Toronto
6 min

Mutual trans actions

Xtra hosts an e-mail discussion on female-to-males, feminism and misogyny

KYLE SCANLON. Wouldn't give up his 'mones. Credit: Joshua Meles

This discussion between Kyle Scanlon and Gillian Morton is just the tip of the iceberg – literally and figuratively.



The words on this page account for about 10 percent of their e-mail exchanges in the last week of August. The entire discussion, plus opportunities for readers to continue the discussion, is available byclicking here.



The words here also account for only a few of the opinions that emerge when we start talking about how transexual and transgendered boys and men relate to the queer community.



The topic can be a sensitive one. Trans activists are becoming increasingly vocal in challenging how they’re represented. That hasn’t prevented some critics from calling female-to-male (FTM) transexual and transgendered men misogynistic and misguided.



For the discussion, we asked Kyle and Gillian to set any politically-correct inhibitions aside. Kyle writes a weekly column for Queer Television’s website (www.qtonline.com). Gillian is on sabbatical from her job as coordinator of the University Of Toronto’s Women’s Centre. Paul Gallant is Xtra’s features editor.



From: PAUL GALLANT



As we hear more and more about women having surgery to remove their breasts and are taking hormones that make them more masculine, I’m wondering if you would identify this as a trend? Are these individuals transexual in the sense that the mainstream has come to understand: men trapped in women’s bodies?



From: KYLE SCANLON



People who were born in female bodies and decide to take hormones or have surgeries can generally fit into two groups: FTM transgendered or FTM transexual. Whether the former of these groups identify unproblematically as women is up for debate, but the latter group certainly does not.



As for the “man trapped in a woman’s body” thing, any bio-genetic woman can walk into a plastic surgeon’s office and get a boob job. Do we say she is a large-breasted woman trapped in the body of a flat-chested girl? No. She’s just bringing her body in line with her own vision of herself. Trans-identified people contemplating surgeries and hormones are simply externalizing their internal visions of their identity.



There are a number of trans folks who are fortunate enough, though, not to need to externalize their self-image. Their self-identification is strong enough that they are content to live without hormones or surgeries. I applaud and admire them. But personally, I like my ‘mones.



From: GILLIAN MORTON



Modifying our bodies to fit some idea about who we are “in our minds” is nothing new. What seems relatively recent is the increased public awareness of medical technologies (surgery, hormones), and awareness about when to use them and why people might want to. I think that ideas have changed much more quickly in LGBTQ communities, at least in the out and well-educated segments.



From: KYLE SCANLON



Gillian, I have to challenge your statement about how ideas have changed more quickly in the LGBTQ communities.



As a person who works within the queer community, I can tell you that some of the most fiery dissent faced by trans people comes from within. I’ve heard some fascinating things come out of the mouths of a few lesbian feminists. For instance: Transexual women are “Frankenstein creations trying to infiltrate women’s safe spaces” and transexual men are “misogynist, self-loathing lesbians with internalized homophobia who seek male privilege.”



From GILLIAN MORTON



I don’t agree with those statements, but I can take a stab at accounting for them.



First of all, there’s always been an anti-male and anti-masculine strand of thought running through feminism, and to some extent through queer theory. So some feminists ponder why women would want to be more masculine or like men – if that is what being a boy or FTM is about. And they leap to the conclusion that it’s about getting more power in a sexist society, and about internalizing the white, middle class, masculinist culture’s contempt of and hatred for women.



This can be interpreted as a kind of misogyny, if it’s put forward that the problem is being lesbian and feminist, rather than an issue of poor political processes and thinking.



From: KYLE SCANLON



Secretly, I’m amused by that whole notion that FTMs are going to gain privilege as trans men. Yes, I admit, there will be the odd occasion when a bank teller offers me some moment of privilege because I am perceived as male. But male privilege is not simply those moments of favour granted to a man, but the fact that he accepts it unquestioningly.



Let’s be honest: there isn’t an FTM in the world who could spend a whole life in a female body, experience oppression because of it, proceed through transition, begin to gain certain privileges and accept them without any question.



I used to consider myself a transgendered dyke. I had a whole bunch of assumptions. I used to think, “those transexuals, they’re just buying into society’s binary system. They’re copping out. They think that a person who is masculine has to be a man, and a person who is feminine has to be a woman.”



I was so self-righteous until I realized I was wrong about all those assumptions. Why would women want to be more masculine or like men? Well, they don’t. Transexuals aren’t buying into anything. They aren’t changing their bodies because they think they’re too feminine to be men or too masculine to be women. They’re changing their bodies because they believe their bodies as wrong.



From: GILLIAN MORTON



I tend to think of gender as between my ears. If the need for hormones and surgery has to do with the desire to influence how others perceive our gender, does that mean that our self-identification is weaker?



When you quoted that feminist who denounced transgendered people as freaks, it reminded me that some young women I know want to take that freak label and celebrate, perform and reclaim it, in part by identifying as boys.



Sometimes I worry that the Tragic TS/TG stereotype has replaced the Suffering Drag Queen in popular culture.



From: KYLE SCANLON



Yes! Let’s tear apart the construct of the Tragic TS/TG person.



For one, Stonewall, though it’s often believed to be the moment in time which sparked the beginning of the gay liberation movement, was in fact all about transexual and transgender liberation. These drag queens and butches were being harassed and brutalized by cops because they were gender outlaws, and finally, they fought back.



TS/TG people have been active in queer liberation right from the start. At one point in history, queer people stayed closeted about their identities out of fear and shame. Then, slowly, people began to open up and fight for their rights. Little by little, gays, lesbians and bisexuals went from being the suicidal characters on an ABC after-school special to being the well-rounded leads in sitcoms.



And now it’s trans people who are taking a turn at being centre stage.



From: GILLIAN MORTON



A transgendered boy I know complained to me recently that most femme lesbians don’t seem to understand the differences between TG boys and lesbian butches, and this makes socializing awkward and painful.



Another dyke I know mentioned that she’s actually seeing a revival of butch and femme in the Toronto lesbian scene, and she attributes this to an increasing interest in TS/TG people. It has a kind of flavour-of-the-month feel to it. Are you finding yourself a stunningly desirable item in queer bars these days?



From: KYLE SCANLON



There is a great deal of dissent about the validity of someone who is, in slang terms, a tranny-chaser. A tranny-chaser is a person who goes out of their way to date transexuals.



Some say it’s a fetish. And most people would feel cheapened at being fetishized.



There are some people who have decided that their attraction to transexuals does not mean they have a fetish, and they have thrown out that slangy tranny-chaser label. They call themselves trans-sensuals, to indicate their level of sensual attraction to trans-identified individuals.



And I’d want to date someone who identified as trans-sensual. I want to be desired as a man and as an FTM transexual. I want someone who thinks I’m sexy on all counts.



In some ways I believe it’s the partners of transexuals who have the most difficult time. Many significant others of trans men have felt frustrated at suddenly becoming invisible as queers. When they are out in public with their partner, they are suddenly perceived as being a het couple, and they get sneered at if they try to attend the dyke bars and dances.



From: GILLIAN MORTON



There seems to be a number of people who would ideally like surgery but can’t afford it. Is there any organizing attempt to address this issue in LGBTQ communities or with the government? Is there a greater interest in passing, or is that just a community stereotype?



From: KYLE SCANLON



There is definitely stratification based on race, ethnicity and class. Class can play a huge role in determining how trans issues are broached.



For instance, many affluent TS/TG people have argued against the inclusion of gender dysphoria as a psychiatric label. They say that they should not have to be labelled as having a psychiatric disorder simply because of their gender construction.



Yet, for many impoverished TS/TG people, having gender dysphoria included in the main psychiatric diagnostic guide (DSM IV) may be the only way to force health insurance plans to cover the costs of transition.



You ask if the goal is to pass. I’d have to say passing is an element of it all, of course, but it’s not the primary goal. My primary goal is to be able to see myself as male as possible. I’ve always said that even if I was the last human being on the planet – and even if there were no mirrors – I’d still be taking my twice monthly injections of testosterone. Because it’s who I am.