The biggest give away that I’m trans

It’s not my height. It’s not the size of my hands. It’s not the scars on my chest either. Something that comes naturally to pretty much every western natal male seems to be, quite literally, beyond my grasp.

It’s my inability to convincingly bro shake.

The funny thing is, it’s something I never gave much thought before my transition. As a woman, you’ve got two easy options: you just shake hands, or you hug. You shake hands with men the same way you do with women. You hug men the same way you do women. Now, even three years into my transition, physical interaction with men is still the thing that comes least naturally to me, having been socialised as female for over thirty years.

I never had to think twice about saying hello or goodbye to a group of people, either. These days, the conscious effort involved in what is, for most people, a simple and unconscious process, always discombobulates me. Inner dialogue: “Man – firm handshake, another man – firm handshake, ooh, now a woman – ease off! Remember, softer hand shake. Good male friend – hug, slap! slap! on the back, good female friend – soft gentle hug” and quite often I do stuff it up. After I’ve hug, slap, slapped a couple of guy friends, I’ll accidentally hug slap, slap a girl friend, who then wonders why I’m suddenly manhandling her. But that’s not the worst of it.

My kryptonite, of course, is when the guys raise their hands in anticipation of a bro shake. When I see that coming I’m like a deer in the headlights… I simply cannot pull this off naturally. Seriously! I’ve workshopped the sequence again and again with sympathetic male friends eager to give me a hand. In our dry runs it’s absolutely fine, and I even get that satisfying “pop!” as our palms connect, but when it comes to the moment of truth, it never happens smoothly. I fixate on the hand rather than the face – afraid I’ll miss if I don’t – and yes, I have actually missed. When the palms do connect, it’s usually with an awkward, dull thud. And I never know just how to let go… Do you just slide your hands apart? Give a little flick? End with a fist bump? Morph into the more familiar territory of the hug-slap-slap? HOW do men do this so naturally and organically??


Just look at how smoothly and effortlessly presidents engage in a bro shake!

I used to feel like I understood interacting with men. Socially, physically, I knew what I was doing. Granted, I’ve never been sexually interested in men, but I’d be lying if I said I’d never used the fact that I was, at least physically, a woman, to get my way with men. It’s not that I ever overtly or consciously flirted with them, more that I found I could get them to do what I wanted, just through a gentle touch on the shoulder, for instance. I can’t do that any more.

And it’s these social observations that have intrigued and discombobulated me the most as I go through this process. We learn so many unspoken, unconscious rules about social and physical engagement throughout our lives, but we never tend to consider how it would be to start from the beginning again. Just like when we’re immersed in a new language and grasping for the basics, we’ve got to start from scratch when the world begins to perceive and interact with us as a different gender.

Many of us speak more than one language, and the cultural and human insights we gain from being bi- or tri-lingual are absolutely invaluable. Very few of us have been in the position of having to learn two gender languages, but the cultural and human insights this offers are actually very similar. Our world becomes that much more nuanced.

When you learn a new language, you don’t have to forsake, forget or unlearn your first language. I find the same applies when learning a new gender language. Perhaps, with time, I will start to get rusty in the past participles and irregular verbs of interacting as a woman, whilst becoming ever more fluent expressing myself in this second language. But I think, realistically, I will always speak in an accent that the majority of people can’t quite place…

I’ve fully embraced the fact that I am a uniquely hybrid creature; a male with a female history, a German who sounds very much like an Australian living in the United States, speaking multiple languages, more fluent in some than in others. And I’m very much still learning…

It’s an interesting life indeed.

If you can relate, or find it thought provoking, please share this article, using the links below.

2017-06-15T18:57:10+00:00 August 13th, 2016|All, Media/Social/Politics, Soapbox, Transtories|9 Comments


  1. Lucas August 14, 2016 at 1:21 am - Reply

    It’s really interesting that you posted this because I’ve thought about this so much. It is so much different being male in this world than female and I worry about messing it up a lot. One of my girls friends came up to me and he was going to give me a handshake/bro shake and confused me on which to go with first. Needless to say it was a bit of an awkward moment but no harm done. A lot of times I see guys go from bro shake to hand shake and I can never really get it down. It sucks living 30 years of your life learning or being accustomed to the wrong genders mannerisms to then try to learn the opposite genders without a second thought. Not easy in the least and a constant second guessing yourself. Hopefully this will ease up over time. Only a few months over a year on T.

  2. Morgan August 15, 2016 at 8:45 pm - Reply

    I come from a place where none of the men ever did this. If there was any physical contact at all it was a light elbow shove to jostle the person or a slap on the shoulder. Only long term partings were grounds for a hug or once a year at the big holiday party.

    We’re from the far north and are extremely hands off kind of folk. Subtle nods and very precise single movement waves were everywhere though. Also a lot of agreeing not to look at each other. Everyone has more space if everyone is politely and quietly ignoring everyone else.

    Glaring was shouting and shouting was grounds for physically breaking up the parties involved.

    Since so much of this is deep local culture and I now live in an area that’s a melting pot, I have never worried about my lack of bro knowledge. I’m already at huge odds with everyone because I didn’t see the Simpsons or countless other highly referenced media until I was an adult.

    People already know I’m an oddball for where and how I grew up, it doesn’t occur to them to dissect my mannerisms further.

    Never thought being an outsider would help me blend in this way. O.o

  3. Jackson August 16, 2016 at 1:03 am - Reply

    I’m so glad to know I’m not the only one. I have no idea how to pull this off and it seems to be the standard greeting for all the other guys at my college. At least it always feels very affirming when they go for the bro shake but dang…def a lil embarrassing on my end. I need a how-to vid lol

  4. Ezra August 16, 2016 at 2:51 am - Reply

    I can relate to this so much. I work in a woodworking shop in Denver with 8 cis-men. It is as “bro-y” as it can get in a normal work environment. Wouldn’t trade it for the world, but it will probably take me years to get used to the culture. Thank god they just think I’m gay. Free pass.

  5. Oliver August 16, 2016 at 4:20 am - Reply

    I think this sort of thing would make an amazing research topic for any sociology PhD candidates thesis.

  6. jack August 16, 2016 at 6:53 am - Reply

    With all that is going on out there I just fist bump…..I mean where has that hand been, I use the men’s room I see how many wash their hands.

  7. J August 17, 2016 at 3:45 pm - Reply

    I can do a bro shake better than I can do a handshake because I have a firm grip. I’ve noticed and found it odd that some cis men give very weak or gentle handshakes. I can’t say bro shakes are very natural to me, but it hasn’t been something that’s outted me. I experience the world through Asperger’s Syndrome, so I’m consistently awkward wherever I go. I can’t recall ever having been taught how to shake hands as a girl, so I first learned to shake hands firmly through reading FTM guides.

  8. Charlie August 25, 2016 at 8:48 am - Reply

    It’s funny. I’ve hung out with guys my whole life, so this actually comes quite naturally to me. Or maybe it’s just because I’m adept at mimicry. Either way, I can almost always meet anyone’s expectations and reflect whatever social contact they’re using right back at them. This isn’t something I’ve ever thought about. I’m good at the lean, the posture, the sitting, the hug slap slap, the arm punch, bro shake, firm hand shake, bro nod, fist bump, you name it. My problem is, since I got fat my face has been super round and feminine, so all my guy friends see me as this tomboyish sort of presence. Like the girl who you can mostly forget is a girl until something out of the ordinary happens, but you still call her “she” and defend her from the male gaze. I really hope I’m able to lose some weight soon…

  9. Trace September 22, 2016 at 8:56 pm - Reply

    I can relate a lot to this article. I didn’t transition until 2 years ago, and I am 55. Most of my friends are women, and it frustrates the he’ll out of me when they still treat me as one of their female friends. I think the testosterone has actually changed the way I think, and what is important to me. It is as if my mind is finally getting the right stuff, and I no longer have any interest in relating to women the way I did for many years.
    I crave male friendship, but like others have expressed, I feel awkward, and unsure of myself. A couple of men who had been in my life, have just vanished. I presume it is because they feel awkward also, but it dosent help my self esteem.
    I have always had male mannerisms, but sometimes I notice things like putting more bounce and swagger in my walk.
    I identify as a transgender man, and embrace the particular uniqueness of everything that entails. I don’t know if I will ever feel akin to cisco gendered men, but that is ok with me. The important thing is that I am so much happier since my transition.

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