JAY HULME

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Transphobes and Trans Men

I recently talked on twitter about how transphobes interact with trans men very differently than they interact with trans women, and a lot of people expressed surprise that there was any difference at all, let alone such a marked one. I’d like to expand on that, and lay it out properly for you all.

Transphobes sit atop what is actually a deeply sexist worldview, and this is displayed in their behaviour towards trans people. They believe that trans people aren’t real - the specifics here vary, depending on the flavour of transphobe you’re dealing with, but the core of it is that they believe all trans people are “really” the gender they were assigned at birth. They also generally believe that men are dangerous predators, and thus, trans women, are dangerous predators. Conversely, they see trans men as “brainwashed victims of the patriarchy” - To transphobes, trans men are poor innocent deluded women. Being trans is something they see as fundamentally wrong, and thus we must have been coerced into it, somehow. We cannot possibly know our own minds, or be capable of living our lives on our own terms.

This is the foundation upon which transphobes behaviour towards trans people is based. Thus, they treat trans women with anger, disdain, and disgust. They see them as a “dangerous enemy” and because of this they are open with their hatred and attacks - this is what most people see, as it’s the most dramatic and bombastic approach, and the most easily condemned. This is what most people see as traditional transphobia.

The approach transphobes take towards trans men is far more insidious, and is much more difficult to explain and identify. Because transphobes see trans men as women, and because much of the political and online transphobia at the moment is perpetrated by women under the guise of “feminism”, there is a sense that trans men are misguided allies, that we are mistaken, and simply need to be welcomed back into the fold, and into womanhood itself. This welcoming seems like a kindness. It is not, and needs to be called out for what it is - a form of conversion therapy.

To achieve their aim of “converting” trans men “back” into being women, transphobes use a very interesting mix of tactics. Some of these are easily spotted - they employ negging, and “concern”, for example. They are “worried about our wellbeing” they are “upset” about how we look after transition - no matter how we look after transition - If a trans man had access to a magical machine that made him look 100% cis, down to changing his bone structure, and left no marks whatsoever, they would find something to be “upset”, “concerned” or “heartbroken” about. This is an example of how transphobes wish to deny trans men bodily autonomy - another reason why their claims of “feminism” aren’t very believable.

Transphobes share negativity towards all trans bodies, but like most things they do there are differences between their treatment of trans men and trans women. Trans women are ridiculed, openly insulted, and attacked with deeply offensive and objectifying statements. Trans men, on the other hand, are subjected to a barrage of “concern” and “upset”, all formulated to make them feel bad about themselves, but not angry at the person saying them - after all, the person saying these things is doing so out of love for the trans man, aren’t they?

The answer to that is… it’s complicated. I don’t doubt that some transphobes behave this way towards trans men out of genuine concern and even a strange sense of love - but that doesn’t make it right. Whatever the intentions behind it, the aim is still to make us cis, to convert us “back” into womanhood - to erase our trans staus. Whichever way you look at it, they’re trying to remove another trans person from the world.

These “kindnesses” that are actually attempts at conversion do not stop with the way transphobes speak about the bodies of trans men, but continue with how they speak to, and about, us, as people. I am very bad at bragging - in fact, I have my friends write CV’s and such for me, because I apparently underplay my successes too much (their words). Suffice to say, aged 22, I have a joint degree in English Literature and Journalism, a number of published solo poetry collections, am included in anthologies of poetry published by houses ranging from indie presses to big names such as Bloomsbury and Ladybird (an imprint of Penguin Random House) and have won awards including the UK’s biggest award for youth performance poetry (when I was 18), and the UK’s biggest book award for children’s poetry (when I was 21). I have also spoken in parliament, worked with NHS trusts, and consulted with organisations and charities like Amnesty International, on trans rights and representation. I would like to think that as a grown adult, with such successes, (and an actual accountant), I would be taken seriously, or at least treated with respect. This is not how transphobes work, however. As a trans man, I am, and always will be, belittled, disrespected, spoken down to, and patronised, by transphobes. After all, they think I have been brainwashed and fooled into “thinking I’m a man” what could I possibly know? What value could my words or experience possibly have? This is the same with all trans men. No matter how old they are, they are treated like children by transphobes.

This is, again, anti-feminist - the idea that trans men are just foolish women whose words cannot have any value is deeply troubling, and mirrors partiarchal behaviours towards “silly girls”, no matter how old or how accomplished the women in question actually are.

The exceptions to this type of behaviour come when a trans man proves themselves unconvertable. Once a trans man calls a transphobe out for their fake concern, they often begin to use a similar style of hatred and vitriol towards them as they would use towards a trans woman, but it seems more confused. Without their treasured ideology of “this is a dangerous man faking womanhood for nefarious means” to back up their transphobia, unless you are very unlucky (which I often am), they drop away pretty quickly.

There is another aspect to the way transphobes treat trans men which is altogether more uncomfortable, and that is what I like to call the “butch lesbian fallacy”. There is an idea, in transphobic circles, that trans men are all confused butch lesbians. How this works varies from circle to circle. Some think we are “self-hating butch lesbians”, who simply need to be reassured that it’s okay to be a butch lesbian (which, of course it is! Butch lesbians are amazing! It’s just not for me - because I’m a man), and that if we could “accept” that we’re butch lesbians we would somehow “revert” back to being a cis person. On the other hand, some think we “would have been butch lesbians” but were forced into being trans, either by our parents, our friends, or some mysterious transgender cabal (I don’t think I need to point out that this is a ludicrous idea - nobody is forcing cis people to become trans, this rhetoric is a ridiculous attempt at fearmongering using the exact blueprints of the historic Gay Scare).

The obvious problem with this idea is that gay trans men exist. So do bi trans men. Pan trans men. Ace trans men. And so on. And on. And on. Trans men are as wonderfully varied as cis men - and we’re certainly not all straight. Whenever this is brought up, transphobes ignore it. So, on to the uncomfortable part of this, which is how the transphobes who believe in the “butch lesbian fallacy” speak about trans men. They speak of trans men as a “loss”, as if they were sexually entitled to us, and as if they have been wronged by us becoming sexually unavailable to them through self awareness, acceptance, and transition. This is not all transphobes, not even all lesbian transphobes, of course, just a subset of them, but it is deeply concerning - and it is deeply unfortunate that it reflects horrible stereotypes of butch lesbians as somehow dangerous and sexually demanding, as I know and love so so many butch lesbians, and none of them are like that at all, and are, in fact, horrified by these transphobes behaviour.

Female transphobes also speak often of themselves, that they “would have transitioned” they “would have been trans” - again, as if trans men are just women being forced to transition. They act as if they have some authoritative voice when it comes to trans men, because they see themselves as the “perfect grown women these trans men could have become”. It is a control thing. It is a portrayal of being trans as inherently negative. That by transitioning our lives will never be as whole or rich or full as theirs. As if we have made a mistake. As if we are missing out. The truth is that trans men are not “forced” into being trans, nobody is “transing” tomboys or lesbians. The fact that transphobes do not approve of our truths, or the lives we lead, does not give them any right to appropriate our lives, and speak as if they know of them. And the fact that we are trans, and transition, does not make us victims, or our lives somehow lesser.

At the heart of all of this is a desire among transphobes to control trans men. They obsess over our surgeries, our ages, and our presentations. The prospect of a trans man exercising his right to bodily autonomy horrifies them. They speak of trans men as “girls” even when we’re well into our twenties, and even beyond, and if they are older than us, or parents, they use age and/or motherhood as a form of rank - “I know better than you” - to silence us, belittle us, and undermine us - even as we speak about our own lives and experiences.  Transphobes wish to sensationalise our experiences, to make other trans men too scared to come out, or transition. They speak of “testosterone poisoning” (having normal male levels of testosterone in our bodies and maybe growing facial hair), of “mutilation” of “hacking off healthy body tissue” - they care more about the sexist ideal of the perfect untouched female form, than about the people whose bodies they actually are.

Transphobes desperately want trans men to think they are on our side. But they are not. To transphobes, a well informed, successful, confident trans man is a problem that rocks the very core of their ideology - that all “trans issues” are just entitled overly sexualised creepy men attempting to appropriate womanhood to the detriment of “real women”. Simply by existing, trans men, form a hole in this ideological framework they can never close. This is why they try so hard to convert us. To undermine our voices and experiences. To make us seem silly, childish, brainwashed, or uninformed. We are a problem.

Keep being a problem, fellow trans guys. You’re doing great.