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.

Coming out at work; is it necessary?

Who we are seen to be at work affects our relationship with our colleagues, managers and our job security. In my case, as a queer femme in a relationship with a transsexual man, I am often misread as straight, which forces me back into the closet. My perceived sexuality puts me in an uncomfortable position in relation to my co-workers and managers.

Things feel completely different in the corporate world, where the work culture I’ve seen is straight, male-dominated and pretty macho.

When I started there I found myself in the unusual position of un-outing myself, or at least of being seen to do so. Because my partner goes by ‘he’ I surprised a lot of my colleagues by referring to my boyfriend. I feel conflicted about this; undoubtedly most of my colleagues picture a cis guy in their heads when I refer to my boyfriend and think of me as straight, which is just a lie. But going out of my way to explain that my boyfriend isn’t ‘normal’ feels offensive (towards him) and just plain awkward.

Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary by Monica Nolan
Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary by Monica Nolan

It is definitely easier in some ways to let my colleagues make assumptions than out my partner as trans and me as, well, whatever that makes me. I imagine myself saying “my boyfriend, who’s trans, by which I mean a transsexual man (potential awkward explanation here)” and leave them to make whatever assumptions about us they’re going to make. It’s much easier for me not to include this addendum, which feels uncomfortably apologetic to me anyway. I feel like I’d be insisting on my abnormality, while apologizing for the complicatedness of my boyfriend’s gender. And, of course, it’s way easier to ride the wave of heteronormativity than consciously outing myself.

Of course, I am complicit in this misreading of my sexuality. And I gain heterosexual privilege from that. But all this makes me uncomfortable. After bumping into a colleague when I was with my partner and introducing him, I wondered whether her view of me had changed. Whether she felt I had lied to her in some way. Because this does feel like lying. Even with colleagues who are my age, I don’t want to out myself because it feels too awkward. And, of course, I fear their rejection.

Out at Work cat meme
Out at Work cat meme

Not to mention the fact that I feel I’ve let down the older lesbian at work. She immediately (correctly) pegged me as one of her own, and seemed disappointed when I started to talk about my boyfriend.

Maybe this is what all bisexual people feel like. They, too, are seen to be aligning themselves with a particular sexual group when they are in a relationship. If bisexual women refer to their boyfriend, they will be misread as straight. If they refer to their girlfriend, they will be seen as a lesbian. Both of these assumptions contain some element of truth, but both miss the whole picture.

Our understanding of sexuality is still so black and white. What happens to those of us who confuse these boundaries?

I’d be interested to find out how you juggle your queer identities at work. Do you feel comfortable or do you feel you have to hide parts of yourself? Can you share any strategies for coming out as LGBT and is it even necessary?

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…

What kind of man are you going to be?

At first I was going to address this piece only to the trans guys in our community, but then I realised that I experience this kind of sexism at the hands/eyes/unconscious of many queers. I don’t think sexism is 100% determined by your gender, and I feel just as excluded/alienated/stared-at-in-queer-parties by other women, gender queers, dykes and lesbians for the way I present. I feel just as unsupported by them, and also question how much they really would be there for me, a feminine woman, when I need them.

What kind of man are you going to be? Are you going to support me when I am harassed, or are you just going to stand idly by and let it happen? These were the questions yelled out by a friend into the late Summer night. We were sitting by the fountain at Alexanderplatz, bitching loudly about the femmephobia of the Berlin queer scene. A couple of wandering men approached us, seeing us as easy targets. We got rid of them quickly, loudly, aggressively. They seemed surprised.

My friend had just finished telling me about an incident in which she was harassed in a Berlin squat bar, and then blamed by other guests of the queer feminist party for ‘causing a fuss’ when forcibly evicting the harasser. Both of us were deeply frustrated with the failure of our fellow queers to support us when we are threatened. We felt that there was a hierarchy in the queer scene, which placed transmasculinities at the top, forcing transfemininities to the bottom.

Another friend of mine said that the queer trans men in Australia are much better at questioning the privilege their masculinity gives them in this sexist world. I know, of course, there are tonnes of lovely feminist men, trans and cis, out there who question male privilege. But, in general, Berlin doesn’t seem to be doing too well on that point. When queer masculinities are celebrated as the epitome of queer eroticism, when transmasculine queers takes up so much space in our bars and parties and forget to step aside for me, making me squeeze around the edges, then there is a problem.

(Why should they step aside, you ask? Because this world is really sexist. Because in every space I move in, on the street, in bars, in shops, discussion groups I am expected to step aside and make space for men. To give them priority, first word, right of passage. To automatically put them first and myself second. And I fucking refuse to do this in our queer spaces too.)

There is a tendency to self-satisfaction in this small community. We seem to think sexism doesn’t happen here. We are queer feminists, dude, we are so radical! But of course the patriarchy gets in here. It gets in everywhere. And even among self-declared feminists, masculinity is being celebrated at femininities’ cost.

I don’t think misogyny is inherent to masculinity. I don’t think that being a man or a masculine person makes you automatically more sexist than, say, a feminine woman. But I do think men are socialised to believe in their superiority. There is a lot of power that comes with taking up male space. And with that power comes responsibility. How are you going to use your agency? Are you going to help carve out a space in which femininities can also be respected? Or are you going to take advantage of your power, which always comes at femininities’ cost, and perpetuate the sexist status quo?

I think I have said this, like, a million times. Hell, I’ve written a whole thesis on it. Masculinity and femininity don’t have to be played off each other, like cheap adversaries; femininity the Tybalt to our lovely queer Romeo. In order to celebrate transmasculinity, you don’t have to reject me. You can celebrate muscles and ties and sexy bois at the same time as loving colourful feathers and cleavages and feminine flirtation.

Man, I get all into my queer utopias when I start imagining alternative definitions of masculinity and femininity, maleness and femaleness, ones that don’t involve us saying one is bad in order to make the other seem good. Eat your heart out José Muñoz! Will masculinity and femininity, men and women still exist in this non-sexist utopia? Or will these identities automatically be destroyed when we break down sexist boundaries? Man, I hope not, or my whole erotic identity will be buggered. God, I love that play on gender!

It is right to celebrate transmasculinity and recognising its right to be celebrated at a time when medically transitioning is only just becoming possible. But there is a fine line between celebrating and fetishising. And when the sexist behaviour of individuals and groups is ignored and allowed because trans men can do no wrong, they are the epitome of the oppressed, the superqueers, then fetishisation is happening. I think that a lot of the dynamics I see happening here in Berlin are unconscious. I don’t think people are deliberately trying to exclude femmes or trans women or make us feel unwelcome. But that is exactly what is happening because there is an unexamined idolisation of transmasculinity.

So, I would like to address this question to all transmasculine queers in our community. It’s not only what kind of man are you going to be, but also what kind of queer, dyke, butch, boi, genderqueer…? Are you going to question your masculine privilege in our queer society or are you going to embrace it and take advantage of it at feminine women’s expense?

Queer vs. radical feminism, the hoedown

Honey, I’m hooome! Well, there’s no better way to kill your blog stats than by wandering off for spontaneous spots of meditating in the woods. Oh well, I’m sure all that good karma will mean I get famous in another life. So, where were we? Oh yes, ranting about queer feminism. Here it goes:

Is this really a hoedown? No it’s not, because a hoedown is a country dance, and no matter how many wonderful things you can do on the internet, you can’t dance on it (unless you jump up and down on your laptop, but maybe that’s taking things too literally). I just like using the word because it has ‘ho’ in it, and we all know how queer feminism has practically become synonymous with sex positivity, perhaps even too much. Anyways.

A coupla months ago someone misread my blog as an attack on radical feminism (it’s the subtitle). I was shocked, truly, because I have always identified as a radical feminist. What? I hear you cry? You? But you’re not a lesbian separatist into non-penetrative sex living in a commune in London! To which I reply, not I’m not. And do you know why I call myself a radical feminist? Because I always thought it meant just that; radical feminism.

I don’t know how I managed to miss this, but watching documentaries about the 70s Women’s Rights movement and reading all that feminist theory, I still never associated the term radical feminism with that movement. I always called those guys Second Wavers, or lesbian separatists (tongue-in-cheek with love and appreciation). I mean, yeah, they were radical feminists but so am I! Talking to my friends however, it seems I am the only feminist in the world who doesn’t have this association. Oh well. I always did have my head in the clouds.

Following this shockhorror moment I looked up radical feminism on Wikipedia, to try and sort out my confusion. The opening definition of radical feminism reads:

“[Radical feminism] focuses on the theory of patriarchy as a system of power that organizes society into a complex of relationships based on an assumption that male supremacy oppresses women”

And I’m like, yeah, I can dig that! I think patriarchy produces male supremacy which in turn oppresses women. Go radical feminists! Yeah! But then talking with a friend, they point out a general feeling from the queer feminist side that radical feminism is too hard on men and blames them for a fucked-up system which isn’t entirely their fault. And I think, yes that’s true, patriarchy isn’t wholly the fault of men, but by God do they participate in it and enjoy it! Then my friend suggests that queer feminists are so down on radical feminism because the latter is seen as a movement which fails to recognise plural gender identities. And I think, yeah, I guess I have this association too. I think of the failure of Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival to allow transwomen to attend, and how respected Aussie feminist Germaine Greer is so nutty when it comes to trans rights.

But then we come to queer feminism and my feeling that queer feminism, at least in Berlin, stands for values which end up reproducing really fucking sexist dynamics. I think of the vast femmephobia here, or the valorisation of transmasculinities at transfeminities’ cost and the fact that very few queers will stick up for women when we are sexually harassed. I used to call myself a queer feminist, but I don’t anymore, because I now associate it with traditional masculinity-is-better-than-femininity sexism. This is quite sad really, when you think about it.

The main problem I have with queer feminism is that it seems to think of ‘woman’ as an outdated category. That we are so beyond the boring realities of people being ‘men’ and ‘women’ and now live in a multiple-gendered world which makes these categories obsolete. But I wonder, why can’t some of the old stories about sex and the new ones about gender both be true? Why can’t both women and men exist, as well as other gender identities? Why can’t some people have an experience of being a man or woman which aligns with mainstream ideas about what they are, and some not? Some men really are fucking male and masculine and heterosexual. Some women are inherently feminine and attracted to masculinity. It doesn’t mean he or she is brainwashed. There are so many realities in this world that we can’t even begin to understand. And none of this, none of this, changes the fact that we live in a sexist world in which women are daily harassed, abused and murdered.

Queer feminists spends so much time fighting for the rights of transmasculine folks, that we end up acting out the same rejection of women that happens everyday, all over the world. Guys, WOMEN STILL EXIST! And our reality sucks.

Radical feminism also needs to remember that sexism doesn’t only affect women and to acknowledge that there are more than 2 sexes and genders in the world.

I guess in terms of my politics I have a foot in both camps. Like many ‘old-school’ feminists, I think there are inherent differences between maleness and femaleness that can’t be accounted for by cultural conditioning. I also think that maleness and femaleness aren’t determined exclusively by biology. We know very little about gender and it seems obvious there are more than two genders and sexes (aside: I remember with fondness a very special former colleague who instead of generally accepting that there are multiple gender identities, insisted that we can count them and that there are 58!).

I would like to find a feminist language that includes and argues for the rights and needs of everybody, even when those rights and needs are different. Feminism has to mean that we will recognise the different positions of women and men (queer or straight, trans or cis), queers, transmasculine folks, transfeminine folks, people of colour and from different economic backgrounds, religions plus many other positionings that I can’t even think of!

Ah, I guess this is what meditating does to you. It make you go all mushy inside and say, Guys, why can’t we all just love each other? Come on, let’s have a big group hug.

I know we’re very busy reclaiming a lot of words are the moment like, prude (yes I am fighting for that one) and slut and queer, but I want to add two more to the list: ‘radical’ followed by ‘feminism’ pronounced in a sincere, celebratory, non-derisive way. As a feminist I appreciate all former movements and see the flaws in my own. I know that my own feminism has some massive gaping holes, and I trust that we mostly all just have good intentions and are doing our best. I am also a perfectionist, and I want us to do even better. Yay radical feminism! Yay queers! Yay us!

Call for Action Today!

Hey guys. I wanted to let y’all know about a really awful breach of human rights happening in Berlin right now. A father of an 11-year-old transgender girl has the authorities’ support to remove her from her mother’s home and place her in therapy (yup, that’s a mad house to you and I) until she returns to ‘normality.’ They will force her to grow up as a boy. I can’t imagine the psychological and physical damage to this child that will result from this action.

What you can do:

Sign this petition.

Go to this rally today.

Get informed by reading this article in English. I find it shocking, sad and depressing that these kinds of things *still* happen in so-called developed countries. Bleurgh.

On a happier note, I am very proud to be quoted in next month’s Hugs & Kisses magazine. This queer German mag contains an article about asexuality written by the amazing author of that zine on asexuality I wrote about. In fact, my most popular post on not wanting to have sex will be reprinted in the next edition of the zine. Yay for me! The article will also be featured in a new zine for queer youth in Berlin. More details to come sooooon!

Your sad and happy news for the day. Over and out. LTx