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The Secret to Decoding Transbr0 Rhetoric

Prologomena

Overall, I think that the trans community is particularly vulnerable to men’s rights activism, particularly as it instantiates itself amongst trans men. A lot this has to do with the erroneous idea that there exists a singular trans community. But as I’ve written in the past:

the fiction that there is an ~umbrella~, that there is a ~trans community~ hurts trans women of colour most

The trans community is a curious community in the sense that it is one of the only I allegedly belong to that truly thinks that transness, on its own, is enough to overcome the differences that exist between men and women. Obviously, I don’t mean physical difference but differences in power and oppression. It treats ‘trans’ like this great leveler rendering trans women and trans men (and enbys) alike in our experiences of oppression.

Of course, reality shows us that this is far from the truth. Trans women (in general) do not experience gender-based oppression like trans men. Indeed, white trans women do not experience gender-based oppression like trans women of colour. Why? Because overlapping oppressions compound each other and cannot coherently be extricated from the whole. None of this is particularly controversial. Indeed, many of the transbr0s I refer to in this piece explicitly acknowledge that trans women of colour have it worse. The problem lies in how they use this information.

Nothing discussed in this essay is particularly new, especially not if you’ve paid any amount of attention to the arguments radfems typically use to dehumanize trans women. Which, on its own, should tell you something about the nature of these statements and why they should be treated with great suspicion.

It isn’t even new for transbr0s to regurgitate radfem ideology as their men’s right activism. Here’s a great example of how this looks in practice:

I’m not using [female socialization] to justify excluding trans women from women’s spaces though, just because that idea has been used against trans women doesn’t mean it doesn’t hold any truth…The idea that trans men were never socialized as female hurts trans men.

I’ll discuss this example later on in greater detail. For now, simply take it as evidence that some of these transbr0s are fully aware that the ideas they espouse have been used to harm trans women. That this isn’t just some clueless men asking ‘what about teh menz?’. That this is a real problem that is growing and becoming mainstream. But becoming mainstream just as the wider trans community fully begins to grapple (at long last) with the violence that trans women of colour have to deal with. This timing isn’t accidental.

No, there isn’t a conspiracy or anything like that… but we are seeing the same growing backlash within trans discourse that feminism has been experiencing for a while. Elements that have always existed moving out of the fringe and into the mainstream. The fact that we have people within teh ~community~ taking up radfem ideology and dressing it up as ‘inclusive’ politics should concern everyone, given that trans men have the potential to damage and harm trans women in ways that radfems only dream of. Why? Because they (and many other people) think they are fully entitled to the spaces, energy, lives, labour, of trans women. Trans women are pressured to work with and accept trans men in ways that has never been true of radfems.

Vocabulary

Since this is a guide, I will define basic terms so that everyone is on the same page.

MRA = men’s rights activist (the belief that feminism has gone too far and men are suddenly being oppressed and need equal rights or something)

transbr0 = a trans man who is an MRA. not all trans men are MRAs but the ones who are will be referred to as ‘transbr0s’ throughout this guide. mainly bc ‘transbr0s MRAs’ is a bit clunky. The ‘br0s’ part is meant to signal their willing participation in teh olde boys club known as the patriarchy.

The magic decoder ring…

So there is one basic strategy for decoding claims made by transbr0s. It is a rather simple strategy that removes most of the rhetorical force from a lot of the seemingly rational claims that they make.

What is this easy tactic? Remove the ‘trans’ from their statement (or ‘cis’ as the case may be). Here’s an example:

tweet reads "it's amazing that shitty trans twitter thinks they're being progressive by treating trans men like they're as dangerous as cis men"

Use your decoder ring and this becomes:

“it’s amazing that shitty trans twitter thinks they’re being progressive by treating men like they’re as dangerous as men”

See how simple that is? A statement that almost seems sort of rational suddenly becomes ridiculous once you use your decoder ring.

Why does this work?

Well… this relies on a few axioms of going around in the trans community. Axioms that, yes, even these transbr0s agree with.

  1. Trans women are women
  2. Trans men are men

Pretty easy right? A simple assertion of identity, in other words:

  1. a trans woman = a woman
  2. a trans man = a man

In logic, this is known as the law of identity. ‘a=a’ therefore, if a, then a.

Of course, one will say that the actual reasoning behind the original statement is that: a trans man == a cis man. Which, sure, but is ultimately meaningless since they are both men, thus, if I make a general statement about men, it includes both of them.

Why does this matter? Because of a feminist axiom that few people (other than MRAs) actually disagree with:

  1. We live in a patriarchy, thus men oppress women.

So, if I say that men oppress women, and thus are dangerous to us, this necessarily includes trans men. Because trans men are men.

Of course, some might say that the rhetorical force of that tweet comes from the relational statement ‘as dangerous as’. In the sense that one could assert that all men are dangerous to women, but not all men aren’t equally as dangerous to women. Sure. I mean… of course. Since overlapping oppressions are a real thing, men don’t all have equal access to institutional power. But this only works on a macro level. On a micro, interpersonal level? Yes. All men are equally dangerous to me.

Speaking as a member of the oppressed class? Yeah. Men are all dangerous. Who the fuck cares if some are a little less dangerous than others? How the fuck am I supposed to know, as a general principle?

Also? This statement is literally ‘not all men’. That’s what it boils down to. But it is all men. That’s how oppression works.

Here’s another example:

tweet reads "Trans women who consistently think that trans men experience no misogyny at all even when we are not cis passing. :')"

Decoded it reads “women who consistently think that men experience no misogyny at all even when we are not cis passing :’)”

Yes. How strange it is for women to think that men don’t experience misogyny…

In general, this tactic will serve you well in decoding transbr0 rhetoric. Use it.

Not all men

But… there are other cases where removing the ‘trans’ doesn’t quite seem to resolve the issue. Where what is being said totally sounds reasonable…

tweet reads: 1. So like the thing that gets me is that there are, legitimately, disenfranchised men. Black men, other men of color, disabled men, and such.; 2. And like if someone were to say "fuck disabled men" we'd be like yo you might wanna not say that?; 3. But like we saw tonight some people think it's cool to say "fuck trans men" and while some of us do call that out, some ppl feel like they; 4. Have a complete right to say that. And that's really super fucked up.; 5. So anyway yeah just thoughts like why are we so hesitant to say "maybe don't hate on trans men" and all

All of this seems reasonable, no? And on the whole… Yeah, I’m inclined to agree. I mean… as a general thing, saying ‘fuck trans men’ can be a bad thing. But not in all cases.

But the thing with this is, is that it shows a near total ignorance for how discussions of gender have occurred within some marginalized groups. Black feminism and womanism, for example, have spent a lot of time addressing and dealing with the idea that Black men are indeed marginalized men and how this relates to Black women. Similar discussions have happened in other racial groups. Nothing about this is new ground.

So where does reasonable parts slip away into MRA shit? Its actually contained in the ‘some people’. Because this highlights one of the critical ways to distinguish between a marginalized man making a valid claim about his experience of oppression and a marginalized man who is an MRA.

Who is ‘some people’ in this series of tweets? Trans women.

A trans woman saying ‘fuck trans men’ does not have the same force and context as a cis man or cis woman saying it. A cis person saying this? Is totally being oppressive. But not a trans woman. Why? Because we can’t, you know, oppress our oppressors. Funny how power works like that….

The difference between a marginalized man talking about oppression and promoting an MRA ideology? If they are blaming women for their problems. Here’s another example

tweets read: "It's pretty terrifying, tbh, so please don't belittle my experience by pretending trans men have absolutely no struggles whatsoever." and "As someone who is perceived as female right now, I am VERY at risk for violence because of this when I come out."

This? On it’s own? Entirely and completely reasonable. I mean… I’m inclined to disagree with the framing but I’d never really say much about it. But here is a follow up tweet down the thread:

tweet reads "Don't RT any of this otherwise some trans woman will come into my mentions and tell me I'm bad for being afraid and I can't handle that."

Ah. So now we have a better idea of who is being referred to in the previous tweets about belittling the stuggles of trans men. And its, unsurprisingly, trans women. As clarified in a different tweet on this same transbr0s timeline:

tweet reads "And I wouldn't speak to trans women because I have literally been abused by more trans women than cis people."

Ah… see? Because trans women have been calling him out on his male privilege and toxic masculinity (what he considers ‘belittling’ his experiences), he’s more afraid of trans women than cis people? Because we’ve been more abusive to him than cis ppl?

Here’s how you can tell this is privilege: I truly wish my biggest concern was how trans men treated me. I wish I could be in a position to say that trans men have been more harmful to me than cis ppl. Sadly, I navigate the world as a trans pinay and I really can’t say this.

It is a prime tenet of MRA ideology that men are really the victims of women, rather than men, you know, being the ones that oppress us.

tweet reads "I want to repeat this a lot because as a trans man I get targeted by trans feminine folks a lot for harassment. And I talk about it."

Targetting for harassment? Because he talks about his experiences? In ways that are clearly transmisogynist and oppressive? In ways that deny or disavow his male privilege? It sounds like, to me, that trans feminine people are calling him out on the shitty things he says on a regular basis (I mean… I’m getting most of these tweets from two people, they say this shit day in and day out).

This comment also applies to whenever transbr0s talk about the ‘community’ in general. Often, you don’t see quite as clear cut examples as the past few have been. There are usually like the first example. Referencing ‘some people’ or ‘the community’ or ‘trans ppl’.

But consider their position. They are trans men. So the rest of the community is (in a really simplistic and reductive sense) trans women and various non-binary people. Sure, they might also be referring to the trans men who aren’t MRAs like themselves, but… as we can see from the explicit examples that isn’t where they go with this.

If we are just talking within teh trans community, of these three major groups – trans women, trans men, and nonbinary people – who has the actual privilege and sytemic/institutional power? Is it trans women? Nonbinary people? Or trans men?

What about teh menz?

So one of the things that transbr0s really rely on is gathering sympathy or empathy by making statements like this:

tweet reads "I can make the statement that trans men only have a safe space among other trans men and someone out there would be like "good.""

Sounds awful, right? How could ~someone~ say something like this. Again, refer to the previous section to decode who is actually being implicated by ‘someone’ re: trans women. Now, the issue with safe space in a general, societal sense is a problem. Trans men should be safe wherever.

But if we are talking within teh ~community~? Again, this doesn’t appear to have a problem. I’ve said the same thing about trans women of colour. I fail to see the problem (or, at least, how the problem is uniquely one to trans men).

Here’s what we are really getting at:

And the aftermath of [trans men’s] stories all had one detail in common: The men did not feel free to speak openly of their experiences in trans or LGBT spaces…They felt that in such a context, their true experiences of facing transphobic violence would not be taken seriously, perhaps even dismissed as mere complaining or a tactic to take attention away from the undeniably important topic of violence against trans women…

I don’t point this out in anger. I point out these dynamics as a conduit for the voices of many other trans men who have feared speaking out. This is not a call to put trans men’s struggles “above” those of trans women….It’s a call to anyone who has a trans man in their life to also validate that man’s pain without pronouncements about his assumed privileges. To listen, to love, to help when it’s needed. link to source

All of this sounds reasonable, yes? But again, recall that he is talking about teh ~community~ as a whole. Since trans men are the focus here, the rest of the community is: trans women and enbys. Those last two sentences highlight an important aspect to this demand being made by transbr0s.

Because you know what this sounds like? It sounds like a man demanding emotional labour from women. Yes, enbys are also caught up in this demand for emotional labour and it is also shitty in that case. Why? Because men are the ones with power in this situation. And he is outright demanding that teh ~community~ as a whole is requried to validate the experiences of its most privileged members.

Above all, these discussions boil down to the most basic MRA question of them all: what about teh menz?

But it is insiduous because, again, those statements above sound so reasonable. I mean. Obviously trans men shouldn’t be silenced nor their experiences dismissed. This is a bad thing.

Additionally, the ‘problem’ he is talking about? Isn’t a real problem. And he points this out himself.

The men did not feel free to speak openly of their experiences in trans or LGBT spaces…They felt that in such a context, their true experiences of facing transphobic violence would not be taken seriously, perhaps even dismissed as mere complaining or a tactic to take attention away from the undeniably important topic of violence against trans women. linke to source

So, my question here is how often have these men (including the writer here) been within these spaces when the issue of violence against trans women is being discussed and essentially derailed the entire thing with “what about teh menz?”.

Note the opening quotation to this section, about how trans men can and do create safe spaces for each other. Spaces where they can articulate their struggles and experiences and have them validated: “this wasn’t the first time another trans man had come to me privately with stories of pain or facing transphobic violence”. The persistent question I have with all of this, is why isn’t this enough?

Why must the ~community~ (but really trans women) be obliged to provide and give emotional labour to trans men? Why should we need to discuss or validate their problems at all? In most feminist circles it is pretty apparent that this isn’t something that women need to do. Indeed, that men asking women to validate and discuss their problems is an example of sexism and misogyny.

Two years ago I began working therapeutically with transmasculine people who have faced abuse like this….So I decided to run my first IPV workshop at a transgender conference last summer….As I strode toward the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference hall that first afternoon…’ve now encountered dozens of trans men/MOC who have experienced intimate partner violence. Yet this trend is still not something I’ve heard discussed in wider trans spaces. link to source

Quite obviously trans men are able to organize these spaces to focus on their problems. In mainstream contexts (ie, the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference). Mainstream contexts that occur within the larger community (since the health conference is putatively for the trans community as a whole). But then we see the demand, yet again, that ‘wider trans spaces’ discuss this.

But why? What entitles trans men to the emotional labour and attention of trans women? Why is this different than when cis men demand it of cis women?

The answer: it isn’t. That’s it.

Missing the bigger picture…

I think one of the key reasons why the trans community is so vulnerable to this vein of MRA garbage is because we don’t actually talk (often) about a critical issue within the community: misogyny and sexism.

Yes, yes, I know that some of the transbr0s I’ve cited have explicitely discussed how they are impacted by misogyny (lol). But that isn’t what I’m talking about. We do have discussions about how misogyny impacts our relationships with cis people. How transmisogyny does. How sexism and cissexism do.

What we don’t discuss is how this plays out between trans men and trans women.

Because the foundational premise to all of the transbr0 MRA rhetoric is that, somehow – magically – sexism and misogyny aren’t things that occur within the community. Or rather, if they do occur it is, amazingly, what trans women do to trans men. Its is literally backwards land.

This foundational issue is why the decoder ring works so well as a strategy for understanding what is really happening here. Re-read all of the above quotations (the ones I didn’t translate) using the decoder ring and you’ll see what I mean.

And this isn’t an accident, by the way. Remember the introductory quote?

I’m not using [female socialization] to justify excluding trans women from women’s spaces though, just because that idea has been used against trans women doesn’t mean it doesn’t hold any truth…The idea that trans men were never socialized as female hurts trans men. link to source

Female socialization has come up a few different times. But this is pretty clear. An idea that is used against trans women is not only true, but we should adhere to it because it hurts trans men. Read that statement again with your decoder ring.

Because doing away with the myth of female socialization hurts trans men (but helps trans women), it is a bad thing. Because hurting men to benefit women is a bad thing. The fact that this myth is regularly used to harm trans women? Who cares? The myth benefits trans men, so it must be true and good.

But the thing is, is that there is also a very large contradiction within this all. Because remember the axioms.

Are trans men, men? Are trans women, women?

If the answer is yes, then the usual dynamics of misogyny and sexism applies between the two groups.

Honestly? This is literally all I’ve been saying this entire essay. That sexism and misogyny are important factors for understanding how trans men relate to trans women. That’s it. This seems like it shouldn’t be an issue… and yet I know I’m exactly the sort of person these transbr0s are talking about.

Not because I actually trivialize what trans men experience, but because I focus on twoc and they have no space in my philosophy or anything else. I don’t spend much time talking to them or about them. If I were in a mixed space and discussing trans women, I would definitely shut down (if I had the power to do so) any attempts by trans men to insert ‘what about teh menz?’ into the conversation. Indeed, I would probably not even bother going to any mixed community event that was for focusing on trans men.

I simply have better things to do with my time, energy, and labour. And, above all, I don’t owe men anything. Ever. Nor does any trans woman. If you think that working with trans men is important? Great. Have fun. But it should never be considered obligatory for every trans woman to do so.