This post is my response to a group of folks I was working with on a conference. We got into a heated email discussion about the target audience, which for some should be exclusive to female born, woman identified, masculine persons only; rather than all those who fit under a transmaculine umbrella.
Once again I find myself disappointed by the way uncritical analysis rears it's ugly head in tough situations. And more encouraged to make my effort to affirm no only trans identities, but also to advocate for the space for us to critically assess how how we essentialize ALL identities, and perhaps do so along the very binary we wish to escape. THIS IS NOT PROGRESSIVE.
My email begins here:
Note: Since writing this many more have replied, but I spent my commute addressing this because I feel like I needed to clarify a few things).
Thank you much for your thoughts here. I believe we are in agreement on several things as well:
- "male is sex, man is gender"
- "many queer communities have shunned and shamed the woman-identified butches-by forcing male pronouns on us [...] by questioning our masculinity because we still like our female bodies and don't want to change them
- "female masculinity is far more transgressive in our culture than [m]any other variet[ies] of masculinity"
Where possible I try to avoid quantifying oppression, as it leads nowhere fast. So I have to disagree w/ this statement more generally: "I don't think transmasculine or FTM identities are as marginalized as woman-identified butches." - even if I perhaps sort of agree w/ the premise of it within the confines of the particular group you later specify.
Masculine women that we are, while marginalized by society, we exist in a place of privilege when it comes to transmen- in that we still identify with our female born bodies. And though suffering from discrimination, we still can counter charges of "wanting to be men" (because of how we are perceived) with "No, I'm very clear & comfortable with my masculine woman self." FTMS do not have that same ability.
I don't think it fair or considerate to disregard what is their understanding of themselves, even as womanists/feminists - even if we can see places where it may not be what we think it should. Because while we may affirm our womanhood and equal right to many things afforded men, that is not in a vacuum. Womanism/feminism shouldn't be a blind lobby for women but a critical one.
Further, I believe it is through those critical perspectives womanism/feminism (I am a womanist) that we might be able to liberate transmasculine identities (stud, butch, ag, ftm, dom, daddi, top etc), transgender, transsexual and other identities from the snaky claws of essentialism that proliferate. This is perhaps especially important if we want to combat the shaming and pronoun forcing you mention.
So in saying that, I too know what you mean about being shamed for embracing what has become a somehow "inauthentic" version of stud-ness or boi-ishness, and in some trans affirming spaces for being "she" instead of "he." That is very real and need be addressed.
But I don't think that precludes us from being able to think, process or exist outside or beyond how others may self identify or devalue how we identify. That's their issue, not yours or mine.
We also may differ in how we use transmasculine. For me it is not interchangeable with FTM or transman. It is instead an umbrella term for all masculine identified people. Perhaps I should consider panmasculine, but I only do this because I grow tired of:
1. Feeling somewhat left out because I am not fond of terms like butch or aggressive that carry on connotations that, while meant to describe my appearance, poorly encapsulate my person.
And 2. Feeling like I have to write a list of names to describe the ppl I mean while not wanting to make them feel the same way that I do as mentioned above.
It goes farther in terms of wanting dialogue around "transgender" to broaden because if "male is sex," most people misunderstand the differences between transgender and transsexual. But thats a larger conversation.
When it comes to gender, Joe and I are of the same mind that gender can be anything you make it. Sex is mush less varied, you are born male, female or intersex.
So perhaps we also disagree there too Cristy, but I do so respectfully and in hopes that we might through this exchange develop a better understanding of one another. I have no investment in antagonism with anyone.
Going forward I hope that the same enthusiasm btwn the few of us on this email thread will transfer into the energy to help Joe get this thing going.
Wishing Ya'll The Best,
Needless to say, more emails have been exchanged, and none of them really address the questions I raise, except ofcourse from the person who is spearheading the event.
Just more of the same
"This is my opinion."
As if your opinion meant you were absolved of critique?
"There are conferences for trans people."
So WHAT?! Let us not forget that conferences like these exist to help build community sometimes where it seems NON exists.
"This is a space for us."
Who is us, and why is it important to continue on a trajectory of drawing needless lines in the sand, when we can evolve instead?
I feel like we have to know ourselves to grow, and I only think there are opportunities for learning and growth that come from looking at masculine identity acroos a WIDE spectrum.
Here are a few CHOICE quotes:
"By tacking on all of these various male identities you are erasing female and woman-identified butches. I am completely fed up with female and woman butch identities being minimized"
"If they don't like or get it.......it's not my problem. I don't want inclusive language for every spectrum of the masculine/male. I want inclusive language for every spectrum that is of female/woman. "
"I thought this was about butch female/woman identity. We are a dying breed. I thought this Conference was about showing those coming up about other ways to be butch than on a scale of male pronuns, chopping tits, growing a beard and muscles due to hormone replacement."
As if it werent' enough that many in the hetero-normative world didn't already stigmatize trans as well as gay or lesbian people, here we are stigmatizing each other. My heart HURTS.