Becoming a White Dude

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As I read through the comments here about trans-phobic feminism a thought process has finally crystallized for me.

A problem with trans-phobic feminism, as well some other forms of feminisms, centers around seeing my transition/masculinity as the primary site/reason of my newly found privilege.

But, in fact, my newly found privilege is as much about, if not more, about my race than my gender. By placing primary emphasis on gender as the source of privilege in FtMs, feminists – most of them white – reassert racism and white privilege.

Think about it.


If a black butch lesbian transitions, most of us understand that he does not rise to the top of the food chain like I did and do. Whether butch or black man/FtM, he resides in an ambivalent place in white America.

I’m guessing this is also true for other FtMs of color.

Claiming that gender is the primary signifier of privilege, or lack thereof, seems both White and wrong. Wrong because other realities – class, size, ability among them – have as much impact on the assumption of privilege as does gender. In some instances, race among them, gender seems to play second banana.

In the end, my biggest problem with most feminisms – whether they are transphobic or not – is a failure of imagination. Once gender is posited as the biggest oppression, others fall out in some silly hiearchary of oppressions.

But people don’t live their lives that way. And in my experience, I can go from being a very privileged white man on my job to being discounted and dismissed in some gay and lesbian communities as an FtM.

Privilege is not hiearcharical as a lived and living experience. It is distributed across multiple sites through constant interaction with our chosen environments.

In America the racial adjective always precedes the gender adjective. I am always a white man. Never a man white. Unless I’m writing poetry, which thank the goddess for all of you reading this blog, I don’t.

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7 Comments

  1. Well, you could argue that the quality seen as a modifier is less important than the quality all-defining enough to be a noun.

    Being white, I can’t speak to what it’s like to transition if you’re a person of color. I’m sure that becoming a black man opens one up to a whole new manifestation of racist prejudice. Racism is certainly gendered. My understanding is not sophisticated enough to say where those two oppressions intersect in the life of a woman of color who becomes a man of color. I do know that black women are affected by both racism and misogyny.

    I think you’re misstating the idea of privilege. You don’t have to move to the top of any heap, or be at the top of that heap all the time, in order to receive privilege. Nor is anyone saying that you can’t be privileged on one level and disadvantaged on another. I don’t think anyone is saying that white men are never disadvantaged in any situation or subculture. The point is that, in every situation where racism exists, white people are privileged; in any situation where sexism exists, men are privileged.

  2. There existed a time in human history, with a written record, that predated racial prejudice. There is no time that predates gender prejudice. Race is so entirely socially constructed that there was a time before it existed. Gender is also socially constructed, of course, but it has a stronger root in biology and it has always existed. The idea that many feminists have is that gender was the first other. Before there was race or class, there was gender. Therefore, they argue, all other hierarchical otherings stem from this proto-othering. There is some logic to this assertion.

    I think the reason that many feminists cling to the idea that sexism REMAINS the primary oppression is just because many feminists are white and unaware of their own privilege. I think all this othering is strongly linked and it would be impossible to get rid of one of them without getting rid of all of them. So transphobic or racist feminism ultimately hurts the feminist cause. Transphobic feminism seems especially counter-productive given that it’s directly linked with the meaning of gender.

  3. Nor is anyone saying that you can’t be privileged on one level and disadvantaged on another.

    With the exception of Donna Haraway and some of the writings of Gloria Anzaldua and two feminists who name escape me, my reading of the texts suggest the opposite of what you write. Taking Amp’s blog as an example, discussions about MtF and FtM inclusion in feminist theories, etc., the way in which the discussions are framed do not suggest to me that a nuanced, complex understanding of people is foremost of commenters minds.

    Indeed, using terms like “women” and “men” suggest white, temporarily-able-bodied folks. Otherwise, we qualify them.

    I don’t think anyone is saying that white men are never disadvantaged in any situation or subculture. The point is that, in every situation where racism exists, white people are privileged; in any situation where sexism exists, men are privileged.

    But then what are we do with the long historical relationships white women have with all men of color?

    I do not believe using the verb to “intersect” as in where racism and classism intersect conveys the complexity of any individual’s experience as a black woman or Latino FtM. Intersect does not describe my experiences as a white man.

  4. Les,

    You wrote:
    I think the reason that many feminists cling to the idea that sexism REMAINS the primary oppression is just because many feminists are white and unaware of their own privilege.

    Exactly my point. Discussions around privilege and transsexuality, especially as they relate to my understanding of myself as a racialized person, are more about my race than my gender.

    And as long as conversations are framed exclusively in terms of gender, we are reinventing racism.

    Ask most white FtMs how their racial privilege enhances their masculinity. With two exceptions, the answers I’ve gotten range from “I don’t know,” to “I haven’t really thought about it.”

    But asks us about gender privilege and we speak and write tomes.

    Very white.

  5. I think some of transphobic feminism also stems from some sort of internalized sexism. Butch women and ftms get jumped all over for shit that nobody would care about from a cisgendered boy. So transphobic feminists refuse to recognize the transition of ftms, criticize them for it, and then hold them to some insane standard.

    That shit drives me crazy. Transitioning is betraying your gender. and OMG look at all this privilege you’ve got now, you bastard!

  6. Indeed, using terms like “women” and “men” suggest white, temporarily-able-bodied folks. Otherwise, we qualify them.

    I think I see what you’re saying here.

    But then what are we do with the long historical relationships white women have with all men of color?

    I think it’s oversimplifying–and engaging in a kind of sexism–to see the relationship as involving white women as agents and sovereign bodies rather than as symbols of white male racial integrity and masculinity. Sexual contact with a white woman wasn’t a violation of a person, but of a particular kind of property.

    We agree that oppression in the context of other oppressions doesn’t leave one with straightfaced dichotomies; that also holds true for the example you’re setting forth here. It’s possible for a white woman to simultaneously benefit from racism and suffer from sexism, just as it is possible for a black man to benefit from sexism and suffer from racism.

    I do not believe using the verb to “intersect” as in where racism and classism intersect conveys the complexity of any individual’s experience as a black woman or Latino FtM. Intersect does not describe my experiences as a white man.

    Sure, but neither do simplistic hierarchies like “food chain.”

    I think some of transphobic feminism also stems from some sort of internalized sexism. Butch women and ftms get jumped all over for shit that nobody would care about from a cisgendered boy. So transphobic feminists refuse to recognize the transition of ftms, criticize them for it, and then hold them to some insane standard.

    What kind of behavior are you referring to?

  7. Hi piny,

    I think it’s oversimplifying–and engaging in a kind of sexism–to see the relationship as involving white women as agents and sovereign bodies rather than as symbols of white male racial integrity and masculinity. Sexual contact with a white woman wasn’t a violation of a person, but of a particular kind of property.

    I find it curious that you would offer sexual contact as the example of problematic contact between white women and men of color. I was thinking more generally about all sorts of problematic interactions and relationships.

    And again, I’m curious as to what you think about my initial epiphany: that white feminists who read my privilege as a consequence of my gender change ignore and/or overlook my race; that my privilege is indeed very much a consequence of race; and that as long as us white feminists continue to frame these discussions largely in terms of gender, we are missing the point, and contributing yet again to systemic racism.

    Thanks!

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