The agender agenda blog
To clear the air before we start – yes, this piece might be read as a form of “internal” war within the trans* community. But no, it is not meant to be a simple who does it better type of post. This particular text is aimed to call out those trans* men, trans* masculine, FTM (and others who found themselves comfortable on some side of the masculine spectrum of what we now call gender) who do not acknowledge their privilege based on that status. Thus, let’s put a trigger warning on the whole text.
The piece is also highly inspired by a particular post from a closed Facebook group where FTM, trans* masculine persons and trans men (or anyone who doesn’t feel like they belong to the category, but have comparable experiences) can share their experiences, ask each other questions and get the online support we all need from time to time.
(And let me clearly state that to me, when one uses the word bitching, they clearly do not understand the mechanisms of misogyny and how they might have internalized their experiences to create an image of perfection).
I know that some people would consider the post in question simple trolling and decide to not give much attention to the matter (although the discussion under the thread has, dare I say it, blossomed throughout the day), I – however – do not. What I see, and have indeed expressed in one of my comments, is an attention seeking behavior aimed at those who experience a lot of issues being trans*, whatever their transition status might be.
(Yes, I despise the word bro)
Attention seeking, let me also clarify that, is sometimes a necessary process. We all seek acceptance and need to surround ourselves with people, pets and other responsive being (including plants) who can reassure our personal status. And that is ok. What is not ok, is channeling your insecurities by being aggressive towards those who are close to you, including your community. You might not be friends, but you probably have a load of comparable experiences. That said – telling members of your community to stop whining is basically like telling a depressed person to stop being depressed. It’s oversimplified, doesn’t help the person you are targeting and you do it to make yourself feel better.
Obviously this text is not about one person, but they did – in fact – give me the material (I really don’t want to call this inspiration) to create a list of recommendations on How not to transition into a douchebag. I chose the word douchebag simply because I adore the definition put in the built-in OS X dictionary:
2 N. Amer. informal an obnoxious or contemptible person, typically a man.
(also check out this awesome piece In Defense of “Douchebag”)
That said, yes, I understand everyone has issues and that for many people life is about challenging limitations and moving further. But there is no such thing as a common goal in life or common meaning of life. Life is what we make of it and it actually helps when you are surrounded by people who are willing to understand and feel for you.
Dear trans* masculine friends, this list is for you – especially for those who still do not understand that if one makes a difference in their life, they can surely make one in the lives of others. Whatever your trans* status may be, whatever experiences you may have had, there is a couple of things you need to have in mind so that you don’t become just one of the guys (dare I say bros?), meaning someone who embraces everything that is wrong with society.
1. Acknowledge you have indeed gained privilege
Don’t act as if nothing changed when you transitioned. We do live in a highly gendered society and you can clearly see how you function differently since your first attempts to come out. And even if it’s different in various aspects, it’s a lot easier, especially if you are white. Admit it, you are now safer than you were before, you are more relaxed being yourself – and it’s not just because you made it. It is also because others have also recognized you as a man or a masculine person.
I remember the first moment I understood my privilege. It was at one of my University classes. A professor, who underestimated me a year prior to my transition, was suddenly listening to my every word and always welcomed my contributions. At the same time, I became invisible for society, I blended in with other masculine persons, I was perceived as a man and therefore fell into the “default”. I was no longer afraid to go on long walks during the night, the men couldn’t get me. I was one of them. Not just because I wanted to be recognized as one, but also because they saw me as one.
List of necessary privileges to check includes: gender, race/ethnicity, dis/ability and sexuality… (and counting)
2. Recognize that not having a privilege does not make anyone “a less of a man”
It is important to understand that people have different needs for themselves and different chances to achieve the goals they have set for themselves. Which is why you should always treat your community with respect and that transitioning is not simply “a thing of bravery” that everyone has to go through.
It is often a very hard choice that influences the rest of your life completely and some people do not want to lose their families, their jobs or their friends. You should respect these decisions and be supportive instead of using someone’s choice to underline how much courage it took you to get to where you currently are.
Yes, transitioning is a great step, but sacrifices are also meaningful and you should always be aware of that, especially given that for a lot of us transitioning also amounts to sacrificing something or someone dear to our hearts.
3. Don’t use the word bitch or whore ever again.
Unless this is a form of self-empowerment (in sex workers movements for example, like working against whorephobia) or unless you are active in a group aimed to empower a certain group, you should definitely stop using these words. In a cis man’s world they are aimed to identify undesirable behavior by linking to femininity or women and their sexuality, which – by patriarchal definition – is seen as offensive.
Using these words is not just offending somebody, it is contributing to the already scorned global image of femininity. And to patriarchy. You know, that whole thing that supports the gender binary you were fighting against for quite some time?
I think I can change this particular point to don’t act and/or be sexist.
4, Stop telling people to man up!
Using this particular phrase you acknowledge that there is only one acceptable way of being a trans* masculine person and that a man is a stable construct that can be recognized in any culture or context. Well, surprise! It’s not. The fact that one of the western stereotypes of a man includes pretending not to have feelings, is not necessarily true to the global population. Also, if you want to work with this particular stereotype, in today’s day and age it is actually quite brave to be able to openly talk about your feelings and to share them with others. Isn’t a man supposed to be the precursor of it all? The one who is so strong that brakes all the rules? Well, deal with it – being manly is also not caring what you think.
Or is it…?
Actually, what is profoundly wrong with that statement is that we associate gender with feelings, we think feelings are bad and we generally do not treat feelings (especially sadness) as valid. Surprise though – anger (the manliest of the manly state of minds) is also a feeling. So if a manly man says he’s pissed off, he’s actually sharing quite a lot.
In any case you can’t tell people what to do. So man up and stop complaining people don’t man up enough. Also, stop being sexist.The last thing you should be concerned with is who is manly and who isn’t.
5. Don’t treat transition as a sign of social status.
It’s great that you were able to pursue your dreams and become the Man You Always Wanted To Be, but to be fair – is this what this is all about? It can be to you, but do you think you can judge others based on that?
The fact that someone decided to not take hormones or simply can’t have them, but still wants to live as a man and be recognized as one is not for you to comment on, but to accept and respect. Remember all those people who refused to call you by your preferred pronoun? Those who told you it was impossible for them to see you as a guy even after you transitioned? It didn’t matter to them whether you wanted to transition or not, they were simply ignoring your wish and your need to feel accepted as the person you really were. Do you want to deny others that right?
Do you really want to repeat the scenarios you had to go through but make it from a different point of view? Do you enjoy having the power your oppressors had? It’s a thing that eventually happens to a lot of people, but it doesn’t mean that it’s right or should be promoted.
You are not better than anyone just because you transitioned. But you can be a better person by supporting those who need it.
6. Stop mistreating women and treating femininity as your worst enemy.
A lot of us went through what you also experienced. We didn’t like the way we were treated by society, some of us have even hated some parts of our body or have felt a great discomfort caused by how we were seen and not how we wanted to be seen.
That said, it is perfectly ok to talk about it. Just don’t describe it as a universal feeling, that implies that female labeled bodies are gross and that whatever happens to them is just wrong.
There is nothing wrong with any type of body, however it’s labeled (don’t be fatphobic), it is the way it is perceived. Also – please mind that it is not femininity that caused you all those bad experiences. It is the patriarchal way of looking at women and mistreating them by seeing the man as the default.
7. Stop thinking you now have the right to label what is feminine and what is masculine.
No, you can’t objectively state that menstruating and getting pregnant is for women only. No, you can’t label someone as not-trans because of the way they have sex or how you perceive their body and its modification. No, you don’t have any right to say what you think about someone’s current trans status. No, there is no such thing as not trans enough.
If you think you want to start doing that, try remembering what was being said to you when you came out as trans. How many people tried to force you into thinking that it might be a phase? Did you like the feeling of not passing or thinking whether you pass or not? Do you remember the shopping dilemmas of what is male what is female and how will that make you invisible? Do you remember the fear of being outed?
All of this is made exactly of what is often called policing. Try to realize that by doing so, you give power to the same system which was oppressing you. You become the oppressor.
8. Don’t be homophobic or biphobic.
I get it. You didn’t really like that while being in-transition people called you a dyke or lesbian or whatever they thought was insulting enough to get your attention. It is a tragedy that trans* (of any sexual attraction) and cis LGB people are endangered every single day by bullying, discrimination and violence. It is also sad, and needs to be constantly underlined, that much of the attention to fight these injustices is focused on the cisgender spectrum of survivors and not on everyone, especially trans* people, who are often victims of any LGBTI-related phobia.
Nevertheless, this does not give you the space for homophobic and biphobic statements. Some of us tend to bad mouth cis LGB people because of the hurt we receive, especially on the dating scene. And, mind you, that is not a phobia. What I mean by being homophobic or biphobic is using the same prejudice people have against LGB people to underline how different you are from them, how your identity is better because it’s not among these types and how you are normal now because, for example, you were always straight. (This includes those trans men who are against marriage equality because gays should not get married. What?!).
Also, whenever you feel like saying “gays do this”, “lesbians do that” remember what people write or say about trans* people – that we always do a certain thing, because we are a homogeneous group without any individuality. Would you agree with such a statement? Would you feel ok if anyone collectively state something about you and refused to understand that you do not do the things they say you do?
I know, however, that the issue is not as simple as one would think. What does not help is the widely observed transphobic behavior within the cisgender LGB spectrum which needs to be constantly tackled and called out. And it is something different than phobing back.
9. Don’t be transphobic.
To those who don’t realize it – yes, you can go through transition and still turn out to be a transphobic douchebag. You don’t even have to transition to be one! How? There are a number of examples, so let’s try to list them:
Denying people their right to do whatever they want with their body and that includes: looking down upon people who do not go through genital surgery OR looking down upon people who decide to undergo such surgeries. Either option is a transphobic one, because it involves having a general idea on how someone else’s body should look like, i.e. policing.
Criticizing those who are not manly or womenly enough as trans* people, general attitude towards the need for every one to pass, believing passing is a valid construct, judging someone’s appearance.
Having problems with either those who decide to live stealth or those who are open with the fact that they are trans*. Both options can be seen as transphobic.
Re-read all items from 1 to 8.
10. Stop seeing everything through your own eyes.
I can’t say more than just – acknowledge diversity and difference.
Your experience does not equal the full experience of the whole trans* community (whose existence, as a global construct, can and should be questioned). Also – educate yourself on trans* matters. You will be surprised how much you actually don’t know about your own people.
I’m sure we can make this list a lot longer. No, I actually want to make it longer and I do believe that life will give me a lot of opportunities to do so. Contributions are most welcome. Also, I know some of the points may not reflect everyone’s experiences, but I bet quite a few actually do.
If you really want to help others and contribute to creating an understanding community, you have to take responsibility for your actions. Instead of telling someone who is having a tough time transitioning to be a man and stop talking about the problems, ask what those problems might be. Remember your experiences, was it easy to get to the point where you find yourself now?
If so – can you see why? Can you share those positive experiences with someone who is having a tougher time than you have had? Can you talk to someone instead of talking about yourself?
If it wasn’t – why not? What did you do to go through with it? Where did you find strength? Were you always on your own?
What you have to realize is that – sorry for quoting Captain Planet – the power is yours, you just need to learn how to use it for helping others. And if you don’t want to use your advantages to do that, contribute by not making others feel bad.
And if you need more superheroes to help you realize that, here’s a Spiderman quote:
With great power, comes great responsibility.
I dedicate this post to Noel. I wouldn’t have written it without all the lovely conversations we have had throughout the last two years. :*