A trans man recognizing double standards at work
“Remember, Girls,” Mrs. Mead said. “If you want to be taken seriously in the workplace, you have to wear makeup.”
It was my junior year. A home economics teacher, Mrs. Mead’s lesson that day covered job preparation and professionalism. The focus had transitioned to physical appearance on the job.
“Blush and lip gloss goes a long way,” she said. A smooth foundation to cover acne. Smooth eyeliner. Neutral eyeshadows. “And don’t forget the lipstick.”
Just make sure not to go overboard, she said. A perfect balance would be necessary, whatever that meant.
A biological female teenager with serious self esteem problems, I felt lost.
I’d have to wear makeup forever if I ever wanted to be taken seriously?
I didn’t like makeup. Mom didn’t wear it. Sister did on special occasions but not regularly. My sister-in-law did my makeup for graduation. YouTube self-help videos got me through prom and winter balls.
Mrs. Mead went on to tell all the girls in the class everything we would have to do if we wanted to land or keep a job.
We needed to wear pretty blouses and skirts, she said.
Heels were favorable but flats could be permitted.
My natural self would never be enough.
When it came to the boys, Mrs. Mead shrugged.
That was it.
It would be a lie to say I sat there in surprise. I didn’t. I knew the double standards placed on women. Growing up a girl, I learned early on the differences in the way boys and girls were treated.
I wanted to wear pants to church. Mom put me in dresses.
I wanted to wear a tuxedo to prom. Mom put me in a long glittering gown.
Joining band, the director pushed me toward playing the flute or clarinet. I didn’t want to play either. I liked the idea of the saxophone or drums or the trumpet. But even instruments had been stereotyped by gender. We settled on the French horn.
As a young child, I often ran around shirtless. I felt ashamed when I made it to an age — still as a child — when society demanded I wear shirts while boys of the same age didn’t.
I wasn’t in puberty. I didn’t have a chest. I didn’t understand how my body could be sexualized. I still didn’t know the biological differences between male and female sexes.
Yet even in my lack of understanding, I felt shame. Something must have been wrong with me to need to cover myself when the boys didn’t. I knew the words boy and girl, but not what separated us.
What did it have to be like this?