear like a man. In a car with my deaf friend, we found she could hear me if I spoke baritone, but not with my higher voice. I did that for a time, then found it too upsetting. The thought of presenting male gives me the willies. But when I put on a hard hat next week I will not have a wig under it.
People treat men and women differently. Sometimes this is a disadvantage for a woman: women are disapproved of more than men when expressing anger. If you play the game, fit the stereotype, strangers are more comfortable, though they might be happier with me as an obvious queer rather than an apparent man who was very feminine indeed but only showed that gradually.
It is everyone’s experience that not everyone else is nice. We click with some, we wind up others. Few people are particularly rude, and being trans does not make that worse- it is only because I am trans in my own mind.