What passes for community events now are shows about gender that feature the works of cis women and trans men, with trans women nowhere to be found.
Someone asks me to join a project, and I check the top of the email to see who’s cc’d on it, who’s involved. Nine people, all trans men that I know. I look hard at the screen and try to think of any other trans women activists in the city who could get involved.
No, no, not her, she’s too difficult to interact with.
And her, she’s been blackballed after that incident.
She might do, if only she’d learn to listen to other people in the room.
I’m the only trans woman invited because they know that I listen, that I have all the approved strong opinions, and that I have identity markers that make them feel better about interacting with me (former sex worker, culturally other, high school drop out, survivor). And, mostly, because they would feel bad if they didn’t involve at least one trans woman.
I’m nostalgic for a time in Toronto trans history, just before my own, when trans women activists were considered important, valued voices. Women like Mirha-Soleil Ross and Viviane Namaste (both gone off to greener pastures in Montreal now) and Christina Strang, who are fierce and brilliant and groundbreaking. These women had a voice. They created incredible programs (some of which I now run today), curated trans art shows that featured the works of people all along the spectrum, and were, in general, total bad-asses.
It’s not like there aren’t trans women activists and artists in the city anymore. They’ve simply been blackballed or written off by all of the major players, all of whom are trans masculine. I’m not saying that it’s without reason, there are often a multitude of completely legitimate reasons why no one wants to work with so-and-so. It just starts to feel a bit weird when there are maybe two trans women in the city that these guys can “deal with.”
What passes for community events now are shows about gender that feature the works of cis women and trans men, with trans women nowhere to be found. Do we have nothing to say about gender? Are there no trans women artists? It takes me long, hard minutes to name more than three in this city — three that are known and appreciated, that is. Three that haven’t been effectively excommunicated.
Maybe I’m part of the problem. I must on some level be complicit with my own tokenization. I agree with many of the blackballings. I, too, find it difficult to interact with some of these women. Bringing them in to activist efforts and community organizing often has the effect of silencing others in the room, or causing derailing arguments that halt all progress on projects.
The sexism and transmisogyny I’ve faced in local trans activist circles has had the curious effect of making me consider changing my name to Hunter and binding my breasts. I’ve recently been seriously talking about changing my identity to trans man, because it makes way more sense in terms of who I hang out with and the politics I have and it also gets me hit on more. Because, in this city (as elsewhere, I’m told), trans women are to be shunned and trans men are to be celebrated. Trans women are unfuckable to cis dykes and trans men, and trans men are hypersexualized by everyone except cis gay men (though, with the rise of Buck Angel and other trans masculine porn performers, that’s slowly began to shift).
I think the reason this is such a recurrent thought for me is because I feel alone. I do not feel like part of this trans men’s community (if we’re going to just call it what it is, rather than pretend that we mean “the trans community”), yet there is no likeminded trans women’s community for me to identify with. I am suffering from a lack of images. There seems to be no current positive image in Toronto, at least, for a trans woman artist-activist type. Images of trans man artist-activist types abound and are celebrated.
The question becomes for me, how can I create new images? How can I break down these transmisogynist stereotypes and cultivate up-and-coming trans women activists and artists? It is something that I can’t do on my own, unfortunately. It requires trans men, cis dyke ‘allies,’ and trans women to all work together to start examining where these problems are happening (everywhere from the boardroom to the bedroom – and let’s think especially about the bedroom, which is, according to a friend of mine, “the final frontier of social justice”), and to start including and valuing trans women in our communities and, especially, in our personal lives.
Because, frankly, it’s too damn hot out for me to start wearing a binder just to get some respect around here.