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.

12 thoughts on “Tools of Our Own Demise

  1. Anders says:

    I completely and utterly agree, and I’m speaking as a homo*-identified trans person. I’m really critical of people who go around questioning other people’s identities, in this case asserting his own by making a negative comparison to someone else’s.

    I’m glad you wrote about “presenting straight” VS “being straight” because I think a lot of us have trouble sorting those out. I do think it’s good for us all to remember that it doesn’t matter whether someone “actually” is straight or is “just presenting” (since we can’t really determine that for someone else) because if they make negative comments comparing themselves to gays and queers and homos, they’re in the wrong no matter what.

    *I like “homo” better than “gay” because I’m specifically interested in my same (trans) gender and I like being really literal.

  2. Jay says:

    Maybe I am totally off the mark here, but doesn’t this trans man have just as much of a right to claim his sexuality as you do? Perhaps instead of meaning to make a wide, sweeping statement about queer culture, he was simply telling a story about his own life, and thus, his own identity?

    And can I ask, what was the story told? There is very little context given in your blog post.

    • JAC says:

      I absolutely agree that each person has an equal right to claim their own sexuality and identity. My point is that while we each have that right, we should not do it in ways that oppress others. I’m positive that the person saying it was not only referring to themselves and by no means meant to make any grand statement. The issue I’m discussing here is no single person or identity but the greater implications of language, our use of it, and how it influences our communities. If we use language to refer to ourselves that creates oppression for others, are we not taking part in an oppressive system? The statement “I’m not gay trans, I’m straight trans” is very different from “I’m not gay trans, I’m just trans” because it implies that someone trans is automatically not gay creating a concept of normalcy – and therefore cultural superiority – for on straightness. Similar to saying “i’m not a transguy, I’m just a guy.” which implies that transguys are not equal to non-transguys and therefore must be explained after and set apart.

      Because the language is the topic, not the person, I have not included the full story in detail because it the quote “I’m not gay trans, I’m just trans.” raises issue whether it is a story about a bubble bath or visiting a bakery. I also felt that excluding the personal elements of the story was necessary to respect the privacy of the speaker therefore I limited as much detail in the story as possible while still being able to give accurate context.

  3. Jay says:

    I just don’t think any of your blog readers can make an informed decision about the argument you present without context. Nothing is said or done in a vacuum. I can think of several situations in which this statement might not even approach oppressive. Just my own humble opinion from a person who is considered to be a very gay transguy.

  4. Jay says:

    Perhaps this man was warding off advances from a cisgendered gay man? Or a straight man who percieved him as a woman? Or he might have simply been refusing to comment on his sexual orientation at all, commenting exclusively on his gender. Just a thought..

    • JAC says:

      @Jay – I agree that context is important for determining intention, but I can not agree that context nor intention excuse problematic language. Whether a person was trying to tell someone they aren’t interested or to identify themselves, it does not change the oppressive nature of the statement. The language is the issue, not the intention. Readers have no need to make any decision on why it was said. What matters it that it was said and that it was harmful.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I think that a lot of people speak without thinking and like you said, they don’t intend to be malicious or oppressive in their speech. And I think that it’s important for people to realize the implications of their comments even if it was not intended. I think that it’s good for you, JAC, to help make people more aware of how words can be just as harmful if not more so than “sticks and stones.”

    Also, sometimes I know I get frustrated with how careful one has to be when it comes to talking about all kinds of issues. Whenever I feel like this I always remind myself of the ignorant or offensive comments or sayings that really bother me when I hear people saying them and I remember that that is the feeling that someone else is getting hearing another comment.

    I think we all need to be cognizant of our words and actions and even if it was unintentional, we need to apologize if we offend someone. I’ve done it many times; said something that I certainly did not mean offensively and afterward I was made aware that it was offensive. So I apologized and learned from it. I think that’s the biggest thing: that we need to learn how to live together so as to not hurt each other and learn how to own up to our mistakes, grow, and change for the future.

    Ok, off the pedestal, now. Thank you for this blog, JAC.

  6. musingsofacmlife says:

    Ah yes, the privilege Olympics Who shall get the gold this year?? Who is the whitest, who is the most gender conforming, who is the straightest, who is the most able? It shall be a race to the gold this year….sorry… my brain takes trips sometimes.. and it just went there

  7. Rose L. says:

    I had a similar ordeal happen with a co-worker. The person did not mean to but they caused many problems that hurt me and others. And there were more problems when they could not understand why it was wrong. Language is important and it is troublesome when we forget that what we say can hurt others, even our close neighbors. We must take faith in each other, be conscious, and make up for our wrong-doings. The culture we live in is not kind to us, so we must be kind to each other.
    In Peace,

  8. Pen says:

    I think something this makes me think of is the difference between intent and outcome. On the one hand, I tend to give folks the benefit of the doubt about their intentions to do/say things. This said, what someone says often doesn’t come across the way it may be intended.

    And along with this, most of the times I say things without thinking…and feel judged or critiqued afterwords, it’s because I have said something that has made other people feel bad, powerless, or silenced. When this happens, I usually don’t realize where my ideas for what I’m saying may come from, or what negative impact it may cause for some folks. In this case, the most important thing is for folks/me to understand that I need to be accountable for what I say or do. It’s not to feel bad or to be critiqued…but it’s the right thing to do to have an inclusive, respectful community.

    Another thing is, this was said in a public space. This is important because being an emcee holds a certain power that is way different from someone simply asserting their identity in conversation. In this context, it seems like the intent of the statement was to draw a laugh in a communal way. Rather than this being a statement between friends, this was an assertion that was put out by the person in power…and then affirmed by the community. In this public space, the emcee was speaking for the community in a way that not only validated their identity, but also made other identities the butt of a public joke. Among friends, there is space for discussion, back-story, etc. In a public space, this person not only spoke for themselves, they also re-affirmed that being gay and trans is something to not take seriously…or as seriously as someone who is “just trans.” I’m sure if I were in the crowd, this statement would have made me feel like I was not welcome in this community…or worse, unsafe.

  9. deacon says:

    Reading the words, “I’m not a gay trans, I’m just trans” seems innocent enough but given the context, I would have probably had the same reaction.
    Also, what troubles me is the comedic value the trans person who said this expressed on stage. I find this disappointing and inappropriate. It reminds me of when I have heard “I love you, but not in that gay way”
    I love you Jac. Let me know if you need to speak out or process more.

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