How I’m Seen Differently in a Female Body

Joelle Circé, “Waving Pride”

No aspect of my existence, no moment of the day, no contact, no arrangement, no response is not different for men and for women. The very tone of voice in which I was now addressed, the very posture of the person next in the line.

And if others’ responses shifted, so did my own. The more I was treated as a woman, the more woman I became. I adapted willy-nilly. If I was assumed to be incompetent at reversing cars, or opening bottles, oddly incompetent I found myself becoming. If the case was too heavy for me, inexplicably I found it so myself.

Women treated me with a frankness which was one of the happiest discoveries of my metamorphosis. But I also found men treating me more and more as junior. I discovered that even now men prefer women to be less informed, less able, less talkative, and certainly less self-centered than they are themselves; so I generally obliged.

The above lines were penned by a woman who had transitioned from being, bodily, a man. Certainly there is plenty to learn from our sisters, brothers, and others who live in-between, all of whom have transitioned away from the gender they were assigned at birth. One of the most obvious is the difference in how women and men are perceived and treated. Another is the experience of oppression for daring to cross accepted gender lines.

The passage was written in 1975, early in the movement for gender equality, so I wondered if things had changed. And then I came across artist, Joelle Circé, a woman of transsexual origin, and asked her about it. Here’s what she said:

I’ve always felt that I am a woman in my heart and my brain, but after I transitioned everything about my life changed. I noticed a very marked difference in how I was treated in public. The important parts of it are wonderful and beyond great. But some changes have been troubling.

Men are more likely to talk down to me as if I were a child. I get challenged by young male art supply clerks about the materials I want. I have over 20 years experience as an artist but they seem to think they know better, grrrrr.

And when I lived in a male body I seldom gave thought to my personal safety as I walked around, day or night. Now I do. Some aspects of my life have become dangerous and frightening.

At first I thought it was solely due to the transitioning and how I presented to others, especially men, but it didn’t take long to figure out that it was because I now look female that I’m harassed by some men, who look at me as if I were a piece of meat.

I’ve also gained weight due to hormones and eating when stressed, happy or sad. So now, like many other women I have felt yucky about my body’s size. I began thinking about self-loathing and of saying no to the media’s insistence we all have a certain body type. I had a friend of mine pose in our bathtub that was surrounded on three sides by mirrors with a sledge hammer in her hands and making as if to hit at her reflections in the mirrors. I call the piece ‘Smashing Images.’

And only after surgery did I begin to fully appreciate my body and those of other women. As a female born in the wrong body I speak to female eroticism, the beauty I see in my sisters, the joys and power of being a woman.

Being a woman of transsexual experience has permitted me to better understand oppression and prejudice, even as a woman by other women. I am conscious of myself, my sexual identity, my gender and my orientation. I am aware of communicating my hopes and fears, my joy and my anger as well as my sadness, my chaos.

My paintings maintain this constant in that I celebrate women, those who are empowered, those who are downtrodden, those who are invisible and those who are despised, hated, feared and oppressed, beaten and abused.

If anything, my art, is a reflection of my path and I hope it has some impact, brings some pleasure and happiness but also introspection and much questioning.

Thank you, Joelle Circé, for sharing your experience. You can go here to see her gallery.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on June 15, 2012, in feminism, gender, psychology, sexism and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 29 Comments.

  1. I feel as though Trans Women are the only ones that FULLY understand the true injustices and inequalities of women. For a big portion of Trans women, they experience what it’s like being perceived by society as a Male and as a Female. They are one of the only people who see life as being perceived as both sides (them and Trans Men). One thing about what Joelle Circé said about her experience as a Woman really stood out to me. When she said, “Men are more likely to talk down to me […] I get challenged by young male art supply clerks about the materials I want. I have over 20 years of experience as an artist but they seem to think they know better” I audibly gasped because as a female artist myself this has happened to me so many times. Honestly, any person who presents feminine experiences this type of microaggression. I know a lot of feminine presenting gay men who experience this same exact thing, being thought of as less intelligible because of their feminine qualities. The very idea of feminine expression is tainted with this image of stupidity or foolishness (I mean look at the whole Bimbo thing).

    • You are so right. That’s why a lot of early research on gender came from trans women and men. The rest of us don’t experience a difference in how we are treated because of our gender. We are so used to the inequality, having experienced it since we were babies, that it can seem natural and normal and invisible in that way.

    • Hello, I am thrilled to read the comments here and this is one way we all know one another as sisters, this misogyny, this being treated as somehow less. I have learned and still need to remind myself that views and my life are as valid as any man’s. Patriarchy is so entrenched in the fibre of our societies and cultures and it is vital that we stand up, speak out and take our places, of course I’m speaking for myself but I feel this is similar for most women.
      Of late I have been busy writing my memoirs and have independently published on Amazon. I hope that it will reach people as I see how more similar we are as humans, and specifically as women, than not.

      The title is: Breaking Free: 45 Years In The Wrong Body by Joelle Circé Laramée

  2. This was such an admirable post.
    It was very interesting, as a Transgender man who has medically transitioned, to read the other side of that journey and transition within a society that treats men and women very differently, not to mention trans men and women.
    My experience transitioning in our society was not dissimilar, but a polar opposite one at that. I began my transition in late 2016, and over the last four years I have discovered the two worlds that live within society, Male, and Female.
    The “Female world” I knew well, I lived in it for 18 years. I knew to not make eye contact with men on the streets because it could lead to unwanted attention, I knew to cross the street at night when a stranger approaches, to be polite, quiet, and kind, and I knew that I wouldn’t get away with what my brothers could.
    And finally, the “Male world”. I have been living in the male world for about 3 years, (it takes about a year of hormone therapy before you begin to present as male) and in these past three years, I too have adapted the role of a man in society, it is difficult not to. As Joelle Circé said “And if others’ responses shifted, so did my own. The more I was treated as a woman, the more woman I became. I adapted willy-nilly.” She a woman, me a man, yet the same result.
    Social pressures are incredibly strong, yet we neglect to speak of it. I have spent 81% of my life a women, and only 19% a man, yet I have almost entirely forgotten what it was like to be in a different body. That’s it, the only difference was my exterior, yet my entire life has altered. The only thing about me that has changed, is the way society perceives me, nothing else.

    • If you would like to write more details about how you have experienced the world differently in different bodies I would love to publish it under the name Jasper or whatever name you would like to use.

  3. Transgender people are vastly underrepresented everywhere and there’s still so much ignorance, which is why I was pleasantly surprised to come across this article. My close friend recently had a similar experience, regarding gender differences, as the people in this article at his previous job. He was born female and had recently come out as transgender, but had not yet made that personal information public to his employer, when he discovered that he was not being equally paid. He found out through another coworker that new male employees that he was tasked with training were earning more money at the start than he was after a couple years of experience. The fact that his employer saw him as female somehow made it okay to pay him less than he deserved. After speaking with his employer, they were willing to offer him a raise but not enough to actually pay him the same amount as other male employees. This gender pay gap is only one of the many new things that he is experiencing or realizing as he transitions and something that a lot of people don’t stop to think about. Luckily, he was able to find work with another company that was willing to treat and pay their employees equally, regardless of gender. The more we talk about these issues whether its through friends, articles, or television the more we are able to come up with solutions and put a stop to the inequality.

  4. I love this article! I think it’s imperative that the LGBT community have a social platform where they have an opportunity like this one to share their experience around transitioning to female. I especially admire how she was so candid about the social prejudices she experiences as a woman. Her experience is a definitive example that society still has a long way to go when it comes to gender equality. In some cases, when men transition to female I don’t believe they take into consideration initially that they will inherit unfair treatment. In her experience, she has been able to identify that society measures women capabilities based on an old belief system that displays women as incapable in areas outside of their “role” society has molded for women. I think it’s amazing that she had the opportunity to experience life from a male and female perspective. Her experience solidifies that it’s not easy to be a woman when it comes to self-esteem, body image, and daily battle women fight to prove their worth, value, strength, capabilities, and intelligence. I respect the fact she took the time to acknowledge her struggles as a woman from a female perspective and showed an abundance of understanding and empathy for what it feels like to walk in a woman’s shoes.

  5. These two accounts offer such a unique perspective since they have had the experience of bodily being a man and a woman. I will never know what it is like to be a man, but I definitely can understand the treatment these women faced once they had transitioned. The getting talked down to and worrying about personal safety are aspects of society I have just been conditioned to accept. Joelle’s mention of the media portraying the ideal body size and the “self-loathing” that can come from it is another reality women have to face every day. It is hard to look at a Victoria’s Secret ad and not compare your body to the models. However, as Joelle also mentioned there are “joys and powers” that come from being a woman too that she finally got to experience once she physically transitioned.

    The first article being from 1975 was surprising because some aspects of the way women are treated are still evident today. While I have no experience of going through a transition, I can understand why the first woman “adapted willy-nilly” and fit the role society pushed her into, becoming “oddly incompetent;” if you have been treated like the wrong gender all your life it is probably very exciting for society to treat you like the gender you actually are, regardless of if that treatment is positive or not. But as the two women both point out, society’s treatment of women can be frustrating, but there is plenty to celebrate about being a woman too!

  6. Stephanie Tran

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post. I enjoyed reading about the experience of a trans* woman from her perspective. I think this is information that more people should read into as I believe that being knowledgeable about the LGBTQ community is important whether you are a part of it or not. Being able to sympathize and empower those who deal with the multiple struggles of being in this community is a good quality to have because I think that every human needs to be understood and accepted for who they are. It can get pretty complex with the intersectionality that comes with it. As a marketing assistant at my school’s marketing department, I work with the school’s Pride Center to help with their marketing materials for the programs that they hold for LGBTQ students. As someone who is not a part of this community, I want to be able to communicate to them without possibly offending them as we always have to be careful about the language we use, especially in the marketing material (posters, fliers, etc.). We have to use inclusive, welcoming words, but at the same time clearly communicate that these events are exclusive to these niche groups. For example, they have a weekly program dedicated to queer and/or trans people of color. It took a while to create a final poster design and write copy that the Pride Center liked and truly represented their group and values. With that said, this post offered some perspective and helps us to be mindful when interacting with others. Reading this post opened my eyes as it discussed some issues faced by Joelle that involve how people now perceive her as a woman. I really liked how she mentioned that she is able to better understand oppression and prejudice faced by women through her experiences with her transition. This also clearly demonstrates how much differently women are treated in our society.

  7. I greatly appreciated that the first part of the post did not right away tell us that the passage was from 1975. Reading it I completely believed it to be a modern day experience. The candidly honest piece offers a very unique perspective from a person who has been viewed by society as both male and female. I have seen lots of pieces recently about transitioning and the experience of living life as a transgender person. I had never come across how unique of an experience it is to understand just how men and women are treated differently. Hearing a modern day perspective added to the posting, demonstrating similar sentiments decades later. Thank you for including the link the ‘Smashing Images’ art piece. My curiosity kicked in as soon as the piece was described. Actually seeing it was a wonderful add.

  8. Thank you for your piece, Joelle. While I have no experience as a trans* person, I so appreciate the truth this speaks to and how it highlights the fear of living inside a body that is looked upon as “less than”. This spoke to me even more powerfully than it normally would have, as I had a just had moment of pure terror in my white female body as I shared the car with my Asian, male partner.

    We were just leaving a show, laughing, and looking forward to returning to our dog and a quick bedtime. The parking garage was packed, and we had just entered the line that was slowly making its way out the gates. Suddenly, a small, white man stepped out in front of my partner’s car, held up his hand, and started gesturing for a massive suburban to back out where there was zero space. We didn’t really believe it at first as we’d been sitting in the line for roughly ten minute before this guy got here. But when he started gesturing to get his car out, my partner got angry and started yelling through the car:

    “What?! Are you SERIOUS, man!?”

    The man looked him dead in the eye and said:

    “Ohhh yeah, you bet your ASS, I’m serious. Don’t even TRY anything”

    In that instant, I froze. I told my partner to lock the car. He refused. He, my wonderful partner who was born and raised in the South Bay, has rarely experienced prejudice or overt racism. But I’d experienced that tone. I knew the danger. And I also knew my responsibility. Do I, as a white woman, stand up to this prick of a white man? Would he be speaking in the same tone if my partner were white? Did he have a gun? Was the risk worth the confrontation? There were far more questions than answers, and I just sat in shock, waiting for his audacious self to leave. It pissed off my partner, but it shook me to the core.

    The bodies that we live in are so much more than just bodies. They are political, social, and radical entities, and we face so much danger and responsibility when we realize the full potential of them. I don’t know if I made the right choice. But I know I will be thinking about those tense minutes for a long time yet.

  9. Sophie Topping Zimmerman

    This is really a perspective I had never even considered. Of course, I have read articles about the difficulties of transitioning and have heard about the judgment that is often received by those transitioning. Of course, I have read about women being treated differently from men and have been told from a young age about the fact that if a woman works just as hard as a man and does the same work as a man she will make 75 cents for his dollar. However, I had never considered the fact that there is a group of people who have not just witnessed from one side or the other this inequity but instead have seen the way they are viewed in society change. Something I found striking was from the 1975 passage by the woman who had been born male and “oddly incompetent I found myself being”. The idea that as men begin speaking down to you and people begin assuming that something is too heavy for you to carry, you too think less of yourself and the object feels heavier. I think that this development is certainly something to make note of and both reflect and question as Joelle Circe does in her art. It would be interesting to see the changes in Circe’s art and representations compared to the changes in her life and experiences.

  10. This was a very powerful and moving article. I lived through her experiences and felt her pain while I was reading about how she was treated differently as a female but still continued to believe hoe beautiful and empowered she is. We cannot fully understand how it feels unless we are given the opportunity to feel the fear, hatred, judgment of men. We as women know and are aware that we are treated differently and we feel the judgment but not all men sit down and think about how it makes us feel and how it changes our views of not only men but ourselves as well. We continue to stay quiet about prejudice we face as women just so we won’t be put down more but I think this is such a beautiful thing that she shared her story and her history just so other people can live through this experience, feel, know, and relate.

  11. Lerma Hernandez

    Now if we can only dress up the rest of the men and have them do their usual tasks in a woman’s shoes. Maybe then they would understand how it feels to be harassed but also have life made a little bit more simple. I mean being a women isn’t always about fear and being harassed by creepy men. I think the good and bad of being a female are 50/50. I say 50/50 because of the small “perks” you get by being a women. Most guys will bend over backgrounds for a girl, especially if she’s attractive. It feels like you don’t have to work as hard because guys are willing to do things for you and you can’t get away with certain things. I’ve had coworkers tell me I only got my job because I’m a “pretty girl”. Though I’m all for women equality, I do not mind having things made a bit easier for me. And it’s not because I am lazy, I guess I see it as a way of it making up for the constant harassment we endure on the daily. The most exasperating part of being a women is the cat-calling. It’s annoying going down the street and having to walk along side a car that has purposely slowed down, filled with a group of men, making comments about you. I don’t believe men will ever fully understand why women fight for equality. Or at least anytime soon..

  12. Vlada Eregina

    This story really touched me. I never had anybody around me, who was a transgender or a transexual, so for me it was always an interest to meet and talk with one of them. I want to know what do they feel when they turn to another gender, how society look at them and how they look at society. One of the main questions is that what changed and what remained the same as soon as they made their choice. I’m somehow jealous of them because they tried to be both genders, they were treated in life as women and as men and they can say a lot about that difference. As I see on the experience of that woman, it is still not so easy to change. It took her some time to realize that now she will be treated differently by men and women; she will get some new problems with her appearance that she never had before changing. As you state in one of your posts: men can be flabby; women must be fit and that’s true in our society. Also she met sexism in a new life that she probably never seen before. Many men argue that sexism is gone because they don’t see that, but as soon as he became she sexist problem suddenly arose.
    For example, sometime ago a read about Kim Petras who is a German singer and songwriter. She has been the subject of extensive worldwide news media reporting of her gender transition medical history in the context of her young age. Kim Petras was born Tim Petras. Her parents, have said that from the age of two, he began insisting he was a girl. Mother saw him try to cut off his penis with a pair of scissors that she understood his inclination towards being a girl wasn’t temporary. By the time he was 11, Tim was already known to everyone as Kim and, by age 12, she was taking hormones to prevent the onset of male puberty. At 16 she had an operation already.
    When I first saw the article and pictures, I assumed that the article will be about a teenage girl and somehow it was pretty obvious for me; however, the girl on the picture was sometime ago biologically a boy and there were no even a small sign that she could be he. Then I questioned myself what gender is. People are born with the range of characteristics pertaining to, and differentiating between masculinity and femininity. Before we couldn’t choose to be either a boy or a girl, nature already had chosen it for us. However, it is not unchangeable nowadays, and some people can choose to find a different role for themselves in this life. For many years it was not only biologically impossible, but also society would never accept those people. They would be freaks and would hardly find a place where people will accept them. Even today in many countries with traditional and conservative counties this is not acceptable, but i have a question “why?” Why can’t we choose who we want to be in this life like we choose our career? Kim Petras could never be happy in her life as Tim Petras. She doesn’t like anything what is associated with masculine things. She could be unhappy just because of society stereotypes. In our society people sometimes cannot be who they really want to be. In many places people like Kim Petras still are not fully accepted. She had two choices either to be unhappy as a boy but accepted in society or to be a girl but sometimes be judged by close-minded people. I think she is a very brave person and one day based on her story and every other person, society is going to change its mind about it and accept it as natural will of each one who wants it.

  13. I agree that women are treated differently. That some women allow others to talk down to them. I for one have experienced many different encounters expecially with men. I work for a large company and men are the ones in upper management, in power, and in charge. Women almost never last in upper management sometimes due to family but mostly because of stress and sexism. Women never seem to be strong enough to play the role if a manager for the company i work for.
    I live alone and occasionally date the question always comes up with whom i live with assuming i live at home or with roomates. And i suppose its a shocker when i say alone i rent my own place. Its not rare for men to live alone but for women it is.
    I do believe there are advantages to being a woman sometimes you are treated differently but also pampered. Typically men open the doors, pay for dates, and sometimes women get hired because they are a good looking female.
    There are advantages and disadvantages we just have to be wise on how we use them to inpower ourselves, and not be considered the weakest sex instead an equal.

  14. I love this article. I love how a man gets to “step inside” a woman’s world/body and see the challenges that we go through every day as a woman. He notices the inequality and how we are treated like we are to soft and weak to do anything. This statement is very touching to me when he states “but it didn’t take long to figure out that it was because I now look female that I’m harassed by some men, who look at me as if I were a piece of meat.” Now that he is a women he see’s how we are harassed daily like we are sexual objects.

    • That’s because I was never a man, being born in the wrong body means exactly what it means. I may have been raised as. a male, this doesn’t mean I ever was. There are many ways of being a woman, and more than one monolithic model, some are born without wombs, some are tall and a small percentage are born in the wrong body or intersex. My pronouns are she and her and to close friends, sister.

  15. Michelle Gould

    I have gone through a similar life experience since my hormones and going full-time in 2007.

  16. Bravo on your article, well written and I appreciate that you remained true to our communications via email. Would have responded earlier but I’ve been in studio and preparing 2 new shows that open in the coming week in Toronto.



  1. Pingback: How I’m Seen Differently in a Female Body « Women Born Transsexual

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