Not by how I define myself, but by how others define me
June 10, 2014 § 6 Comments
or Experiencing misogyny without being a woman
(Descriptions of harassment contained within)
Misogyny is a blunt instrument, but one that can be handled subtly. The way it is woven through our lives, our experiences, doesn’t have to abide by the parameters we ourselves have set for those lives and experiences.
I would call myself androgynous, genderqueer, transgender, transsexual, trans masculine – and yet misogyny aimed at me has been a constant companion since childhood. That might seem like a stunningly bland and obvious statement to make, but one that I thinks needs making, because it seems as though some in the trans and wider social justice communities are forgetting that, in a bid to make a wider point about male privilege.
Does male privilege exist? Fuck yes – do we even have to ask? Do even the queerest of spaces often highlight and praise what is considered masculine over what is considered feminine? yes yes and yes. Do some trans masculine and other FAAB (female assigned at birth)* trans people engage in misogyny aimed at others? Sadly yes.
But taking those facts and then claiming that all FAAB trans people benefit from male privilege – without qualifiers, without the rest of the story – that’s not only painfully untrue but also a damaging erasure of real suffering endured under a misogynistic system. And that suffering is not an aberration under that system, but a crucial part of it.
What do they see, the people I’ve met throughout my life who’ve abused me in the street, followed me home, threatened to rape me, discriminated against me in education, in the workplace, groped me, insulted me, mocked me? Gender variance, yes – but rarely is that gender variance explicitly parsed as ‘ you are trans masculine, and therefore I object to you’. In some cases, it comes from a place of utter confusion: ‘what ARE you? Are you a man or a woman?’. Rarely, it is a reference to being trans – in the form of the word ‘tranny’. Occasionally, particularly when I’m out with a male partner, it’s for being an effiminate man: ‘batty boy’, ‘faggot’, ‘poof’, ‘YOU’RE GAY’.
But, overwhelmingly, what they see is a woman who is not doing womanhood right. I know this because they tell me. The man who threatened me at a taxi stand for fifteen minutes (no one intervened) because I wouldn’t go home with him: ‘Who’d want you anyway – you’ve got no tits. Why don’t you just go home and wank while you cry because no one wants you.’ The group of older men outside a pub in the afternoon who closed ranks and shouted at me that I was ‘begging for it up the shitter’. The cis men and women, in politer settings, who sneer and mock and tell me that I’d look so much better if I looked more feminine, and who’d hire me as I am? The people who will not hire me/work with me/teach me specifically because I’m obviously a ‘psychodyke’. And, occasionally, none of that even matters – anything vaguely ‘woman’ will do – guy who tried to masturbate on me at the bus stop, this song’s for you.
It is frequently said that the world rewards women who ‘aspire upwards’ to masculinity – and I believe that is true. But it frequently punishes them as well – for usurping male power and privilege, for destablising a system, for being ‘unworthy’ of what they claim to be theirs. And that applies to people assumed to be women as well as actual women.
On average I would say that I ‘pass’ as male around a fifth of the time. Mostly in casual situations – in shops, on public transport. There are plenty of trans masculine people, FAAB genderqueer people, who do not pass as male, and suffer far worse than I do the punishments society metes out to those it considers difficult, wayward women. Who they actually are, who they know themselves to be – do we seriously think that the people who attack them, attack us, take the time to find that out? Or, if they do know it, use it in any other way than as a weapon?
Structural critique and understanding of oppressive systems should never be reasons to turn away from individual and systemic suffering within those systems – it doesn’t have to be a zero sum game. Highlighting the appalling misogyny directed at trans women, trans feminine people, trans people assigned male at birth, does not have to mean claiming that other people do not suffer under an oppressive system too. Acknowledging that some trans men have male privilege, in different degrees in different situations, does not mean that all FAAB trans people have male privilege in all situations. It is possible to have a degree of male privilege and still be the victim of gross misogyny. Assuming that all trans masculine people pass – that all trans people assigned female at birth ARE masculine, and therefore benefit from masculinity – is simply untrue.
We shouldn’t compound the damage done by misogynists, by misogynistic systems, by pretending that those abuses don’t exist – or don’t matter. It serves no one but those seeking to keep us down.
*I’m not generally a fan of identifying trans people by the birth gender they were straitlaced into. However, in this context, because it is the criteria widely used, I think it’s useful to discuss.