By Michael Young
I am a fat man. Once, I was perceived to be a fat woman. My transition has taught me a lot of things that I might not have otherwise engaged with if I had lived my life as a cis person. Transitioning really highlights male privilege and how society can treat you completely differently based on what gender it perceives a person to be. As soon as I started ‘passing’, I found I was treated with a respect that wasn’t often given to me as a woman. My personal space and boundaries were no longer violated, I was no longer talked down to, and people suddenly respected my right to privacy and my right to be left alone. I was no longer treated as if I simply existed for men’s pleasure.
Similarly, my body was no longer overtly criticised. Fat women are disproportionately targeted in Western society. They are subjected to public humiliation and discrimination every day, simply because of their bodies. They are stared at in the streets, they are under-represented in media (and then, only as the butt of a joke), and they are targeted with verbal and physical violence.
Fat men are also at the mercy of some stereotypes – laziness being the most common. However, I can now exist as a fat man largely without comment. I can shop for clothes in most stores rather than being turned away at the door and told that they don’t stock my size. Clothing companies cater to my needs, considering my body type ‘average’ (even if I am on the short side). Most clothing stores that cater to men stock from small to XXL and many beyond that. Meanwhile, despite the fact that the average dress size of a woman in the US is a size 14, many clothing outlets aimed at women will not stock above a size 12. Some stores such as Abercrombie do not stock above a women’s size 10 whilst simultaneously stocking XL and XXL in men’s sizes.
This imbalance, and the effect it has had on my life and the way that people perceive me, is one of the clearest and most startling examples of male privilege and sexism that I have encountered. It all comes down to the patriarchal view that women are somehow obligated to make themselves attractive to men. That men are entitled to gaze upon and comment upon women’s bodies.
When I was perceived to be a fat woman, there was a real sense of not just disgust, but a poisonous, malignant contempt. People (most commonly men) commented on my appearance like I somehow owed it to them to be, in their view, attractive. Like I was breaking some kind of cardinal rule because I was happy with my body without their approval. Now, in complete contrast, I am barely given a second glance.
Occasionally, I still face discrimination as a fat man, but it’s not as vehement, societally sanctioned nor pervasive as it once was. My treatment has changed simply because of the way that society perceives my gender. This is male privilege in action. We live in a society that has built a whole industry on bullying women for not being what is considered ‘attractive enough’ to men. Think about that the next time you want to stare at a fat woman on the bus.