Guest Post: Sexism Exists!!!! Thoughts and solace from a gay trans man.

Ever since I was a little trans boy living as a girl, I’ve felt the need to protect the girls and women in my life from those who are abusive.  Perhaps it was my childhood environment that led to this – I grew up in a dirt-poor, “white-trash” household with a distant mother, a sister who was sexually abused, and an estranged father.  I didn’t know love, affection, respect, boundaries, discipline, and feminism.  Life was hard and women were treated the worst.

Lucky for me, I was a very strong “girl” – I could beat any boy in the class at arm wrestling, sprinting or basically anything to do with strength.  I was very rough and tumble and was often referred to as a tomboy because I was so dominant and refused to wear dresses.  I don’t bring this up to brag, in fact, I hated standing out that much, regardless of how much I actually used my talents.  You see, I am a gentle soul – I am very sensitive, highly anxious, and slightly autistic.  I’m also extremely protective of what I hold dear – perhaps a reaction to my childhood – which directs my attention toward people who get treated unfairly, usually women  I’ve never fit in myself, so when I see injustice, I feel the need to stop it.

When I was young, my version of stopping injustice involved beating the perpetrator up.  Sure, I wouldn’t recommend it, but at the time, it seemed appropriate.  If the boys decided it was “Friday Flip Up Day”, in which they hassled the girls who were wearing skirts, I patrolled the area where my friends were hanging out at recess.  This is not an exaggeration.  My first fight involved me punching a boy who tried to kiss my friend on the cheek and then chased her when she refused – this was in 1st grade.  At recess I stood guard always making sure that my friends didn’t have to worry about what they boys were up to.  For my work, I was rewarded with loyal friends and boys who hated me for humiliating them.  To me, it was a fair trade-off and I continued until I could no longer fend the boys off (about sixth grade).  [I would like to point out that I was never officially punished. In fact, many of my teachers thought it was awesome.]

To this day, I abhor sexism and the insidious ways that it keeps women and girls in their place and elevates men who don’t deserve the praise.  I became an official feminist in college, although it never became my field of study (I prefer math and science), but I definitely dabbled and had friends who were also ardent feminists.  They taught me a lot of what they learned in classes and I appreciated the knowledge.  This knowledge led me to all sorts of places and perhaps the most important – accepting my transsexuality.  When I came out to my friends, I was under the erroneous assumption that they would accept it as well, but I was wrong.  They didn’t understand, they refused to talk about feminism anymore, they called me a traitor, they stopped calling.  I felt betrayed, cast away, discarded.    Often I wondered how much is due to the underlying anti-trans sentiments of some feminist arguments or to the ingrained transphobia in our culture.  Most of me, though, no longer cared, as I had lost everything that was dear to me for speaking my truth.  My world felt twisted and upside-down – it didn’t make any sense.  How could something that felt so right for so long, suddenly make me feel like a monster when I had done nothing wrong?

What I can see now that I couldn’t see then is that both sides felt betrayed.  We all lost innocence about feminism that day or at-least were faced with the limitations of feminism.  As someone who was assigned female and was forced to live the life of a straight woman for 20 years, I do have insight into how women are treated.  But I maintain that I will never know what its like to actually *be* a woman.  I never was one.  I just looked like one – an impostor, a fake, a doppelganger.  My friends believed that I was a woman, so when I told them that I really wasn’t one, they thought I was denying my womanhood and implying that manhood was much better.  They thought I was buying into the patriarchy and believed that to be a woman was one of the worst things you could be.  This is very far from the actual truth of why I transitioned and their assumption that my motivation was flawed led to all sorts of recriminations.  I transitioned because my mind says male and my body said female.  I wanted them to match and for that I have been called a traitor, an impostor, a liar, a chauvinist pig, a tool of the patriarchy, etc.  It took me a long time to come to terms with the accusations I faced from my feminist friends.  A part of me agreed with them and felt extreme guilt that my decision to transition could make me just as bad as the boys who harassed my friends as a child.  I didn’t want to be like them.  I didn’t want to be that guy who thinks they are better than women solely because they’ve been trained to think that way.  I was also aware that gaining male privilege can make trans men become sexist jerks.  I vowed to not become that kind of man.

I’ve been living my life as I’d always wished for 8 years now.  I am an effeminate gay trans men who loves the company of women.  It took me a long time, but I have finally come to terms with the limitations of feminism and understand that my former friends did the best they could do with the information they had, as did I.  Neither side won or lost.  I still fight against sexism and believe that women need their spaces away from men.  I’m somewhat of an outsider now, but I like to look in to see how strong and powerful women can be and just happy that slowly things are getting better.  I know that I can’t give them the male privilege that I’ve gained, but I can still watch out for their safety.  I can still stand up for them when they need it.  I can still be their friend and listen when they need an ear.  I still care and no matter how hard they push me away, I will always be there.

In closing, If you’re a trans man reading this, please take this to heart.  Let your former life guide you, but know that you are not betraying anyone by transitioning and living your life to the fullest.  By the power vested in me you are now absolved of all guilt you are feeling.  Just one thing before you to take the plunge — don’t forget about the sisters you left behind.

Kian has been living as a gay transman for most of his 20s.  Nerdy, quirky and fey, he often spends his time thinking and writing about gay and trans politics.  He loves to learn and cook and looks for hairy men who do the same.

Requisite disclaimer: All opinions expressed in guest posts are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of NotAiden.

11 Replies to “Guest Post: Sexism Exists!!!! Thoughts and solace from a gay trans man.”

  1. Maybe you should change the title a bit. At first I thought you meant you were giving solace to abused women, and that would be a tad weird ;-). Only in the end I realized that you were talking about the guilt that we as ftm often feel for abandoning women when there is so much shit going on in the world.
    I certainly know that guilt and have struggled with it for a very long time. Also with the accusation that we transition only *because* of the shit that is going on.
    Very important topic.

    • I was afraid that would happen…I’m a bit lost about what titles to use. The topic is important to me and I thought I should at least bring it up in public because I was pretty sure I wasn’t the only one who has issues with guilt, and I needed to find out. Not all trans men feel guilt about transitioning and gaining male privilege as a result, but there are many who do despite knowing that its not their fault that they’re trans. Maybe you can get more in depth about your experiences with guilt?

  2. you could just delete the second part of the title, and add something about the guilt aspect.

    this is a huge topic, I think. in a way the guilt we feel is a result of the oppression of women too. a bit like survivor’s guilt, where the persons who gets off feels tremendous guilt.

    but it was also an artificially caused guilt because I was *told* to feel guilty by women who saw me as a traitor. As I know what is at stake, I felt terrible.
    It’s like the kid from a minority group who leaves that group for a “better” life. The leaving itself is a sin even if the new life isn’t better than the old one.
    There is envy involved, naturally. and also the feeling of: if he can leave why can’t I? or : If he leaves, does that mean I could have left years ago?
    For women it is often connected to fantasies that they have about the mythical freedom and power that men are supposed to have and that they project on ftm.
    also many women project their anger about men on ftm. more than once I have been witness that women accepted certain behaviour from cismen but bashed me angrily for the same behaviour. it’s some kind of revenge.
    I feel like transpeople (transwomen too) get trapped in the middle of the war between men and women.

    My guilt only got less when I was confronted with a lot of vioence by women. I realized that things are not so black and white. that doesn’t change my feminist stance or my hatred of oppression, of course.

    • I like your analogy to survivor’s guilt because that’s what it feels like. I didn’t choose my reality and yet I feel responsible for the outcome. A lot of cis women think transitioning is a choice and it is on a very superficial level, in that I choose every week whether or not to stick the needle in my leg. The root of the problem, however, is not superficial at all. In fact, it is one of the least superficial things I can think of because gender is such a huge part of one’s identity.

      There have been periods that I felt so unbelievably guilty that I stopped taking testosterone for weeks at a time. I couldn’t enjoy my manhood because I spent so much time worrying that my new identity would somehow make the world a worse place to live in for women. So every week became a test of will in which I psyched myself up to just jump over the guilt just long enough to stick the needle in. Right now, I’m finally so sick of feeling guilty that I needed to write it all out for others to see.

      Its hard enough to transition, but losing my friends because their version of feminism didn’t fit well with my reality was heartbreaking. I really want feminist women to read this and understand that every time you argue with your pre-transition trans guy friend over his transsexuality/transgenderism, you are trying to invalidate his identity. And if you keep doing it for the sake of arguing some feminist principle or because it strikes an emotional chord, you are get further and further from being a friend. Eventually, you will lose your trans friend because you couldn’t accept him simply because his reality didn’t fit into your worldview. And if you can’t accept transsexuality for one reason or another, then I’d suggest not talking to trans people anymore until you can.

  3. Another effect of this is that I get repulsed from time to time by being trans, because “men” (as a class) are so terrible. On a social or political level I’m mostly female identified.
    The interetsing thing is that there are more and more cis men who feel the same. They understand what’s going on in the world, they ofter grew up with women, and they hate that they are men.
    On the other hand, as I said, today I tend to think that there aepretty horrible men *and* women on this planet. and that refusing to se the violence that is perpetrated by women is one of the sins of feminism. (f.e. almost all violence against children is perpetrated by women, not by men).

    • “Another effect of this is that I get repulsed from time to time by being trans, because “men” (as a class) are so terrible. On a social or political level I’m mostly female identified.”

      I used to feel this way until I realized it was feminism that is flawed because it doesn’t allow for people like us. Politically, I am gay and trans identified, but I totally understand that you’re at least partially still female-identified. There is a lot of social pressure from within the queer community to tow the the party line and admit that the world sucks for women more than anything else. And so we get stuck in this constant state of purgatory in which we can’t fully accept our trans ness because we have been taught that men are the enemy. I refuse to believe this anymore, but I also refuse to accept the other side’s version either (women are imagining that sexism exists). I’m done feeling guilty for things I didn’t do. And a lot of men are also done feeling guilty for being male as well. But I also don’t know where to go from here.

      How do we talk about these things without being accused, once again, of being anti-feminist or anti-women?

      Can there be a non-heated discussion of trans people by feminists without sexism sucking all the air out of the room?

      Now that trans women are being accepted more regularly by cis women feminist circles, what happens to the trans men who were once politically aligned with women and who are now being expelled from the ranks? In theory, we’d stay, but the hostility I face as a man in feminist circles is often more than I want to put myself through. But I don’t want to be on the sidelines either. I used to be heavily involved in politics, but my experience with feminists upon coming out turned me away from politics for a while. I want back in, but no group wants me. And since fighting with women feels pointless, I decided to funnel my efforts into trans and gay activism. I read feminist blogs and books a lot less that I used to and I never comment anymore. One could say that I’ve almost completely given up on feminism as a way to combat the ills of the world…

  4. feminism is definetey flawed, though not in all aspects.
    I have met several ftm who after being feminists have gone through a phase of being severely trans-bashed by their feminist friends. It is understandable that after such traumatizing experiences they take a distance to feminists. Another thing that I have witnessed is the weird fact that sme ftm in the early stages who are active in feminist gender queer communities can become something of icons or heroes to that communities. but when they start to pass fiull time, which inevitably will happen, people start to keep a distance, while the ftm hasn’t changed his behaviour or political attitude. I found that very sad to watch.

    my personal attitude after such a phase of alienation is that feminism is not feminists. I can be a feminist without some people’s approval. I know what sexist discrimination is, because I have experienced it many times. if some feminists choose to behave like idiots that’s not my problem. it’s just human nature.

    • I definitely have a hard time separating feminists from feminism, or rather sometimes I think that some feminists have ruined feminism for me. Feminism needs a reboot, a new wave, or something to accommodate trans people. Until then, I’m going to avoid talking about feminism with feminists and just practice it on my own. I’d rather be involved with groups of women, but as it stands, that’s not going to happen any time soon. IMO, until feminists take a good hard look at exactly they want now that the playing field has been leveled to a more even surface (still not perfect, I know), I’m going to be looking in from the outside.

      Do you still participate with political womens’ groups? How do you deal with anti-male or anti-transmale women? Do you just avoid them?

  5. I think this is a very touchy subect for me because my mother is a feminist and I always felt relatively save that coming out to her wouldn’t be a problem. I knew coming out as a dyke wouldn’t have been a problem. but as you can guess it all went downhill and she said some really terrible things to me that I can’t forgive. she still says these things, I came out 20 years ago.

    I don’t participate in radfem obviously. I used to do politics with so called “queer” groups, which sadly means 95% lesbians and 5% transgender. I’m also sometimes involved in feminist events due to my job. I meet trans friendly lesbians and other feminists from time to time, and I like them better than the transsensual variant who are involved in drag culture and so on. These normal lesbians are ok, we just hang out. Some of the younger feminists have done some transgender theory and are trans friendly too.
    My problem is that I never know how people will react. they might be lovely people otheriwse but suddenly frighten you with transphobic shit. As a rule though I’d say that feminist people are the ones that deal worst with trans. I even knew a feminist cis guy who had that same behaviour.
    So I’d say, I try to pick the moderate feminists and those who don’t have personal issues, because it’s often those wo are very masculine in some way who are the most spiteful.
    It’s really common but that doesn’t make it less sad:

    “(coming out as trans): Only one person has been shocked, and she was also the only one who had a negative reaction: my friend, a self-described butch lesbian. I actually thought she was one of the safer people to come out to, since she has experimented with genderbending and packing and she’s dated FtMs in the past, but her reaction was pretty disapproving. She essentially told me she didn’t believe me, and that she felt I was appropriating her (lesbian) culture. She also pointed out that since I am attracted to men, it would be stupid of me to transition and that I should just “stay female.” It seems that in her opinion it is only okay for lesbians to transition? It really made me second-guess myself. We have not spoken at all since this conversation.”

    btw- drag queens often have a huge problem with transwomen, that seems to be the same constellation.

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