by E.J. Dávila | July 2, 2014 4:10 pm
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.
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