Ohio Portrait no. 195: Been a Man

If I had been a man (been born a man? raised a man? no, been a man, in any sense), I know without question that I would have been way more of an asshole.

My assertive nature would have turned combative. My intelligence would have grown to arrogance and I would have carried with me a superiority that was at once grating and (I worry) believable. I would have been believed at every turn, and often I would have been right, and I would have gotten less flack when I was wrong, and all of that would have conspired to make me brutish, large, and loud.

I know I would have been predatory, or pushy,or at least resentful of other people on a level that I am not. Internalizing symptom would have been externalizing, instead. Rather than cry and hide and self-recriminate and bang my head I would have fought, and screamed, and drank, and made people afraid.

I would have been a class clown. My joke and snipes, said so privately and dryly when I was a girl, would have become bombastic, over-confidence, over-acted, and over-appreciated. I would have been widely recognized for my wit. My rude attitude and aloofness might have been taken for charm.

I would have been attractive. I would have had a cut jaw, brown hair that was almost golden, and thick eyebrows that made me look thoughtful but tortured. I would have been slight, but not too slight, and maybe not fit in the slightest, but I think I could have gotten away with it. Girls or boys or whomever I wanted to fuck would have forgiven it, liked me anyway.

I am so untethered to the idea of being a woman that I can squint and see how things would have gone, how the same phrases could have been interpreted differently, how the same features and behaviors and deeply buried traits could have been unearthed, and regarded, and prized, and rewarded, if only I’d been placed on the other side. And I am so untethered to the idea of being a woman that I know if I’d be shoved to the other side, and been called a man, I would have accepted it, and gloried in all the privilege that I didn’t know I had.

A dear but critical friend once told me that I do not know how much privilege I hold over other people, that I do not realize — even now, as a sensitive self-hating “woman” — how much authority I extend like a dark sky over everyone on my horizon. And it chilled me because I realized it must be true, because I’ve seen that kind of oblivious flaunting of advantage in every single man I’ve ever seen.

I would have made a good man. I would have been charming, well-spoken, hard working, and funny. I would have dressed reasonably well, and carried myself as if I were delicate, would have espoused a few of the correct opinions, and therefore would have been mistaken for kind. But instead I am a woman, and have suffered enough to make me actually kind.

My boyfriend says that he is a good person because he has suffered, that bullying can make you a better person. He thinks that cruel treatment holds up a mishapen mirror to you, and allows you to see a distorted image of yourself, that you might recognize all your over-blown flaws and in so doing, work to correct him.

I said that was wrong. We were lying in bed and I had asked him, ridiculously, why he was a good person when so many men are not. That bit about bullying was his answer. Not the funhouse mirror stuff. But when he told me his theory, his origin story, I cut him off, and said no, no no, that’s not what the research says — that’s not what the evidence says. Science tells us that hardship makes a person crueler, rougher, worse.

I am always condescending. All my adult life, I have been cutting off men to tell them that they’re wrong. I fall back on the science and on my education. When a man defers to me, and asks me what to do or what the facts are, I beam with 100 volts of self-importance and arrogance. Because I am a “woman”, this is a feminist triumph.

But if I were a man? It would only be worse. I would have (probably) a woman lying in the crook of my arm, staring at the ceiling, asking me things. And I would be the one cutting her off, telling her that her perceptions were faulty, that there was a great body of established knowledge which contradicted her, and that I was the master of it. And she would fall silent and carefully consider everything I had said to her, and absorb it, and shrink into the surface of my skin, and kiss me gently and be changed imperceptibly and forever.

And she wouldn’t even think to call me a dick. And I would fall asleep loving myself.

But I am a “woman”, and so I have suffered, and that has made me empathize. I have never known a woman who hasn’t been assaulted or raped. I have been brow-beaten, gaslit, manipulated, underestimated, and slighted. But half the insults are those that go unseen, and which only appear when I imagine the advantages my other, shadowy male self would have experienced.

My boyfriend is right. Suffering does make you better. And being a “woman” entitles you to a certain, empathy-building brand of suffering. So too being disadvantaged in any number of other ways — being nonwhite in a white-led world, being disabled, being poor.

I have a lot of privileges, a lot of advantages that have worked to make me an entitled asshole. But at least I have being a “woman”. At least I have all the threats and the underminings and the coercion and being condescended to. In each assault I have experienced, I can see myself reflected, distorted, the same as me but not, just a little more male.

And that sight has kept me honest, kept me from being that person — that man. And all things considered, I would rather be a better person and suffer than be a man and be loved and be awful.

Originally published at erikadprice.tumblr.com.

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