Should trans men be allowed into women’s colleges?

It would be an understatement to say I was pretty bothered by some of the views expressed in The New York Times Magazine’s article “When Women Become Men at Wellesley”. Despite the sensationalist title, the article was a well-rounded read, discussing diverse attitudes towards the inclusion of trans men at women-only college Wellesley in the US. I’m not going to descontruct some of the opinions expressed by the trans men in the article, because that has been done so brilliantly elsewhere. However, I do want to examine why we, as women and/or queers, welcome trans men into women-only spaces. And why don’t we welcome trans women?

My knee jerk reaction to the article’s implied question ‘Should trans men be allowed to attend women’s only colleges’ is ‘no.’ I don’t think a women-only space should be coopted by men, no matter whether trans or cis. I have always found the common inclusion of trans men in women-only spaces highly problematic. In the left-wing dyke queer scene, this inclusion usually simultaneously excludes trans women, whether explicitly or by sheer numbers. I feel this dynamic is offensive to both trans men and trans women.

When we say trans men are welcome in women-only/dyke-only spaces, aren’t we effectively saying that we don’t see them as men? That their female-assigned-at-birth status trumps their identification as men? When trans men participate in this inclusion, I also wonder why. Maybe they don’t want to give up a space they were formerly a member of. Maybe they simply haven’t examined the problematic dynamic of men taking up women’s space.

I just didn't want the first pic to be Cathy Puke Brennan
I just didn’t want the first pic to be Cathy Brennan

Although it may be bittersweet, transitioning means you do have to give up some things. For a trans man, he may have to give up the openness of women around those they perceive as other women. He may have to give up access to a dyke club, to a sisterhood. But, this is part of being a man. Sad as it is, the sexism inherent in our world means that women are mistrustful of men. Whether or not it is sad, women-only spaces are necessary and demanding to inhabit that space, as a man, is ignorant at best and misogynist at worse. It is clear that having been female assigned at birth does not give trans men ‘special insight woman powers,’ otherwise trans men might realize how women are routinely pushed out of physical, financial, institutional space. They then might realize how they are participating in that exclusion and cede the space to women.

It is also tragic that the inclusion of trans men in many women-only spaces often goes hand-in-hand with the exclusion of trans women. It’s weird to me that trans men would want to participate in this dynamic because it so obviously stems from seeing trans men and women as the gender they were assigned at birth, rather than the gender they actually are. Trans men are allowed in women’s spaces because they are perceived to not really be men, and trans women aren’t allowed in because they are perceived to be men. That feminist spaces perpetuate this transphobic dynamic saddens me.

Are we being transphobic jerks like Cathy Brennan when we exclude trans women from women's spaces?
Are we being transphobic jerks like Cathy Brennan when we exclude trans women from women’s spaces?

However, the exclusion of trans men from women’s colleges isn’t as clear cut as we might like to think. Although trans men shouldn’t attend a women’s college, what about students who as FAB (female-assigned-at-birth) and gender queer? If gender is a spectrum, where should the cut off line be drawn? Although a butch woman should undeniably be allowed to attend a women’s college, what about a FAB trans gender queer person who takes testosterone but doesn’t identify as a trans man? As the New York Times article posits, you could say that, by challenging gender norms, gender queer folk and masculine women are being true to the spirit of women-only colleges.

I don’t have the answer to this last question, so I would appreciate any of your insights. What do you think about this debate? Should any lines be drawn?

Here’s some food for thought by the great thinker, Julia Serano:

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How does your work’s culture prevent you coming out?

While writing my first post on coming out at work last month I wanted to say so much more. I wanted to argue how the type of place you work at affects whether or not you feel you can come out with impunity. I wanted to argue how problematic the trope of coming out by referring to your significant other is. So I’ve decided to make this topic a three-parter. Last month I examined coming out when you don’t fall into a neat L, G or B category. This week I go on to ask how the type of place you work at affects your ability to come out. In the final post, I’ll question how do we come out at work when we’re single?

Coming out at work isn”t straightforward. While your average employer might be OK with a middle-class, white gay man in his/her team, how will s/he feel about a transsexual woman, butch dyke or sissy queer? Even within the apparently inclusive term “LGBTQ” there are the socially acceptable gays and the too-queer-for-employment, er, queers.

With the addition of newly conceived genders and sexualities, coming out isn’t, let’s say, traditional anymore. Not for everyone the lesbian rom com of feminine slightly awkward girl meets similar and then living as the socially-accepted-but-always-slightly-inferior gay couple among their mostly straight friends. Sure, many LBGT people lead fairly straightforward lives apart from the fact that they aren’t straight. But for some — politics aside — our sexuality and/or gender don’t fall into neat categories. And for some of us who are visibly queer, hiding our difference isn’t a choice we can make.

But I'm a Cheerleader makes it all seem so easy...
But I’m a Cheerleader makes it all seem so easy…

Coming out as queer in any situation isn”t straightforward. While most will understand what you mean if you refer to yourself as a gay man or a lesbian, will they understand if you call yourself queer, transgender or genderqueer? As the editors of Rabble so aptly summarized last month’s post, coming out isn”t as black & white as it used to be. These days, we don’t only come out as gay or lesbian; we also come out as bisexual, queer, transgender, polyamorous and more. However, in a time in which coming out is the most socially acceptable it has ever been, this acceptance only seems to apply if your sexuality is relatively straightforward. And, for some employers, transgender issues are barely on the table.

For many, coming out is a double-edged sword. Coming out as trans, for example, can leave you open to the ignorance of your colleagues in ways that coming out as gay or lesbian might not. On the flip side, staying in the closet means you could face the psychological effects of being misgendered every day.

But closeting employees isn’t only bad for the employee in question’s health, it’s also bad for the company who employs them. Even the most conservative employers should recognize the negative effect of closeting employees on the workplace. Employees who feel unable to come out at work spend a lot of energy censoring their speech and behaviour. This is energy that could otherwise be spent on their work. Employees who are closeted are also less likely to stay in their position longterm, which means companies waste money finding and training new recruits.

As I mentioned last week, I work in an organization whose mission is to teach emotional literacy and empathy to children. Luckily for me, this work attracts some lovely people and I doubt I would experience discrimination for being queer or having a trans partner. The glimpses I have seen of the corporate world, however, show a completely different culture. Vast areas of the corporate world are dominated by white, straight, macho dudes to the vast exclusion of women and people with non-heterosexual life choices. Coming out as anything other than lesbian or gay in this culture seems laughably difficult. When even being a woman makes you an anomaly, how are you then supposed to come out as trans? Furthermore, if queer people are systematically excluded from corporations, how will the culture of these corporations ever be changed?

There are many other workplaces in which coming out doesn’t seem like a good idea. As a babysitter two years ago, I worried that coming out as queer would make the child’s parents uncomfortable. Sadly, some people still think that homosexuality is a disease that can rub off on their kids. Even though the family seemed liberal-ish, I worried that their potential homophobia would force me to quit and find a new job. A friend recently expressed the same concerns about her job as a nanny. The thing is with homophobia and transphobia is that you never know where you’re going to find it. It’s not just the big bad extremists ‘out there’ who discriminate; homophobia and transphobia are very live and well in our everyday lives. And you never know who is, or isn’t, going to be a douche about it.

I’d be interested to hear your experience of coming out at work. Are there any other work cultures that feel hostile to LGBTQ identities? Have you decided to come out or stay in the closet. If you come out, how do you do it? Don’t forget to check out next week’s post, where I’ll examine the privilege  extended to couples in the ways we come out.

Is burlesque just a fancy word for stripping?

As you know, I’ve joined the ranks of featured bloggers at Rabble.ca. Come and check me out there as I will be publishing exclusive content on both ye olde blog site, and ye newe conglomerate host. As always, please let me know what you think as ask:

Is burlesque a new-wave feminist performance or a throwback to a misogynist tradition? I try to pin down the pin-ups and find out if burlesque really is just stripping.

When Dita von Teese was asked if burlesque is just a fancy word for stripper, she replied, candidly, yes.

Often touted as the mother of a movement that has been lauded by fourth wave feminism as ‘liberating’ and ‘empowering’ for women, for von Teese to equate burlesque with stripping flies in the face of many of her female fan’s pro-burlesque arguments.

Burlesque is, for feminism, a controversial issue. Feminists of the anti-porn persuasion might argue that taking your clothes off in public means you are buying into the illusion that women only gain power through the lens of male objectification. Sex positive feminists might counter that by taking control of the ‘male gaze’ the burlesque performer is cultivating her* own subjectivity. As she determines what sexual  image she presents, she is the agent. The latter is the viewpoint of a fourth-wave feminist audience who are eager to claim that burlesque is anything but stripping.

My own view of burlesque is a bit more ambivalent. I don’t think burlesque is inherently feminist or inherently sexist. I have been to well-known burlesque clubs in London (the European one) and Berlin, where i failed to find much that is feminist in the performance. On the other hand, seeing performers with various body shapes and genders create performances around fraught subjects such as fat, eating and the politics of hair removal, I found their burlesque intellectually stimulating and 100% bona fide feminist.

© Sara Svartan Persson.Simson Petrol
© Sara Svartan Persson.Simson Petrol

Personally, I’ve found that the difference between a conventional strip and a feminist performance often lies in the appearance of the unexpected. As an audience member, I often find myself wondering if the performer is reproducing stereotypes of femininity, or exploring gender and making me see it in new, unpredictable, ways.

Another ingredient that can turn sexist assumptions on their head is the appearance of the performer. If she has a non-normative body or chooses to present it in a non-normative way, this can challenge the expectations of the audience and thereby convey a thought- provoking message. Performers with bodies that are culturally scapegoated, such as fat people, trans* folk, or people of colour can use these to present a new glimpse of what sexy can be. Performers with culturally “normative” bodies can present them in an unusual way (by strapping on a dildo, for instance) and thereby challenge our notions of gender, sexuality and a “woman’s place.”

It would, of course, take a PhD level of inquiry to explore the distinction between burlesque and stripping satisfactorily, and I just don’t have space to do that in 1500 words or less. However, it is safe to say that burlesque goes beyond a purely titillating performance when it is naughty in other ways. The radical nature of this burlesque lies in its cheeky challenge to sexist norms.

Now, if you’re a really radical feminist, you might be wondering “What’s so wrong with stripping, anyhow?” My, and most people’s, use of the word stripping implies a moral judgement. Stripping is for stupid women and those who don’t have any other choice. Stripping is a bad thing, a last resort.

For the purpose of the article (and perhaps because I am chicken), I haven’t been trying to make a moral distinction between burlesque and stripping. As Dita von Teese said, things are more messy than that, and where’s the fun in being PC anyway?

© Sara Svartan Persson/Simson Petrol
© Sara Svartan Persson/Simson Petrol

Many feminists’ desire to distance burlesque from stripping is symptomatic of the ideological messiness that von Teese argues is inherent to the medium. Not only is burlesque an art form, it also is stripping. Perhaps even the most radical feminists won’t be able to argue away the sexist conventions that are upheld even as they are parodied on the stage.

However there is a difference between burlesque and stripping. If for nothing else, the difference between the two can be boiled down to class. As my very wise partner said, burlesque is a privilege. And as I am very wisely going to elaborate, that means it is a choice. Every single burlesque performer I have met does it as a hobby. There may be a few well-paid professional burlesque dancers out there, but the majority do it purely for fun. I doubt anyone would perform in a strip club for free. Stripping is most definitely work, and burlesque is something only the privileged can afford to do.

As much as I would like to tie up the loose ends of this article in a neat little bow, I don’t have the recipe for what makes a burlesque performance feminist or not. As an amateur burlesque performer and a stringent feminist, I hate to hear that other feminists consider my performances inherently sexist. Although I agree that aspects of the burlesque tradition are sexist, I think these conventions can also be turned upside down to give the audience a new idea of what sexy can be. Burlesque, it seems, is hard to pin down.

N.B. I sometimes refer to the burlesque dancer as “she” in this post. I realize men, genderqueer and trans* folk can and do perform burlesque, but I have chosen to address the sexist dynamics of burlesque mainly in relation to its female, cisgendered performers.

Butch and Femme: a rant

Butch and Femme: the lowdown on why queer feminism is sexist. The below should be read in a Dan Savage-style rant with a lot of sarcastic emphasis and swearing.

A femme performer once said that butch and femme is the armpit of the world. By this, I understood that butch and femme is the sexuality everybody loves to hate on. It’s the scapegoat for why femme-on-femme or butch-on-butch or pansexuality is sooo much better. More radical. More enlightened. Y’know? Because butches and femmes who love each other are just imitating the heterosexuals! In this formulation, being into butch/femme is even worse than being straight because at least the breeders are doing it for realz!

Imagine my disappointment then to read her profess her tiredness of butch/femme via social media and the ridiculous responses to that post. Cue people calling butch/femme “socially constructed and limiting,” that butch/femme is a “category” from which others have chosen to “free themselves.”

This suggestion that butch/femme is socially constructed, that it is in a little brainwashed, pre-1970s birdcage of its own is really self-satisfied. It’s like, oh, you’re still doing that? Grrl, that is so 1950s! All the cool kids are doing this now.

But hey, I guess you don’t get to call yourself cool unless others are uncool.

As if other queers have reached this level of sexual enlightenment where we’ve somehow managed to distinguish between patriarchy and the personal. Between our selves and social attitudes. As if it isn’t fucking patriarchal to participate in a community norm that says all genderqueer / vaguely-or-explicitly masculine bois / trans men should only date other genderqueer / vaguely-or-explicitly masculine bois / trans men. Wow, apparently queer feminism is all about privileging masculinity and men now!

And, before you all jump down my throats, yes! OF COURSE I recognise there are multiple sexual expressions and this is OK and everybody is allowed to be different and THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I’M SAYING! Just leave me the fuck be! Don’t judge my sexuality. Don’t assume that you know more about me than I do. Don’t tell me what is better for me. You know what? That’s not an opinion you’re allowed to have.

Queer Feminism’s Closeted Sexism?

It’s my 30th birthday today! To celebrate the occasion I have decided to reproduce on my most controversial, and heartfelt, pieces from the year. My question to you, is: Have the assumptions of masculinity, hypersexualisation and polyamory in queer circles created a false hierarchy between the ideal queer and the everyday realities of lived queer lives?

I had never thought much about asexuality until a couple of years ago when, for the first time in my adult life, I lost my sex drive. I mean, I didn’t actually lose it. It wasn’t hiding under the bed or anything, gathering dust with old shoes and mouldy peanuts. It just went on a holiday, to give me the time and space to sort some stuff out. Thank you, sex drive. That was very considerate of you.

Up until that point I had what I considered a very active libido. You know that old myth that men think about sex every seven seconds? Well, as a teenager I thought about sex so much that I didn’t doubt this myth was true. I just assumed it must extend to women, because I thought about sex all the time. This pretty rampant sex drive has followed me throughout most of my adult life, until, as I said, 2 years ago when I became depressed.

Queer femininities at The Berlin Femme Show 2012
Queer femininities at The Berlin Femme Show 2012

As well as being horny, I am a pretty radical person. I am what Caitlin Moran calls a ‘stringent feminist.’ The kind of woman who will make any dinner party awkward by calling out the conservative dude in the tie on his ha-ha, light-hearted jokes about women or race or the working classes. Oh, so funny! I am the stuff nightmare dinner parties are made of.

I am also queer, femme, into BDSM, curious about dating cis men, and all sorts of other interesting things. I consider myself sex positive and pretty non-judgmental when it comes to other people’s sexual adventures. I do my best to live by my feminist code of ethics. My feminism means that I believe we are all a little transphobic, sexist, homophobic, classist and racist because we live in a patriarchal society that is founded on these hierarchies.

We give men the upper hand by putting down women; we use racist theories to justify white supremacy, classism to explain a world-order in which most people starve while a few thrive, etc etc etc. My feminism means that I recognise I have all of these prejudices inside me and that I think it is my job to diminish them. This doesn’t mean that I am constantly beating myself up about what a horrible person I am, it’s more that I recognise my own flawed position. This is a pretty difficult attitude to take. Seeing some people behave in the most horrible ways and understanding the fucked-up logic behind their actions is exhausting. Dismissal is easy. Empathy is complicated.

Alexander Alvina Chamberland ©Simson Petrol
Alexander Alvina Chamberland ©Simson Petrol

Queer feminism has allowed me to embrace my kinky side and learn much about non-cis gender identities and LGBT history. But I also find massive flaws in the dynamics of the queer communities I know. There are three assumptions commonly made in queer circles, each of which creates a false hierarchy between an ideal of queer and the reality of many lived queer lives. These three assumptions are: hypersexualisation, the idea that everyone wants to have sex all of the time (and if you don’t you’re repressed); that polyamory is a natural desire and wanting to form monogamous relationships means you have jealousy issues; that masculinity is the hottest thing ever and being feminine, especially as a woman, means you are brainwashed. So, as someone who currently doesn’t want to have sex; prefers monogamous relationships and – shock horror – loves wearing dresses, I’m not being a very good queer at all, am I?

I didn’t come to this realisation out of virtue – I had never thought much about asexuality or people who choose not to or don’t want to have sex before – I came to it following a profound personal crisis. Having always had a pretty raging sex drive, the queer assumption that we all want to have sex all the time made sense to me. But losing my sex drive cut me out of the queer community. It meant that I saw no more reason to socialise in it.  How’s that saying go? Oh yeah: if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Sex positive feminism has done a lot of good. In a world which tells anyone assigned female at birth that all we want to do is find a heterosexual male partner and have babies, sex positivity has allowed us to carve the space in which to express our own sexual desires.

The celebration of polyamory, too, isn’t in itself a bad thing. The problem comes when polyamory is glorified as the ‘natural’ state of relationships, and if you’re monogamous you have jealousy issues and have been brainwashed. Erm, hasn’t gender theory taught us feminists anything? Since when did we start embracing words like ‘natural’ to describe our identities? Surely we have learnt to be hesitant about the monolithic meanings of such a word. As deconstructionists don’t we find claims that things are this way for everyone a little bit sketchy? No? Oh, OK. Moving on.

© Sara Svärtan Persson http://blacklikeink.tumblr.com/
© Sara Svärtan Persson http://blacklikeink.tumblr.com/

Now comes the moment for the trump card in this loving critique of queer feminism. Now it’s time to get the big skeleton out of the queer community’s closet. And that skeleton is -, sexism! What? Sexism? I hear you cry? How can queer feminism possibly be sexist? I mean, we queers have deconstructed the male/female binary and concluded that gender behaviours don’t go hand in hand with vague ideas about biology and evolution. How dare you accuse us of such a thing?

‘I can’t be sexist because I’m queer’.  We hear this quite often. Don’t we?

Well, my friends, sad as it may be, it’s time to face up to the facts. Walk into a queer space and what do you see? A uniform of plain black hoodies, asymmetrical hair and caps. There’s not a dress to be seen. Not a hint of colour, lipstick, of long hair.

Despite all our lip service to multifarious gender identities, there is only one gender that we really celebrate in this queer community, and that is masculinity.

The boyish woman, the gender queer and the trans man are the epitomes of hotness in queer scenes. If you’re a feminine woman, cis or trans, then you are just not cool. Transmasculinities are at the top of the queer pile, pushing transfemininities down to the bottom.

Personally, I think this prejudice is unintentional. Talk to any good-meaning queer and they’ll be shocked when you mention things like sexism and femmephobia. But despite individual professions of innocence, we are all guilty. Any time I ignore a feminine woman in a queer bar because I assume she is straight, I am being just as sexist as the people who exclude me.

As Flavia Dzodan suggests in her recent article on sex positivism and race, the assumption that our desires are innate and not learnt, is worth questioning. How asocial and apolitical can our desires be? If no one professes to fancy femininity doesn’t that reflect our internalised misogyny? If we truly were free lovers, if we did express our natural desire and identities, then surely there would be a proliferation of varying desires and genders in our queer spaces. There wouldn’t be a uniform of jeans and t-shirts and strictly boi-on-boi action.

It’s true that not wanting to have sex or a lover has led me to feel alienated from the queer scene. Combine this feeling with my realisation that I prefer to date monogamously and have a very strong femme identity and I no longer feel included or appreciated in the community I have made my worldwide home for the past 6 years. And I am not the only one who feels this way. As responses to my first article on hypersexualisation prove, many people feel alienated from the queer community because their sexual desires don’t fit the queer bill. I’m not poly enough, not kinky enough, not thin enough, and not boyish enough. Not queer enough. As a friend said upon reading zines about being queer, it seems that we think of queer as something up here – she raised her palm above her head – and of ourselves as being down here – she pushed her palm towards the floor.

Berlin Drag Queen Kay P.Rinha at The Femme Show
Berlin Drag Queen Kay P.Rinha at The Femme Show © Sara Svärtan Persson http://blacklikeink.tumblr.com/

This notion of queer as an unattainable ideal is really messed up. What happened to queer as an umbrella term? What happened to the ever-expanding joyful list of people we love: LGBTTSIQQA (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Transsexual / Two-Spirited Intersex Queer Questioning Asexual)? Unlike slightly mad UK feminist Julie Bindel, I love the idyllic aspirations of queer. The way it wants to join all us freaks together. So it made me really sad, upon moving to Berlin, to realise just how much queer doesn’t want me.

What I want to see from queer communities worldwide, what I think would be truly queer, is a celebration of difference that leads to diversity in our relationships, our beds and on our dance floors. Maybe it is human nature to form group norms (safety in numbers) but I am a political optimist. I think we can do better. Let’s start to really celebrate differences, the freaks and the outcasts. It takes a lot of courage, but I think we can do it. Surely individuality is what is queer.

Trans-misogyny: the (mini) round-up

Trans-misogyny is “the unique and particular form of misogyny that targets trans women” – Natalie Reed

So, I have been doing a lot of research on trans-misogyny and have found out that I am not the only person out there who thinks that some of the privileges trans men have need to be examined.

After I tentatively dipped my toes into the murky pool that is trans-misogyny, I wanted to share some of my reading with you.

I have selected a couple of the articles that I found the most thought-provoking and well-written. I especially like the videos, which are kinda tongue-in-cheek.

1. Funkyfest On Trans Men and the Word “Tranny,” or: Cut Your Entitled Bullshit Out.’

“Just because you’re trans does not exempt you from the patriarchal binary gender system. You’re still a dude in a very dude-positive/lady-negative culture, and the queer community is no more immune to that than you are.”

However, I wasn’t sure about this:

“Generally speaking, for a body marked as female to embody masculinity is less shameful than for a body marked as male to have a feminine or embodiment.”

What do you guys think about this statement? Can we really quantify oppression (say minority 1 + minority 2 = more oppressed body)? And how useful is this argument? Things are so complicated, I am not sure we can calculate such things. However, I do strongly believe that bodies read as male are privileged over bodies that are read as female. But can we really say that one type of trans gender identity experiences more oppression than another?

2. Hands up if you have ever downplayed your femininity to get laid more?

Morgan M. Page, a Canadian trans activist, really struck home with me when she said this:

“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.”

Yup, my hand’s up. I’ve totally changed my gender presentation to less feminine in order to be seen more in the queer community in Berlin. It’s pretty sad.

She also made this hilarious performance which highlights our collective adulation of trans guys. To be viewed with a pinch of salt.

3. Jack Radish has noticed that he gets a lot more cred as a trans man for saying exactly the same thing that trans women have been saying for, like, EVER. However, I can’t help but thank him for saying this:

“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 … 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.”

Sound familiar Berliners? Oh, yeah.

4. Lastly, let’s finish this with a bit of man-hating. Red Durkin, vlogger extraordinaire, tells us all why she just HATES men. I think this is half-joking, kinda, sorta…

Why fetishizing trans men is offensive

See? I love provocative titles! God, I am going to get into so much trouble now. This one’s about when fetishes are harmful and why the queer community’s fetishization of trans men is problematic.

Warning! Controversial material.

In one of my posts earlier this Summer, I suggested that to unthinkingly fetishize transmasculinity can be sexist, and I wanted to flesh out (that one’s for all you vegans) that thought more. For me, there is a slight difference between having a fetish (a kink, for feathers or toes or suchlike) and fetishizing a group of people, such as a gender or an ethnicity.

According to the dictionary definition of a fetish as a sexual obsession, our whole culture fetishizes symbols of maleness (cue image of skyscraper) and we can see the eroticising of many women of colour as suspect exoticism. Fucked-up assumptions about ethnicity + misogyny = extra gross sexism.

I Googled phallus and skyscrapers. It was fun.

Although both the noun fetish and the verb to fetishize have similar dictionary meanings, as someone who likes to think about sexuality and sexual behaviours like, a lot, I find it useful to draw a kinda PC line between the two. For me, I am unlikely to judge someone who says they have, say, a leather or bicycle fetish. Regardless of whether black and bikes turn me on, I can respect someone who says they have a fetish. Have a thing for buttons or custard? Go for it, tiger. I don’t even need to understand these fetishes. They are not harmful, and are therefore none of my business.

Things become more complicated when people’s fetishes start to cross into ideologically laden territory, specifically when we start to fetishize groups of people. Fetishizing a button doesn’t hurt the button. There are (probably) not any button-ists out there fighting for equal rights for buttons or a Students Against Button Objectification group. But when we fetishize a gender, or an ethnicity, we start to deal with the squiffy area of identities that are assigned to people. We start to be attracted to people based on unfounded assumptions we make about them. These assumptions are informed by stereotypes about the social groups to which the person belongs.

For example, if I am a white girl who has a thing for black dudes, then my fetish is a bit more problematic. If I say that I prefer black dudes, then I have to ask myself what assumptions I am making about black men that makes them seem more attractive to me. Everyone knows that we, as a culture, believe a lot of clichés about black men. That they have larger penises and are in general more virile or aggressive. These myths probably originate in the racist assumption that people of colour are closer to nature and more in touch with their ‘animal’, and therefore ‘sexual’ selves (we also think the same about women; the man=intellectual / woman=irrational dichotomy). This racist, evolutionist ideology influences my apparently innocent sexual preferences. My fetish for black dudes is shown to be informed by some really dodgy cultural values.

Demure, submissive, avoiding eye-contact? Yup, that’s the Asian Doll stereotype

A similar thing happens in the queer community around transmasculinity. Most of us queers profess to only be attracted to queers on the masculine side of the spectrum and say we ‘just don’t find femmes, or feminine folks, that attractive’. I find this unthinking celebration of transmasculinity and its corresponding rejection of femininity extremely problematic. That to even write ‘transfemininity’ feels like an oxymoron – how can something be ‘trans’ and ‘feminine’? –  reveals that we use ‘trans’ as an adjective that means someone or something is inherently radical and inherently masculine.

So often, I find in queer communities that we assume a man we know to be trans will be feminist or queer. (Cis men at a dyke sex party? No thanks! Trans guys? Oh, that’s OK.) So often, we use the word ‘trans’ to mean only transmasculine folk, which leaves trans women and transfeminine peeps totally out of the picture. This kind of trans-misogyny from within the queer community mirrors the way patriarchal society values men and women.

Awesome blogger Natalie Reed sums up the way trans men are fetishized in the queer community:

“I am getting sick of trans men being treated as these totally awesome hot sex-pots in the queer community while trans women are treated with open contempt and revulsion. … I’m getting annoyed by trans men being perceived as radical super-duper gender rebels, smashing apart outdated norms, while trans women continue to be painted as tedious, conservative throwbacks to patriarchy- no matter how we express our gender. … I’m sick of femme straight trans women being pushed out of the queer community entirely while trans men are appreciated as the vanguard no matter how they present or who they fuck.”

– When Trans-Inclusivity Goes Wrong

I agree with Natalie that we in the queer community put trans men on a pedestal. We see them as the embodiment of sexiness and as the embodiment of queerness.At the same time, we explicitly (in, like, rules) and subtly (y’know, by staring and making them feel unwelcome) exclude transfemininities and trans women from queer spaces.

I, too, am not immune to this collective adoration. I have a ‘thing’ for trans men just like all the other queers out there. But I find it problematic that I fetishize trans men. What makes me so much more likely to jump into bed with a guy, just because he’s trans? Then, I realised, oh that’s because I’m making all these assumptions about a guy who’s trans. I assume he’ll be better at non-normative heterosexual sex, I assume he’s more likely to be feminist, to be open-minded, to want to have penetrative sex and to be a considerate lover. Wow, all that and before I’ve even talked to the guy! Crazy.

Although it would be nice to think that a trans man will have a better understanding of sexism and be more feminist because he has been treated by others as if he were a woman, this assumption just doesn’t hold up. I am beginning to realise that there are also some lovely cis guys out there who are just as aware of and into the above things, and that being trans does not give a guy a magical pass to queer- and awesomeness.

To have the possibility to live as a transgender or transsexual person, that is radical. To fight for the right to change your name and decide your own sex, that is radical.  To be a pregnant man, that is radical. But to be trans, is, in itself, not radical. That is (or should be) normal. It’s your gender identity and it shouldn’t have any values imposed upon it (of course it does, but that’s what I’m discussing, innit?).

I am not trying to suggest that living as a trans person isn’t harder than living as a cis person. It is. I am not trying to say that to fight, every day and in myriad ways I will never, as a cis person, understand, for your right to exist as a trans person is not radical. It is. I am, however, saying that just because someone is trans, it doesn’t mean that they are inherently left-wing, feminist, queer, clever or considerate. You can be trans, and you can be a jerk at the same time. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. That is all.

I am stating this, not to interrupt the momentum of trans activism that is building up all over the world, but to ask us, as self-proclaimed feminists and queers to think about what values we assign to the different gender identities in our community, and why.

Of course there are truly radical trans dudes and transmasculine folks out there. There are trans men, and masculine genderqueers whose embodiment of masculinity is beautiful and does a wonderful service to feminism and great relationships everywhere. It’s just that we tend to assume trans men will be awesome for no other reason than they are trans. And that’s just silly.

So, back to fetishizing. I think we, in the queer community, fetishize transmasculine folks. We make a whole lot of positive assumptions about a guy, just because he’s trans, which may or may not have anything to do with him as a person. This is not only unfair to the individual personalities of all the transmasculine folks out there, it is also part of the demonization of trans women.

Further reading:

My thoughts in this article have been informed and developed by the brilliant writing of other folks around the web. I heartily invite you to check out the articles below.

A Beginner’s Guide to Trans Misogyny

When Trans-Inclusivity Goes Wrong

‘No cis guys’ – No thank you

Self-Examination and Shifting Desires

Enough with ‘I date women and trans men’ and follow-up post

‘Socialised as a woman’