A reader commented: “I don’t know what the hell is going on between white trans men and white trans women and the deepening chasm that seems to have formed between them, but it’s truly dispiriting to watch.
“I specify white because I haven’t noticed this level of antagonism between the trans men and trans women in communities of color I’ve been in. Is this a universal gap in the trans community and I just haven’t noticed, or is this really a white thing? I’m asking in all seriousness.”
This is not an official “Ask Matt” question, but rather one that was asked in a comment thread in one of my other posts. I’ll try to tackle it in some small way.
There is a great deal of complexity in the relationships between trans men and trans women, and I would guess that this is true regardless of race, ethnic background, age, class, geographic location, cultural gender expectations, and other variables. I would also say that all of these factors probably heavily influence these relationships. Because of this, I can only speculate based on my own experiences.
If, in fact, the observation in the above question is true – that a deepening chasm exists between white trans men and trans women, while the same phenomenon is not found in trans communities of color – I offer one possible explanation that has to do with communities in general. With regard to specific communities, such as trans communities of color, it would be necessary to hear from people in those communities to see what they think. My thoughts:
The short answer:
In many cases, we (white trans people) have no commonality that binds us or brings us together other than being trans.
The long answer:
White has been the dominant or default group in the United States from the time that we began our occupation and colonization of this country a few centuries ago. Because we are the default group, we have the luxury of not having to think in terms of our skin color.
For example, when I meet another white person with whom I have nothing in common, I don’t think, “We have nothing in common other than that we are white.” I think, “We have nothing in common.” My guess is that the other person thinks in a similar fashion.
And, for all intents and purposes, we have no reason to associate with each other after that, and we are probably not brought together after that. As the dominant group, it is not necessary for us to form bonds around the commonality – being white – that gives us membership in that group (although some of us do, but I prefer to stay away from those people).
Trans is not the dominant or default group. Therefore, people who have nothing else in common with each other are brought together because of this commonality.
An 80-year-old white Republican trans woman is brought together with a 20-year-old white Democratic trans man because they both belong to a marginalized group and they have a shared interest or experience based on membership in that group. Otherwise, they would probably never even meet, and they would probably have no reason to form other bonds – unless they are brought together by additional characteristics that marginalize them as well.
People who are members of more than one marginalized group, whether it involves race, sexual orientation, physical ability, age, economic class, or any other non-dominant or non-default status, have a mutual struggle in several arenas, so they will be brought together on more than one front and will benefit from maintaining bonds.
Using myself as an example, as I get older, I become increasingly marginalized by age. So I have an interest not only in trans issues, but in aging issues as well. And because these characteristics overlap, I have a particular interest in trans aging issues. Therefore, it serves me to establish bonds not only with trans people, but with people in general who are aging, and with trans people who are aging. I have more than one “agenda,” as do others who are marginalized for multiple reasons.
In my opinion, the more commonalities a particular group of people has and the less privilege a particular group of people has, the more likely they are to remain bound together, despite other differences. It does not serve them well to move apart or divide themselves by arbitrary standards, such as sex or gender (however, I’m sure that happens).
In this particular speculation of mine, the same would be true, in many cases, for trans people of color, who are not only marginalized because of their trans status, but because of their skin color as well. They would have multiple commonalities that might bring them together in various arenas with various goals – the non-marginalization of trans people, people of color, and trans people of color. They are bound together by more than just one issue or “agenda,” and it would not serve them to split along gender lines.
In addition, our binary gender system has acculturated us into a two-gendered structure of “opposites” – a “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” type of structure. Because of this, we tend to move in opposite directions unless we have something else that brings us together. And if, as members of the dominant group, “trans” is the only thing that brings us together, and gender is established to move us apart, then it is easy to follow along that divide – especially because gender is such a major component of most people’s identity.
This is obviously an oversimplification and a generalization. Gender roles and expectations in various communities – both white and of color – differ greatly, as they do among various religious groups, ages, and social and economic classes, regardless of race or ethnic background. This is one possible answer of many, but it is one that seems feasible to me.
However, I have already put my disclaimers on this. That’s why I hope to hear from readers on their experiences within their own communities regarding the relationships they are seeing between trans men and trans women. So on to the discussion. Readers?