A reader writes: “I am a blind trans guy and want to know about the things I need to know that I can’t just observe men doing. I heard that there’s a time to hug someone and a time not to, and that these things are different for men. Can you explain this?
“Also, how will I know when I need to start using the men’s room instead of the women’s? I won’t see the disgusted looks I’d get! Currently, I still look female and use the women’s room. Are there any other blind trans guys out there, and what are their experiences?”
I hope we will hear from other blind trans guys. I can’t relate to this experience, and anything I say here comes from the perspective of a sighted person. The “hug” question I can answer from a white, Western perspective, as well as the perspective of a person who’s not much of a hugger.
One of the biggest problems I had when entering the gay community after transition was what seemed to be perpetual hugging. My family was great and very loving, but my parents were not physically demonstrative, and my sister and I grew up with a kind of “hug-phobia.” To this day, we don’t hug each other for any reason.
As a straight woman, I hugged my current partner – but not often. I was also (and still am) the type of person who wanted to roll over and go to sleep after sex rather than “snuggle.” But gay men are huggers, and I discovered early on that there was an expectation that I would hug both close friends and casual acquaintances upon greeting them and leaving them.
I learned how to do this, and I now do it as a social custom. How I feel about doing it has no reflection on how I feel about seeing the person. I might be thrilled to see the person – but the hug, for me, is done out of social expectation. So if you are entering the gay community, the hug is somewhat expected. You can get away with not doing it – you can offer your hand for a handshake – but don’t be surprised if the other person chooses to embrace you instead.
This ritual is probably also influenced by the part of the country you live in, the size of the town, and the “gay-friendliness” quotient of your location. For example, if you are in rural Nebraska, it is probably less customary and, in some places, just might not be a good idea at all. Even in Denver, I think gay men are probably more inclined to hug in public in my neighborhood, and less inclined in outlying areas. If you are unsure, offer your hand, and let the other guy take the lead in hugging.
In straight, Western culture, straight guys rarely hug. I dated many guys as a straight woman, and I only saw one of my straight boyfriends hug another man on a regular basis. They were best friends, and whenever they left each other, they would hug goodbye, no matter where they were – a bar, a restaurant, on the street.
This particular boyfriend was very secure in his masculinity, his sexual orientation, and his personal safety – he was tall and fairly muscular. But not too long ago, I read an article in a gay magazine about a straight guy who, overnight, took up the cause of gay rights, because he had hugged another straight male friend in a bar (to say goodbye) and he was followed outside and beaten severely under the assumption that he was gay. He suddenly realized the violence that gay men can be subjected to, and he wanted it to stop.
There are some countries and cultures in which men hugging or holding hands is a sign of friendship, and these actions are not associated with sexual orientation. But in the U.S., hugging is not generally seen as acceptable between straight men, even if they are best friends.
It’s unfortunate, because I think men need this kind of human contact between friends, and I think they would welcome it if it was socially accepted, but at this point in our society, it’s really not. I have seen straight trans men hug each other, and I think it’s a symbol of sharing the common bond of transness, but I would not say that every straight trans man would be comfortable with this.
With regard to the bathroom, this is a huge issue for any guy. My advice to you, again coming from the perspective of a sighted person, would be that you start using the men’s bathroom when your friends tell you that you look sufficiently “male.”
If you are on testosterone, you will reach a point where you will get more stares in the women’s bathroom than you do in the men’s. If your blindness is obvious to other people, you may even come to a point where helpful women will tell you that you’re in the wrong restroom, or someone will try to stop you from going into the women’s restroom. At that point, you know for sure, but your friends can probably help you figure out when the time is right.
Just be aware than men rarely look at other men in a public restroom. You will feel self-conscious because you will think they are staring, but they won’t be. Walk in like you belong there, head for the stall, take care of business, wash your hands, and leave. Believe me, if there are any guys in there, they won’t be looking at you. In the men’s room, the unspoken etiquette is “Keep your eyes to yourself.”
It is terrifying to go into the men’s room for the first time as a trans guy – and for the second, the third, the fourth, and maybe even the fiftieth. You will be afraid, and you just have to remember that almost every guy is afraid at first, and the fear starts to lessen when he sees that no one is paying attention to him, something that you will not be aware of.
It also helps to realize that non-trans guys use the stall, too, and that using the stall is not a signal to anyone in there that you are trans. In addition, nobody is paying attention to what your pee sounds like (something I used to worry about).
Don’t take unnecessary risks with your safety, especially because you are not able to see a possible unsavory character lurking around. But in the fourteen years that I have used public men’s restrooms, I have only run into a lurking unsavory character once – at a highway rest stop, of course – and I ignored him, did my business, and left.
Once you start, you will get used to it, and your fear will dissipate. Pretty soon, you won’t think anything of it – you’ll just go when you need to go. So when your friends tell you that the time is right, walk in like you belong there – because, of course, you do.
Readers, your thoughts, experiences, and advice, please. And thanks in advance.