A trans-masculine perspective on feminism
- Published: 15 May 2010
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For trans men to be feminist allies to women and other feminine people, they must own and work against their masculine privilege, writes Griffen Jones.
I wanted to write about my relationship to feminism, as a trans-masculine person. I identify as a queer transgender masculine person who has in the past, identified as a queer woman.
My feminist politics have strengthened and solidified throughout my transition, despite the fact that I no longer identify as a woman. I think that my realisation of, and my acceptance of my own masculine identity has transpired partly because of this consolidation.
I’ve never held a feminist politic that sees everything male and masculine as anti-feminist and the root of all sexism. Rather, I’ve always seen capitalism - as a system and a social relation – as the architect of patriarchy.
Or rather, patriarchy and misogyny are necessary elements of this brutal class society that sees the wealth and privilege concentrated in the hands of a few.
The institutions of marriage and the family, which are central to the maintenance of capitalism, all uphold sexism, homophobia and transphobia.
In coming to terms with my trans identity, I decided that if I was going to identify as trans masculine person and use male pronouns, then it was imperative that I actively practice my feminist politic.
I’ve been compelled to be wholly aware of the ways in which socialised masculinity serves to reinforce patriarchy and sexism.
When it comes to the day-to-day passing as male, I consciously wanted to ensure that the male I embodied was not one that zealously upheld sexism.
It is often that the aspects that stand out so much when thinking of masculinity and male-ness, are those that are, in many ways, anti-feminist. This hegemonic masculinity is comprised entirely of gender stereotypes, such as: taking up space in a room, talking loudly over people and talking a lot [as though what you have to say is always of the utmost importance], and a rejection of the feminine.
Whilst I don’t identify as a man – I identify as trans and I celebrate my gender trajectory, passing as male can constitute a recognition of my trans identity. It can also be a question of safety, as often problems arise, including violence, if people can’t identify your gender. And simply, I also want to pass.
The big question or contradiction that arose for me was figuring out ways of embodying a masculinity and a male-ness that I was comfortable with and that did not represent or feed into a hegemonic masculinity.
Being aware of, and owning my masculine privilege has become particularly imperative for me since I decided that I wanted to start taking Testosterone [T]. Before making this decision, part of my reluctance to start taking T, was truly being perceived as a man by other women.
I consider there to be a certain sense of trust and solidarity between women that can exist and I think there is amazing strength in this. I want to recognise here that, as bell hooks proposes, this isn’t always the case, as the intersections of race, class and sexuality mean that not all women share a common experience.
Before I started taking T, I very rarely completely passed. As my body slowly changes and I begin to fit the characteristics that broader society associate with being a man, I’ve begun to pass more.
The more I pass, the more of this instant solidarity and trust I lose. It’s not as though I’m sad because I’ve been kicked out of some club - my immediate community is full of amazing queer women and trans folk – it means that I need to learn new ways of gaining trust and solidarity with women.
I need to learn how to be man and to reconcile my revolutionary politics with this. I’ve realised that I can’t be the trans man that I want to be, without owning and working against my masculine privilege, celebrating femininity and continuing to a be a feminist ally to women and other feminine folk, who are forced to deal with sexist shit every day.
It is there that I want to point to the strength and necessity in recognising the interconnection of a women’s liberation movement and a trans liberation movement.
I also want to note that I’m in no way suggesting that in order to become a ‘better feminist’ people need to identify as trans and nor do I think that every trans person practices amazing feminist politics.
Similarly, I’m not suggesting that my past identification as a woman means that I’m a ‘better equipped’ feminist than, for example, a cis-gendered man.
Rather I’m suggesting that a feminist struggle and a trans struggle, complement and inform each other in necessary ways. The extension of the gender system beyond the binary, which is so heavily entrenched and maintained under capitalism, assists both trans folk and women.
What it creates is the space for new identities and bodies that can be embraced outside of those afforded to us by the capitalist patriarchy, such as the celebration of fat identities.
I’d like to leave you with a quote from the inspiring Leslie Feinberg, an amazing transgender activist, speaker and author. The quote is taken from ze’s book Trans Liberation: beyond pink or blue, in which ze articulates, among other points, the interconnection between gender discrimination and sexism:
“The struggles with those of us at this conference also overlap with the struggles of the women’s liberation movement. We could gain strength by working together, along with all our allies, to fight for sex and gender freedom. That means the rights of people to define their sex, control their own body, and develop their gender expression, free from violence, economic barriers, or discrimination – in employment, housing, health care, or any other sector of society.
“None of us can be free while others are in chains. That’s the truth underlying the need for solidarity. Trans liberation is inextricably linked to other movements for equality and justice.”
Griffen Jones is a 25-year-old trans guy based in Sydney, Australia, who is involved in various political organising and collectives, including STILL FIERCE: sydney sex and gender diverse collective, Mutiny Zine collective, Black Rose Anarchist Library and Bookshop.