F to M to feminist

// 3 June 2011

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*Edited to remove a phrase which really didn’t convey my meaning at all that I added before I’d had my coffee this morning.

uglytruthcropped.jpgAround the time The F-Word advertised for guest bloggers, my partner had increasingly started pointing out “you’re such a militant feminist now.” She seemed slightly amused, slightly confused and of course rather pleased.

It’s partly her doing. She’s very smart, and draws my attention to perspectives and arguments I’ve not yet contemplated. But in the last few years I also feel I’ve learnt a lot about feminism, and been accorded with much more responsibility to be a feminist.

Two years ago I started taking hormones as part of medical transition from female to male. I think it’s fair to say that it’s this transition that made me a feminist.

I’ve been calling myself a feminist since I was about 20. I had my Fawcett “this is what a feminist looks like” t-shirt (which I still wear and which no longer swamps me) but, contrary to what my degree taught me about labelling theory, naming something doesn’t always make it so. If I was a feminist it was only in the most basic of ways – of course everyone should be equal! I had neither the knowledge nor the impetus to develop a deeper understanding, or to work towards that goal, and like many trans-masculine people, I was often unwittingly quite the misogynist.

Transition made it clearer for me how differently men and women are treated. I still socialise in largely queer, feminist spaces, so I’ve not yet

experienced spending much time in exclusively cis-male spaces.* [Edited to remove a phrase which unhelpfuly introduced but left unaddressed the issue of the difference between straight and gay male spaces.] But I realised that for years prior to taking testosterone I’d rarely been afforded male privilege, nor had I been subject to misogyny in the same way my women friends were.

The fact I was being treated a specific way by virtue of my gender not being easily identifiable is of course a feminist issue, but I was shocked into action by the constant sexism that I was seeing and hearing now that as a man I am essentially invisible. After only months on testosterone, people started treating me differently in a way that I still struggle to describe. I was being looked at less, but seen more. I was addressed first when out with female friends, physically related to differently by people. Turns out that people think I’m a man; and maybe that was part of the point of medical transition. But now I’ve come face-to-face what people think that being a man means, I’m not ok with it; nor am I ok with taking advantage of male privilege to get things that other people can’t.

So the only thing to do was to refuse to be complicit, to start calling people out, and to check my privilege while I was at it. It was difficult to figure out the balance at first, the world now being so weighted towards me that much less force was needed to make the same point. I learnt this the hard way the first time I called a friend out on referring to another woman as a bitch.

People worry that FTM transition can turn people into aggressive misogynists, and it can. But it doesn’t have to. Medical transition tried to invite me into a club that not only did I not want to be a member of, but that having seen up close I was now even more intent on destroying. And that’s why I’m a militant feminist.

Comments From You

Rich // Posted 3 June 2011 at 12:53 pm

This is a really great article. However, this sentence is maybe a bit mis-judged: “I still socialise in largely queer, feminist spaces, and most of the men in my office happen to be gay, so I’ve not yet experienced spending much time in exclusively cis-male spaces.” It kind of sounds like you’re saying gay men aren’t cis-male.

Clare // Posted 3 June 2011 at 1:36 pm

Harri, thank you so so so so so much for this piece. I think your unique perspective of having seen ‘both sides of the fence’ is really insightful, and shows all the little ways in which men are treated preferably in society – even in places claiming to be equal. So many male friends of mine have absolutely no concept of what it is like to be female, and it’s such a difficult thing to articulate.

It reminds me of a fabulous drag king (their words, not mine) workshop I saw advertised a few years back which I’d love to attend – they dress you so you’ll pass & coach you on ‘male’ body language etc so you can spend an afternoon seeing the world from the other POV. Havng empathy for other people’s experiences is vital in the journey to a more respectful world, and any way we can recognise the differences is excellent.

Jess McCabe // Posted 3 June 2011 at 2:37 pm

@Rich Original post edited.

thisismytruthgirl // Posted 3 June 2011 at 3:37 pm

Hey Harri, glad to hear your medical transition is going ahead well. We met at some LGBT history month events at Leeds a couple of years ago.

>now I’ve come face-to-face what people think that being a man means

I’m always interested in what people think about this, for men or women, whether trans or cis. What does it mean to you? The current fashion is for concentrating on social aspects, but my own gender ID as female was always about the body that I lived in, and whether I was seen to be congruent physically. I had to go through the eighties transphobia when all mtf women were accused of having male privilege, something of an oxymoron when I was becoming perceived as female!

To me the big feminist challenge of being mtf was building a new identity for myself that didn’t involve buying into role stereotyped expectations of femininity, and at the same time having to fend off the bizarre projections of some who thought I should be a Boy George clone!!! Not this translesbian! Camp gay male stereotypes where something I had always kept well clear of!

So I found my individuality… I wonder how your own journey is turning out from the other direction and at least a generation further down the line?

Harri // Posted 13 June 2011 at 7:53 am

Hi, nice to hear from you again.

With the quote you mention I was really referring to the views of our society at large about what it means to be a man, not my own views on what a man is. The kinds of tropes you see used in advertising for example, or in films like The Hangover, or ‘lad mags’. So yes, I suppose I was mostly referring to social aspects of the construction of binary gender, but as I’ve said, I experienced these more when I began to present more visibly and unambiguously as ‘male’.

With regards to how I see my own man-ness, which is what I think you’re asking here, I actually don’t define as a man, though I do define as a transman. My friends and partner know that I’ll take it as an insult if they tell me I’m ‘being a man’, because of the aforementioned social construction of ‘Man’ being something I actively aspire not to be.

I’ve looked around, and it’s hard to find feminist men to act as role-models, though maybe I could investigate that a bit more and write about it in another post.

I found it very hard at first to find a kind of masculinity I wanted to inhabit, because, as I tried to say in this post, when the hormones kicked in people were forcing a certain expectation of ‘man-ness’ on to me and on to our interactions. Like you, I’m trying to build an identity for myself that doesn’t involve buying in to stereotyped expectations (and sometimes actively questions them, as I’ll explain in another post), but I also don’t think that’s unique to trans people at all.

anywavewilldo // Posted 13 June 2011 at 10:27 pm

Thanks for this interesting commentarty on gender traveling. I think there are some eloquent acccounts of becoming/being percieved as female as an adult and checking it out from a feminist perspective [notably Julia Serano] and I was glad to see a feminist account of becoming/ being percieved as more male as a feminist. I get sad about a lot of the essentialism about sex roles current in many trans discussions. I realise trans and post trans people are no more gender and sex essentialist than average but I do hope that some gendernaughts can send back transmissions about what it’s like to go into transition with full feminist sensors on.

CT // Posted 14 June 2011 at 7:08 pm

Hi Harri

I was wondering how you feel ‘race’ fits into the male privilege you have discussed in your article? I think that what is often described as ‘male privilege’ is frequently ‘white male privilege’ and, whilst I don’t mean to make any assumptions about your identity, I feel your article tacitly implies a white privilege by not qualifying the specific male privilege you have encountered. I realise this is a personal account and don’t mean to imply that you are suggesting that your experience is a universal trans male experience, but at the same time feel this omission of other facets of your identity, which are inextricably tied up with gendered experiences, is slightly at odds with the idea of checking one’s privilege.

I hope this doesn’t come across as an attack, I’m just interested in discussing this with you in relation to your article.

Jess McCabe // Posted 15 June 2011 at 12:17 pm

@CT I hope you don’t mind me jumping in here.

I definitely think it’s essential to consider privilege in an intersectional analysis, which looks beyond one single aspect of privilege/oppression.

I’m sure it wasn’t your intention, but I do feel like I need to step in and say that no-one is required to provide a full autobiography of their privilege/power/oppression experiences in order to write about a small slice of that here.

That applies even when a contributor, like Harri has done here, opens a window a bit on their own personal experiences.

Interestingly, you’ve mentioned race here, but obviously there are a multitude of factors that come into play in any one person’s experiences, such as class, that is also tied up with anyone’s gendered experience. So, actually, if the post had brought in issues of race there would still be plenty of other intersecting issues unaddressed.

Look, it’s great to bring in the question of how race intersects with gender as always. But please let’s make it about the issues.

Harri // Posted 15 June 2011 at 12:41 pm

Hi CT,

I agree with you that privilege is made up of many facets, many more than I could name and explain my relationship to even in a whole 600-word blog post.

As Jess has said, I think it’s important to look at these in an intersectional way (that is, to consider the relationships between them, as well as the discrete categories), and I would also add that it’s my opinion that an ongoing awareness of one’s privilege takes into account the fact that privilege isn’t fixed, and can change over time and dependant on context, hence not wanting to try and outline which privileges I’d be checking in the penultimate paragraph.

To clarify, though, I think that when I use ‘male privilege’ in the sentence: “But I realised that for years prior to taking testosterone I’d rarely been afforded male privilege…” the qualifier ‘male’ is justified, because my race or class, for example, hadn’t changed, but my being-perceived-as-male may have altered how people understand my inhabiting those other categories (which is the essence of intersectionality for me) and would likely have privileged me over a woman with all else being equal.

nick // Posted 15 June 2011 at 1:42 pm

Harri

interesting post.

I’ve got a couple of questions, which of course you do not have to reply to.

You’ve mentioned about not wanting to experience exclusively cis-male spaces. Why ?

What kind of ‘spaces’ do you mean ?

Also, would you now be more aware of the lack of mens health support or male victims of domestice violence support ?

To make men more aware of privelage and the rights and wrongs of mens actions , would

a M Word site be a good thing ?

As you have experienced the feminist movement , do we need a masculinist movement ?

thanks

nick

Harri // Posted 15 June 2011 at 4:12 pm

Hi Nick,

I’m pretty sure I never said I didn’t want to experience exclusively cis-male spaces, in fact, I used the qualifier ‘yet’. There are some spaces I think I would feel more or less comfortable in, though, and thus want to access or not. My concern is more about spaces where hyper-masculinity, or ‘toxic masculinity’ as some people refer to it, are the norm. One example might be men’s team sports, though before anyone jumps on me for that, there are always exceptions to every rule, and I’m sure there are men on sports teams (if not sports teams themselves) who resist hegemonic masculinity.

My awareness of domestic abuse support for men hasn’t really changed, as I’ve been pretty aware of domestic abuse provisions (or lack thereof) for quite a few years. My ex-housemate works for a DA charity, and I’m a trustee of http://lgbtdaf.org/

In terms of gender-associated health issues, I’ve actually found myself spending more time discussing issues specific to trans people, and co-wrote guidance on trans people in acute care scenarios for the Royal Free Hospital. I also find myself having conversations with trans people trying to change their gender marker with their GPs, actually advocating that they don’t, or at least that they ensure that they stay on the rosters that will mean they are invited for anatomy-specific routine health checks. I don’t have ‘male’ anatomy, so don’t require men’s health services. Getting access to those which are assumed to only be for women might be more of a problem for people in my position. If you were referring to men’s health in some other way than I’ve interpreted it, I’d be happy to address that.

I’m not sure what your vision of an ‘M Word’ site would look like, but I suggest you check out http://thetakeback.com. I love these guys.

I don’t think I’m alone in having ‘experienced the feminist movement’, I think we all experience the effects of both earlier and current feminist movements (I can’t agree that it’s a singular movement) all the time. Part of this movement should be and is to interrogate masculinity, just as it is to interrogate femininity, amongst many other things. The movement (to my knowledge) is known as feminism because its original and main aim was/is to fight for the rights of women where these are not equal or equivalent to those of men. I subscribe to a kind of feminism that is about equality and freedom for all. From that standpoint I can’t see the need for a ‘masculinist’ movement fighting for men’s rights.

Elizabeth@rosalilium // Posted 16 June 2011 at 12:12 pm

This is a really fascinating account, Harri. Thank you so much for sharing.

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