Some Guys Burn Their Bras Too!: A Trans* Guy’s Experiences with Privilege, Violence, and Sexual Assault
**Trigger Warning – this post includes violence, sexual assault, and explicit language**
Picture this: A bony, almond-eyed, lanky tomboy with a terrible haircut is playing kickball outside of her house when an unrecognizable car comes driving slowly down the street. Annoyed that she has to put her game on pause the tomboy walks to the side of the road waiting for the car to pass, except it doesn‘t, it pulls up right next to her. The man driving the car is going on and on about his lost dog. The little girl apologizes because she hasn‘t seen any dogs wandering around her neighborhood. Before the man drives away to leave, he exposes himself to the girl and tries to force her into his car. That was the first time that I remember being subjected to sexual violence. I was 8 years old. There are a few more instances in which I have been a survivor of sexual assault, including one as a male-identified transgender person.
The violence that I have endured as a male-identified person has been physical, sexual, and verbal. The physical violence that I usually encounter now has to do with how I present my gender expression on rare occasions or just due to my obvious queerness. I like to explore the endless possibilities that come with deciding how to present my gender on a daily basis. Sometimes I experiment with nail polish and dressing in drag, other times I simply like to wear things that I’m not “supposed” to wear as a predominately masculine presenting person. I love making people uncomfortable by blurring gender lines and expectations from time to time, and I realize that negating traditional gender roles and expectations unfortunately has it‘s ramifications.
Most of this physical, sexual, and verbal violence that I‘ve been exposed to recently has happened on public transportation or just on the streets of my liberal and very queer neighborhood in Southern California. Recently, to name a few: I’ve been called a “faggot” for wearing a floral snapback. I was a “bull dyke” for confronting a guy that was getting physically violent with his girlfriend. I was confronted, violently shoved up against a window, and then followed home for being a contributor in making Long Beach a “sissy, faggot ass city.”
The hardest act of violence for me to talk about was when I was sexually assaulted at a subway station in downtown LA. I was on my way to visit my family by taking my usual route on the subway. I was reading Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore’s book, Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity when this guy sitting across from me expressed interest in what I was reading, so I explained it to him. Then he started telling me about his cousin was also transitioning from female-to-male. We were getting off at the same stop so we kept up with what I thought was a refreshing talk about gender and trans* identities. Next thing you know I‘m pinned up against the wall while he takes it upon himself to violate my body. I’ve noticed a common theme in these culprits of violence, they‘ve all been hypermasculine men. Jackson Katz states that “over 99 percent of rape is perpetrated by men. Whether the victims are female or male, men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators. But we call it a women’s issue? Shouldn’t that tell us something?”
There were definitely differences in the acts of violence that I have been subjected to as a female identified person and now as a male identified person, but the similarities are what really surprised and still surprise me. The power that these white, straight, cisgender men had over me as a girl, a woman, and now even as a most-of-the-time cisgender passing trans* guy proved to me that I have been and always will be “the other.” I don‘t make it my goal to “pass” as one gender or the other necessarily, if my gender expression is confusing you, then personally, I think my job is being done well. Even with that being stated I‘m not going to pretend that I don‘t have certain powers and privileges of my own, whether it be in my own transgender community or in society as a whole.
I usually don‘t have to worry about walking on campus alone or walking home by myself at night. I have access to hormone replacement therapy and have had the privilege of having undergone top surgery. I can take up more space in most environments than my trans* sisters and transgender people of color can. I have doctors that acknowledge and respect my trans* status, so I don‘t have to worry about violence and/or dehumanization from people in the medical field like many other gender variant people do. I also have privileges because I have light skin, I‘m able bodied, I was able to find a job fairly easily without having to explain my gender identity, I have access to higher education and I‘m a U.S. citizen. These are only a few of the privileges that I experience in my own identity.
Finally, one of the most challenging things I‘ve had to face and try to combat is the misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia that I witness men part taking in, especially when they perceive my sexual orientation and gender identity to be the same as theirs. In most male dominated spaces I hear things said about women, gay people, and transgender folks that make me cringe, especially in the work place. I worked with several hypermasculine, competitive men in my last job. There were homophobic slurs being thrown around left and right.
Violent, degrading, and misogynistic things were said about our strict female boss while nothing was said about any of our male supervisors. Rape jokes were a constant occurrence and don‘t even get me started on the conversations surrounding Chaz Bono‘s transition.
As much as I want to say things and have conversations about the more than problematic comments coming out of the mouths of these men, I fear the hypermasculine retaliation that could be directed towards me. I‘ve come to realize recently that the least I can do as an ally to women, and the least I can do for my queer and trans* siblings, is to speak up when I observe these actions and remarks being made about all marginalized people. Silence to me is the same as giving up and I refuse to give up on the “others” at least, not without a fight.
Kanan identifies as a genderqueer trans* individual and is currently majoring in Women’s, Gender, and sexuality studies while minoring in queer studies at California State University, Long Beach. Kanan is one of the leaders of the Choice USA chapter at Cal State Long Beach and is interested in advocating for reproductive justice issues for people in the queer and trans* community. Kanan is dedicated to deconstructing hierarchies within the LGBTQ community and is continuously working for their voice as a transgender/queer activist to be heard.