In the 1990s, the late Stanford neuroscientist Ben Barres transitioned from female to male. He was in his 40s, midcareer, and afterward he marveled at the stark changes in his professional life. Now that society saw him as male, his ideas were taken more seriously. He was able to complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man.
Four men who transitioned as adults share their experiences, revealing the gulf between how society treats women and men.
Trystan Cotten, 50, Berkeley, Calif.: Professor of gender studies at California State University Stanislaus and editor of Transgress Press.
Life doesn’t get easier as an African-American male. The way that police officers deal with me, the way that racism undermines my ability to feel safe in the world, affects my mobility, affects where I go. … I had to learn from my black and brown brothers about how to stay alive in my new body and retain some dignity while being demeaned by the cops.
One night somebody crashed a car into my neighbor’s house, and I called 911. I walk out to talk to the police officer, and he pulls a gun on me and says, “Stop! Stop! Get on the ground!” I turn around to see if there’s someone behind me, and he goes, “You! You! Get on the ground!” I’m in pajamas and barefoot. … Afterward I said, “What was that all about?” He said, “You were moving kind of funny.”
Zander Keig, 52, San Diego: Coast Guard veteran. Works at Naval Medical Center San Diego as a clinical social work case manager.
Prior to my transition, I was an outspoken radical feminist. I spoke up often, loudly and with confidence. I was encouraged to speak up. … When I speak up now, I am often given the direct or indirect message that I am “mansplaining,” “taking up too much space” or “asserting my white male heterosexual privilege.” Never mind that I am a first-generation Mexican-American, a transsexual man, and married to the same woman I was with prior to my transition.
Chris Edwards, 49, Boston: Advertising creative director, public speaker and author of the memoir “Balls: It Takes Some to Get Some.”
I kept noticing that if guys wanted an assignment they’d just ask for it. If they wanted a raise or a promotion they’d ask for it. … As a woman, I never felt that it was polite to do that or that I had the power to do that.
People ask if being a man made me more successful in my career. My answer is yes — but not for the reason you might think. As a man, I was finally comfortable in my own skin and that made me more confident. At work I noticed I was more direct: getting to the point, not apologizing before I said anything or tiptoeing around … like I used to do. . … Not because I was a man. Because I was happy.
Alex Poon, 26, Boston: Project manager for Wayfair.
People now assume I have logic, advice and seniority. They look at me and assume I know the answer. … I’ve been in meetings where everyone else in the room was a woman and more senior, yet I still got asked, “Alex, what do you think?” I was at an all-team meeting with 40 people, and I was recognized by name. Whereas next to me, there was another successful team led by a woman, but she was never mentioned by name.