I’ve been thinking of the topic of this post for a while, but it all kind of reached a head when I received an invitation to a private party this weekend. Disclaimer: I do believe that individuals and small private groups get to decide their own admissions policy – I frequently hold parties just for my musician friends, because I enjoy sitting round the piano with a bunch of Handel wonks, singing through Messiah. We all have our own biases and sometimes, for better or worse, we just want to roll with them.
So this isn’t a rant about exclusion vs. inclusion – but more about what our categories reveal about us – and what kind of an impact they can make on other people.
This particular event was open to queer people – all queer people, in fact, apart from cis guys. Trans guys were specifically mentioned as being welcome, and cis guys were specifically named as the only excluded group. And my first thought was “do I know of a single trans guy who would be comfortable accepting this invitation? Do I know a single trans man who wouldn’t be slighted by this distinction?”
It reminded me painfully of something I’ve heard again and again over the past couple of years – mostly from queer women, but very occasionally from “straight” men. A contrast to the prevailing reaction I got eight years ago on the London scene, which was mostly “urgh – so what DO you have between your legs?” Maybe this is an improvement – but I think not. Because, now, it seems to be “cis guys are so boring/gross/I’d never be with a real man – but you’re so hot”. An explicit or implicit assumption that if I agree to fuck someone they’d be spared the stigma of being with a man – while still enjoying the experience of being fucked by a masculine person. The image conjured, but never fully articulated – that they could revel in being with someone slim-hipped, flat-chested, muscular, hairy – but lacking the supposed threat/unpleasantness of a natal penis.
Not to mention that the people taking this stance seem to take a very narrow view of what constitutes a trans man – because, without looking at medical records, how would you differentiate between a cis man and a trans man who has followed a full hormonal/surgical medical transition? For myself, I’m afraid I’m painfully close to the stereotype of “urban gender non-conforming trans guy”. Undercut? Tattoos? Piercings? Skinny jeans? Oh yes. Surgery – yes. Hormones – sadly, no. But, on the surface, a pretty good match for a type that seems increasingly fetishised by people who see us almost as a separate category of male – or female. Though not the same, redolent of that unpleasant sexualised categorisation of trans women as “chicks with dicks” – when someone tries this line of reasoning with me I feel they see me as a “boobless butch”.
The two reasons I’ve heard for this distinction between trans and cis guys are as follows: the socialisation argument, and the bodily argument. I do have a little sympathy for the socialisation argument. Yes, many people in my life tried to tell me that I was a woman, and that I should act accordingly. No matter how painful it was I feel it’s given me an invaluable insight into this grossly misogynistic society, and for that I feel grateful. I think it’s an incredible resource for feminism – to have men/masculine people talk about the category of ‘woman’ society tried to foist upon them, and what that meant. But I don’t think that automatically makes me a better feminist than a cis man. I know many cis guys (I think of my brother in particular) who are as feminist, if not more, than I am. Who have suffered from living in a misogynistic, cissexist society, and who have hurt because of the pain that society has inflicted on people they love. So I can definitely understand someone saying that they wouldn’t be with a man who wasn’t a feminist – I wouldn’t be with a man who wasn’t a feminist. But I don’t care in the slightest if he’s trans or cis – if he gets it then he gets it.
The bodily argument – well, it disgusts me. I hope we would all agree that someone refusing, point-blank, to date a trans man because they assume he doesn’t have a flesh and blood penis is a vile thing to do. But, to me, wanting to sleep with him for the same reason is equally as vile. Three main reasons for this:
1) Um – different trans guys make different choices about what they want to do about their genitals. The assumption that all trans men are men with pussies – well, I’m shuddering at the stupidity, and the callousness. There are many surgical options available. There are many non-surgical options available. There are some of us with genitalia that fall under the intersex umbrella. Just…random guessing is a stupid thing to do.
2) Having made an assumption about my genitalia, the focus is now turned solely upon my genitalia. So, my personal example (it’s the only one I can adequately give): I’m a huge feminist, but I don’t pretend that I always get it right, and I don’t experience the world as a woman. The same is true for my imaginary cis counterpart. I have a pretty face, but my body is, and always has been, devoid of what is usually assumed to be feminine – for a woman, I’m tall, with very large hands and feet. For a man I’m average. Maybe my imaginary cis twin is the same. Naked, my body is that of a boy’s – well, lots of cis men have fine body hair and slim limbs. The only difference is…you know – THAT one. And if someone would pick me over my hypothetical doppelganger for that reason – well, I wouldn’t want to be picked. I think I have more to bring to even a brief encounter than just that.
3) Having been differentiated from my cis double because of my birth sex – I wonder, do the people fetishising us know how that makes us feel? Or, rather, makes me feel? “Emasculated” is the first word to spring to mind. I think it can be hard to love a trans person – to walk the tightrope between sharing their sorrow at the wrongness they feel with parts of their body and celebrating the beauty you see and love. I know it’s a tall order – to acknowledge both what is and isn’t there – to see the truth of a person’s being through the veil of their flesh, cognisant of and yet transcending disparities found therein. But I need that, to feel seen by someone, to feel safe with them. And if they couldn’t extend the same courtesy to a cis man – if they put he and I into separate categories of approach – then there could be no relationship. I’ve fought all my life to be counted among men – both to break down sexist barriers of supposed male superiority, but also to prove myself as myself, despite typical sexuated readings of that self. To be cordoned off - it feels like being named as a fake man, a half man – as a friend once said “the diet coke of men”.
Writing this, I want to ask – how do other trans guys feel? I don’t know. I know that friends of mine would be as hurt by that distinction as I was – I couldn’t know about the wider community, but I could guess.
Again, in my own life – I know that that cut-off is too much. It makes me feel too much the pain of this body, this set of circumstances. It makes me feel a lack, an absence of verisimilitude – and a lack of respect. I want to be wanted not only for who I am, but also for who I feel I should have been.