Discovering Male Culture in a Los Angeles Pool Hall:
A Transsexuals Perspective
The culture of young American Caucasian men, concealed to those who are not a part of it, is one I tried to understand more thoroughly in my field research. I spent an evening studying this culture at a local sports bar called the Red Lion Tavern, observing and participating in all aspects of their afternoon activities.
Although it might seem that I should already know quite a bit about being a young male in Los Angeles, the fact is I know very little. I am a female-to-male transsexual. I was born female and raised with female culture, expectations, and behavioral lessons from birth. I have been male-identified for as long as I can remember, but my own sense of self had little influence on how both men and women treated me. Thus, the majority of my cultural constructs are more feminine than masculine. It is only in the past three months since I started hormone therapy that I have been socially accepted as a man in everyday life. Through research such as this, I am re-educating myself on how to socialize with men as a man.
The Red Lion Tavern is a German-themed sports bar in the city of Silverlake, but the majority of its Thursday night inhabitants are thoroughly American. Newcomers are greeted at the door with a fog of thick, gloomy air. The lower level of the tavern is covered from wall-to-wall with dark, splintering wood. High in a far corner, a barely audible television was tuned in on a college football game between the Florida State Seminoles and Maryland Terrapins. About five men were hunched over the bar with their necks craned up towards the screen.
I wandered the tables aimlessly as I observed the men at the bar. Their ages ranged from 20-30, and each had a beer glass or bottle in hand. Their clothes were casual and their choice of style seemed like an attempt to blend in as much as possible. They wore baseball caps with brims facing forward, t-shirts and flannel button down shirts, jeans or khaki pants or shorts, and sneakers over white socks. Dressed as I normally do, I was also indistinguishable from the tavern inhabitants.
I made my way over to the bar and sat on a stool, silently transfixed on the game. I have never been much of a sports fan, but I pretended to be interested in college football that afternoon. I ordered a staple American boy beer, Coors Light, and grunted a few words of appreciation to the man next to me. As we talked about the football game and football games past, I observed that the men usually spoke while watching the television, as opposed to conversing face-to-face. We made eye contact initially, but it was rare from that point on. When drinking their beers, the men looked into their glasses as they were spoken to, rather than at the speaker.
After a few minutes, another man engaged in our conversation and the same rules were observed. When dealing with women I have noticed that two speakers will almost constantly smile to reassure each other that there are no conflicts. However, smiles in the company of these men were infrequent and controlled. I smiled as little as possible although the urge to do so was instinctive and surprisingly difficult to suppress. Laughter was more common than smiling, and usually resulted after a joke about women or sex. I noticed that men in this culture referred to women as objects and made no attempt to abide by politically correct standards. Also, the men in this culture seemed egotistical, and were quick to argue or insist that their opinions were correct. This might have been an effort to establish social dominance, or possibly an effect of the alcohol. However, the young men seemed to bond together very easily. Cruel jokes and verbal abuse were signs of affection among the men.
Body language in the bathrooms was also interesting to observe. In my experience with Women's bathrooms, I've noticed certain trends such as floral decorated interiors draped in warm pastels like pink, off-white, yellow, cream, or red-violet. Socially, women's bathrooms are usually bustling with conversation. Eye contact is common, as is smiling and lengthy examinations in the mirror. Men's bathrooms, on the other hand, are decorated in cool colors such as blue, white, gray, or blue-violet. Quite contrary to women's social behavior, men avoid all eye contact in their bathrooms. They get in and get out as quickly as possible, deliberately ignoring the others inside, and stealing only short glances at the mirror.
The culture of young American men in sports bars is one that fulfills a need in society. Although no one is banned from sports bars such as these, these men have claimed this social setting as their own. Their attitudes shift when women, elderly couples, or families enter this space. These Caucasian American men have been raised by a society that represses their natural feelings and desires. It is important that they vent with supportive members of their own kind in a location all their own. In this way, they can peacefully integrate with the rest of society.
I dressed like, spoke like, and acted like all the men at the Tavern, but I'm sure my thoughts were quite different. The culture of young, Caucasian American men, once seeming like an idealist dream, is rapidly becoming my own culture as I interact more and more with my male peers. It is understandable that a man raised as a woman up through his teenage years would have to spend a lot of time reacquainting himself into a culture that he should naturally belong in. If I were perceived as a woman in this setting, I would have experienced a completely different type of culture than the one I did. Interacting with the men at the Tavern has taught me that there are pools of culture surrounding us, which seem inaccessible or even invisible to those who are not a part of them.
I have no doubts that I will return to this setting (and others like it) in the future. Although I have very little interest in sports, I feel an inborn impulse to partake in their rituals of drinking together and speaking in such a relaxed, casual, and natural way. Next time, I will focus more on the ways these men show affection towards one another. It is through experiences such as these that I will grow into my new culture.