A reader writes: “I was having a conversation with my mother the other night about Newt Gingrich and how I was really tired of all the GOP discussion that is constantly in the news. She brought up a fact I had forgotten about. She stated that Newt had a lesbian sister who definitely did not agree with his politics.
“Then she said, ‘She looks just like you.’ I think my mother was trying to describe the fact that many lesbians tend to lean way over pretty close to the male spectrum in appearance and dress, and she has not come to complete terms with the fact that the main difference between me and butch lesbians is that I relate as a male and not a female.
“My daughter had been at a bar the night before and ran into a butch lesbian, and my daughter told her I was transitioning. The lesbian told my daughter she did not understand why I needed to be that way and why couldn’t I just be a butch? So I want your perspective on why is it so difficult for some butch lesbians to understand trans men and why some find it so easy to bash trans men within our own community.”
I am aware that this has been an ongoing issue in some, but certainly not all, lesbian communities for at least the past fifteen years, because I heard about this type of non-acceptance when I was first transitioning (I am speaking now of non-trans lesbians). Because I was never in the larger “lesbian community,” nor was I involved in any smaller lesbian communities, I have never experienced this phenomenon first-hand.
Most of the lesbians I know well are women I met after transition, and I have never had any of them question me about my reasons for transition or criticize me for doing so. I have felt completely accepted and in no way judged by the lesbians I know, and I know quite a few.
However, I do know that, in some places, there has been some friction between lesbians and trans men. Because I have never spent a lot of time in lesbian communities, I’m not sure if this friction occurs across the board, if it is found primarily in white communities or if there is similar friction in communities of color, if it is related in any way to social or economic class, or what other factors might be involved, so I can only speculate from my personal perspective. I hope to hear from readers who have more experience with and more knowledge of this than I do.
From what I have seen, I would say that this friction has its roots in the unequal distribution of privilege in Western culture (there is unequal distribution of privilege in many other cultures as well, but I am talking about my culture). I think that, in some lesbian communities, there is a sense of betrayal and rejection that is felt, particularly when members of that community transition. It’s possible that I have not experienced this directly because I was never in a community where members felt that I was turning my back on them.
There seems to be an assumption among some lesbians (and other people, as well) that female-to-male transition is undertaken in order to gain male privilege. There seems to be another assumption that trans men are “rejecting” a female identity because it is somehow not good enough – that transition indicates that there’s something “wrong” with being female in general, rather than “there’s something wrong with me being female.”
This simply reflects the fact that lesbians (and gay men and bisexual people) don’t necessarily understand transition any better than straight non-trans people do. The “T” on the end of LGBT doesn’t translate to “getting it.” So I think this friction is based primarily in misunderstanding, and that misunderstanding has caused enough hurt that it has dampened any desire to understand.
Women have been marginalized in our culture, and lesbians have been particularly marginalized. So what some lesbians might feel when someone who they have seen as a member of their community transitions is that the person has joined with the oppressor. This type of response might be more prevalent in white communities because of the position of power that white men hold in the culture, but I’m only guessing.
Regardless, I think that deep hurts are slow to heal, and a lifetime of marginalization can sometimes result in misplaced anger and resentment. Plus I don’t doubt that there have been instances where trans men who have transitioned into privilege have used that privilege to negatively affect certain lesbians or lesbian communities, either intentionally or unintentionally. So there’s probably some stuff going on in both directions that isn’t conducive to good community relations.
But from where I sit, a major basis of this phenomenon is a misunderstanding of what trans really is and what being trans encompasses. That is one perspective. I am interested in hearing others, and so I open it up to the readers. Take it away!