"So I was asked to write about the Trans(-?) male/men/dude/masculine or whatever else we feel like calling ourselves, experience and feminism (or at least my personal experience and thoughts)," writes C, a trans man who wants to offer his perspective:
Going forward I'm going to stick with the term trans men, as that encompasses a good chunk of the community. Not all of us use the term "men," so I won't force it as a term in this instance. Also, FTM is a common term, which I personally use, however, many others dislike that term as well. I'm just going with the term that I think would make the most people happy.
Obviously, I am only one voice, so I don't speak for all of us; however, Kat and I discussed how she wanted ROYGBIV to be a more inclusive blog and she wanted a trans man voice to be heard. And I applaud her for asking me to do so. Just so you know; I'm a legal professional by trade and education, so I have no background in Queer Studies. This is my personal experience and knowledge.
There have been a severe lack of trans men voices in the trans narrative that the media perpetuates, and I think we as a community need to be more vocal as a member of the LGBTQA community. And yes, trans men are actually a thing that exists. I have had to explain this to people before. We'll get into more detail about that later.
Because this is a sub-blog of a feminist blog, I felt it was appropriate to discuss the interactions between the feminist community and that of the trans men community. As Kat has discussed in previous posts, there are issues with trans issues being taken seriously, or viewed as a hostile entity, in some branches of feminism. The majority of the criticism laid out in "Radical Feminist" literature has been directed against trans women, viewing them as wolves in sheep's clothing who are trying to undermine the feminist movement from the inside out, as well as perpetuating a gender binary. Naturally, there has been significant retaliation to these assertions by transfeminists and third-wave feminists, such as Kate Bornstein and Sandy Stone.
What hasn't been discussed in greater detail, is the trans men community; either by the mainstream feminist community or the radical. If one was to read about transfeminism or how trans people were discussed in the feminist community, like I just did on Wikipedia, you would notice a lack of discussion on the place of trans men in the feminist community. Only two trans men are even mentioned. One is Patrick Califa, who, although he has written some wonderful work on transfeminism, is almost entirely known for his work regarding BDSM and Kink. The other is Max Wolf Valerio who contributed to the famous "This Bridge We Call Home" anthology.
For those of you who are rolling their eyes that I'm referencing Wikipedia, remember that this is the first source people turn to when they want to learn about things. Wikipedia is the first voice that we have to people doing academic research; whether we like that or not, it's the encyclopedia for our time. And trans men, outside of a few exceptions, are not discussed or even mentioned.
And for those not specifically looking up trans men or transfeminism issues on an academic level, the media is not exactly kind to transgender individuals. In fact, it's downright horrid. According to a fantastic study done by GLAAD, 40% of transgender characters portrayed were victims, and one fifth of all portrayals of transgender individuals were sex-workers. The overwhelming majority of these characters were trans women. The transgender narrative that has been perpetuated over and over again in media storylines is the horrific "murdered trans woman sex worker" narrative.
Trans men do not have a storyline. As far as the media is concerned, we're an exotic creature to bring out once every five years to show off and quickly shove back in a cage never to be spoken of again.
In fairness, trans men are not entirely off the hook. We have a history of engaging in misogyny and encouraging stealth amongst the community. I hope to discuss this particular issue in the future.
There has been some academic discussion on trans men in the feminist community, but it hasn't hit the mainstream feminist community yet, and this has had a significant impact on how the feminist community views us. This has led to the development of three main narratives of trans men in the public eye, including within the feminist community.
The first narrative is that of the "lesbian" who "took it a step further." This, obviously, is an insanely offensive narrative and assumption on the part of the person perpetuating this label for trans men. It enforces a stereotype that a trans man is still somehow a woman, and the stereotype that trans people exist on a strictly heterosexual binary (This stereotype has created a very specific tension between the lesbian community and trans men. Many old guard "Butch" lesbian activists view trans men as poaching what would have been their newer members, as trans rights and needs become more visible. This is a discussion for another post though). I am bi, and this narrative has been parroted to me several times. I have been asked if I was going to leave my male cisgender partner after transitioning. Not only is this narrative hurtful to trans men, especially to the gay and bi trans men community, it is also hurtful to lesbians who are forced into a "butch" stereotype that conflates their sexuality with a specific type of gender expression (Kat has discussed at length the trans woman version of this narrative). Until the 1990s, some medical establishments required same-sex (birth sex) attraction as a condition for considering someone a transsexual, perpetuating this stereotype and conflating gender with sex.
The second narrative is that we don't exist. This one is less common amongst feminists, and more common amongst people who have no connection to gender studies or higher education. This becomes the narrative where a trans man is simply a "tomboy" who needs to grow out of it, or is going through a "phase." I have had this said to me many, many times. If I have to explain to you why this is a problematic narrative for a trans man, you need to re-think your life.
The third narrative, and most relevant narrative to this post, is that of the woman who became a man to enter into male privilege. This is the most problematic narrative of all when it comes to the trans men community and the feminist community, especially in terms of how the term "male privilege" is interpreted and used by more mainstream sites, such as Tumblr.
The "Escape to Male Privilege Mountain" narrative relies on one assumption: That all trans men transition medically, pass, and go stealth.
This is not the case. I, personally, do not pass. I, however, am a trans man. I do not enjoy full male privilege. Those who cannot fully pass do not enjoy male privilege. Because no matter what you do, if you don't pass, then you're not treated as a man by the majority of society. I am misgendered by people I am out to every day because I have not gone on testosterone.
In my opinion, you're treated as a woman until the moment you can walk into a men's bathroom without stares. And even then, most trans men are terrified of being outed in a male only space. I have met several completely passing trans men, who will not use public accommodations out of fear of harassment and violence.
Very, very few trans men enjoy that type of passing. Medically transitioning takes money – lots and lots of money. Legally transitioning costs money as well. Assuming that all trans men have those financial resources is a classist assumption about a minority that faces enormous barriers to employment. Medically transitioning is out of the financial reach of many trans men and women.
Furthermore, that level of medical transition is something not all trans men want to go through. Testosterone is a long and difficult process, as is surgery. It's not something everyone wants to put themselves through. A trans man is a trans man regardless of whether or not he is capable of medically transitioning, or if he wants to do so.
The best statistics I could find on the surgery rates, which were not well done (hence the lack of a citation, as it isn't worth citing – if someone has better statistics PLEASE SHARE), stated that only 1-5% of trans men seek SRS. An even lower amount seeks "bottom surgery."
Without an expensive packer or "bottom surgery," you aren't able to use a urinal. Cis men notice when you urinate in the stall. I have done it twice. It was one of the scariest things I have ever done. I no longer bother trying to use male bathrooms because of how terrifying an experience it was.
If someone outs you, any privilege you may have had flies out the goddamn window in about two seconds. People finding out you're trans completely changes their perspective of you, whether you want it to or not. Kat has referred to this in her past posts as "provisional privilege."
A trans man only has male privilege when he passes enough to make society think he's a biological man. Very few trans men ever achieve this, and they lose it as soon as people learn he is a trans man.
Because misogyny and sexism affect us too. A lot.
One of the founding principles of feminism was the concept of rejecting rigid gender roles based on our biological sex. By being able to express my masculinity as a trans man, rather than being forced into society's standards for a biological female, I am pushing against the role society chose for me. I have always thought that feminism is about allowing everyone a choice in their gender expression and identity. This should apply to people who want to express their masculinity, as well as those looking to express their femininity.
This is the thing – no matter whether or not a trans man currently enjoys male privilege by going stealth and passing, at some point in his life he has been treated as a woman, be it by parents, friends, teachers, or doctors. We remember the shit women had to go through. After I transition, I'll remember the catcalls. I'll remember the condescending way people talked to me. I'll remember being negged. I'll remember being looked over for jobs in favor of less qualified cis men. Oh, I'll remember. And guess what? I'm not OK with those things occurring.
Image of transgender rapper Katastrophe via Getty.