TW for discussions of: abuse, sexual violence, forced institutionalization.
As I entered into adulthood, I didn’t have a way to name my dysphoria. I had three queer friends, one of whom came out as trans my senior year of high school. I remember feeling a little envious, wondering why I couldn’t be trans too. I spent hours trying to find information about medical transition, reading everything I could. Unfortunately a lot of what I found were trans-exclusionary blogs that assured me I’d want to detransition, and that I would be much happier as a cis butch lesbian. That, and bodybuilding forums. Even the supportive, useful resources I found scared me off. They often greatly exaggerated testosterone’s effects. Puberty sucked the first time. I didn’t want to go through it again. But I did know my body didn’t feel right, so I kept looking.
That was about the time that I discovered the body horror genre. It was inevitable that I’d run into it. I loved cult horror, I loved anything psychological and atmospheric, and I loved special effects. The genre scratched my itch for weird, unforgettable movies. In retrospect, my fascination made a lot of sense. The creeping horror of watching your body mutate, transforming into something improper, inhuman, and wrong is something I think a lot of people with dysphoria can relate to. I knew that horror from my own adolescence. And I was afraid I’d know it again if I transitioned. What if hormones and surgeries only made me hate my body more?
(Originally published on Gender Splendor in Fall 2013)
My body is a political weapon. I’m not talking about just the fact my body is a transgender one either. I am a walking political billboard, by my own choice. I use my body, especially how I dress my body, as a statement every time I go out into public. I am a visibly queer and transgender person. While I dress rather gender non-conforming (since I am a non-binary person who prefers feminine clothing, heels, and extreme colors), there is something much more eye catching than that.
I wear a hoodie, covered in buttons and patches ranging from simple trans pride flags to loud exclamations of gender terrorist, the gender binary is a form of hierarchy and oppression, and your silence will not save you. From the moment I walk out the door of my grandmother’s house, I am setting out on the table who and what I am. I am THAT queer person who introduces themselves as queer almost before they give you their name.
This simple article of clothing has become an important part of me. I love being visible. I find empowerment in it. I love knowing that the moment I walk into a place, I automatically get the label of queer (or some form of it). Every day is some form of social experiment depending on where I go and it seems to be a bigger success than my topless NYC Pride statement (where everyone just thought I was a hairy lesbian. More planning needed for next year). If people are not staring at me, I am probably at a friend’s house. Everywhere I go, people stare and look.
Kung Jin is the name of Mortal Kombat’s first gay character. After numerous games, adaptions, and so forth, Mortal Kombat has its first gay character. However, you have to be pretty observant to catch the reference. During a flashback he is talking about the gods accepting him.
“I can’t… They won’t accept…” He says, only to have Raiden respond with They care about only what is in your heart; not whom your heart desires.” And that’s it. That sole line. It’s subtle. It’s nice. But it is far from perfect.
This interview was originally written for PourOverMag in April 2015. Unfortunately, the website is no longer available and the interview has been uploaded here.
I first met Stephanie Mott in May, 2011. We were fighting for the Manhattan, Kansas commissioners to not repeal the anti-discrimination ordinance passed back in February that added sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes. You read that right, only three months after passing the ordinance the new Manhattan commission was working on revoking the rights of queer Manhattan residents. The anti-discrimination ordinance had made Manhattan Kansas the second place in Kansas to add not only sexual orientation but gender identity to protected classes of citizens with Lawrence, Kansas being the first. In three short months, we saw these rights being ripped from under us.
We heard arguments from both sides, watching as ministers and fellow residents saying the protection was unnecessary because they had never seen someone discriminated on these bases. These responses came after person after person recounted tales of discrimination based on their gender and their sexual orientation, one of those people being me and another being Stephanie Mott. I remember coming down from speaking, shaking like a leaf. I was red, scared, and nervous. Stephanie hugged me and told me I had done an amazing job and handed me the card for her organization, KSTEP (Kansas Statewide Transgender Education Project).
This originally appeared on In Our Words Blog. The website is no longer available so I am posting this previously published piece here. It has been edited slightly to fit into my more recent words and writing style (such as an added paragraph) but 95% of the post remains the same as it was when it was posted to IOWB.
Why do trans people act so sensitive when you discuss trans identities? Why do they get so uptight and righteous when you start talking about the obviously fake trans people and not them? Why do they get so upset when you misgender someone out of spite? It’s not like you were talking about them! You’re just talking about the bad trans people who give queer people a bad name! People shouldn’t get so upset about that!
When you talk about people as a collective, you are talking about them. You are telling people it is ok to do these things as long as someone sees them as bad, wrong, or incorrect. You are telling others and setting an example of behaviors that are never OK to do to anyone. You are tone and identity policing people.
What makes a man? Who is defined as a man? Often those who are assumed to be men are masculine. What does masculinity entail? Brave, bold, courageous, aggressive, dominating. Masculinity is powerful. It’s at the helm. Femininity is rooted in the opposite. Soft, dainty, delicate, passive, submissive. Femininity is seen as inferior. It is seen as weak, especially in comparison to masculinity. So who is told to Man Up? Those who are seen as inferior. Those who are weak. Those who are delicate.
Thus terms like Manning Up are rooted in removing the feminine. They are rooted in these sexist ideas that femininity and thus, being a woman (as the two are connected in our society) are seen as inferior. We cannot be men if we do not ‘man up’ or, in the real meaning, become more masculine. These terms are directed at men or those perceived as men (regardless of actual gender) who are often seen as feminine and thus, seen as lesser to those who are not. It is a way of eradicating gender variance, and thus, eradicating femininity among men because it is seen as weak. The ideas of Manning Up are rooted in gender policing, femmephobia, sexism, transmisogyny, and anything remotely anti-woman. Manning Up means removing anything remotely woman-like. I often see trans men, in particular, trying to reclaim this phrase and other similar phrases as a turn of phrase, a reclamation of their identities, but at what cost?
When people critique femininity, they proclaim that femininity is weak, unnatural, and artificial. Many of the traits that people associate with femininity are seen as inferior, such as emotional, sensitive, grace, innocence, feminine styles of dress (such as colorful attire), especially when compared to their masculine counterparts. However, I find this kind of absurd when compared to how fragile masculinity actually is. It is threatened and questioned, potentially even destroyed, by being near femininity. Even associations with femininity cause chaos in the stability of masculinity.
Masculinity, especially the masculinity of cisgender straight men, is constantly under threat from femininity. Masculinity is something so fragile, that they fear to breathe the same air as someone who is feminine, especially someone they perceive as male (whether this is correct or not). For something seen as so weak and so inferior, masculinity is certainly on shaky ground. This ground becomes increasingly shakier the more masculine a person becomes. It becomes increasingly fragile the closer someone gets to hypermasculinity or idealized masculinity. It becomes threatened by something as small as painted nails.
In an attempt to stop biting my nails, I wore fake nails with sparkling purple nail polish on them. People stared at my hands. They refused to touch me. They acted as if touching me would somehow have them catch The Gay. People would take bags from me at work, avoiding at all cost touching me. The overwhelming majority were men. They were threatened by my blatant display of femininity, seen as more over the line than my long hair. It’s absurd that we see femininity as weak when masculinity is defeated and threatened so easily. How can femininity be seen as weak when masculinity is threatened by a dude with painted fingernails? A small dude, nonetheless, with painted fingernails who is 100lbs soaking wet. Yet we see masculinity as strength?
“But I have Black friends!” “My cousin is gay.” “That’s not true! My uncle is transgender!” We’ve all seen it before, the tokenization of relationships in order to prove a fact. Someone with friends, relatives, or ever partners who belong to a marginalized community cannot be against that community or hold ideas that are oppressive against them, right? Of course they can. The tokenization of relationships to prove a point even solidifies this point. How?
We’re all the same.
By saying you are friends, related to, partners with, etc. X marginalized group and thus cannot hold beliefs that harm other members of the group, you are saying that all members of the group are like your friend, family member, partner, etc. This is erasive and simplification of the complexity and variance of the group. In order for you to be supportive of the entire group, you are saying their identities and lives are just like that of the person you know.
Get Out of Jail Free Card
This tokenization also uses said relationship as an object, proving that there is nothing you can do or say that would be problematic because you have some relationship to this marginalized group and they have never said anything. This goes back to the fact that it holds the idea that these groups are all the same and cannot hold varying, let alone conflicting ideas or beliefs. If one person of a group believes something, all other beliefs must be incorrect. Interesting how this only applies to the ones who agree with the person who is defending their actions, beliefs, thoughts, etc.
Honestly, I’m not quite sure. I am a trans man…..sort of. I do not entirely identify with man and trans is more of a description for me than man ever has been. I am non-binary, but that is just as vague as saying I have some sort of gender, but I’m not quite sure what it is, no matter how true that is. I am not confused as to who I am, I know that part quite well, but what I am is quite a bit trickier.
Imagine someone handing you a color swatch. They are painting their house and need to figure out how to describe the type of color. They want your help. You look at the swatch. The swatch is purple…kind of. It’s not exactly purple but, that is the closest word you know to describe it. It is clearly not green, orange, or red. However, purple is not quite the correct term. Purple-ish? Not exactly quite right either. You know what the color is not, but you can only describe certain qualities of the color, not the color itself.
Thus, for me, man is the closest I can get to my identity in the current word pool I am allowed and know. However, it is not entirely correct, thus I use non-binary, however, even then, it is imperfect.
I can only speak on the term trans masculine and how it erases CAF (coercively assigned female) trans people like myself. Thus, the majority of this piece will focus on those erasive and binary aspects of the general usage of the term trans masculine.
I do not feel safe in trans masculine/trans male spaces. Despite identifying in some ways as a trans guy (my identity is complicated), I know these spaces are not for me. I am not masculine. I am what I consider to be high femme. I prefer feminine clothing and dress. I embrace my feminine characteristics such as my speech patterns, movement, and hand gestures. I’d be considered camp and flamboyant by gay male standards of femininity. My personal style is more close to drag queens than it is to other trans men. I am not trans masculine.
Trans masculine spaces, in an attempt to be inclusive of people like me, have shut people like me and many others out. They tie the ideas that to be trans and have been CAF, one must also be masculine. These spaces are overwhelming dominated by masculinity, as the name implies, to the point that feminine people like me are pushed out. Our identities and ‘transness’ questioned not only by the terminology but by the members as a whole.
They continue the binary and cissexist notion that to be trans, if one is CAF, one must be masculine in some way. They tie maleness to masculinity, often in excess. Even the non-binary aspects, are tied to maleness as masculinity is tied to that idea in society. If we wish to escape the binaries of society, we need to unravel that connection. We need to remove masculinity from male, femininity from female. Another discussion for another time.