I was born a male chauvinist. It's not something that I'm terribly proud of, and it's way more complicated than it sounds. First of all, I might be giving myself more credit than I deserve. My father was a class A chauvinist, and he modeled some good-bad behavior. But let's be honest, he was hardly around long enough to really rub off on me. What makes things even more interesting is the fact that when I proclaimed my male supremacy for the first time, I was an eight-year-old girl. I’m transgendered – and I have been given the gift/curse of experiencing life as both a woman and a man.
I remember it like it was yesterday. My mother presented my sister and me with a chore list, neatly divided into two columns on a piece of yellow legal pad. On the left side she wrote my name, on the right, my sister’s name. The first chore listed below my name was “dishes.” Clearly, my 1970s stay-at-home mother had made a mistake, I thought – it should have read “trash,” or “mowing the lawn.” I handed the paper back to her and said in my firmest voice, “Dishes are women’s work! I won’t do it.” She snatched the paper back, looked at me with bewilderment and said, “You ARE a woman! Do the dishes!”
I was angry, confused, and disappointed, but the message was still clear. In the 1970s, women stayed home and did the dishes while men stayed away working. I knew at that moment that something was terribly wrong with me, because I felt that when I grew up, I needed to be away making money for my family, not staying home.
Fast forward thirty-six years to when I decided to fully transition to male and live out the rest of my life as the man I am supposed to be. After the name change, the counseling, the exams, the surgeries and the hormone treatments, I was in the workforce as Mr. Dukes, anxious to discover what would be different and what would be the same. Having experienced the world of the office as both a woman and a man, I’m in a unique position to share my observations.
Let’s start with the most basic, but most talked-about issue when it comes to men and women: the bathroom. The ladies room is a place of refuge. It can be a place where you and a friend can “freshen up” or talk about the annoying guy in HR. You can admire each other’s outfits, and maybe your friend can point out the spinach that has been stuck in your teeth since lunch. You can laugh, cry and trade recipes all in a 10-minute restroom break. On the other hand, the men’s room is as friendly as a morgue. You do NOT invite your friend to “go with,” and you don’t even acknowledge the guy at the urinal next door if you’ve known him since high school. I would even dare to say that eye contact is avoided at all costs – a simple nod when walking in or out will suffice. I am also sorry to report that most men do not wash their hands. Its fast-in, fast-out, move on.
Interviews are another area where I have noticed differences, both in presentation and process. As a man, the question of what to wear has been simplified, with a white dress shirt and a suit. The most difficult decision is whether the red tie is too bold and I should go with classic blue. As a female, it was much more difficult. Skirt or pants? Heels or flats? Sleeveless or not? Hair down or pulled back? Too overly dressed for the position? Too casual? What is the culture? Are they laid-back and more “people friendly,” or is everyone “dressed for success”? Is black appropriate or too formal? What is the weather going to be that day? Should I bring an umbrella? And so on and so forth – it could be exhausting.
More significantly, the interviewing process itself is different. As a male, interviews are more casual, comfortable, easygoing and to-the-point. Work hours are discussed, hobbies brought up and salary is not taboo. As a female, it was more formal and polite, and I don’t ever recall an interviewer asking me what I was currently making or telling me what my new salary would be. I would never be given tours of the facilities or introduced to other co-workers. Is was as if the decision had been made as soon as I sat down whether they were going to offer me the job.
Once I secured a job, as a female I received copious amounts of training. Tasks were overly explained and dumbed down. Certain things were not explained because I “didn’t have to worry about that.” Any ideas that I had would be quickly shot down, or others would take credit for them. As a male on the job, I would get two to three days training before being told “you got this.” I can ask a thousand questions about any department in the organization and get anyone to tell me all about it. I’m given tours of buildings that I don’t even care about, and asked to “hop in the truck and drop off some stuff.” My ideas are taken seriously and often put into place. I can even give an opinion about something I know absolutely nothing about and get an assuring nod, or a “great idea!” It’s B.S. about B.S. for B.S.’s sake.
Having said all this, let me tell you why I decided to write this “ProFspective.” I was eating with a female friend one afternoon who said she found out that a male colleague in our department was paid more than females with the same title. She was looking at me, and it suddenly hit me: I might be one of those guys getting paid more than my female counterparts. I had never thought that I would earn more simply because I am called “sir” instead of “ma’am,” and I was both embarrassed and ashamed at the same time. When I was hired for my current position, I never negotiated my salary, but I do recall that it was slightly higher than I expected. I also got a 6% raise six months after I was hired. I never asked for it – they just gave me the raise. When I told my friend this, her face fell. She replied that she and her colleagues had not received raises in three years. I could say nothing but “I’m sorry.”
Unfortunately for both genders, discrimination is alive and well and during the next four to eight years, it doesn’t look like we have leaders that will make things any better. Whether someone goes by “Sam” or “Sue” is irrelevant. Maybe they used to be Sue and now they are Sam – who cares?
So where do I go from here? Do I fight for the rights of women or stay quiet, happy that I can live comfortably and provide for my family? If I stay quiet I am complicit, and am taking advantage of “male privilege.” If I speak up I’m just another man giving my opinion on female issues I couldn’t possibly understand. Ironic, really.
I have taken steps to be a voice for a community I was once a part of. I have become an LGBTQ Ally, I attend PFLAG meetings, I sit on the Staff Initiatives Committee , I have been a guest speaker for numerous events, and I am a Commissioner for the Human Rights Commission. Each organization views my gender perspective differently. If I can get my audience past the initial shock and curiosity of my transgender status and to listen to the real issues, then I can make a difference. It’s a long game, but in the short run we can all make a difference by seeing beyond gender and understanding at the core we are all the same.