Monday, October 10, 2016

Have Trans Men Really Been Left Behind?

I've been having a hard time finding the motivation to write here lately (obviously) but you ever run into something that just makes you so mad that you need to vent.  Today it was Aydian Dowling's piece on NBC Out, "The Invisible Man: Why Have Transmen Been Left Behind?" in which Dowling laments the lack of household names in the transgender male community when the trans female community has oh so many.  I mean, Laverne Cox was on a magazine cover!

The article is about trans male invisibility, which for the record I think is an important issue, just not in the way trans men typically express it.  When we talk about trans male invisibility, we're really tempted to talk about it in comparison to trans women, basically lamenting that they get all the press and nobody knows that we exist.  This is, by the way, the entirely wrong way to go about it.  And I'm telling you that as somebody who began transition at a time when transgender support was almost exclusively dedicated to trans women. Support groups were all trans women and male crossdressers.  There were transgender programs that were entirely different for trans men than trans women, with trans men's therapy being more expensive.  I have very deeply ingrained trauma from that period of my life that makes it very easy for me to slip into the whole "but what about me?" mindset from time to time.  He might have had half a point ten years ago.

The only problem?  It's 2016 now.  And he's both insensitive and inaccurate, but more importantly, he's inaccurate for insensitive reasons.

The first thing that made my jaw agape for a while was this excerpt in which Dowling inexplicably seems to have only looked back as far as 2014, which is something I'd expect from a 13 year old looking forward to puberty blockers who doesn't remember shit because he wasn't around, not a grown adult man who has been in the community for years:
It seems the only household names in the transgender community are all transwomen. This is part of our mainstream media in 2016 and has been around since the famous 2014 TIME magazine cover with Laverne Cox -- one that everyone in the transgender community is proud of.
I want to remind you first of all that the reason Aydian Dowling is himself a household name is because he was in a high-profile contest to get on the cover of Men's Health, and although he didn't win, he was still on a cover and generated loads of press.  So what the hell is he even bringing up Laverne Cox for?  Would he rather Time had put a white trans dude on their cover?

But just as importantly, it's just flat out inaccurate to say that trans men aren't being represented fairly when the trans community is brought up.  Trans men and especially white trans men have spent years trying to horn our way into issues that statistically don't have too much to do with us, which not only is appropriative bullshit, it also means that when there are issues that do affect us significantly (and many of them absolutely do), it's easy to just dismiss us as trying to take needed resources from trans women yet again.  But even if we avoid thinking about that awful history, the idea that there's nothing out there relating to trans men and scores of media about trans women is just false, and has been for years.  To quote Dowling again:
"We are out there, and I believe as time goes by and more people come out and share their stories, you will hear more about us!" I always answered this question with clear affirmation and hope. I thought by sharing my story and sharing the stories of other transmen, we would surely have a few household names of transmen. But other than Chaz Bono, the general public barely knows we exist.
Yes, Chaz Bono is probably the first person cis people think about when trans men are brought up, but if you think he's the only trans man generating press, being talked about around dinner tables, or whatever, you're not paying enough attention to talk about this issue at all.

It wasn't that long ago that Thomas Beatie made headlines, and every time another high profile trans guy gets pregnant my family will show up shortly after to try shaming me into giving birth yet again.  They do this because now they know that giving birth is a thing that trans men can and sometimes will do.  Modern Family cast trans boy actor Jackson Millarker to play a trans boy in the show.  Most of the school bathroom incidents that have been plaguing our nation have involved trans boys like Cody Zitek and Ash WhittakerBuck Angel, the porn star, is as household a name as a porn star can be.  A number of children of celebrities are also trans boys and men, like Jay Kelly, Stephen Ira, and the aforementioned Chaz Bono.  I swear I saw Rocco Kayiatos as a talking head in Buzzfeed videos, and they recently just posted a video all about trans men.  And you know, when Dowling's attempt at getting on Men's Health was still going on, I heard about that shit everywhere.  Yes, I'm probably more aware of these people because I live in a social trans bubble of sorts, but Dowling lives in that same damn bubble so I don't know where he's getting the idea that the only trans man getting press is Chaz Bono.

The latest news about trans women I've heard?  Another cis man gets hired to play one, people make shitty jokes about Caitlyn Jenner, and another one was brutally murdered.  That's the amazing content of media coverage trans women get.  There are certainly some happy stories about trans women, with Laverne Cox and Janet Mock and the Wachowskis and Julia Scotti and others, and trans girls are also fighting the bathroom fight as much as boys are, but the proportion of happy stories or stories of action compared to those of horrible abuses is just not equal.  Trans men like Dowling and myself don't see a constant barrage of articles featuring people who look like ourselves being brutally murdered (and quite frankly a lot of white trans men act like Brandon Teena's murder is an everlastingly topical event).  And when we do see a trans man getting murdered, it's usually a trans man of color, the same story for all trans people.  Even where we are statistically more at risk for a thing (like suicide, for instance), trans women are still heavily affected by it.

You know how yesterday during the presidential debate Donald Trump kept pissing and moaning about how he thought the moderators gave Hillary Clinton more time to talk than him, and then people ran the numbers and found that he actually talked more than her?  Don't act like trans men don't do that shit, too.

Finally, when it comes to invisibility, it's irresponsible to talk about this like a fight for representation between trans women and trans men.  Trans women need more rather than less representation, and we cannot be trying to get more representation at their expense.  What we need is more representation among men.  Ironically, this is what Dowling is currently most famous for... getting his story and face in a publication dominated by cis men.  That's the type of trans male representation we need.  Because it's not trans women who are taking the limelight from us, it's cis people who decide what kinds of stories they find interesting enough to greenlight them to mainstream status.

Where trans men really are underrepresented in trans discourse it's absolutely not people like Dowling, who is famous for being trans while also being an attractive white man.  It's trans men of color, trans men who can't access medical care, disabled trans men, and others who are not even getting proper representation within the trans male community itself.

And where cis people do give trans women more representation?  It's usually shitty representation, not something we should somehow be envious about.  Yes, there's a history, going back, of trans men not getting support because the trans community was viewed as a block of 99% trans women and like two dudes, and like I said folks like me who lived through part of that may still have a lot of baggage relating to it, but it doesn't excuse trash like what Aydian Dowling just wrote that does nothing but blame trans women for a problem cis people made and ignore disparities that do not disadvantage us at all.