CW: non-detailed mention of genitalia.
In earlier posts I’ve mentioned a lack of memories of transmasculine people. Thanks to a few posts by fellow bloggers, I’m suddenly remembering. And I’m embarrassed by my own disgust and I have to be honest about it. There’s no other way forward.
Forgive the messiness of this. Emotion and memory are messy enough, but I’m thinking aloud and aware simultaneously of my inner process and all the poppycock gifted to me by others. The straights, the queers, the fearful, the traumatised.
I have to admit that I laughed a lot as I finally came to terms with being a trans guy. I’d had a lot of fun stirring others with my “all white men look the same to me – who are you again?” and my “oh I don’t read books by men any more, they’re so passé.” I’d delighted in getting sports betting fanatics off my back during the dreaded men’s football season by saying, “all footballers are rapists.” It was so effective as a conversation stopper. And then when I came out I added yet another tired old white guy to the tally – just what the world craved!
Sometimes feminists do enjoy badmouthing men. Not all men, haha, but boy, a lot of us deserve it. There’s just no getting around the stats for murder, rape and general mayhem. It can be a source of pride to say women are biologically superior, that if women ruled the world we’d all be happier, and that testosterone is the source of all evil.
A lot is tongue in cheek. A lot is a way to discharge ongoing tensions involved in dealing with outdated and unacceptable attitudes on a daily basis. And sometimes trauma crystallises into self-protective and toxic rhetoric of its own.
When I came out to my family in the 90s as a lesbian, my mother asked me why I hated men. “I don’t,” I said, “Some of my best friends are men. I just don’t want to have sex with them.” “Any more,” I would have added, if she wasn’t so focussed on me becoming a virgin bride one day. Other people automatically assumed I’d been hurt by men. Some assumed that I’d been molested as a child. For goodness sake, said one therapist, if that were the cause, there’d be darn few heterosexual women at all.
At the time I found the p*nis disgusting, and a lot of male attitudes and behaviour disgusting, and had discovered that I had a lot more fun with women. It was a relief to stop trying to be a good heterosexual woman and embrace my true nature instead.
While questioning my own discomfort, my dysphoria, I discovered genderqueer erotica. For a while I inadvertently came out to librarians, as I requested everything available on the LGBTIQ list. What struck me most, among these erotic stories, was the total absence of v*lvas. I’m still astounded. When I read Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano, even this absence made a curious (unhealthy) sense. If you read Julia’s book, you’ll see what I mean.
As I’ve said before, each group has social dynamics and I kept bumping into people who had vested interests in conformity. Part of me craved the intellectual rest and security of submitting to others’ rules. I explored all kinds of factions and theories within queer culture. Then retreated to my own corner to sort through it all and decide what fit me best.
I remember hushed discussions of trans people and of particularly butch women who seemed to be taking masculinity ‘too far.’ At the time I remember agreeing, silently, that men were bad and looking too much like a man was bad. I was frequently read as male myself, but that was ok. I found that I enjoyed the ambiguity and fluidity of sexuality and gender.
Later, I feared taking my own masculine presentation ‘too far,’ and wondered where the line was.
I’m drawn to social psychology and sociology, being bewildered and bothered by much of society. It’s a comfort to think that someone might have useful insights. They’ve studied the nature of groups, for instance, and ways in which groups foster cohesion. Identifying a shared foe is one method, as amply illustrated by politicians who frequently scapegoat the vulnerable. Ignoring the fact that all (most?) of us contain our own unique mix of both oestrogen and testosterone, some groups choose to scapegoat one of those hormones, equating it with the worst of human nature – a scourge, or a weakness.
So it was with me at one point. I’d only needed to analyse one edition of one newspaper to form the view that men were the source of all evil. Testosterone was toxic and the p*nis a weapon of mass destruction. Most further news broadcasts reinforced this. Personal anecdotes from friends and acquaintances reinforced this. The idea of someone within the lesbian community ‘becoming a man’ or even looking ‘too much’ like a man was appalling. Disgusting. I was ok with trans women because hello! Women! But to go to the dark side? Oy.
So I empathise now with my older lesbian friends who find my transition shocking. I see their aversion and yes, their disgust, and their struggle to understand. I see some of them embrace trans women and mouth platitudes of inclusion while curling their lips at trans men and non-binary people. And while I’m hurt, I do save space in my heart for them. After all, it took me a long time to accept myself, and these friends can’t see inside my soul.
I even make space in my heart for that vocal minority who seek to keep themselves safe in changing rooms and public toilets by traumatising transgender people and placing them in unsafe situations. As all I’ve heard from them are expressions of fear and hatred, rather than a wish to resolve the situation to the benefit of all concerned, I can only guess at their motivations, their triggers. I’m guessing that p*nises are synonymous with weapons and trauma for them, regardless of the owner. If this is the case, then I empathise with the panic. Given that I experience my own panic attacks and phobias, I won’t question their sanity.
But I do question their morality. We here in Australia have a (recent) history of indiscriminately killing anything that has offended us, plus any of their families and their friends. We kill sharks swimming and feeding in their own darn habitats, trees that stood innocently by a road used by drunken/suicidal/speeding drivers, and eagles that have a perfect right to kill their own meals. We don’t stop at one, but forcefully assert our assumed dominance. It’s stupid and wrong. Shaming, blaming and attacking trans and gender diverse people is wrong. Making innocent people pay for someone else’s transgressions is wrong.
Like the ridiculously polarised arguments between cyclists and motorised transport users, the solution lies in design. There are multiple design solutions already available, so enough hate already. Let’s move on.
After reading a blogger’s personal list of things that disgust them, I recalled my own discomfort and disgust. And after reading Trans Narrative’s book review of We Both Laughed in Pleasure: The Selected Diaries of Lou Sullivan, I recalled earlier mindsets, lingo, and social contexts of the 1980s and 90s. And I remembered a photographic exhibition, Assume Nothing: Celebrating Gender Diversity, that I attended with my ex-partner in the early 2000s. I had been drawn to it so strongly, without knowing why. It was a lot longer before I figured it out and even later that I borrowed the (gorgeous) book by Rebecca Swan, from the library.
I’d like to end by saying that it’s an interesting time to be a man. To be a trans man. To have lived experience in feminist and women-only environments, and to participate in conversations about toxic masculinity, gender equality, sustainability, and what it means to be a whole, happy and healthy human being. I’m learning so much and am grateful to have this outlet for my thoughts. Thank you for reading.
Now, who on earth is that old white guy in the mirror?
I had a lot of fun writing this. Along with the blog posts mentioned, I was inspired by Luke Turner’s beautifully honest memoir, Out of the Woods (2019) – wholeheartedly recommend that book, too.
(I truly found the list of things that evoke disgust to be interesting and thought provoking. Cannot locate it now, sadly.)