Sometimes I wonder whether trans men writing about transmisogyny and trans-man-douchebaggery and how much is sucks is the new spoken word poetry. Every time I’ve written anything about how trans dude culture can get pretty gross in the way it appropriates the experiences and oppression of trans women, I have gotten tons of great feedback and had so many people tell me I was so smart and sensitive. I don’t know, I’d love to think that is all true because being smart and sensitive are both things that are important to me in life but at the same time, I have to acknowledge that every time I’ve written something like that, someone has pointed out that I hadn’t written anything that any trans woman had not been saying (and having quickly ignored or dismissed by queer and so-called-trans communities) over and over again for years. But that suddenly, when it comes from a trans man, someone gives him (me) a fucking medal and he gets hella laid for it. (For the record, I live in Detroit where no one gets laid for anything, but I’m sure it’s contributed to my getting laid a fair amount of times over the years nevertheless.)
So I want to set the record straight a little. My contempt for trans-man-douchebaggery and the whole culture that supports it is a sincere and driving force and among the most precious values in my life. It’s something I think about a lot and it’s something that influences my judgement of character when it comes to friends, lovers and heroes more than most factors. But it’s definitely not something I just came up with on my own! It’s something I’ve learned from the badass trans women who have been my mentors, peers, lovers, role models, crushes and best friends throughout my entire adult life and I’m actually pretty sure that without them, I would have ended up just another *aydyn doing bad spoken word poetry at the Trans Day of Remembrance and aspiring to be on the cover of Original Plumbing.
I started transitioning 8 years ago, back when trans dude culture was still feeling pretty antsy about an overall sense of invisibility within larger culture. That was way before Chaz Bono and before Daniela Sea played a trans man on The L Word (ugh)—back when people would have thought that the idea of having a trans man on The L Word was this totally radical thing and just eat it up. Trans dudes felt invisible, but also felt oppressed in this way that was kinda hard to define because the people who oppressed us didn’t really even know what a trans man was and usually lumped us in with fags or dykes when choosing insults. Trans guys wanted to be visible, so they started writing embarrassingly personal essays and presenting them as scholarly articles and publicly presenting trans women’s (usually trans women of color sex workers’) stories as trans people’s stories in kind of exploitative performances they called spoken word poetry. I think it came from this need to feel visible as a distinct oppressed group by the larger queer community, and to that end, it totally worked. Every time a trans man opened his mouth or picked up his pen, he was praised as being brave and revolutionary and it became this thing that everyone wanted to fuck a trans guy (any trans guy!) Within a few years, trans guys were not invisible and as far as the currency of getting laid in queer communities goes, we had a ton of privilege. But we basically didn’t stop doing those obnoxious things we did a few years earlier in a desperate need to be noticed and for the most part, queer communities have never really stopped eating it up.
When I first came out as trans, I realized pretty early on the danger of becoming a misogynistic douchebag, but I also longed for the company of any other trans person. Shortly after beginning transition, I went to Camp Trans and was excited to be around a lot of other trans people irl for one of the first times in my life. I quickly found my awkward early stage in transition and being fat made the trans bro elite reluctant to accept me, but my resolve to learn to resist being a douchebag (even when I wasn’t that great at recognizing what that meant) put me completely on the outside of being part of the cliquey group of trans men that dominated Camp Trans at that point. Instead, I found what we used to call Camp Awkward—back before awkward was the new sexy—and a few smart badass trans women and other CAMAB trans people and that was the first time I really found somewhere I wanted to belong.
Over the years, that small group of friends who initially saw something in me that they liked and wanted around when no one else would grew into a much larger group of mostly trans women who challenged me and were patient with me and would go to trans events with me and sit in a corner complaining about all the douchey trans men everywhere. Back when I still thought it was okay to “reclaim” the word “tranny” as a trans man, it was one of these women who was patient enough to have it out with me about it until I figured out that I probably shouldn’t say it anymore and should probably join her in lovingly but firmly challenging other trans guys’ use of the term. It was a few of these women who called bullshit and lovingly supported me when a group of trans guys at Camp Trans totally humiliated a close friend and I when they told us we “weren’t on the list” for this trans guy only make-out party they had just invited us to (not sure why we wanted to go to that party in the first place, but live and learn). I’m not sure why they decided I was the trans guy they kinda liked, but these badass women were (and still are) the people I loved and respected and wanted to be and wanted to know and they were the friends and lovers and biggest crushes and heroes who made me into the person I am.
I have never had trouble taking a stand against transmisogyny and other trans-man-douchebaggery, but maybe that’s because my general trans misandry runs pretty deep and it’s been a long time since I had any stake in what most trans bros thought of me. At this point, I’ve found that if I ever venture into trans man only space (something I generally avoid), I can yell as loudly as I’d like against transmisogyny and no one will listen because I am quickly labelled as an outsider, but the second anyone is watching, the trans bros will start eating up whatever I say in a way that they would not if it were coming from anyone other than another trans man. There is some sort of social pressure to oppose transmisogyny that kicks in as soon as the larger queer community is watching and suddenly my voice is seen as really important in those spaces, even though I’m not saying anything differently than what my trans women friends and heroes have been saying for years and what I’ve tried to say privately in trans man only space for years.
Recently, I’ve started to notice a few other trans guys getting attention for writing or speaking about transmisogyny amongst trans guys and general trans-man-douchebaggery and being treated like we are saying something completely new and revolutionary when we say it. I just think it’s important to talk about the fact that we are not. I think it’s amazing that this stuff has seemed like it’s getting more attention lately because it’s so important to talk about. I’m also really happy that, if I’m going to use my privilege as a trans man for something, getting people to talk about transmisogyny and trans-man-douchebaggery is the thing that I can use it for. But it’s still indicative of a huge problem in our community when folx will listen to this stuff coming from a white, college educated, twenty-something trans man ally to trans women, but it is still largely dismissed when it comes from the trans women who experience transmisogyny every day in a way that I never will, and when the community does stop for a second to pay attention to trans women saying this stuff, it is generally those trans women who share similar race, class, age and other privileges as me.
This is why I sometimes wonder whether writing about trans misogyny and trans-man-douchebaggery is the new spoken word poetry amongst trans guys and whether those of us who do it are the new *aydyns. That’s never been the reason I’ve written stuff like this, but I feel like I often get a similar reception as early 2000’s trans guys doing spoken word. I don’t think I could ever stop talking about this stuff because it will never stop being important to me and feeling like the right thing to do as long as queer communities are ripe with transmisogyny that they will only think this stuff is important if it comes from a trans man. But I still think that’s messed up and important to point out.
So I want to use my privilege as a trans man right now to encourage people reading this to listen to trans women when they say all this important stuff that you all eat right up when it comes from a trans guy. I want to encourage queer folx to search ourselves and examine why we do this. I want to encourage our queer communities to create space for dialogue about whose voices we privilege or exclude and how we can change this. And if you don’t think you do this, humour me and search yourself a little anyway because you have probably done this at some point—if not to trans women, then to someone else in your community. And to my fellow trans man proponents of “the new spoken word”, my fellow “new *aydyns,” don’t forget to give credit to the badass trans women you learned it all from—cause I know you didn’t just think all this up on your own!