Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Trans men

I got involved in a discussion yesterday evening concerning the reported distrust between a trans men's organisation and a trans women's organisation, both of them being Brighton-based. It apparently stemmed from misgendering remarks made by certain trans women to trans men. There was also a complaint that no (or very few) trans women take any interest at all in initiatives promoted by trans men. To which there was a counter-complaint that when trans women promote an event, no (or very few) trans men ever turn up. This despite the aim being to include everyone on the trans spectrum, inclusion being the watchword.

Brighton, of all cities in the UK, must be the one most geared up to the recognition and acceptance of transgender persons in general. But all that rests on the various transgender organisations in the city agreeing on a united agenda, speaking with a united voice, and demonstrating their solidarity by eagerly attending each others meetings and events. Disagreements and distrust between major groupings on the transgender spectrum just imply disunity. And that jeopardises goodwill, funding and positive support from the local council, the NHS, the police, the responsible media, and the Brighton business community.

The protest was made that this state of affairs should not be. What could be done, as a matter of urgency, to restore the lost trust?

That's a question I am not well-equipped to answer. I say that because I don't know much about trans men. I thought I did. But thinking about it, I realise now that I don't - and that I've never really considered what view I do in fact take towards trans men. In this post, I work out what my attitude is, and decide whether this is going to be of any service to the cause of local transgender solidarity.

I know how I should feel. Which is that trans men are in the same position as trans women, but the other way around. That is, persons who look like girls or women but who know and feel that they are really male, and should be boys or men. That in fact they are just male persons, full stop.

But there are some complications. Here are just three:

# Society in general deplores the loss of beauty, and so takes particular exception to 'pretty girls' turning themselves into 'hairy blokes'. It disturbs people much more than the transformation of 'hairy blokes' into 'pretty girls', and a trans man therefore has this extra resistance to overcome.

# The multi-stage surgery required is much more difficult to accomplish, and a lot more expensive. It requires dedication and fortitude.

# If the trans man has already become a mother before transitioning, then the vital importance of that social role may stand in the way of transitioning at all. I think motherhood must be a lot harder to relinquish than fatherhood - although I say this from a gut feeling only, and not from personal experience.

It certainly seems very clear that if trans women face problems, then trans men face many more. Yes, I do feel wonder at the drive and determination of a trans man who successfully gets through his version of The Process. It's admirable.

But how do I feel about trans men as social beings?

I know of several trans men, and occasionally meet them, and talk with them, in company. One thing is always uppermost in my mind as I speak with them. As much as I may enjoy the conversation, they are different from me. They are men. And socially speaking, the fact that they are men shapes my reaction to them much more than our both being on the same transgender spectrum. There's not much sense of being in the same boat. There should be, but there isn't. I find myself regarding them as I would regard an ordinary man. In other words, if they are cheerful and engaging, and contribute a lot to the conversation in a fun way, then they seem attractive and interesting. If they seem preoccupied, bored, moody or aggressive, then, as I would with any man who was like that, I don't want to be anything more than polite to them, and certainly I'd make no effort to encourage them.

So, would I go to a trans men's meeting, or at any rate a meeting organised and dominated by trans men? To which the natural reply seems to be: as a woman, why would I want to? If there was a trans man there whose company I hankered after, then yes, I might turn up. Otherwise, it would seem to be just a stag event, and I can't see why I'd be interested in going. I think I'm saying that (to me) the trans man's world seems quite separate from the trans woman's world - just as the ordinary man's world seems quite separate from the ordinary woman's world - and it's only personal interest that bridges the gap.

I dare say that a lot of trans people would think my attitude lacking in a proper sense of group responsibility. They would tell me that I should seek out and encourage exchanges with trans men for idealogical reasons, not just personal ones. At an idealogical level, they are surely right. But I am no idealist. It seems forced and dishonest to express an interest or affinity unless there is a personal reason behind that.

I do see that this is unhelpful to anyone wanting to repair local breaches between trans men and trans women, and foster exchanges between them. I am however only weakly interested in men, and not at all interested in making one a partner; and so likewise I am unlikely to seek any kind of relationship with a trans man, and will therefore, by default, exclude myself from all but accidental encounters with one. This flows straightforwardly from regarding trans men as men, and nothing else.

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