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Burning your male privilege, with Emily Sandalwood


Emily VanDerWerff

Jan 11 2019

5 min read


There may be no time when any human being becomes aware of how much male privilege they have than right when they are about to lose it. And there may be no time when any human being becomes so reckless with that privilege than when they know that every use of it burns just a little bit of it up.

The other day, I was walking back to my office from the sandwich shop where I often get lunch, and one of the homeless people who sits along that particular stretch of sidewalk was shaking his cup for those of us who walked by. He looked at me, in full guy mode, and he hesitated, just a second, not sure whether to say, "Spare some change for a US Army veteran, sir," or "ma'am." He made a calculation, I could tell, and he landed on "sir," because, well, that's where I am after two and a half months of hormones (a low dose, too). But he took a second. A part of him thought, "Is that a woman?" I gave him a quarter (all I had) for being almost right.

But it was part of a drumbeat that has been sounding in the distance since I came out and especially since I started hormones. My body is taking to them. It is feminizing at a far more rapid clip than anybody expected, especially for someone in her 30s. I have a margin of error, still. I could conceivably pass as a man for another six months to a year. But at some point, the switch is going to flip, and I'll barely have a guy mode. I'll just be me.

And the things that still most mark me as someone you might call a guy -- my voice and my facial hair -- I'm dealing with those. The hair is being burned off by lasers. The voice... I haven't decided yet, but due to my job, I need to decide much sooner than most trans women do.

To be clear: This is exciting. It's also terrifying. The longer I'm on hormones, especially, the more acutely aware I become of all of the ways that I move through the world without really being seen. If I decide to ride the train after 10 pm (as I did the other night), I don't have to worry about a creep sidling up to me, not yet. And if I walk home from the train station at 11 (as I did the other night), I don't have to worry about violence nearly as much as I will.

But I've also perversely become aware of all of the authority I've been granted that I was only given because I acted like I might do something responsible with it. And I know how fragile and breakable that is. I'm in a position of authority, where people will probably care to turn to me as An Expert Trans Woman after I come out (for all of my wariness about THAT). But I also know there are going to be a lot of people who think my transition will mark me as somebody less than, someone not worth listening to, either because I'm trans or a woman or (more likely) both.

This is why, I think, I've been a little reckless with my existing male privilege lately, lighting fires and swinging my rapidly shriveling dick around. I'm trying to use it for good, for defending friends and for making dumbass dudes be nice to the random women they accost on the internet. It's like after a lifetime of trying to take up less space, I'm suddenly trying to take up as much of it as possible, because I know it's all going to be taken away. The second the first name on my Twitter account goes from unassuming guy name to Emily, the world is going to split open.

I cannot tell you how much I can't wait for this to happen. I'm out to enough people in my life now that their experience of me is so different that I sort of can't get enough of it. I can't yet see my real self reflected in mirrors, because the process of transition is so slow and grueling and difficult, but I can see it reflected in the eyes of my friends, who go from holding me at a slightly guarded distance to embracing me as myself. It's intoxicating.

But it also doesn't mean that I can't feel, almost subconsciously, the stuff I will miss. Maybe I keep setting it on fire because I'm giving it a Viking funeral. Or maybe being myself just makes me feel like I have more license to be an asshole. Either way, the clock is ticking.


I am a transwoman in her 30s. I live in Los Angeles, and you might have heard of my other self. This is mostly a journal to myself, but you can read it if you want, because I feel like radical honesty is sometimes the best policy, and if I ever come out more widely, I can just, like, point my family to these mad ramblings. I'm obviously not named Emily Sandalwood, because lol, whose last name is Sandalwood? Anyway, you can respond to this, and I will look at your reply and nod sagely and probably never write back, or you can follow me on Twitter, where I am extremely funny.

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