Trans* people might be more visible in the media, but our core issues are not.
by E.J. Dávila •
The day to day negotiations of being a transgender person come in spaces where categorization of behavior and physical look presupposes a particular sex (genitalia) difference. This is then sustained and policed in various ways via white patriarchy (and by extension racism and misogyny), consumerism (ie: clothing and toys divided by gendered “interests”, cosmetics that presuppose body types, etc), all of which is reinforced by the various institutions employed by capitalism. These particular public arrangements of gender, by design, leave little space to challenge the rigidity of gender expression without the challenge itself be seen as crossing over to the “other” gender, even when those understandings of one’s self and desires aligns with the “other” gender.
South African FTM Leo recounts a time in his youth in which he felt this pressure from the public sphere so strongly that he deliberately performed bad at sports once achieving a high rank to avoid the traveling that would be required to compete at such a high level:
“Going to unknown and meeting unfamiliar people was too traumatic for me. All I wanted to do was stay home where I felt comfortable and safe 1.”
He continues to describe his experience at school:
“Everyone perceived me as a girl and because of my physical body I knew I wasn’t a boy. That distressed me because in my mind it was a big mistake, and I was too afraid to tell anyone these feelings. I used to see myself as boy in my dreams and imagination. I wished that I could be born again or that I would just wake up one day realizing that I had turned into a boy…Every time I was invited to a social event or party I felt the pressure to dress as was expected of me. I felt very awkward and ugly and was convinced that everybody could see this as well. It was a nightmare for me to go to the school’s farewell or to any school events 1.”
The concept of transgressing socially constructed gender boundaries is completely disconnected from the actual lived, day-to-day experiences of trans people. The material, discursive, and institutional locations of trans* people is severely unaccounted for in queer and feminist literature. There is an inherent sense of self that well precedes the process and actions of “transitioning” gender. José Esteban Muñoz uses the term disidentification to describe the survival strategies the minority subject practices in order to negotiate a phobic majoritian public sphere that continuously elides or punishes the existence of subjects who do not conform to the phantasm of normative citizenship 2. I would like to think of gender transitioning – in its physical, social, and person processes – as disidentification. This particularly applies to trans men who opt for hormones, surgeries, and other “stereotypical” male aesthetics. While these processes are argued to be self-destructive, colonial, and even counterproductive, they are simultaneously survival methods from both the violent, phobic public sphere and the deep, debilitating dysphoria experienced by the transitioning person.
Despite the acronym “FTM” (female-to-male) used to refer to transgender men, there is not a sense of “turning into a man”. There is already an internalized sense of manhood, both in its physical imaginary and interpersonal relationships/interactions, as well as the position of that individual to the idea of that man combined with the inner sense of “not woman”. This, however, does not necessarily translate into “hyper masculine” ideas and desires of manhood when met with a sense of “not feeling like a woman”. Butch women can be “masculine” in every sense possible yet still have an intrinsic sense of, pride, and comfort in being a woman and seen as a woman. “Not a woman” does not mean masculine, and equating the two would dangerously erase all the genderqueers, the patos, the bois, and other gender-variant bodies who simultaneously are FTM. This is crucial in understanding FTMs, and I suggest is a possible distinction between FTMs and butch women.
This can be even further interrogated by asking “what does it mean to feel like a woman/man?” or “what is a woman/man?”. These are questions gender, feminist, and queer already focus on, and finding where trans people stand in regard to those questions has been repeatedly attempted. While these questions are both ones I am trying to contribute answers to and are helpful in theoretically dissecting and identifying the areas of life gender occupies, they are the wrong questions to ask when it comes to trans people. They have little application and benefit to the lives of trans people, and at the end of the day tend to water down and reduce trans identities to nothing but erotic desires of privilege and body-hating instead of validating their experiences under the premise that gender is not biological. This troubling contradiction exhibits that there is a much more intricate and complex account of conflicting, multiple hierarchies of access, exclusion, and authority in place that both constructs and distinguishes transgender, queer, butch, and other gendered ways of being.
1. Morgan, Ruth, Charl Marais, and Joy Rosemary. Wellbeloved. Trans: Transgender Life Stories from South Africa. Auckland Park, South Africa: Jacana Media, 2009. Print.
2. Muñoz, José Esteban. Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 1999. Print.
by E.J. Dávila •
by E.J. Dávila •
The northeastern region of the United States is home to literally millions of Latina/os and many of them are Boricua. According to a Pew statistic, 52% of Latina/os in the Eastern part of the U.S. are Puerto Rican. Now there aren’t any statistics on how many of them are also trans*, but I am one of them.
Now I’m not about to give you some sappy article about my transitioning “story” and all the highs and lows of this experience so far. That is not really important compared to the severe lack of access to trans* related medical care, especially within communities of color. For that reason, I want to give you the mechanical part of my journey that starts from before I even knew how to get hormones to today, August 5 – when I am almost 6 months on testosterone (and broke, unemployed, and brown) – in an effort to give those out there some hope, information, stories of experience, and hopefully guidance.
In early 2013, I “came out” (blah) but I was not sure what I meant by wanting to transition other than knowing I wanted to live as a man.
I communicated these feelings to my partner at the time and began living as a man. My partner’s sorority sister had an ex-boyfriend who is “Female-to-Male” (FTM), and she told me about a place in Philly. But at the time I didn’t know what it was called: later she informed that it was the Mazzoni Center (located at 809 Locust Street).
She told me that she was not exactly sure how it worked but that her partner was able to get testosterone at a low cost WITHOUT seeing a psychologist or anything like that by using something called informed consent – a thorough acknowledgement that the patient understands what they are about to begin (learn more about informed consent and the Mazzoni Center (MC) at their website.)
Several months went by until I finally made an appointment for early 2014. I was able to do this (as well as fill out all health forms) online using the MC’s Patient Portal, where patients can communicate with their doctors – and the center as whole – for free, as well as view and print health records.
FIRST LET ME SAY THIS PLACE IS WONDERFUL WITH THE SMALLEST OF THINGS. They have forms where you put your preferred name and call you as such. When you call them on the phone they ask for your last name and birthday instead of first name. And they are pretty much on point in every possible way in terms of rhetoric.
For trans care, you have to do both a new patient visit AND an intake appointment – THESE CAN BE DONE ON THE SAME DAY! And you should, because sometimes getting appointments can take several weeks. So get it done the same day!! But call to do this because I made the mistake and scheduled it online without knowing really how to use the website and I had to make them separate days.
So, pretty much all of these things equal a normal physical: blood work, dialogue and questions/ answers between your doctor; and also speaking with a social worker that just wants to make sure you’re relaxed and ready, as well as answer any questions you have about your plans to transition (including answers on best/ local surgeons, etc).
Theoretically, the above can be done in one day. NEXT IS THE FOLLOW-UP VISIT!
In the follow-up visit my doctor was pretty much like “Okay! You are a healthy person and your head is in the right place. Lets do this thing!”
In terms of getting access to prescriptions, the MC has some sort of magical contract with Walgreens and there is actually one LITERALLY attached to the MC. There is a doorway in the waiting room and it leads right into the entrance of the pharmacy. My doctor wrote my script for my needles and testosterone and I took it next door.
My testosterone cost me about $50 for a 3 month supply, compared to the typical $200ish+. THIS DISCOUNT IS ONLY AVAILABLE AT THE MAZZONI CENTER! It is possible that I may have even been able to get this for free if my mom’s job did not have insurance. I reiterate that the MC is strongly dedicated to providing free and low cost medical care to its patients and that includes all of its trans* patients.
I waited a little while for my prescriptions to be filled. Total cost was $60 for a supply of draw needles, injection needles, and testosterone. Not bad.
After you get your scripts filled, you head back through the door to the MC waiting room. The final step of this day is your first injection. A nurse will call your name and you will be taken back to a room where they will explain exactly how to draw up the testosterone, disinfect, where and how to inject, etc.
I freaked out from anxiety and couldn’t do it myself the first time, so she compromised and injected me, but I plunged the needle down. I freaked out. And I also freaked out the whole way out the door and then cried down the road (this is the most emotional this post will get). But it’s okay. Freaking out is okay because everything is okay.
The doctor said he wanted to see me in 3 months for more blood work. I saw him just last June, and now I don’t have to go back until 6 months (unless something is wrong).
And that is it!
Starting my ‘T’ took about 2 days out of my year, and then at most I will have 2-3 doctor visits a year back to the MC. Walgreens will setup a mail-order prescription plan with you, that way you don’t have to travel to get your hormones AND you can continue to get them for the same discounted price.
I wanted to write this because I don’t think many people in Philly and surrounding areas dont know that the MC exists. At least not the ones that need it the most. If you are a gender variant person searching for trans or queer-friendly medical care who is under financial constraints, the Mazzoni Center is definitely a place to begin looking into. I know that the location is not the closest for some – especially not Boricuas living on the island – but if you can manage to make it up to Philly just a few days out of the year, this place really may be for you.
Note: I want to assert that I am in no way a representative of the Mazzoni Center and am solely a patient who is writing on behalf of his experience.
by E.J. Dávila •
by E.J. Dávila •
This is a personal reflection of “Men: Comrades in Struggle” by bell hooks’ Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center.
bell hooks asserts that men’s participation in feminism is crucial for efforts in challenging and attempting to dismantle sexist oppression (hooks pp. 83 1984). While their participation is important, men also must “tread lightly” and recognize their place within these efforts. This is especially crucial in communities of color, where racism further subordinates women of color while erasing their struggle as both a woman and a person of color. The resistance struggle against racism—which is dominated by men—overpowers the resistance struggle against sexist oppression for Black communities. Although the dividing lines can be blurred, racial solidarity does not equate feminist solidarity, and what is liberation for Black men does not automatically extend to what is necessary for Black women’s liberation. Men must not speak for or think about women, but think with them in efforts to dismantle sexist oppression.
Although bell hooks is engaging in a feminist critique of Black men, I use “Black” here as a political identity that extends to the Puerto Rican diaspora. Black as a political identity for Boricuas rejects the Americanization and colonial influence of the island and culture–an acknowledgement of a colonial past with an anti-colonial stance on identity. I understand bell hooks arguments to be directly influenced and connected to the Puerto Rican Diaspora experience, especially being racialized as Black both in Latin America and the United States.
As a transman of color who has “successfully” transitioned through hormones and other stereotypical “masculine” changes that are visible and privilege me in being able to “pass” as a man, I am critical of my place in both feminism and male privilege.
My aesthetic reproduction of what is stereotypically male grants me all the social privileges men receive in everyday interactions. By stereotypical aesthetics, I am referring to my style of dress, my hair, and all of the physical effects testosterone has and will give me such as a deeper voice, facial hair, and larger muscle mass. From the customer service I receive, how seriously my thoughts and ideas are taken, and even passive acceptances of my behavior including blatant acts of violence towards all genders are included in my newly gained male privilege. I am aware of how infrequently I will be required to take any accountability for my actions for the rest of my life, both because of how unlikely it is for men to be questioned on their behavior and the “free pass” men socially receive to do (almost) whatever they want.
For example, I can be belligerently drunk in public and experience nothing but a hangover and friendly teasing from peers instead of being harassed, raped, or killed due to my intoxicated state. I can sexualize and exploit all women without being a slut, and have my friends reaffirm how much of a “bitch” she is if she rejects me. I can punch someone in the face and be rewarded with a label of bravery rather than shunned for “not being the bigger person” or “ladylike”. I have more social mobility as a male-passing person than all women of any race.
Regardless of my male privilege, as a man who is unable to pass as white, I face the racist reality of being arrested easier and even killed at the hands of police officers. I face selective rejection from career opportunities, an expectation of failure and a derailment of my Black identity if I achieve any measurable amount of Capitalistic gain (money, university diplomas, etc.).
As a man of color who has a body with a vagina and breasts, I face the threat of being raped or killed without any advocacy for violence committed against me beyond close loved ones. I face medical and other institutional rejection, all of which is legal due to the lack of protective laws for transgender folks. Even within the realm of pro-queer movements, any lifestyle that is not explicitly heteronormative has been homogenized to form the term “LGBT”, and the transgender community has gained little support from gay/ lesbian organizations which have been historically exclusive of transgender people.These queer movements have centralized around marriage, military service, and social security benefits for the gay/ lesbian community, and have conveniently ignored the needs of transgender people such as access to healthcare, hormones/surgeries required to treat the associated dysphoria, and the exceptionally high suicide and drug addiction rates for transgender people. Colonialism’s domination and annihilation of people of color inherently racialized capitalist economic structures. This continued racialization of class makes it so transmen with access to these masculinizing tools are primarily white.
In the context of transmen of color, their deviance comes in the following forms: 1) challenging a colonial, patriarchal, violent expression and definition of what it means to be a man 2) rejecting the original and forced female gender identity at birth, which can be threatening to male dominance itself 3) being a man of color whose masculinity will always be defined in relation to white men. What room is there for trans* people to speak (and be heard!) and to be protected if this is the culture in which they are living in, in a culture where they are not even human and even less human if they are Black? What room is there for transmen to live safely as men without buying hormones and surgeries, as if to legitimize their identity for the rest of the world? What room is there for transmen of color to live as Black men, either rejected by their own community or accepted and then targeted by the rest of the system?
Transmen, and transgender folks in general, are in a unique position to critique the effects of patriarchy in ways that non-transgender people—also referred to as cisgender—are not equipped to do so. On one hand, I have the firsthand experience of female socialization and the abuse I received as a result, yet I am now (mostly) part of that group I suffered at the hands of their behavior. As a transman of color, I am constantly negotiating my place in feminism. Therefore:
How can I voice my unique experience of being a man of female socialization without speaking for or overpowering women?
How can I advocate for and support women without equating their daily lives with my past life?
How can I advocate for transgender people without speaking for transgender women—a reproduction of white, heteronormative patriarchy?
How can I create and express my masculinity in a way that rejects the white standard of manhood and practices both racial and feminist solidarity?
How can I not make the assumption that I am unable to be a misogynist as a result of this socialization, and hold myself accountable for my male-privileged behavior?
I am still in pursuit of the answers to these questions. Adjusting to male privilege has been an aspect of my transition I was not prepared for. I am constantly and critically reflecting on the way in which I navigate my male privilege to ensure that my participation in feminism produces valuable, healthy, and safe relationships with women, while also calling out and holding my male peers responsible for their anti-feminist actions. Although an aspect of my transition has included an aesthetic reproduction of what is stereotypically deemed as “male”, I am not interested in reproducing the stereotypical sexism, misogyny, and power dynamics as an expression of my manhood.
I am committed to building relationships with women that are not sexual or dominant in nature, and supporting women in all efforts for liberation without being the face of the movement or invalidating these efforts by finding a way that it would (not) benefit men. I have no interest in nor am I in any position to speak for the experiences of women, especially women of color and transgender women. I am not interested in using anti-woman sentiments as part of building my manhood. As a feminist transman of color, I am in a lifelong investment in creating and expanding expressions of masculinity in ways that do not utilize domination.
 Gender dysphoria refers to negative feelings arising from some aspect of gender experience, possibly including but not limited to an assigned gender different from one’s gender identity, where one’s sexual characteristics seem wrong, and/or other’s perceptions of one’s gender
 denoting or relating to a person whose self-identity conforms with the gender that corresponds to their biological sex.
by E.J. Dávila •
“But how are you a guy if you don’t have a penis?”
“Hey girl!…..haha calm down. I’m messing with you.”
“Who? You mean him-her?”
“What does your family think? Aren’t Hispanics Catholic?”
“Can I see you with only your binder?”
“I thought transmen were just gay girls who couldn’t handle being gay.”
“How is your girlfriend not a lesbian?”
“She should wait until she is older to make such a drastic change.”
“How do you have sex without a dick?”
“Transgenders really need to wear buttons or something. I would be so mad if I wanted to have sex with a guy and it ended up being a girl.”
“You’re only reinforcing the binary!! How can you be a feminist?”
“Can’t you just be a butch girl? Why do you need to be a guy?”
“But how do you know you’re a man?”
and last but not least…..
“*whisper* So….are you gonna get…..the surgery?”
See this also on our Tumblr page and repost!
by E.J. Dávila •
For those with family members who are dismissive, stubborn, straight-up ignorant, instill fear, and/ or refuse to address the lingering tension of your (lack of) interactions: I write this for you in solidarity and as an acknowledgement of your anxiety and pain. You are valuable, you have worth, you are important, and things will be okay.
For trans* folx, the familial coming-out process is arguably the hardest. It carries with it a fear of disgust, disappointment, and rejection. It can often take the longest, especially considering how frequently parents romanticize the birth-assigned gender of their baby to the point where they imagine what an entire life for them would look like. For families, gender transitioning shatters this weird bubble families live in regarding the gendered life of their relative.
And I want to take a moment here to assert that coming out as trans* and coming out in regards to sexual orientation are extremely different experiences. I also want to assert this to further reaffirm my belief that it is dangerous to lump the experiences of “LGB” folx with “T” folks despite the popular acronym that attempts to homogenize the “queer” community.
While one coming-out process is not necessarily easier than the other, the gender transitioning process is very visible and is either blatantly embraced or rejected. Families witness their relative’s transition in contrast to families (hopefully) not witnessing their relative’s sexual activities. A homophobic family member can easily ignore the sex life of their relative if they want to remain close with them. While not ideal, it is perhaps an attempt at what I would consider “acceptance” (different from being an ally, which I will explain next), but a transphobic family member provides a violent situation if they insist on misgendering and misnaming their trans* relative (this is not the same thing as accidentally “slipping”). Perhaps a popular microaggression trans* folx experience here would follow the family member’s logic of “I’m sorry but I’ve just known you since you were a baby and I will always see you as a _______”.
It is both derailing and devaluing their identity, and belittling their life-changing decision to transition. This violent environment, ironically, is usually in the name of “love” and “acceptance”. Sure, your family member still loves you for transitioning because “they could never stop loving you” and that is why they are still maintaining a relationship with you, but they are pretty much ignoring it by purposely misgendering/ naming you even with the information (and appearance) of your transition.
You don’t have to be telling your trans* family member how gross or weird they are or physically harm them to be violent. Love and acceptance (to that family member) become conflated here, yet both are irrelevant and not required. And it is difficult to challenge family members on this, because they will just tell you that “they love and accept you for you”. But this love is toxic and violent, and is merely a tolerance of what you are doing without making efforts to participate in allyship. By violent “love” I mean the lack of physical or explicit harm yet a total dismissal of the transition, which is absolutely unacceptable.
Nobody should be put in a position where your acceptance of something or them is truly significant or has any influence on how they live their life. Acceptance, for me, is more so a reactionary decision to tolerate someone without making active efforts to support them and make them feel safe, validated, and human.
If you are a family member of a trans* person who regularly practices ignoring their transition:
-Telling them you love and accept them no matter what when they become frustrated with you, because your love and acceptance does not negate your actions and does not remove your accountability for them
-Ignoring any visible discomfort by the trans* relative
-Reminding them of their childhood and coming up with reasons they “may not” be trans*
-Asking about surgeries, sex, their sexual orientation, or anything else regarding their body
-Remaining silent when another family member does all of the above
-Asking them what name and pronouns they prefer, and use them
-Politely correct other family members when they use the wrong name/ pronoun
-Staying in touch with them if you don’t already. Transitioning (especially with use of hormones) can be really tough to balance with other life things, and it is important to check up on them
-Educate yourself. There are books, websites, and good ol’ asking questions
-Be open to the very real reality that you are not always right, you do not know everything, and you have much to learn
-If you’re the gift type, buy gifts that are potentially relevant to their transition or beneficial to their overall health/ well-being (e.g., clothes that match their gender identity, exercise equipment, etc.)
-Understand that feelings of gender dysphoria are visible during the earliest stages of childhood, and in no way is this a phase or some sort of recreational transition
-Let go of any idea that your favorite things about this person are a reflection of their gender, and that gender identity is ONLY one’s own understanding of themselves in relation to culture, people, and the rest of the world. It is not for you to analyze, stereotype, or debate
by E.J. Dávila •
And that is exactly what I did. One of the things I decided to complain about was the acronym LGBT and why it should be done away with immediately. The blogger americanblackgirlinaustralia responded to my mini-rant with “Make it happen with your column.”
And here I am, folx! I am going to tell you why I don’t like “LGBT”:
1) With “LGBT”, the sentiment is you are either “lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender”. It suggests that you can only be L, G, B, or T. But what about gay/ lesbian trans* folx? They, you know, exist. And what about straight-identified trans* folx? What about genderqueer gay/ lesbian/ bisexual folx?
2) Gay/ lesbian movements have historically been transphobic and there is this false idea that gay/ lesbian and trans* people have solidarity in “fighting for equal rights”
3) The goals of the trans* rights movements and gay rights movement are COMPLETELY different. While the gay rights movement has focused on and has mostly been concerned about marriage equality, serving openly in the military, and ensuring non-discriminatory employment practices, trans* folx are concerned about access to healthcare and coverage for trans* related care (hormones, surgeries, etc.); access and safety to public bathrooms, being able to change your name and other legal documents without paying literally thousands of dollars; an exceptionally high suicide rate, etc.
LGBT essentially groups together everyone who is “not normal” (sarcasm, of course) in regards to sexual identities and puts them in this “other” category – the implication is that there are straight people, and then there are LGBT people. LGBT blurs the realities of the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans* people and totally ignores the disproportionate levels of privilege (and lack thereof) each community experiences, as well as giving a false sense of solidarity and that each community is fighting for the same things. There are even situations where you can even be speaking about homosexual/ bisexual and gender-variant folx in a way where their actual experiences does not connect to whatever you are saying.
Sexual orientation and gender identity are entirely different understanding of one’s self and cannot and SHOULD NOT be grouped together. So, please stop using LGBT to describe (and group) homosexual/ bisexual and gender variant folx!