Privilege is always a sticky discussion. It is something almost everyone experiences in varying degrees in some aspect of their lives whether it is gender, sexuality, race, social status, etc. Privilege and the lack of privilege is something that is extremely important in the discussions about intersectionality and oppression in feminism. However, as someone who presents and IDs as male, I’m left in a weird gray area.
As a trans man, where do I stand in feminism? I’ve experienced misogyny and sexism in the past, especially since I worked in a video game store for most of my working adult life. For 20 years of my life, I presented as female even if my gender identity did not match this, this is how I was perceived by the world. Working in a male dominated area, I experienced sexism and misogyny. I have a history with these things, a very personal history. Transitioning does not erase my history, as my history is part of me. I do not deny being trans* and fully embrace it as part of my identity. I should not be excluded from feminist spaces (not women’s spaces, as a man, I do not belong there). I also must sidestep and let women speak before me. I must acknowledge, accept, and understand how my new privileges affect me in my life. I am seen as a man (most of the time). However, this does not erase my history with sexism and misogyny.
Do I still experience sexism and misogyny? Absolutely. However, these experiences are entirely different from my experiences when I was perceived to be female. The misogyny and sexism I experience now is more based in trans*phobia and the idea that femininity is seen as less than masculinity. As a femme man, I am seen as weaker, inferior, and less authentic than my more masculine counterparts (both cis and trans*). Misogyny and sexism directed at women is about making them, as people, inferior to men. Misogyny and sexism directed at men, while about making them feel inferior, it is also rooted in the idea that femaleness and femininity is bad, inauthentic, and inferior to everything male and masculine. Being a feminine man is still regarded as being seen as more beneficial than being a woman, even a butch woman.
History plays an important part in our lives, but it does not make us entirely. How we are currently perceived and present is another large chunk of ourselves. While not a trans woman, the need to talk about the ‘flip-side’ of the coin is still there. While I went from lacking male privilege to obtaining it, most (but not all) trans women go from having male privilege to losing it. Trans women, those who used to be perceived as men, benefited from male privilege. This is something TERFs use to deny trans women their identities, access to much needed women’s services, women’s safe spaces, and feminism entirely. I do not agree with this standpoint, since trans women are women, even if their histories may be different from that of cis women. Trans women, even visibly trans*1 trans women, experience sexism and misogyny. Thus they experience trans*misogyny on top of sexism and misogyny for their gender identity.
Trans* people, like cis people, experience varying degrees of privilege and lack of privilege as well. For example, a trans woman who was femme before transitioning is going to have a different level and experience of male privilege than someone who was masculine before their transition. A trans man who was butch before transitioning is going to experience different types of sexism and misogyny than a trans man who was and still is femme (like myself). However, no matter the gender identity or the assigned at birth, masculinity is going to be celebrated over femininity.
Trans* people play an important role in discussing sexism, misogyny, trans*misogyny, and everything that has to deal with the oppression and marginalization faced by people due to their gender or perceived gender. For the binary people who have transitioned, even if it is just socially, they have experienced both sides of the track (so to say), from the loss of privilege and to the gain of privilege. Trans* peoples’ inputs on how society treats people based on perceived/identified gender is unique in many ways. Oppression and marginalization presents itself in many different forms and each person’s experiences are unique and varied, allowing us, as a whole, to become more knowledgeable and attuned to how these problems affect our everyday lives.
I’ve discussed in somewhat depth the binary gender identities, so what about non-binary and genderqueer people? How do they fit into all of this? As someone who only presents non-binary, this is something I do not have much experience with. Even discussing issues facing trans women and their histories is a complex matter because I am not a trans woman. So please take those into consideration2. The unique situation of non-binary people also plays into sexism and misogyny, as well as trans*phobia. As previously stated, a person’s history is not erased if they have decided to transition (even just socially). Visibly trans* or not does not matter either. These things all come with their own slew of issues. This is why non-binary and genderqueer people are just as important. These people experience problems based on how they are perceived (generally male or female since society is so binary). A FAAB genderqueer person may experience both male privilege some days and misogyny and sexism the next.
Due to this multiple experience, non-binary and genderqueer people are just as important as their binary trans* family. How can we discuss how gender oppresses and marginalizes people without discussing how the binary does the same? Gender is more than two options, and without recognizing and understanding how the binary system is a form of hierarchy (with male above female) and oppression, we cannot even begin to scrape the surface of ending sexism, misogyny, trans*misogyny, and trans*phobia. Genderqueer and non-binary people belong in feminism just as much as anyone else. This includes cis men.
Now, this may be where I lose some people. I believe feminism is for everyone, including cis men. However, cis men have their place and that is to listen, to learn, to recognize their privileges above others, and to begin to undo their programmed sexist thinking. While men may speak in feminism, it should only be with accompanying trans* and women’s voices before them. Cis men have their place. Trans men occupy a similar space, letting trans* women speak before them. If we do not allow men to be a part of our discourse and education, how can we ever expect society to change towards removing these problems? Cis men must be allowed to actively engage in listening to voices other than themselves when it comes to feminism and learn how to undo what society has taught them. This does not mean that men should be allowed in female safe spaces, nor does it mean that men should be the voice, leadership, or main of the feminist movement. However, actively removing portions of society from potential change and education is detrimental to the cause.
This is something that needs to be discussed more. All sides need to be brought to the table in an open discussion. Too much of the talk of privilege is about yelling over another person and ignoring their experiences and their lives and histories. Too much of the discussion is overruled by authoritarian ideas on the matter. Open discussions are needed where everyone gets a voice on the matter. Sexism, misogyny, trans*phobia, cissexism, and so on and so forth affects everyone. Our minds need to be open to the idea that to fight against, we need to understand and listen to each other. We need to understand where our privileges lie. We need to listen to those who have been or are without those privileges and understand how our lives are affected by it. Privilege is not a simple black and white matter since it affects varying people in varying ways. It is something that is experienced by a group, but even members of the same group may experience privilege differently. Intersectionality is important to discuss. Privilege does not automatically make you an enemy or someone who is wrong. Privilege is simply something that society gives you and shows you are valued above others. Discussions about privilege are not about people, but about society and society’s ideals. Discussions about privilege are how these ideals impact people’s lives, how they are treated, and how they are marginalized and oppressed. The problem is privilege and the perpetuation of it.
1I really dislike the terms passing/non-passing as it implies that we are passing ourselves off as something we are not. Thus, I use the term visibly trans* instead.
2If you feel misrepresented, want to tell your story, or anything, please please comment or @ me on Twitter. I do not speak for everyone. I can only speak of my experiences and my beliefs.