i dream of being possible

the advocate and the mainstreaming of trans mras

So… I’m doing the thing I said I wouldn’t do because I think it is important, especially after seeing this rather prosaic exposition of trans Men’s Rights Activism. One of the main tenets of trans MRA is perhaps expressed in that post (and this is a major divergence from mainstream/cis MRA ideology):

I will always say that trans men often understand the treatment of women better than trans women, and to disregard a trans man’s input is only going to hurt your perspective.

When I read the introductory article, setting out the series and talking about why it is necessary, I was trepidatious but largely agreed. Indeed, the violence trans men experience must be talked about and it isn’t trivial or unimportant. Especially relevent is where he talks about the ‘scarcity myth’ and the reality that focusing on just one type of violence (and victim) isn’t really ideal. And that paying attention to one thing, doesn’t necessarily mean taking attention to another. This isn’t a zero sum game.

The main problem I saw with how the article presents the issue started with the title “We must…”. Who is this ‘we’ and why must this ‘we’ discuss the violence trans men experience? Later in the article Kellaway writes:

I have to think that our community wants to aid all survivors of transphobic violence or at least listen to their stories without judgment, whether or not they occasionally happen to be male. I believe it’s possible, because we have always been a multi-issue community; a community capable of taking on oppression’s manifestations in an “and-both,” not “either-or” way.

So, to be clear, the idea is that the trans community, as a whole, must sometimes talk about violence against trans men. If anyone is having trouble with the connection, this very much veers into the territory of ‘what about teh menz?’. Which is the fundamental and shared ideology of trans MRA and cis MRA.

Of course, the other problem is that this ‘problem’ seems to be… exaggerated or made up, he writes:

And feeding the silence only restarts a cycle where the absence of stories from trans male victims can be held up as false “proof” that violence against trans men is a nonissue, which then once more leads to men silencing themselves.

Near the conclusion, but earlier links us to 10 different articles about violence experienced by trans men. I read trans news everyday and while I tend to only read stories involving trans women, I’ve seen many of the headlines in those links. Does ten stories count as an absence? I’m inclined to think “um… not really”. But that’s just me.

So this is a somewhat decent opening to the series that brushes up against some dangerous territory while also making some dubious claims.

The next article is “Surviving Alleged Abuse, Suicide Attempt, Ky Peterson Won’t Stay Silent”. And the article is great. Exactly what I would’ve hoped for from this series. A story about an (unjustly) incarcerated Black trans man, Ky Peterson, and his experiences in prison. Important and necessary. Please read it.

This is followed by “Learning to love my trans male body after years of violence”. Which is another good article. A trans man discussing his experience with violence and his relationship to his body. Again, important.

Next is another necessary and important story, “When Homeless Trans Men Face Violence, There Are No Places to Turn”. A Black trans man discusses being homeless and experiencing violence.

Do you see a pattern so far? All of these are exactly what I hoped to see from the introductory article. Trans men talking about themselves and their experiences. Which, yes, I do think is important.

But then we get to “Why Do Transmasculine People Tend to Stay in Abusive Relationships?”, which regretably breaks the trend of stories of violence told in ways that that aren’t transmisogynist. Perhaps the problem with this article is that it veers into theory, rather than simply being about his own experiences.

Here’s where we start getting into ‘bleh’ territory:

I’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. Of course, IPV, whether experienced by transmasculine or transfeminine people (who also report staggering rates) is often shrouded in silence.

The last sentence is good and I wished he’d stuck with it. Why? Because intimate partner violence isn’t really discussed in the trans community, regardless of whether or not it is experienced by women, men, or enbys. Indeed, I’ve been wanting to see more discussion (sure, focused on women bc that’s what I’m about) of IPV in trans circles. This is a critical and necessary issue in the community and one that larger (not-trans focused) IPV orgs and movements almost never talk about. Like… pretty much none of them actually include trans women in their discourse in meaningful ways. The problem is in the framing. He starts of implying that the general lack of discussion on trans men’s IPV experiences is somehow unique. It isn’t. And he shows it in that last sentence.

Then he goes on to theorize why IPV is different between trans men and cis men, generalizing from anecdotal evidence:

While socialization — the process of adapting to social norms that we all learn instinctively as children — definitely differs based on one’s personal background, a vast number of female-assigned people are socialized to believe they do not deserve to be treated with respect or are “lesser than” merely because they were labeled “female” at birth. Additionally, trans men/MOC people most likely experience sexual trauma and abuse growing up at the same striking rate (20-percent) as cisgender women because we too were once considered “female-bodied.”

Ah… yes. The fabled ~female socialization~ of trans men. Because this hasn’t been used to hurt trans women over and over again. Of course, this is a bullshit myth that lacks necessary nuance and understanding of socialization. And, amusingly (but not really), this same myth is constantly used to silence and marginalize trans women, since any time we try to assert ourselves we are betraying our ~male socialization~.

Ironically, this myth betrays the inaccuracy of this statement:

I have found that when trans male or MOC survivors are able to break through the cultural barriers and seek help, it turns out that there are few, if any, support options available because most IPV services are geared toward women, designed from a cisgender context, and/or may be homophobic and transphobic in nature.

Sure. IPV services are geared towards women. This is true. But this statement is misleading. IPV services are geared towards cis women, first and foremost. And the realities of a general belief in ~female socialization~ and the public accomodation rules in many jurisdictions, trans men, because they are AFAB, have better access to these resources than trans women. Sure… the price might be accepting the violence of misgendering, which clearly acts as a barrier to access. But trans women don’t even get to make that decision, since we are usually a prior barred from even trying to access the resources.

All of this is exactly why IPV desperately needs to become a priority in the wider community. Of course, this particular trans man can’t make the point without invoking transmisogynist myths.

The slide into transmisogyny and outright men’s rights activism continues with the lovely, “How LGBT Communities Can Better Listen to Trans Male Violence Survivors”. This article is written by Lucas Silveira, of the “I can say tranny if I want” and “I’d lived six years as a transman without hormones, and was always accepted into women/lesbian/queer spaces” fame. Clearly a great choice for this series. But whatever.

In his article we have claims like:

But after years of observation, I can now say that the dismissal of trans men who speak openly about their experiences of violence — the silencing of any storytelling beyond tales of gaining male privilege — is a pattern that is causing severe harm.

Note, what Silveira means by ‘openly’ and ‘silencing’ is this:

And the aftermath of their stories all had one detail in common: The men did not feel free to speak openly of their experiences in trans or LGBT spaces.

So. I have questions. Who, exactly, is silencing trans men? The implication here is that it is trans women (and maybe trans feminine enbys). I mean… who else is left in teh trans community? The only way I can understand this is that when Silveira says “it’s a valid topic for community discussion” he is saying that, as a man, he feels entitled to the attention and emotional labour of women (or other non-men).

Apparently, trans men’s experiences are only valid and important if the entire community discusses and pays attention to it. But the thing is, is that he also makes it clear that trans men are building community and not being silenced about their experiences, “this wasn’t the first time another trans man had come to me privately with stories of pain or facing transphobic violence” (this is the ‘aftermath’ referred to in a previous quotation).

So if these men are talking amongst each other about their experiences. Listening and, I hope, supporting each other… why, exactly, do trans women need to provide this for them? And the context is interesting,

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.

Which is fascinating, since as I’ve been pointing out, teh trans community is one of the few that considers ‘what about teh menz?’ a real and legitimate question. What I’m reading from this context is that he (and perhaps the men he is talking to) are asking that question in conversations or discussions centering the violence that trans women experience. There’s a word for this ‘entitlement’.

A great example of his entire inability to properly understand how women experience violence is this comment:

Or consider what it’s like to be a black “woman” who transitions to become a black man. I have had more than a few conversations about this, and one with a black trans man who had just recently started transitioning stuck with me. He described how when he grew more visibly masculine all he could think, amid watching the riots caused by police murders of black men, was that he is now becoming “public enemy number one.” That doesn’t exactly sound like a privilege to me.

I mean… the misogynoir of this paragraph is pretty special. It entirely erases the ongoing police violence directed to Black women. But I won’t say much more about this because it isn’t my place and many Black women have spoken of how they’ve been erased from discussion of police and state violence.

I think the most special part of the article is the conluding statement:

Trans men want to be seen. Trans folks are already so immensely oppressed, and suicide rates indicate that this oppression does touch trans men too. There is nothing more dangerous in our own communities than to feel invisible.

Really? Nothing is more dangerous in our communities than to feel invisible? NOTHING???

Again, this (and the entire article) trades on the common misunderstanding (often by trans men) that the hypervisibility of trans women (of colour) is actually ‘representation’ and soemthing to envy. Like… this is how entirely disconnected Silveira is from trans women. Not only does he think it’s entire appropriate use a transmisogynist slur, but he really thinks that trans men’s (alleged) invisibility is more dangerous than the hypervisibility of trans women.

And the problem, of course, with this uncritical envy of our hypervisibility is the reality that, sure, a lot of ppl are talking about the violence that twoc experience, but few spaces and organizations are actually and really and meaningfully including us and centering us.

The next article, “Violence Against Trans Men Will Lessen If We Address Trans Women’s Oppression” discusses how addressing violence towards trans women will ultimately benefit trans men. Which, yes. But also kind of… ‘meh’ in the sense that trying to convince trans men that the violence trans women experience should be centered because it is in their best interest is… a little gross. Violence against women should matter in and of itself. Self-interest out of a belief that centering this will benefit men isn’t really helpful.

Last in the series so far is, “Trans Men Experience Far More Violence Than Most People Assume”. Which is a pretty interesting article. It starts out with a promising:

Violence against transmasculine folks is an issue that is currently very much underdiscussed. Part of this invisibility problem stems from the current focus on just one aspect of violence against trans people: hate violence that results in death.

So. Because people are alarmed that trans women of colour are being murdered, this is erasing (making invisible) trans men’s struggles with violence? Note: this is zero sum logic. The exact thing that Kellaway was saying we shouldn’t do. But okay!

According to Cook-Daniels:

However, what is far less discussed by the media or within the trans/LGB community is that other types of violence — the kinds of violence that affect thousands more trans people than do hate crimes resulting in murder — actually happen at least as often to transmasculine individuals as transfeminine individuals.

FORGE, the nonprofit I direct policy and programs for, conducted a national study in 2011 that was approved by the Morehouse College School of Medicine Institutional Review Board and funded by the Office for Victims of Crime. Our survery was answered by 1,005 trans people. That study shows that transmasculine individuals were actually more likely to be victims of childhood sexual assault, adult sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking than were transfeminine individuals (as shown in the chart below).

The only category in which trans women were more likely to be victimized was by hate violence, and even there the difference was small: 30 percent of trans women reported having experienced hate violence, compared to 29 percent of trans men.

I quote this at length because it is the key part of this article.

I think the most fascinating thing about this article is how we have no way to actually verify the data presented. The link in the article takes us to a random fact sheet about violence, but doesn’t actually discuss the 2011 national study you expect to see when you click the link. We get a handy graph that demonstrates that trans men experience IPV, stalking, sexual assult violence more than trans women. All except hate violence, which were very close.

I honestly don’t believe this data, not without actually seeing the study, the methodology, the sampling, and the full discussion. I could easily make a graph proving the opposite with link to a random, vaguely related document too.

What’s also super clear, here, is that Cook-Daniels hasn’t spent any real time looking that the causes for twoc murders. Yes. A bunch are due to transmisogyny and hate. However, a large portion are cases of domestic or intimate partner violence. Indeed, in cases where DV or IPV is considered the ‘main’ cause of the murder, TDoR actually leaves these names from its lists. The names aren’t omitted from NCAVP’s lists, but you actually have to read many of the articles to try and figure out which were more hate motivated and which might’ve been cases of IPV.

In any case, the point I’m making here is that trans women of colour aren’t just at the greatest risk of being murdered, we are are at the greatest risk (in teh trans community) for being murdered by our intimate partners.

I too have spent much of the year wanting to see wider discussion on IPV within (and without) the trans community. Why? Because twoc are dying and very little is being done and the relationship to IPV is rarely mentioned by anyone lamenting the murders.

In any case, this is my review of all the articles in the Advocate’s “Boys do cry” series. I really and truly find it sad that a series that started off so strong turned into what appears to be an attempt to mainstream trans men’s rights activism. Which is ironic because they do exactly what they said they wouldn’t do: create a zero sum game with attention scarcity.

Why is it that, in many of the latter articles, whenever I see ‘the wider trans community’ (or similar) what I really read is “those male socialized trans women”. It’s really hard to read it in any other way, given how the trans men continuously contradict themselves and each other. Silveira writes about how trans men can’t speak openly while another trans man talks about about hosting several IPV workshops at the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference (one of which was trans men/moc focused).

When they talk about being ‘silenced’ or made ‘invisible’ what does this actually mean? It is clear that should trans men want to, they can organize workshops and other community events focused on themselves. Are they being stopped? If the actual occurence of these works shops in a trans space and within the ‘larger’ community are any indication, this sort of thing actually happens.

Moreover, one thing that was abundently clear is that trans men are talking and communicating with each other about their experiences. I find it interesting that these dicussions are called ‘private’ and there is a need for ‘open’ discussions. What does any of this mean? Again, it all ends up sounding like, unless trans women perform the emotional labour of listening to and validating the experiences of men, we are erasing and silencing them. Can anyone actually tell me why men feel so entitled to talk about themselves in mixed spaces? It’s probably the female socialization, I’m sure.

I honestly wouldn’t have bothered commenting on any of this if not for these latter articles. The first ones, the ones where trans men ‘openly’ discuss their experiences with violence are exactly what they should do. Tell your stories. Talk about them. That’s all you need to do. What isn’t necessary is invoking transmisogynist myths and theories to try and explain why you and your experiences matter more than mine.

As a transpinay ladyboy, I’m not required or even obligated to listen to anything that men tell me. I do not exist to comfort trans men or to validate their experiences. I deeply resent being told that IPV should become a ‘mainstream’ discussion in teh trans community because it allegedly happens more to trans men than trans women, even as twoc continue to die at the hands of their intimate partners. I very much resent being told that the hypervisibility experience by trans women at the hands of media and society is somehow my fault and my responsibility to solve.

But this isn’t this the basic purpose of men’s rights activism? To, ultimately, blame women for the problems of men?

This series certainly didn’t need to become this. But here we are. And I write this knowing that I’ll be accused of doing exactly what the trans MRA’s accuse teh community of doing. Of attempting to silence them and force them to be quiet. Must be my male socialization, I’m sure.1