The Art of Transliness Guide to Being Read as Male
Most trans* people who are in the business of giving advice to others have a guide to passing or presenting (we’re avoiding using the passing from now on because it has recently come to our attention that it is a pretty problematic term). Some trans* people don’t care much about the way they are read (or don’t identify with the binary at all) or wish to change the way they dress or behave, but for others it can be incredibly important (because of dysphoria, safety, comfort, or many other reasons). For those who want advice on this matter, here’s what we have to say:
-For some people, being read as male is easy. For others, it is hard. There is no fairness in this. Whether it be their naturally deeper voices, height, body shape, or bone structure, some trans* people just naturally have an easier time presenting as male before/without HRT. For other people, it can seem impossible no matter what they do. The reason I’m saying this is because you should not blame yourself or be down on yourself if you are misgendered. There are many variables that control whether or not someone reads you as male that you have no control of, including their expectations, if they previously knew you as female, the context they are seeing you in, etc. It sometimes helps to recognize this and realize that when you are misgendered it is a problem with the other person seeing you the wrong way, not a problem with you.
-Dressing like a generic guy can often (though not always) increase your chances of being read as male. Many people are uncomfortable with the idea of getting a certain haircut or dressing a certain way because it really limits their self-expression. If you’re having trouble being misgendered though (particularly pre-T/not on T), blending in with a popular/typical haircut and clothes like what everyone else is wearing can really help. Look around you and try to fit in. Whatever the guys in your age group in your area are wearing, wear that. This means different things for different people.
-When dressing, however, keep in mind that you’re not only dressing to fit in, but also usually to hide your curves. A plain white undershirt is a guy’s best friend, because layering helps conceal your chest and smooth out your curves. Slightly baggier jeans (like one size up) can also help cover your hips, but I would advise against wearing oversized clothes if that is not a style that is common in your area among your age group. Even if they are in style, avoid fabrics that are really clingy (like thermal shirts). Many trans* guys say that it helps to avoid cardigans until after they’ve had top surgery, just because of the way it can make your chest look. The best thing to do, though, is to try on a lot of different types of clothes with someone who will be honest with you and see what is most flattering for you.
-Again, many things that help people be read as male require dressing and acting in a way that may or may not be appealing to them or come naturally to them. It is up to you to weigh the options and decide how you want to incorporate these suggestions. Having said that, mannerisms really matter. A lot of guys get their hair cut really short, buy all guys clothes, bind, and pack, and still don’t get read as male 100%. A lot of times this is because the way they walk, gesture, or position themselves. Non-verbal cues are HUGE in determining how others see us, and they are also mostly unconscious things we do and so are difficult to change. The way other people perceive your gender is really complicated, and so these things generally do not override someone’s impression of you if you have otherwise strong male cues (for example, a beard), and so mannerisms are particularly important for those who look more androgynous (for instance, those who are pre-T/not on hormones or early in their transitions). Guys with “feminine” mannerisms who otherwise clearly read male are more likely to been seen as gay instead of as trans* men or as women. Watch other men to pick up on their mannerisms. Men tend to stand with a wider stance and not lean on one hip, tend to cross their legs at their ankles or rest their ankle above their knee, gesture less, and walk with their chests instead of their hips.
-Verbal cues are also important. There are ways to make your voice sound deeper, but often it can be even more helpful to just change what you say and the way you say things. Men are more likely to talk in a monotone voice, whereas women are more likely to vary their intonation. This is just a stereotype, like a lot of tips like these, but it actually can help if you’re having trouble. Men are more likely to use fewer words to say things, and many men (particularly younger men) tend to mutter instead of speaking clearly.
-Details in general are important. Carefully examine the people around you and be aware of how you dress, move, act, and speak. This isn’t to say you should be gender policing yourself, but just that you should be aware and be able to adjust things accordingly based upon what would make you feel most comfortable. In many ways you are completely re-learning the gendered social script that most people acquire when they are very young children. Even if you completely reject the gender binary, it can serve you well to understand the social script and societal expectations behind it so you can blend in if needed. While it can be frustrating, following these types of guidelines and modeling yourself off of other men can really help. Once you have started being read correctly more regularly or have started developing clearer male cues, you may find that you have more freedom to break these rules and still be read as male.
-Finally, Confidence is key. This is a missing component for many people. Be confident and expect others to see you as male. Trans* guys usually have a much easier time once they’ve been on testosterone. Part of this is because of the physical changes that provide clear male cues (facial hair, vocal changes, fat redistribution, structural changes to the face, etc.), but also because it tends to increase guys’ confidence and help them feel more secure in their masculinity.