I came out to myself as a woman on April 14, 2009, and when that happened all my confusion about my sexual orientation ended, and I realized I was queer. I came out to my friends two days later. By the time I came out I was already a feminist and a queer rights activist. I knew I would encounter sexism and heterosexism, but I figured I wouldn’t encounter much until I had started to take hormones and “pass” as a woman. Now that I’m on the verge of taking estrogen for the first time (I hope to have it on the 19th), I thought it would be a good time to write about how wrong I was.
One reason I was taken by surprise was that I failed to appreciate how much my social interactions were mediated by the Internet. In cyberspace nobody knows my trans status unless I tell them, so even people who would otherwise dispute my gender identity see me as a woman. This was most noticeable when I joined lesbian chat rooms. Upon entering I was inundated with private messages from men who were soliciting sex. Some of them didn’t even bother to pose as women. All I wanted was to find a supportive environment where I could talk about the struggles we face as queer women, but even when I devised ways to block private solicitations, there was little I could do about men’s disruptions in the chat room. I ended up giving up on using chat as a way to network with queer women.
Women also contributed to the problem. When I made the switch from the m4w to the w4w personals in the “Strictly Platonic” section of Craigslist, the homophobia came at me like a punch in the face. A number of women had posted ads that said, “No lesbians,” (if they weren’t using epithets) or, “Straight women only.” As far as I’m concerned, this isn’t a manifestation of heterosexism alone. If you take issue with women who form intimate, supportive relationships with other women, you are engaging in sexist behavior. The one small comfort I took from this was that I was unlikely to meet anyone who secretly hated me on account of my sexual orientation.
I also learned that while my male body might keep me from some encounters with sexism, it guarantees I’ll have others. Shortly after I came out as a woman I joined the Chicago Dyke March Collective (CDMC). Apart from a few insensitive but ambiguous remarks I saw no sign of a pervasive tendency to regard me as something other than a “real” woman. On the contrary, the more time I spent in the collective the more I felt self-conscious about being a woman. I raised some concerns about how trans people were being treated in Dyke March, and I wasn’t the only trans person to raise such concerns. What became obvious almost immediately is that if anyone perceived that transmasculine people were being marginalized, the other members were quick to step in. It also seemed that trans men were the barometer by which other members of CDMC determined that they were doing okay in regards to trans people. But when I talked about the concerns of transfeminine people, trying to engage other members in dialogue was like pulling teeth from a badger. In 2009 the Chicago Dyke March Collective would have been more welcoming to trans straight men than it was to trans dykes. Considering that CDMC members have gone back on their promises to work with me and other trans people to improve the situation, I doubt much has changed since then.
I could mention other times I’ve encountered sexism and heterosexism, but I think I’ve made my point: Being a trans woman, even one who looks “pre-transition”, does not save me from being the target of sexism. Sexism hurts all women, as well as people who don’t fit in the gender binary. Heterosexism hurts all queer people. If we want progress, we need to stop fighting over who is more oppressed, and work to abolish the systems that oppress us all.