Saturday, March 14, 2009

Calling All Trans Men!

"When a man speaks his mind it is accepted as charming, interesting, sexy, but when a woman speaks hers she is aggressive, unattractive, pushy – some might even say a bitch." — actress, Lauren Bacall

Originally I was going to send this out last weekend, coinciding with International Women's Day. I thought better of it, probably too offensive. But I'm glad I waited ....

Something struck me at Equality Texas' Lobby Day a week and a half ago. There were about sixty trans people (estimating). Other than Reed Bogle (who's on the board of Eq. TX), there was one other trans man -- Darren from Houston. That's it. Two. So I've gotta ask: where the hell are you guys?!? You should be out here in larger numbers, not less than trans women! You're killing us here!

The reason I say this: trans men are going to be the lead on getting trans people overall our rights. It has to be. Yes, I realize activism's been overpopulated with trans women the whole time, and led by us in our own efforts. But in the real world outside of Trans land, it will be trans men that win this and finally get people to listen to us.

And yeah, trans women, that means we won't be listened to. You can be pissed off all you want, but it's true. You can be the loudest, you can be the strongest, you can be the one that works your ass into the ground. None of that will matter. You won't get that opportunity to lead us to our goal.

Fair? No. But that's the way society is geared, whether you like it or whether you don't.

I'd arrived at this a few months ago after a trans woman friend made a comment about Diego Sanchez being the first person hired on as staff in Congress. After I thought it over, it made total sense. And I believe it's something we're all overlooking to a greater or lesser extent in our trans lives. Our perspectives on how we'll be perceived and treated are coming from the genders we were raised in -- whether we want to admit it or not.

Far too many of us trans women feel that if we're only a little more assertive or insistent, or just emotionally frame our arguments just a bit better, we'll be listened to and given immediate credibility and be able to win our goals and be heroic. Far too many trans men grew up not wanting to be the male assholes they'd witnessed growing up, understood the reason for feminism, and felt that the world would be a better place if we just listened a bit more in a spirit of mutual support and came to consensus, rather than forge ahead with their own ambition.

Well, we've all got it backwards.

"Boys in the girls room,
Girls in the men's room...." — Androgyny, Garbage

Trans guys, when you're out in the gay or the straight world, you need to cast aside that sensitive, consensus crap and as Ann Coulter would say, "grow a pair!" When you're out there, you need to be the "assholes," to put it bluntly. It's something I'd mentioned to Ethan St. Pierre back in the day, about the time he was inheriting Presidency of NTAC. And he took it to heart and has done well progressing with the male insistence. Especially when considering the context of the trans rights fight, you guys must be assertive -- aggressive even. Take that ambition and starting pushing hard. Be like the gay men or the straight men you see in interaction: climb upward, climb hard, be ambitious and don't worry about the cries from those you elbow out of the way. If they shove you, shove them down. If they shove you again, flatten them to the ground and kick them in the nuts so hard they wear them as a bow-tie! Like it or not, this is how men operate in business (and civil rights has become BIG business).

Trans women, sorry about this. At best we're only going to be the loud harping bitches to the outside world. No matter what we do, no matter how hard we try, we will not be the ones with the credibility that opens those doors. We can go back to recapturing females softness, or we can stand up and speak out and be strong women. But strong women are still dismissed by men, and even given sideways glances from some of the less ardent women. Add to this the fact that we're trans, and the whole "failure to give up male privilege" thing comes into play. Our best role is to be the outspoken bomb-throwers in back of the trans men, but we will not be the ones invited to the table. In essence, our role is the newer versions of Sylvia Rivera.

It's still an important function: trans women will be the fulcrum of this leverage system, immovable and ornery enough to draw the attention from those we're trying to move. But it's the trans men that will be the levers, and must do the pushing. Yes guys, you've gotta. We would if we could -- but we can't.

"And the woman who could win the respect of man was often the woman who could knock him down with her bare fists and sit on him until he yelled for help." — journalist, Agnes Smedley

This all played out before me again at the Texas Senate in Austin the other day. During the senate debate, the author -- a quintessential, moustachioed "good-ol-boy conservative" named Troy Fraser -- took turns talking down to the female senators. One senator, a Democratic freshman attorney and tenured city councilwoman, Wendy Davis, was especially (and embarrasingly) dismissed by Sen. Fraser. Sen. Davis practically had to talk like an third-grade schoolteacher when questioning Fraser on his bill. Yet still the fool kept saying he "didn't understand" and "couldn't hear" her. He completely dismissed one question of hers, saying "being a freshman, you probably don't know how we do things here ...." She understood, he just didn't understand her question. At one point, he even pulled out a hearing aide and put it on, saying "I have a problem hearing women's voices"!

It sounded humorously dismissive, but in actuality there was some candor and truth there. Most all men with power don't hear women. They don't afford them the contemporary status held for other men in their peer set, and thus tend to tune out when women speak. And like it or not, the halls of power -- whether corporate, political or judicial -- are all dominated by these male-oriented men.

Now if it's still happening this blatantly for born females, then how do you think male-to-females will be perceived?

"Take this pink ribbon off my eyes.
I'm exposed and it's no big surprise.
Don't you think I know exactly where I stand?" — Just A Girl, No Doubt

After Diego's hiring in Congress, I began looking at the scale of how we are perceived by observation, empirical be it may.

Trans men hold more credibility with both categories of the gay and lesbian community than trans women. But the biggest differences are with straight men, and indeed men as an overall category. Trans women have virtually no credibility with men in any category except trans men -- and even there, it's lesser than trans men's credibility with their own. Meanwhile, trans men have credibility with most straight men, an increasing amount of gay men (though less than straight) as well as all of their own.

Even among women, trans men have a slight edge by having more credibility among lesbians. And if you look at it from society at large, female-to-males are taking a step up in the world, male-to-females are stepping down.

Again, men dominate the halls of power. James Brown said it over forty years ago, and it's still true today: "This is a man's world."

Get it?

"You see, man made the cars to take us over the road.
Man made the trains to carry heavy loads.
Man made electric light to take us out of the dark.
Man made the boat for the water, like Noah made the ark." — This Is A Man's Man's Man's World, James Brown

This is why there was a Diego Sanchez as the first on the Hill. It's why there was Jamison Green and Shannon Minter working with HRC and NCLR so many years ago, or a Kylar Broadus being the first hired trans person at a GLBT org, or even a Gunner Scott being the first statewide trans group leader receiving the first substantial funding from gay groups like HRC.

We are on the verge of a watershed in trans rights in the coming years. And right now the trans community is in serious pain, and it's getting worse. However, opportunities will soon be ripe for trans men in GLBT and straight America. Trans men, wherever the hell you are, you need to come out of the woodwork, start flooding the public sector and the organizations and kicking some serious ass! We need you in there now, to start working upward and seizing power.

Then, once this occurs, remember the trans women are still outside starving! We need this ASAP!

"I'm gonna rock this land!
I'm gonna take this itty bitty world by storm –
And I'm just gettin warm." — Mama Said Knock You Out, L. L. Cool J.

It may be as much as a decade before we can start moving trans women in there. This takes quite a bit of time to work, and for the men to get to a place to where they can make the demands to get us in. There's nothing we can do about it except get trans men in there in large numbers and as soon as possible. Before anyone starts whining about trans women being the most desperate, having expended the most time, etc, spare me. I've spent 13 years and $21K at this myself, another decade means I'm in my 60's -- it's game over for me. Regardless, we have to progress and that means getting trans men into all these spots as much as we can humanly do so. They have to work their way up before women can get in.

Meanwhile we trans women can begin tuning up our loud voices. It's the one thing we can do is create the intimidation factor: the bad cop to the guys' good cop. We'll make their eardrums bleed while the guys push them to negotiate.

And trans men, I cannot stress this enough, you must begin inserting yourself in there and getting aggressive. Pattern yourself after the other men you're dealing with in politics. Be just as ruthless. You can no longer just kick back and let trans women do this as we'll never be able to kick those doors in. Y'all can kick them in, but you've got to be here to do it. If you don't start, and start now, then we're all screwed.

One thing I'm sick of seeing is trans political efforts being dominated by trans women, knowing full well that we're never gonna be given the time of day. Trans men, step up and use that credibility and your new (even if unused) male privilege. We're dying out here and can't wait any longer!

"You think that I'm not human
And my heart is made of stone.
But I've never had no problems
'cause my body's pretty strong." — I'm A Man, Chicago

"This is a man's world –
But it wouldn't be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl." — This Is A Man's Man's Man's World, James Brown


Polar said...

Y'know, a year or so ago, I made the decision to not lobby in femme mode, at least for the foreseeable future. Of course, as a CD, I have that choice. However, I discovered that, even though my "transiness" wasn't evident immediately, I was taken far more seriously in a jacket and tie than I ever was in a skirted suit, even back in the days when I was reasonably passable.

To the point, I can concur in your judgment, and I don't think you're the only one to notice this. Another well-known activist, in recent years, told me that "much of the effective activism is going to be done by young female-to-males, not the aging m2fs." I would add to this that I have observed that transpeople of color also seem to share the added mantle of effectiveness in lobbying situations, probably because the added experience with being a member of an oppressed minority.

Do you feel that there still is a place for the middle-aged m2f in lobbying? I feel that there definitely is, but in general, we can't call ourselves the leaders when people like Ethan, Shannon, Kylar, Gunnar, Diego, Cole, and others have been so much more successful at being placed into positions to be effective as insiders. Of course, I've never considered myself a leader, just an GD independent who has something to say.

Good analysis.

Anonymous said...

I really need to get an open ID.

Ok, my take.

first off, you are speaking directly to a powerful truth: in pursuits of power, in the USA, Men are taken more seriously than women.

That is male privilege. The fact that far more transwomen are involved than transmen is, *itself*, an aspect of the after effect of male privilege -- its derived from the very dynamic you are speaking to.

And, to be totally frank, you are correct, but there are still powers that women have.

There's an old rule: it takes 10 good things to equal one bad thing. In this case, it takes a transwoman ten times the effort it takes a transman to do the same thing.

And transmen of the older generations (35+) suffer from having been raised withthe detrius of the old method of patriarchy and so forth (we could wander easily into transfeminst discourse and how this wrong and all, but that's not the point right now since you are speaking about using sexism to our benefit).

However, you haven't taken it far enough.

For most of the last 30 years, transmen and transwomen have occupeid separate spheres -- how many support groups out there truly have a mix? Seriously. One of the reasons that transmen are so under-reported is that transwomen are the focus (as "men gone bad") of studies that follow them.

That's a sampling bias in action, and it is lopsided because we really do have to deal with having been raised the way we were raised.

So yeah -- we *do* have to conform more to gender roles to get stuff through.

But you didn't go far enough.

transwomen need to start doing what transmen did first: building a consensual community.

We need to start organizing the bake sales and fundraisers and house parties and community centers, and *while we do so* we need to remember the transmen, not after its done.

We're women - we are supposed to be thinking of the boys in what we do, and the *kids*.

Or, to put it in terms I've oft used:

Transmen need to Provide and Protect, transwomen need to Support and Comfort.

And instead, we do the reverse, all too often.

So be sure to mention that yeah -- we do have a job to do, and its *more* important in a lot of ways, and that job is that while the boys make the changes in law and get heard, we make the homes and the support systems for all transfolk.

Its what I'm doing, despite my upcoming trip to DC.

HRC Watch said...

I was reading your post and laughing as I was reading it. Not because I disagree but because whenever your stubborn, Texas ass disagrees with me, you always blame it on my "maleness."
There is a lot more to write about this topic, specifically the way some transwomen treat transmen. For instance, I was in a yahoo group just recently when a transgender woman actually said that there was little difference between a butch dyke and an FtM.

Before we can move on together, as a movement, I think that respecting each other's identities should come first.
I understand what you are saying, Vanessa but there are still transgender women who do not respect transmen nor do they treat us as men. So while society at large might see us as the men that we are, before we can go anywhere, we need to be seen that way in our own community first.


Unknown said...

Personally, I think the biggest problem here is a basic one, and one that transwomen can be just as guilty of as transmen when they find themselves in the position to take advantage of it.

As we all know, generally speaking transmen are more visibly passable (and therefore more commonly accepted in their chosen genders) than transwomen. Given that, I don't think it's any surprise that so many transmen choose to live under the radar and not put themselves out there publicly.

Conversely, transwomen are commonly far less accepted in everyday life as members of our chosen gender, and I believe that's a big reason why so many of us are comfortable putting ourselves out there publicly. Often we have no private lives to protect since we're known as trans pretty much everywhere we go, and certainly (in many cases, including my own) every time we open our mouths to speak.

The result is that transwomen are far more visible in general than transmen so we have far less to risk by being out and open. Add to that the natural tendency to find men more credible and capable than women in general and we find ourselves in the situation we do.

Unfortunately, transmen like Ethan St Pierre, Diego Sanchez, and Shannon Minter who are out and open, as well as being willing to be so in the public eye are the exception, not the rule, I fully expect that will continue to be the case.

After all, how many publicly vocal transwomen would still be openly and publicly trans if we could simply pass through life accepted as the women we are in all aspects of our lives? I think we all know the answer, don't we?

Unknown said...

I'm a little shocked at this analysis. It's so gender noramtive. I think this analysis of gender roles post-transition is flawed. Trans Women's role in political activism is based on their former (and, I argue) still extant, gender privilege. Our histories persist. No matter how much some of us may wish them gone, the gender in which we were raised leaves its mark.

Transmen's purported lack of activism (which I don't find to be the case in California politics) is erroneous.

I think our history of living in the opposite gender role has given us the benefit of experience other humans don't have. If we are transmen, our compassion and empathy are what make us a different breed of man. If we are transwomen, our aggression and activism make us a different breed of woman.

It's time to capitalize on those differences, rather than fearfully trying to "blend in" and to conform to tired old stereotypes.

Anonymous said...

Ethan said: "I was in a yahoo group just recently when a transgender woman actually said that there was little difference between a butch dyke and an FtM"

I've recently looked at that thread. I'll not comment on it as it appeared to go off the rails in several different directions.

However, I have also seen certain non-MTF individuals utilize that purported "little difference" to sickeningly inflate the number of 'trans people' employed by a certain transphobic gay organization in DC.

MattieTX said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MattieTX said...

As a feminist transwoman I really have to disagree with your post especially with the comment.

"Transmen need to Provide and Protect, transwomen need to Support and Comfort."

That is a really simplistic sexist stereotype. Why can we not do all four? And putting things in such terms furthers the gender binary since it sets up these rigid gender roles.

And the idea that activism is because of male privilege discounts all of women's activism.

"That is male privilege. The fact that far more transwomen are involved than transmen is, *itself*, an aspect of the after effect of male privilege -- its derived from the very dynamic you are speaking to."

In your world Alice Paul and Sarah Weddington would not exist. I can not even begin to start to say what is so wrong with that statement. My mouth is still on the floor. Word of advice, read Juila Serano and take a women studies class.

"We're women - we are supposed to be thinking of the boys in what we do, and the *kids*."

Yikes, Yikes!!

That is so heterosexist, I maybe a straight trans woman, but there are queer trans woman too. I am a feminist because I want to make a better world for women. When I do activism, I could care less what "boys" think.

On the original post, the activism suggested is just a furthering of the patriarchy. Trans women need to join up with the mainstream feminist movement to help end domestic and sexual violence.

And maybe a reason why more trans women may be involved in activism is because we do have to deal with more than trans men. As Peggy McIntosh states in her famous privilege essay "it is easy to ignore your own privilege". Trans women have to deal with the blunt of being trans. Therefore, most of us are tired of it and want to stop it. A completely natural and healthy reaction.

Sorry, I noticed mistake in here eariler and edited it. That's why I reposted.