The Male Gaze, a constant presence in a trans woman’s life

THE GUERRILLA ANGEL REPORT — The object of desire. One of the things trans women come to realize somewhere along the transition path is the constant stare from cis males. Also known as the Male Gaze, it is a sort of a visual harassment. While not everyone finds it distasteful as many invite the Male Gaze, its presence in women’s lives is constant and permanent.

For cis women, the Male Gaze is so prevalent, many forget it’s there. For trans women however, the relatively sudden onset awareness of the ever present Male Gaze can be troubling.

“[a cis male] sees not merely the object of the gaze, but sees the relationship between the object and the self. He sees her as a creature of his domain, under his gaze of possession — simultaneously admiring and pejorative, but always as an object of his desire in his domain.” – St Lawrence University glossary

Being an object of desire is especially dangerous for trans women as a hair-trigger exists for some cis males at the moment they’ve read you and you’re now a target for violence.

I’m thinking that for many trans women, they come to realize that “passing” was never a prerequisite for gender change and have adapted themselves to living with the expectation of being “outed” by a cis male at any time resulting in the Male Gaze being somewhat masked.

For those that do pass, some find the Male Gaze some sort of affirmation, or a thrill, a or source of income, for others though, the Male Gaze is an unwanted invitation into the minds of the often-ugly cis male.

I’d be happy to hear your thoughts or experiences on this.

This is a pretty good read: Autostraddle — On Display: Navigating the Male Gaze As A Lesbian Trans Woman.

Male Gaze (Photo:


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Categories: Law Enforcement, Police, Transgender, Transsexual, Trans

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23 replies

  1. I’m still coming to terms with it honestly. Sometimes it’s flattering, but sometimes it’s scary, like you said, if someone does doubt my assigned gender at birth. As a trans woman, I’ve had men admire me, notice my height, ask me if I was a man, then upon my denying being a man, try to get my number. It’s something that I think cis men are afraid of, being attracted to – a trans woman – and in their discomfort, I feel a presence for the risk of violence towards myself. Luckily, my face and voice can carry me through relatively unclocked in the end, but it’s a shaky voice and a fear filled face for those milliseconds when they vocalize their doubts. I’m still at a point where my self-esteem lets me be extremely flattered when a man tells me I’m pretty, but perhaps I need to re-evaluate why I need such objectifying validation.

  2. Great topic! Something we may feel affirms us, yet so dangerous, whether trans or cisgendered!!

  3. Well, there is nothing wrong with being admired per se. Men get admired too, including gay men, but men don’t seem to get bothered by it as much as women do either way. Intrinsically there is nothing wrong with some degree of “objectification” either, to be frank. The ideal is not to be a “pure subject”, but a mixture of “subject” and “object”.

    That said, there is some truth in the feminist critique of objectification as well, especially since our current social and cultural context is such that men and women are not equal. (In an ideal society where men and women are genuinely equal one would hope that women can be admired without being “objectified” in a negative way, but we still have a long way to go for that) There is also the safety element as well. But I think the dynamics for cis women and trans women are not identical in this case, due to various reasons. Being “objectified” may be problematic, but it can still be an alternative to explicit transphobia.

    By the way, I don’t see why it has to be “cis” men only. Can’t trans men admire women (including potentially trans women) too? It seems that it would be somewhat transphobic to trans men to suggest otherwise, almost suggesting that they are not “real men”.

    There is nothing wrong with a trans woman who actively desires to be “passable”, or beautiful and attractive in her own way (which is better than mere bulk-standard “passability”), but in principle one really doesn’t have to “pass” to identify as a woman. I’m watching the Olympics right now and some of the cis women in certain sports, like basketball, weightlifting, wrestling etc, don’t really “pass” well at all, probably even less than many trans women, yet how come they don’t seem to have a problem with “being a woman”?

  4. I was talking about this with a group and one thing they tend to miss is… when a man is doing the “Male Gaze”… he can quickly go from “admiring” to “homicidal”. There are a number of men who feel threatened at the fact they lusted after a “Non woman”. There was a man who murdered his new bride after learning she was born a man and got SRS. When interviewed after the fact, he said he has nothing against gays or trans people but killed her because he felt betrayed because she didn’t tell him before they married. I went to school with guys who bragged that they would kill any gay they met rather than be “compromised”. Most of the guys in my school were like that! My best guy friend had to hide his true nature by dating me and that didn’t work for too long. My brother dressed as a woman for Halloween and ended up going to the hospital because some men thought he was hot until he revealed he was just in a costume.

    • great comment above – because it’s true. I have had men from across bars come up to meet me and then pull a knife. What do you do? they thought they were gay for a split second; insane!

      Halloween, the cross-dressers Christmas morning in alot of ways. I hate reading these type of negative response but people need to know that this is out there and happens to turn ugly at the drop of a dime.

      • Stay safe out there Cecilia, I hate that there are those kinds out there. Things may be getting better for all of us but we are still a long ways from being able to feel completely safe.

    • “NON WOMAN”….Whoa…. Sounds like a bunch of ignorance… It is society that validates these feelings of inferiority for cisgender folk. This whole socially constructed notion of deceit is deceitful in its conception…

      • @Lourdes – Im not sure what you are offended about. The majority of men do NOT view trans women as women. To think otherwise is unwise and indeed, foolish. My personal experience validates this over and over again. Unless you have completed a transition and are completely passable it is terribly dangerous not to be aware of the homophobic and transphobic attitudes that are common amongst men. Even if you are complete and passable it is risky not to disclose your history. Real life experiences confirm this.

        Im not at all sure what you mean by a “socially constructed notion of deceit”.

      • Trust me, Lourdes, I am disgusted at how the small minds work. Because of those who think like I described, I almost lost my brother. The point is, it’s out there and it makes this world a scary place, be you a cis or trans woman. I was born female and I fear the “male gaze”, why? I was raped at 12 because I was “asking for it” with how I was dressed. It took me until I was 16 to understand it wasn’t my fault. I know not all the “gaze” is bad but I also know to be wary of it.

        I tell all my friends… be they male or female, cis or trans… always be on your guard. The nice person buying you drinks may not be so nice when you leave the bar. The cutie that you just got the number of may be hiding a deadly darkness.

  5. A womens body to a male or to a “CIS MALE” Is that, when you look at a women’s body figure it’s like looking at the most beautiful Painting in the world it’s mesmerizing, thus the drool. You could even say it’s like looking at GOD’S art work. Now try to imagine what would GOD’S Art Work,look like! Get where im going with this? I say no more have a nice life! Kisses! Joanna

  6. You get used to it. Once you learn how to pass it can actually be quite useful. I would liken it to living in an windy area and using the wind to generate electricity. I find the wind annoying but since it exists I manipulate it to my benefit.

  7. That gaze is a both a demon and a ‘gauge’ to me, After sometime I have seemed to accept it, But if I may add a little of my own perspective, A cis-man’s response to an unattractive trans-woman might be almost as equally to the responsiveness generated for an unattractive cis-woman (less the curiosity). Generally when it’s all said and done I think cis-men are typical men, and as a typical man – they will write it off and continue on down the road unaffected detached and have the generic male response of “Would I do it?”

    I find the experience of the cis-woman’s gaze when I am outed much more alarming when I sense disapproval; especially if they find me passable and attractive. It is that of which I find more alarming even more than the male gaze.

  8. Thanks for the continuing comments everyone! 🙂

  9. It is extremely important to pass else what is the point of going out as a female??? I first had my FFS and feminization laryngoplasty (voice surgery) 2 years before I had GRS, breast and facelift surgery (all 3 in 1 session) The correct order to transition is Hormone Replacement Therapy, laser beard removal, Facial Feminization Surgery , voice surgery and lastly Gender Reassignment Surgery + breast surgery! Food for thought.

  10. On the original topic, I have begun to get used to the Male Gaze, though I still don’t know what they see. I catch guys trying to look down my blouse (my breasts are naturally developing quite nicely) as they hold the door for me. When I speak, I am never misgendered (without surgery as well, though I am thinking heavily on it).

    I fear it, at the same time as I love it, for one simple reason… cis women get raped. I would never consider being brought to the edge of death more violation than a woman being raped. In fact, trans women are raped and beaten as well when this Gaze has “found them out”.

    I have come to realize something, though. There is a point where you cross a threshold from simply being careful to being paranoid. You can’t consider yourself living if you constantly fear any and all Gazes will turn into an attack. In fact, you can bet your sweet bippy that such nervous paranoia can “rat you out” faster than your voice…

    @Jennifer ~ Never presume to tell another transwoman something like “the correct order”, “the right way”, or anything similar. That order was right for YOU. No one else but YOU. For other transwomen, breast augmentation may be the last thing. I would never have BA until after 5 years of HRT to allow the maximum time for them to grow of their own volition. THEN, at the end, IF I felt it necessary, would I do it. Some girls have it done after only a year or so…long enough for the breast tissue to take shape for them.

    Additionally, I think laser hair removal AND voice surgery would be my preference as a starting point. I would have done both BEFORE I ever started HRT if I had had the option (cash flow issues).

    Just as any cis woman, we all develop and grow at our own paces and in our own orders…what works and feels best and right to us. I would never propose to infer to another that they are doing it wrong, or incorrectly.

    Transition is a very personal journey, each of us navigating it as best we can for ourselves, our self-esteem, and our own hearts and minds.

  11. I would also like to add to the above point a remark on the “what’s the point” comment. What’s the point? The point is to reach congruity. Some transwomen never even START transition. They don’t feel the need to. Some only do some of it. Some do all or most of it. Perhaps HRT and SRS, but not BA or voice. Some do differing combinations.

    It’s about us doing what we feel we need to reach congruity. For each of us, that’s different. The point in doing it, only for some of it, is a matter of “passing” enough to be objectified.

    I want to be seen as a woman, so I am going the extra steps. I do this for my own reasons, for my own peace of mind, and to reach my own sense of congruity. I don’t feel I need FFS, for instance. I have yet to be misgendered based on my face, and those few I have come out to as being trans and not cis were VERY surprised. …and all of them were elated, which surprised and pleased me at the same time. For those who I did tell, we’ve become VERY close friends. Some straight, some gay, and some lesbian. They still only see and refer to me as a woman. I love them.

  12. @jennifer

    I more or less agree that the order you put things in is good general advice. But some is not needed by everyone (voice and FFS) and laser does not always work that well (probably more common to do a combination of laser and electrolysis on the face). Many choose to do breast augmentation, others do not and feel they dont need it. I would say that generally it is best to do those things that help you pass first and leave GRS to the end but its a guideline not a “correct” way to do things.

    @syrra – I have never heard anyone suggest that 5 years of HRT is necessary to assess breast growth, usually 2-3 would be more typical.

    • Every medical resource I have checked says 3-5 years for full development. This is not just about size, but the glands and ducts, the shifted muscle, etc.. Size-wise, I’ve heard 2-3, yes. I’d rather wait until they’ve matured and filled out.

      Again, like I said, to me it’s about what I want for me. I’ve never done anything but applaud a girl for how she wants to do it. It’s her body, her life. More power to her.

  13. I should also say that women do many surgeries simply to improve their appearance and attractiveness. It is no different for a trans woman, so many undertake surgeries to enhance there appearance and to improve self esteem. It often has nothing to do with passing.

  14. I have notice that many women complain of the male gaze until age takes it away, after which they will go to great expense and discomfort to regain it. Many trans women are exactly the same. Some days I would kill to be on the receiving end of a lustful gaze.

  15. You know, you’re absolutely correct about that!

  16. There’s difference between someone politely checking you out, and outright stairing at you with a look of anger and dermination on their face.

    If someone checks me out briefly, and smiles at me, I’ll usually take that as a compliment.

    (weither its a boy or a girl doesn’t matter)

    However, if someone is just staring at me and ogling me with this weird look of invading poession….that kind of makes me feel uncomfortable. That’s what “male gaze” is to me.

    (although, on ocassion, I’ve seen women do it too.)

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