A one-time friend, who is not obviously wicked, looks at a trans man. He writes,
I don’t have any issue with this person cross dressing, or going further if they want.
Nor that they want to call themselves a man, use a man’s name…. want to identify themselves as a man, (i.e. if they look in a mirror and say… “that’s a man”)… and want to play being a man. I don’t see any issue.
Unfortuntely this person also wants me to experience them and identify them as a man.
I would dearly love to, as it means much to them, and it (i can see) would make them happy.
Sadly… I just don’t.
It’s not that I can’t experience them as a man (it’s not about ability),
nor that I won’t experience them as a man (it’s not about will)
It’s just that I… don’t.
M shows minimal levels of tolerance. “I don’t have any issue”- you’d better not. Objecting to the trans man using a man’s name, etc, is like objecting to a woman wearing a mini skirt, or flats: imposing his own standard of morality on how the trans man expresses himself. Some trans people like neutral pronouns, but if the man wants to be called “he”, using “them” is below the standard of courtesy I would expect.
However M uses “they”. Why? Both to honour their preference to no longer identify as their birth gender, but also and at the same time honour and validate my own experience (when I don’t experience someone as a gender other than their birth gender). Oh, God. He claims the right to define the other.
I am not sure I understand M’s lines about ability or will. If I look at a black man and see him as different to ordinary people and then feel intensely uncomfortable around my own racism, and seek to treat him reasonably and suppress my seeing him as different- the conscious effort to accept, while better than intolerance, is still racism. I can control how I respond, to an extent. I can avoid voicing objections.
M would accept a black man, I assume. I don’t accuse him of racism, even the smallest internal vestige of it- but he is forced to say this is different. The trans man is not a man, so we should treat him differently from men. Or M suffers some loss: “This has changed the safety of the [men’s] space for” him. Aha. So now we have a conflict of rights, rather than a failure to accept another human being as he is. See the winsome way he expresses that: I’m not threatened by the person. I do feel that the person’s presence in that space has broken the nature of what I had previously gone to that space to find.
You don’t have to like everyone but disapproving of their way of dressing, or not recognising their change of name, is claiming a right to define them in a way they reject. If you want to define another person you had better have good arguments why that is appropriate. I include refusing to accept their choice of pronouns in that right they have to self-define.
Do you want other people to see them in the same way? On Friday night I discussed a man over the phone. I had not met him, but my friend warned he behaved in a disconcerting way around older women, and I take her suspicions seriously and feel she has a right to tell me. If I meet him I will make my own judgment. But again, if you warn others against a person or want them to feel the same way about that person, you should have a good reason for that.
There are times when I DO experience someone as other than their birth gender (usually through error but sometimes because they are more successfully presenting as their transgender’d self than some do and haven’t yet outed their own previous “status”). i.e. I’m convinced and have bought into their presentation. This is passing privilege. We can be accepted as we are as long as we give no clue of our history- so we can never talk of it, never use a male voice for emphasis or provocation, we are constrained into the cliché way of being a woman. Once outed, we trans women are known as men. Then you judge us on the way we look, and feel deceived if you find us out.
M says he wants to see the trans man as a man, but just does not.
This trans man wants to go to a men’s group. What does a men’s group have in common, exactly? If M is happy to have me there, it has to be something which I share: perhaps a Y chromosome, or some experience, or lack of it. Women’s experience of patriarchy might bring them together: what brings men that includes me? And- why do men attend a man’s group? For practice recognising man’s emotions, or expressing in a man’s way- for stretching that expression? Learning how to be a man now, or unlearning old lessons?
Maybe I should try a men’s group. I don’t see, though, how the trans man can alter the group’s nature in a way that I can’t- in the things people say or do, in the arguments or feelings- except that his going changes the definition of “man” from one not recognising the reality or value of trans, to one that does. It changes M’s definition of “man” to a broader one M has not consented to.
I said I would blog about this. We had been messaging back and forth. This surprises him. Well, like everyone else I am trying to navigate the impossibility of “being myself” and “fitting in”. I can’t be certain it is more difficult for me than for anyone else, but I know from experience my own desperation to fit a particular kind of Manliness- it certainly felt taboo to permit myself, as a man, the feelings I felt- then the feeling that my way of being was grudgingly accepted when I call myself by a woman’s name. I got a passport saying “F” when a doctor certified I would probably present female for the rest of my life: if I fitted the State-defined idea of “trans woman” I would be acceptable. But M does not accept that. I feel erased. It feels like we are discussing his right to erase me. It does not make it any better, from my perspective, that he wants to make the trans man happy. I am trying to be reasonable and respectful, but I feel intensely uncomfortable.
It’s all about him- his perceptions, his feelings, his loss. I find it hard to see that he has a loss beyond a slight discomfort at the man’s presence in his man’s group. He has made much of it, but really could just say, “Oh, OK then” and think of something else. Any man in the men’s group may change its dynamic in ways he dislikes. We are never in control, and that might make him more eager to exclude the trans man- just in this moment, when he can make some sort of rational-sounding argument, he can exclude the trans man, exercise some sort of control, and feel better, however bad he makes others feel.
To an extent, I don’t care for myself. I am a man- a woman- both- neither- whatever- Clare. I don’t need you to see me in a particular way to feel good about myself. But others of us do. It can really hurt. And he could behave courteously to trans people. That he does not feel the need enough to actually do it is unpleasant.