For the Love of Transmisandry
Let me paint a picture you may have seen before. A college campus nearby is having some sort of trans event. Let’s say it’s Trans Day of Remembrance. Everyone is crowded around a stage and a white trans man steps up to the mic and introduces “our own awesome trans man poet and activist whatever, let’s worship him, let’s say his name is Aydyn” and everyone claps and cheers and a couple folks in the audience scream out his name.
A white, 20-year-old trans man who is a student at the college walks up on stage, an air of false modesty about him, everyone cheers, maybe someone pulls off some undergarment and throws it at the stage; people are that into him. He performs some fun/funny/clever poem about sex or something light and fun, perhaps with a hint of misogyny that everyone excuses under the delusion that trans men can’t be misogynistic, or maybe that we have the right to be, and everyone kinda laughs and smiles—it’s a fan favorite. Then, he gets a serious face and motions for everyone to calm down. He says a few words about “what today is really about,” and says he wants to take things down a notch. Let’s say that he passes out candles and asks people to light them too.
Aydyn gets all intense and angry and performs a poem about going to the bathroom. He talks about people who get murdered for being trans. He talks about being too scared to go to the bathroom because he’s worried he’s going to get murdered. Maybe he even names some names off of the current year’s “Remembering Our Dead” list of trans people who were murdered. He might artfully go back and forth between exploitatively graphic images of what happened to people on the list and what’s going through his head as he walks into the bathroom (maybe someone even shoves him when he’s in there.) There are tears streaming down his face. Everyone claps for him when he ends on a brave note of how he’s not going to let them bring him down. There is pretty much a line of people waiting to make out with him at the after-party. Aydyn is getting laid tonight for sure.
Two or three other trans men (let’s call them Jaydyn, Caydyn & Gaydyn) who look pretty much like him get up and give almost identical performances. It’s clear that one of the 4 of them is the leader and the others are kind of poseurs, but they’re still all getting laid tonight after such displays of bravery.
Towards the end, the one trans woman the organizers could scrounge up at the last minute, as an afterthought, steps on stage to read a statement prepared for her by the organizers of the event and then read the year’s “Remembering Our Dead” list. She was super excited when they asked her to participate, but they didn’t actually bother to read the speech she wrote before they rewrote their own and they “forgot” to tell her about the after-party until the last minute.
Have you ever been to this event? Cause I’ve been to this event. I’ve been to about a million of them, at a handful of different college campuses across the country. But now I’m burnt out on them, and just avoid them like the plague
It doesn’t just bother me that the only trans woman on stage was an afterthought, disempowered and invited at the last minute because the organizers wanted to look inclusive. It doesn’t just bother me that at least one or two rad trans women probably showed up to the first planning meeting but were totally pushed out prior to the group having to find a token trans woman to appear on stage at the last minute. It doesn’t just bother me that the performers were white trans men in college, making no place in the organization for trans women of color sex workers, all while claiming trans women of color sex workers’ experiences as their own. It doesn’t just bother me that Aydyn & Jaydyn & Caydyn & Gaydyn have actually deluded themselves and really believe their sensationalized fantasy that they will be murdered for trying to go to the bathroom, in spite of the fact that, as a trans man who probably looks a lot like Aydyn & friends, I can say pretty confidently that that’s not something I’ve ever worried about in real life. It doesn’t just bother me that these guys have these smug looks of martyrdom spread across their faces and that they actually believe themselves to be some sort of heroes or “voices” of the “trans community”.
What really bothers me—what really just makes my skin crawl—is that everyone in the audience fucking loves them for it. That everyone in the audience is apparently blind to the fact that transmisogyny is going on in their own, “safe,” queer community, and that bullshit like this is its very birthplace. Or, worse, maybe they’re not blind to it, but they don’t do anything to stop it, they don’t think it’s important and they still treat the purveyors of transmisogyny in the queer community like gods or something. It pretty much makes me want to vomit.
It’s not that I have anything against spoken word poetry, it’s the whole tone that trans bro communities and the communities that worship them exude. This unspoken idea that only an elite group of trans men, who look a certain way, dress a certain way, pass a certain way, date a certain type of people, etc. really get taken seriously or given the time of day. And there’s this arrogant tone in there that everyone else, specifically trans women, don’t “get” it, are not “enlightened,” and that it is the job of trans men to tell them what their life experiences really are.
I feel like I get to have a special brand of insight into this whole culture because, in most ways, I can fairly seamlessly blend into these groups if I want to. I am college educated. I am white. I have read the “right” books and taken the “right” classes. I started transitioning fairly young, so I am both a young person and someone who is long established in the trans community. I have the “right” amount of gender variance (just enough to show that I’m interesting, but I’m still a binary-identified man). I have had the “right” surgeries. I speak the “right” language. I have a lot of privilege in those spaces. Sure, there are things that push me out of that group, like the fact that I’m fat and the fact that I don’t pass “enough.” But, then again, exclusive groups like that thrive on members’ fears that their own membership might be threatened—people will do or say some pretty messed up things when they feel threatened. So having a few insecurities could actually help secure my place as a trans bro if I wanted it.. So if I want to, I can insert myself into the middle of this community, 100% undetected as an imposter, as long as I don’t say anything. So I have seen these communities on their worst behavior.
The thing is, I can’t do it. I can’t stand it. Hanging out with a group like that, even for an afternoon, makes me feel awful about myself. It makes me feel like I’m stepping on the backs of my friends—of the people who have loved and supported me, the people I have learned from, grown up with and told my deepest secrets. I could not stand to go into a trans bro space and be quiet when, within the first 5 minutes, I hear a whole group of people stepping on my friends and sisters. I could not fail to speak up when trans guys claim the experiences of trans women (talking about how they’re scared of being murdered or calling themselves “trannies” are my favorite examples), when white trans people claim the experiences of trans people of color, when college-educated trans people claim the experiences of self-educated trans people. And I can’t keep my mouth shut when they then talk about or treat the very people on whose backs they have built up their own identities like they are not smart enough, not radical enough, not white enough, not male enough, not educated enough, not WHATEVER enough to really “get” what they are talking about or belong in their communities—they never stop to consider that maybe they are the ones who did something to exclude trans women from their groups. And when the same people start saying, “our group is open to trans women, but I guess there are just no trans women who want to come,” I have to get up, walk away (if I haven’t already, which I probably have) and join the ranks of the trans women who don’t want to come to their stupid events. I leave them scratching their heads, still wondering (but not too hard) why everyone who comes to their events looks just like they do.
So when I first heard the term, “transmisandry,” I kinda laughed and though, “hell yeah!”