I’d like to talk about about trans men* and male privilege.
I’d been a feminist for some time when I started questioning my own gender. Before I decided to transition socially and start taking testosterone, I had to deal with an immense amount of guilt. I honestly felt like in transitioning I would be betraying Feminism. I didn’t want male privilege! But I felt very confident I would feel better, live better, having more traditionally masculine physical features and gender presentation. If people gendered me as a man, I would be given male privilege regardless of what I wanted. I had to reconcile myself to that fact and it took me time. Somewhere I read somebody comparing having male privilege to having a superpower. I didn’t deserve the power more than anyone else. Ignoring it wouldn’t make it go away. I could use that power to hurt people or to help people. That sounds REALLY SELF-AGGRANDIZING, I know, but it made me realize I would still be able to do feminist work.
And I do. I know how important it is for men to hear another man talking about feminist ideas. You know and I know my words shouldn’t have more weight, but the reality is that they will be given that extra weight. I use that. I stop men when they interrupt a woman, “Excuse me, she wasn’t finished talking.” Occasionally, I’ve been in a situation where I see a man trying to flirt with a woman in a completely inappropriate setting and her body language is making it clear she’d really like him to fuck off. I haven’t been able to do something every time. That’s just how shit is sometimes, as frustrating as it can be. But other times I’ve been able to go over, smile politely and say, “Hi, sorry to interrupt, but I had a question about (whatever)…” and catch the “Oh thank fucking god” look of relief. It’s nice to be able to help. I work to validate and show appreciation without coming off as condescending. I don’t get all pissed off when I’m alone in an elevator with a woman and she looks nervous. I know it’s not personal. I just stay quiet, focus on my phone, and stay well out of her personal space. I’ve had to work to change habits and tendencies that I picked up being an intelligent girl who had to fight boys’ second-guessing and dismissal every god damn day. For example, I can’t be caustic when disagreeing with a woman now because the change in power dynamic changes the entire exchange. I try to ask if I can help serve refreshments, prepare for a meal, or clean up after because I’m well-aware that falls on women 99% of the time. I can pretty oblivious to what’s going on around me sometimes, but I do my best to do what I can when I can.
I’m not telling you all this because I want cookies or gratitude or some bullshit like that. Nobody should get cookies for not being an asshole. I’m trying to illustrate that I think about male privilege pretty much every day I’m interacting with the world.
I’m well-aware that many trans men are not like me. I worked through a mountain of internalized misogyny when I was first learning about feminism and I still catch it in my thought processes sometimes. Not everyone goes to a big liberal arts school or can hop on the internet and spend hours reading feminist theory or has ever been around people who are feminists. I don’t know where the expectation that trans men be completely aware of all of this comes from, when we don’t have that expectation for women, cis or trans.**
I’ve written before about the assertion that trans men are valued over trans women and non-binary folks in queer communities. That happens and it’s a problem that needs to be corrected. I’ve written about trans men needing to stay the fuck out of women’s spaces.*** I still maintain that.
But the attitude I often see in online communities (not trans men’s, obviously) is that trans men having male privilege basically cancels out everything else. End of story.
Let’s start with this: Trans men do not have male privilege. We have CONDITIONAL male privilege. Our male privilege is contingent on being mostly to completely stealth. When I’m presenting masculine, random people on the street aren’t going to know I’m trans. Which is why out in the world in my day-to-day life, I try to stay mindful of the male privilege I am afforded. I’m in school right now, and that’s another story entirely. It’s the first time I’ve been stealth in a setting where I see the same people regularly. I hate being stealth – it eats at me to not be able to vary my presentation and to never talk about most of my life. So why? In another educational setting, I came out in class on the second day. Nobody treated me like they had on the first day after that. I was no longer afforded male privilege there. A couple men took a particularly strong dislike to me. It was clear they saw me as a woman, and felt like I had tricked them into giving me regard I did not deserve, that I had gotten above my place. I’ve had similar experiences with medical professionals and government officials – anyone who would meet me and then see my identification. It’s not quite the same as other forms of misogyny I’ve experienced. In my own head, I’ve taken to thinking of it as “retributional misogyny.” Even people who are my friends have never treated me as they would a cis man. I’m not angry about that, for the record, but I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t happen, either.
There should be no issue with a trans woman going to a women’s shelter, but I honestly don’t know where a trans man should/could go if he were being abused by his partner.**** Getting a pap smear done shouldn’t be the nightmare it often is. And the expectation that trans men never acknowledge or talk about their pasts is beyond bullshit.
But more than anything else I want people to think about this: the idea that male privilege makes everything else trans men deal with because of being trans A-OK or not so bad is both incorrect and dangerous.
*for the purposes of this essay, I’m going to use trans man/men to refer to people who were DFAB, grew up being gendered as a girl, and currently are gendered as a man in the majority of their public life.
**If you tend to think trans women cannot or do not say and do misogynistic things, I suggest you take some time and examine that idea thoroughly.
***I do think it’s necessary to define what we’re talking about when we say “women’s spaces.” I’ve heard this phrase used to describe places where “women’s health care” happens and that’s something I take issue with.
****Or someone who’s non-binary, genderqueer, gender-fluid, etc. for that matter. I plan on writing more on this in another post about gendered spaces later this week.