I’ve been saying for a long time that having more transpeople is going to teach us a lot about how gender works. Generally, when I say this, I mean that we’re going to learn about biology: what changes when a person is on hormones, and what doesn’t? What changes for some people and not others? What varies with hormone levels? What changes when a person has surgery? These are all things we couldn’t know before and now there’s an opportunity to gather data (so the geek in me is automatically interested).
At the same time, there’s also a lot to be learned sociologically. Twenty years ago or so, a major study (which I can’t easily find on the Internet) revealed that MTF transgender people earned a lot less after they transitioned than they did before transition. The study interpreted this as a failure of transition, failing to take into account that 1) at the time, to be permitted to have a medical transition, people had to agree to leave their whole old life (including their work history) behind and take a new name in a new city; and 2) women earn less than men.
Now, however, Kristen Schilt has published Just One of the Guys: Transgender Men and the Persistence of Gender Inequality
and guess what? People who have been in the workplace as both women and men report being treated better when they present as male.
In a fascinating blog called “Dollars and Sex,” which I hadn’t seen before, Marina Adshade reports on the book:
Most of the men interviewed revealed that as men they were given more authority and respect in the workplace than they had received as women, even when they had stayed in the same job. They also found that their economic gains post-transition were greater despite the fact that their human capital remained the same.
As men they found that they were perceived as being right more often. One tells a story of intentionally repeating a comment that had just been made by a woman in a conference setting. The woman had been shot down for making the comment but when the man made exactly the same observation the reaction was “Excellent point!”
The overriding theme here is that as men they were seen as more competent in their jobs and given more respect and authority. When it came time to evaluate workplace performance, either for promotion or pay, this perception played to their advantage. For those running their own businesses, they found it easier to gain the confidence of investors as men, making them more successful.
Again, no surprise: ethnicity, race, and age can be balancing factors:
It turns out that the real gain described above is not in becoming a man, but in becoming an older white man. Becoming either a Black or Asian man meant facing a whole new set of challenges in the workplace as either being too aggressive or too passive. If the transition made them look like very young men (especially over the period in which they are developing peach fuzz beards) they saw no advantage, or were disadvantaged for their youth and perceived lack of experience.
This is just another piece of evidence to add to the already-very-convincing pile of data which shows how much (older white) male privilege affects the workplace. What makes it interesting is that in this case, the change happens to a single person, which significantly undercuts any attempt to claim that “men are just better at these things” or “well, in our office, it just happens that the women aren’t as skillful at [X important skill].” Next time someone tries one of those arguments on me, I’ll have a new response.
Thanks to wordweaverlynn for the pointer.