Being a good trans feminist

I am one trans man. I’ve never thought I was a good representative of our community, being neither average nor exceedingly virtuous. I’ve found myself in the position, anyway, of answering for all of us at times, and been uneasy about it.

Being older trans men who have had years to adjust to the changes we made in our lives when we began living as men, my husband and I sometimes become informal mentors to young or newly transitioning trans men, in person or online. Sometimes trans men just want to connect to others like ourselves, so we don’t feel alone in the world, or we need to create a space for ourselves that is enriched with the kinds of images we need.

When someone neither of us knew sent Kevin a friend request on Facebook recently, he showed me the guy’s profile picture: a young trans man on the cover of  The New Republic. I sent him a message, because I was wondering what he thought of his image being associated with an article that is entirely about the experiences of trans women. I was reminded of a blog I found recently through Reddit, on transmisogyny. I know the contours of this complaint from years listening in on the conversations of trans women, and have seen how our two trans communities operate. We don’t mingle that much, those of us “coercively assigned female at birth” and those of us “coercively assigned male at birth,” except in political circles. In my personal experience, it’s very common among queer CAFAB people to discriminate against the CAMABs, in a variety of ways ignoring the declared identity in favor of the one assigned at birth. It’s not only in dating, but this is a good example of how it plays out: for instance, lesbian-identified women who will date trans men but not cis men or trans women and gay-identified CAFABs with masculine identities who won’t date cis men, only other trans men or cis women.

Our communities are small and fraught. Even the small, elite women’s college in my town has two different student groups for trans-identified students, because the two have polarized over their differing views, despite their similarities. Outside such strongholds of FTM community, the visibility of trans men is practically nil. Outside my little queer town, most people don’t know much about trans men, if they even know of their existence. Outside of Thomas Beatie, the pregnant man, and the 1999 film “Boys Don’t Cry,” we aren’t a large part of the imagery of what trans people look like. We aren’t clocked in fast food restrooms and beaten up, or pushed into sex work because we can’t find any other kind of employment. Maybe you know a trans CAFAB who actually has had these things happen to him or her or hir, but you also know how unusual this story is compared to how common it is among trans CAMABs. We’re under one political umbrella, but we usually live very separate and different lives.

The New Republic cover is a portrait of a young white trans man who looks like he enjoys the privileges of being normative and middle class. Some of the cover article is about civil rights, but the people described in the article, in despair over the difficulty of transition and committing suicide, or being beaten by McDonald’s patrons for entering a restroom, are all trans women. And I think this is exactly what the blogger, who goes by V’WYLLYSS, is talking about when she says that one way transmisogyny is expressed is when we ”center CAFAB people in discussions about safer space,” as The New Republic has by talking about violence against trans women, but picturing a trans man.

It’s not Berkley’s fault that he has been made this week’s poster boy for transgender civil rights, and he expressed ambivalence to me about how his image was used, while still being proud of who and what he is. I wasn’t able to find any way to contact Eliza Gray, the author of the article, but this is what I would like to tell her. Trans men have our own issues and concerns that are distinct from those that trans women have, and that other queer people have. Some of them overlap, and we all have multiple identities. You’ll never get a clear idea of who we all are if you have to lump us all under one narrative. Those of us, like myself, who enjoy the privilege of being listened to should not abuse it, either by portraying ourselves as suffering just because we are trans, even if it isn’t true, or by being so flattered by the spotlight that we neglect to tell our stories at all.

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