Tools of Our Own Demise
My community continues to throw me curve balls. Recently I was given an account of a rather discouraging discourse that took place on stage at a local show. The emcee, who is a transguy, told a story about another man flirting with him and concluded his story by asserting his straight identity and saying “I’m not gay trans, I’m just trans.” The audience laughed.
A pleasant reminder that just as gays have less rights than straights, gay trans folks have less rights than straight trans folks. The amount of internalized homophobia and transphobia here is staggering. “I’m not gay trans, I’m just trans.” Translation: “I’m not one of those gay transguys. I’m just you’re good o’l normal transguy.” Or maybe “gay trans” was meant to be a combination of gender and sexuality in one identity making ‘gay trans’ a different identity than ‘trans’ aka ‘straight trans.’ Not only would this create a problematic concept of normalcy based off of straightness, it also mirrors the all too familiar “I’ll prove I’m not gay cause god forbid you think otherwise.” Can anyone say hierarchy? As usual the straight people go on top. Trans or not, lets keep reaching for that privilege! Never mind who you crush on your way up.
My criticism does not come solely from an outsider’s perspective. I was straight once. When I first came out as trans I identified as queer in the general sense, but since I was a guy dating women I felt that to actualize my maleness and to pass I needed to be straight. And ‘straight’ was about more than sexuality, it was gender expression too. It meant portraying a specific masculinity that used misogynistic and homophobic language to underline how straight I was. I found myself impulsively attempting an uncomfortable role that went against my feminist principles. But “straight” continually failed to speak to my reality leaving me feeling like a fake, and eventually, like a failure at being a man. All and all, my straight period was very short because my exhaustion lead me to recognize my folly- that and I’m just too self-righteous to be anything other than what I am. Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t transguys who are straight, or that its bad to be straight. There are tons of awesome straight guys, I’m just not one of them. (To clarify: I am not stating that the label(s) you choose have to define your actions based on the dictionary. I say own the labels that speak to you – i.e. someone can identify as lesbian but not solely date women, someone can be queer and heterosexual, in my own case I call myself gay frequently but I do not only date men.) I say all this to state how I can understand the motivation, the habitualness of using language that is oppressive in order to show off one’s masculinity. It is not wickedly meant, but it is no less harmful to all involved. This “no [trans] homo” mentality harms us not only in a grander sense of societal oppression, but also more directly in our own mentalities. It forces ourselves into gendered stereotypes that art problematic and hurtful. Think of how people replace the word stupid with gay, loser with cocksucker, and wimp with fag. Is it no wonder people struggle to come out as queer. Similarly, when trans folks make homophobic comments it has the exact same effect. In reference to this case: There are tons of straight transguys and there are also tons of transguys who are playing it straight just like I did because they are afraid that without being ‘straight’ they won’t pass, can’t be a real man, or people will not accept them.
We all seem to understand that our community continues to suffer in our society, and yet the oppressions of the non-queer community isn’t enough. We continue to put each other down. Intention is important, but intention is not everything, especially when in positions of high visibility. In this case I am certain the emcee only meant to crack a joke, but I don’t appreciate my life being made into a joke. Many assume we are incapable of oppressing those within our own communities but that is not true. Our culture values gender normalcy and heteronormative behavior and this influences our own trans and queer communities. Those who do not conform to heteronormative roles are considered less than, either consciously or unconsciously, which results in a lack of recognition, respect, and inclusion. When an identity, like a transguy, is decidedly defined based off of stereotyped masculinity and straight identity, what does that make someone like me who doesn’t fit that standard? We are left fighting to prove we are trans enough, if we are allowed to be considered trans at all.
As gender normative, ‘normal’ looking, white, middle-class “gay” becomes more socially acceptable we must actively guard against oppressing those in our communities who are different. Statements like “That’s so gay,” “She’s not trans, she’s a real woman,” and “I’m not gay trans, I’m just trans” create unconscious hierarchies that result in significant oppression. The person saying it may not feel the oppression in their words, but it makes them the tool of a system that prefers us to be ashamed, hidden, or dead.