IF YOU’RE a woman, you’re a woman. Who cares what other people think?”
My ex avoided my gaze. “It doesn’t really work that way.”
The conversation with my ex was mostly exasperating. She transitioned before I did, and I didn’t understand her at the time. When we were dating, we weren’t out to each other. I didn’t have the words to describe what I was feeling and neither did she. We broke up because our combined lack of self esteem was putting strain on our relationship. When she finally came out to me, years later, we became much closer.
My ex tried to explain: restrooms, clothing, surgery–on and on. I didn’t understand then, but I understand better now.
The problem wasn’t that she didn’t see herself as a woman. It was that other people didn’t see her as a woman, and that created uncertainty and danger for her.
This last week I have found the same to be true for me. Most people don’t see me as a man and despite what I’d like to think, that does create a problem.
Earlier this week a gay man posted something on Facebook about boycotting vaginas, and I foolishly decided to speak up. Yes, I know gay men make this joke all the time. Yes, I know they aren’t intending to be transphobic. But every week I read a story about a trans kid dead by murder or suicide, and I needed people to understand why this idea can be harmful to trans people. So I spoke up. I didn’t say anything confrontational. I simply said that while I found his comment cute in a way, in another way it was transphobic and potentially damaging.
I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t the hour-long tirade I received in Messenger.
The man claimed he wasn’t transphobic, he just hated “girl parts”. As he put it, you couldn’t expect a lesbian to love a person with a penis, even if that person was a woman. “It’s just biology.” He unraveled long stories of how he dated trans people (I got the idea he had slept with trans women, not trans men). He said he could never have a real relationship with trans people, never marry them. He self identified as a gay man, but from listening to him, it seemed as if he was more pansexual with a preference for penis. But that’s just my interpretation.
And he’s not alone. Misogyny aside, there are quite a few gay men who will never date transmen… because of vaginas.
Where does preference turn to bigotry? In my opinion, it would be a different conversation if a man said something like, “I only date men who have a seven-inch or bigger cock.” That sounds like a preference to me, maybe a size fetish, but whatever–people can like what they want.
However, this man said he didn’t date people with “girl parts”. And that’s where a person’s inclinations lean from preference to bigotry. This is a good reason why many transmen are bitter and scared over gay culture. We’ll never be seen as real men by our peers.
I had bid this guy good day long ago, but he continued to talk. Eventually he accused me of turning against those who were on my side. He then claimed I was just as bad as a Trump supporter… wow.
So that was disappointing. Unfortunately my week got worse.
For the holidays, my brother-in-law came to visit. He invited one of his coworkers to tag along with us to the bar. While my sister-in-law and my husband played tabletop shuffleboard, my brother-in-law proceeded to explain to me–in front of his coworker, who I didn’t know–that gender was a social construct and there was no point in me transitioning (as if it were a choice… and I hadn’t already transitioned). He also claimed I’d never really be a man, and therefore my husband wasn’t really gay. To him, my husband was confused and that was why he was still married with me. He’d never see me as an actual man, or he wouldn’t be with me anymore.
We were in a public place. My brother-in-law had not only insulted my marriage, but had outed me in front of someone I didn’t know. I certainly wasn’t feeling safe, so instead of standing up for myself, I let him run off at the mouth until he was done. When he was finished, I asked what his point was. He didn’t have an answer. I excused myself.
Even though I claimed ignorance, I knew what he was saying. It was the same point the gay man had made to me earlier in the week: I’d never be seen as a real man.
In both situations I was in circles where I thought I was safe. One was online with the MM community, which I am thankful for being a part of, and one was with my family. I should have been respected but I wasn’t.
Two men–one gay and one straight–were telling me transmen weren’t real men, and they weren’t just attacking transmen. They said trans people didn’t belong.
What my ex had said made much more sense. It doesn’t matter what we think of ourselves–man, woman, or nonbinary–there are people who will never respect us, people who are close to us. You can tell us to just be ourselves, but oftentimes that isn’t enough, not when we’re not safe.
I was lucky both times. Online no one could physically hurt me. I shut off the computer and walked away. In the bar my husband may not have been a part of the conversation, but he was around. However, confrontations may not always happen online. My husband may not always be there. That’s the piece I took for granted those years ago when talking to my ex. This grim mutual understanding wasn’t necessarily the way I envisioned us getting closer, but sometimes we don’t have a choice in the lessons we learn either.