Sorry it took me so long to get to this, but I’m finally ready.
I want to start off by saying that I really, really understand where these questions come from. I know a lot of trans men and transmasculine people get very angry and defensive when these questions get asked, and I understand that too, because they’re hard to answer. These are questions I’ve struggled with, and I think they’re important to address, but when you get down to it, they don’t actually make much sense.
I’m not going to deny that there are misogynistic trans men. There are people I’ve met whose male identities smack of a hatred towards women and being associated with women, whose ways of articulating their feelings of manhood use opposition to womanhood as their main justification. These men are misogynists, but that doesn’t make their understanding of themselves as male any less valid—I also know many cis men who position their maleness as somehow opposite to femaleness, and no one ever questions whether their hatred towards women is the sole reason for their identification as men.
The point is that people have many complicated reasons for identifying the way they do, some of which are easier to articulate than others. Oppressive points of view are always the easiest to talk about, because those are the ones for which the most language exists. We are not given the tools to think about or talk about gender. The same man who talks about hating women to bolster his manliness may have infinite other feelings of connection to manhood, but this may be the only one he can manage to describe. It’s important to acknowledge that while identities and emotions can be shaped by politics, they can also exist regardless of our beliefs; identities are not the same as identity politics. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your ability to affirm others’ identities is to turn the volume down on your tendency to analyze everything inside a political framework and listen to a person’s feelings.
It’s also really helpful to keep in mind that there is cissexism built into the idea that people whose bodies you might consider female should naturally be women unless they declare otherwise. Any time you ask a question about the genders of trans people, I encourage you to ask the same question about the genders of cis people. If trans men’s male identities make you uncomfortable at face value, why don’t cis men’s? You may not even have realized that you were not thinking of trans men as “real” men, but that’s kind of what this question boils down to; there is no “staying a woman” for a person who is not a woman.
You’re right that men and women should be treated as equals. In fact, people of all genders should be entirely equal. When it comes to being “treated like a man,” this is where you get a huge split between misogynists and everyone else. Obviously, there are misogynist men with all kinds of histories who believe that there are certain specific behaviors that go into treating someone like a man, but not everyone means what you think by it.
For some people, being treated as a man simply means acknowledging their male identity by using the right name and pronouns for them, and remembering not to refer to groups they are part of as “ladies.” As a cis person, you may not even notice how much access to gendered spaces you feel entitled to without questioning whether you’re allowed there. You may question the validity of gendered spaces—you may even feel uncomfortable in them—but when it comes down to it, you never wonder if you will be readily welcomed into a group of people who use the same word to describe their gender as you do. Many trans people who ask you to treat them as a specific gender are asking first and foremost for that: just act like they should be included in things that are for their gender. And I don’t mean act like men like sports, I mean act like your male friends should feel free to attend men’s spaces.
In addition to that basic validation, I encourage you to ask anyone who asks you to treat them like a man what they mean by it. If they can even tell you—which many of them may not be able to—you should feel free to address any misogyny you see in individual requests, just make sure you let the person know that you don’t want to do that for them because you don’t want to do it for any man, not because you don’t see them as a man.
As for the negative gut reaction that many men have to being called “she,” keep in mind that trans people put a lot of effort into being seen and understood as they see themselves (often to the point of compromising ourselves and our beliefs because it’s actually that big a deal to some of us. It’s very hard to live up to your own ideals in a world that is trying its hardest to deny your existence, and frequently we must give up what we believe for what is possible in the world as it is right now. Cis people do this too, but its extent is obscured by cissexist assumptions of the “naturalness” of their compromises). If the people you see doing this don’t show other signs of hating women, it’s more likely that their reaction comes from the shock and hurt of being seen in a way that doesn’t make sense to them than from an idea they have that being a woman is universally insulting.
Again, it’s ok to challenge people on their language around this stuff, but it’s not ok to challenge their identity wholesale. Encourage people in your life to be aware that not everyone is able to follow their logic and that the more steps they can flesh out for you, the easier it will be for you to understand. An example of this is: “hey, instead of just acting like I know why it’s insulting for you to be referred to as a woman, what if you added another step in your logic and said something like, ‘it’s really hurtful to me when people can’t see the effort I’ve put into being read as a man, and I’m insulted that they aren’t taking the time to read the signals I’m putting out.’? That way we could be on the same page about what is actually problematic about it for you.” (If the idea that it’s possible to give out gendered signals makes you uncomfortable, we can talk about that, but you can’t deny that in the world as it is right now, there are certain things we all do to get read certain ways, and they are useful to trans people). This also works with people who tell you that their male identity is based in their masculinity. Ask them to remember that not everyone can understand how A automatically leads to B and that saying something more like “I interpret my masculinity as coming from a place of maleness,” will help you feel confident that they’re not saying that all masculine people are male.
Misogynist men aside, I hope you can agree that there there are many feminists who are not women. Why would it be that all of those people are cis? I know that my own identity as a genderfucked androgyne is not based in the idea that there is anything about me that makes it impossible or unfathomable for me to be a woman (or a man). It’s simply a matter of my personal interpretation of my traits as not being those of either a woman or a man. I’ll reiterate something that I’ve said many times: I’m sure there is a woman out there who has all the same gendered characteristics I have, but when I try to see myself as a woman it just doesn’t work out. This fact of my gender is not in opposition to my beliefs, which are just like yours, that women can do anything they like in any way they like. In fact, my feminism and admiration for women has grown exponentially since I started exploring the possibility that I might not be a woman. I’ve tried many times to make the idea of a personal womanhood identity make sense to me, but I cannot seem to connect to it. This is not something I can or want to control through sheer politically-motivated thought power.
Sure, describing myself with a word that holds no personal significance to me could be a very powerful statement about gender, but someone else can choose to make that statement. I choose instead to make the statement that received ideas about gender are not trustworthy. Through this statement, I hope to serve as an example of gendered possibility and the value of feeling free to think long and hard about what descriptions make sense to you. That way, if it turns out that you are a woman (of any description), you know it’s not just because other people told you you should be.
As for your idea that my body is “still female,” it isn’t. It’s true that I have not modified it in any way, that I was told for much of my life that it was a female body, and that it being deemed female shaped the way I was raised and the expectations that were put on me, but again I call cissexism on anyone who tries to tell me that female and male are meaningful ways to describe anatomy.
20 Notes/ Hide
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