Guest Post: Internal Identity vs Social Perception vs Feminism

Why hello there!

My name’s Eli, and I’m the dude behind My Life Without Tits. Sophia asked for a guest blogger, and so here I am.  I won’t bother you with a run-down of who I am, but if you’re interested you can find my public bio here.

Sophia has been so kind as to give me carte blanche when it comes to topics for this post.  I went back and forth, considering some of my favorites, Chicago (my home), poetry (my livelong passion), trans stuff (for obvious reasons), and 90s music (I was in my teens and twenties then, and so have many fond memories of growing up with that music).

But ultimately, I came to rest on the topic of feminism and the trans man, as it is plainly of interest to me, and presumably of interest to you.  So let’s dig in!

I was at work the other day, and a friend asked me what was new.  The following convo ensued:

Pal: What’s new Eli?

Eli: Not much.  Actually, I’m writing a guest blog for another WP writer.

Pal: What’s the topic?

Eli: Well, her blog centers around feminism, so likely something to do with that.

Pal (now bug-eyed and alarmed): Oh no, Eli, you’re a dude now, and dude’s have nothing to say about feminism!

fin

My work chum was being a bit facetious, but there, in the air between one straight white dude and another, hung a note of truth.  Traditionally, straight white dudes are thought to have nothing substantial to add to conversations about feminism.  Of course there are plenty of guys out there that are feminists, in that they believe women to be their equals, believe in equal pay and in the autonomy of a woman’s body, etc., etc.  But I am getting ahead of myself.  Socially, I’ve only been a guy for about a year now.

For 30 years I was a woman, a gay woman, a self-identified dyke: the scariest and most feminist of all the feminists.  I was in the Vagina Monologues three years running, I gave money to Planned Parenthood.  I took a reading and writing sexuality course in college.  I might not have been Gloria Steinem, but at least I knew who she was.  I guess my point is that I identified as female, was treated as female, and was proud of it.

Well, publicly identified as female.

And uh, was kinda proud of it.

It was complicated, as gender can be.  I firmly believed (and still do) in woman’s equality and autonomy.  And I identified with that struggle in that I knew I was just as capable as my male counterparts.  But I believed it because I saw myself as male.  And now that my outsides are starting to match my insides, it does not change my politics or beliefs.  It does, however, change how people perceive my politics and beliefs.

My work friend’s comment points out not so much the false belief that men have no role to play in feminist politics, on the contrary, I imagine just like gay people can’t legislate rights in their favor without the straight vote, women can’t put in place equal pay structures or health care reform without men working along side them.  Until we’re all on the same page, we never going to make lasting positive changes for women’s equality.  But that’s actually beside my point.  What my friend points out is that by writing about feminism I am outing myself again: as a turncoat, a traitor, a dude playing for the other team.  But this time it’s not about homosexuality, it’s about gender allegiance.

And so as trans men, we face the dilemma: do we work to stay true to ourselves, and risk being denied access to the boy’s club we have so longed for and know ourselves as rightful members of, or do we go with the patriarchal flow and laugh along at the locker room jokes we know to be sexist?  Of course there’s middle ground to be had, and made, and found: we trans folks are just the people to do it, too.  We know what it feels like to be seen as the other sex.  I can’t speak for every trans guy, but I didn’t have dysphoria to the degree that many of my comrades did.  I was “ok” being seen as a girl, because I live in a culture where I could butch it up, wear jeans every day, cut my hair short, date women, and that was “good enough” for a long time.  But “good enough” was never gonna last forever, and so I came out and have felt more at home in my body than ever before.  But this new body comes with some ugly baggage: if I get to use the privileges, I get to be seen as the oppressor, too.

I use the men’s room now, I am called sir, and when I ring up male customers I feel a new sense of camaraderie I have never been privy to before.  And it feels good.  It’s incredible just to have a guy say to me, “thanks buddy,” or “have a good one, man” and know he saw me how I see me.  I walk with my chin up for the first time in three decades.  I am proud of my body, of myself, to a degree never before understood, and I have a feeling this is just the beginning.  I am taken more seriously over the phone and have a confidence building I didn’t know existed.  But all these positive changes exact a cost.  Female customers don’t joke around with me like they used to.  They (frequently) don’t make eye contact with me when I ask them questions.  And I am very aware of making no physical contact with them, save a VERY gentle touch on the shoulder to address them from behind.  Of course this is commonplace public civility, but the comfort I felt with them before testosterone is gone.  Meanwhile, in my brain, I’m the same person.  It’s difficult terrain to navigate.

So where does this leave me?  The middle, I guess.  And I’m starting to realize there’s goodness and a power to be found in the middle.  So many people strive to conform to the traditional “masculine” male and “feminine” female figures that we have a hard time communicating between the two.  Do I want the camaraderie and kinship to be had in the locker room? Yes.  Do I have to accept the misogyny along with it?  Yes, yes I do because historically, men have been misogynistic.  That’s the facts.  That is the current situation.  But it doesn’t have to be the future.  Trans men can make the mistake of noting the perks of being male and accepting them wholeheartedly, hook, line, and sexist sinker.  On some days I hear more sexist things come out of trans guys mouths than cis- guys.  We’re trying to play the role, trying to prove our masculinity.  If we want to retain all the good qualities of ourselves we nurtured in our female bodies, and still be seen as men, if we want to be feminists who aren’t scoffed at, we have to write a new male history, and that starts with being true to ourselves.  Being a man means being honest and using your brain.  When we mimic men without thinking, we’re just being dicks.

Thanks for having me over, Sophia.  And thank you, readers, for making it this far.

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

 

Sophia’s note: Eli asked me to come up with a title for this post. I wanted to come up with something witty but that’s not really my strong suit. Thank you so much to Eli for taking me up on my offer to guest post (which, by the way, still stands for everyone interested 😉 ) His blog, again, can be found here.

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