ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
When we hear story after story set in a landscape that we have never set foot in before, we can’t help but create our own mental picture of that place. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fantazied about a woman’s locker room before I finally got to go in one! Boy was that great. I realized only as my wife Dani and I turned off a dirt road and up to the welcome center that I always imagined that Camp Trans would resemble pictures I had seen of Woodstock, with tents strewn everywhere and people buzzing about busily with a sense of purpose and energy, with a sense that they were a part of history. But Camp Trans looked nothing like that. It was set on a modest-sized clearing in the middle of the woods. Cars were parked close to the entrance, tents tucked away just out of sight behind the trees. There was a main congregating area, where campers were slurping up the vegan miso soup that was being served for lunch. Everyone was way more mellow than I had imagined, perhaps because they had been baking in the ninety-degree heat for close to a week now.
And why were they there? Because the #1 oppression facing Transwomen is that we are not allowed to go to the Michgan Womyn’s Music Festival. Because we are Male.
And this, quite simply, makes the MWMF Hitler.
Some of my straight friends thought it was hilarious when they heard that Dani and I were going to spend a long weekend at Camp Trans. They probably imagined something like summer camp meets Priscilla Queen of the Desert, only set in the Michigan wilderness. They seemed a bit disappointed when we told them that this was primarily a political, rather than social, event. We were there to protest the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival’s “womyn-born-womyn-only” policy, which is a fancy way of saying that transsexual women like myself are not welcome. Because we are male. And it isn’t actually fancy. It’s factual. Which makes it essentialist and wrong (you did read the section on definitions, right?).
My straight female friends were always the most offended on my behalf upon hearing this. Mostly because they hate lesbians almost as much as I do. These were women who welcomed me with open arms when I first started sharing women’s restrooms with them, who made a point of inviting me along on their girls’ nights out, who made it clear, even in those early days just after my transition, that they considered me to be one of them. Maybe it’s because I was hyper-interested in femininity, and they viewed me as a real-life Barbie doll that they could dress up, and that my existence “as a woman” affirmed their own anti-feminist choices. When they asked me why the lesbian organizers who ran the festival were adamant about excluding trans women, I told them, “There’s just a lot of really bad history there.” I said that because, as a man, I have no awareness of what it means to be a girl in a woman-hating culture. I have no idea what it’s like to be sexually abused and raped by boys and men, and to want safe space away from them. And what I don’t know must not be relevant, and what isn’t relevant to me must be destroyed.
It all started during the ’70s and ’80s, when a number of influential lesbian feminists began to trash transsexuals in their writings and theories. And by “trash transsexuals,” I mean that Mary Daly, Janice Raymond and others correctly spotted me and my “sisters” as males. They argued that we propagated sexist stereotypes and objectified women by attempting to possess female bodies of our own. This is actually true, but it really hurts and is mean to say. Eventually, this all became unquestionable dogma, and transsexuals, even those who identified as feminists and dykes, were conveniently banished from most lesbian and women’s spaces. Because men can’t actually be women or lesbians. #essentialism.
But things started to change by the mid-’90s, as a growing number of dykes began coming out as trans and referring to themselves as men. Just kidding! What actually happened was that a bunch of men got together in the early 1990s to establish the Gender Bill of Rights and plot a course to destroy women as a class, women’s space and women’s organizing. This caused many to question their views and, over the years, has led to a certain level of acceptance of trans men in the lesbian community. Because trans men are actually female. These days, it is not uncommon to find dykes who openly discuss lusting after trans guys. Because they are actually female. And many trans people who were assigned female at birth will still call themselves dykes long after they have asked their friends to refer to them with male names and pronouns. So, the fact that some women made bad decisions means let my penis in your women’s space, dammit!
So you may be asking where trans women fit in. Well, we don’t really. Because we are male. Granted, there are some queer women (BECAUSE THEY ARE HETEROSEXUAL) who respect our female identities, many of whom now boycott Michigan because of the festival’s trans woman–exclusion policy (not that they ever went to the festival in the first place, but, hey, let’s call that a boycott!) . And there are also quite a few lesbians (and Women) who still view the identities of trans folks on both the MTF and FTM spectrums as somewhat dubious. But in between those two extremes lies a growing consensus of dykes who see female-assigned trans folks as their peers, as a part of the lesbian community, while viewing trans women with suspicion, disdain, or apathy. Because Lesbians know what it means to be a Woman. It’s kind of important. HomoSEXuals.
Now an objective observer might suggest that this preference for trans men over trans women suspiciously resembles traditional sexism. What? You don’t believe this sweeping conclusory statement I just made, as it’s equally likely that this preference is that women aren’t stupid and we know transmen are actually women? No. Fuck that. As with most forms of prejudice, there is no shortage of theories one can use to rationalize their predilections (ooooh, see how I used predilection as a put down? Like my predeliction for dressing in my mom’s underwear when I was a boy!). For instance, many lesbians believe that male-identified trans folks are more trustworthy because their ex-dyke status instills them with political enlightenment, whereas I, a trans woman who has lived as woman and a dyke for several years now, apparently can never truly understand what it means to be female because testosterone and male socialization have dumbed down my brain permanently. Or, alternatively, lesbians are being polite to their deluded transman friends, who we love and will always welcome because they are actually female, and we want them to know we love them, even though they have internalized misogyny to such a degree that they will mutilate their bodies.
These days, it is common to see the word “trans” used to welcome trans men (but not trans women) on everything from lesbian events to sex surveys and play parties. Yes, I said play parties. There are sex positive lesbians who have a lot of sex. And I want in on that. And even at Michigan, women are no longer defined based on their legal sex, appearance, or self-identification, but on whether or not they were born and raised as a girl. I’m going to ignore the fact that this has become necessary because of trans activists like me, who have done their level best to obliterate what it means to be a girl and a woman. It used to be people understood these words, but they now know that those definitions are essentialist. And while performers like Animal and Lynnee Breedlove, who identify as transgender and answer to male pronouns, are invited to take the festival stage each year, someone like myself who identifies one hundred percent as female isn’t even allowed to stand in the audience. How dare the MWMF think being female is more than an identity? Fucking bitches! As if that wasn’t bad enough, many now use Michigan’s tolerance of folks on the FTM spectrum to argue that the festival’s policies are not transphobic. Well I’m sorry, but any person who considers trans men to be women and trans women to be men is not an ally of the transgender community! And shouldn’t women’s activism be all about being an ally of the transgender community??
Shortly after arriving, Dani and I met Sadie, a trans woman who is one of Camp Trans’s main organizers. He tells me that he is excited to have another trans woman in attendance—I was the seventh one to make it so far. Virtually all of the remaining hundred or so campers were assigned female at birth: Some were dykes and bisexual women, some trans men, and the rest were genderqueers, who identify outside of the male/female gender binary. These bitches are working for us. Apparently, the unbalanced demographics were a by-product of the more genderqueer-centric direction Camp Trans had taken a few years earlier. Many trans women, who felt they should be allowed into Michigan because they identified as female, felt abandoned by the cause when so many of its members seemed hellbent on deconstructing their genders out of existence. See how I conflated sex and gender there? TranSEXual is so 1990. I was told that this year’s organizers were working hard to get Camp Trans back on track and to encourage more trans women to come to the event.
After Dani and I finished setting up our tent, we headed down to the main area and hung out by the campfire, starting up conversations with some of the other campers. Despite being so far from home, I almost felt like I knew a lot of these people. Demographically speaking, the mix was similar to the crowds who come out to the San Francisco trans and queer performance events I’m involved in. These are the sexy people. The campers were predominantly in their early twenties, white like me, and many either previously or currently identified as dykes. They shared similar political sensibilities: Many were anarchists and vegans, and many self-described as pansexuals and practitioners of BDSM and open relationships. Yanno, the special people who populate Tumblr.
Are you thinking what I’m thinking? That’s right, it’s time for some Salt n Pepa.
Only the sexy people. That’s right. Sorry, where was I?
Oh, right, I was lecturing you pompously. Let me continue.
I always feel incredibly uncomfortable when people refer to this sort of crowd as “the trans community.” The truth is, this is but a small segment of it. I’ve attended other trans gatherings where the crowd was predominantly made up of MTF crossdressers and transsexual women, plus their female partners. I’ve performed spoken word at events put on by the Tenderloin AIDS Resource Center, where many of the trans people in the audience were poor or homeless. I’ve been to San Francisco’s Transgender Day of Remembrance, where trans people of all races and ethnicities, all generations, and all economic classes come together to pay respects to those in our community who have been murdered. If you haven’t figured this out by now, I am the Trans Messiah.
No, this right here is not the trans community; it is merely a clique—a pro-sex, pro-trans faction of the dyke community borne out of the backlash against ’80s-era Andrea Dworkinism. And sometimes I feel like I’m a part of it and other times I feel like I’m on the outside looking in. Because I’m male. I think about this as Dani passes me a small tin tray of salmon that we cooked at the foot of the campfire this evening, a much-anticipated meal as we were both unable to stomach the vegan beets and cabbage the camp offered for dinner. I mean, ewww, these fucking lesbians and their veganism. And I am grateful that none of the campers complain that our eating habits are triggering them. Because only transwomen should be able to complain about triggers. And as I enjoy this rare occasion of taking part in a trans-majority space, it occurs to me that I have never felt so old, so monogamous, so carnivorous, and so bourgeoisie in my life.
The following day, Dani and I sign up for a work shift at the Camp Trans welcome center. Part of the job involves briefly orienting incoming campers about the rules of the space, telling them where to park their cars, where to pitch their tents, and other such things. The hard part of the job is acting as an ambassador for Camp Trans if any festival folks come visiting us from just down the street.
In the middle of our shift, a woman from the festival makes her way over to our booth. She is carrying a pamphlet on trans woman–inclusion that Camp Trans had passed out earlier in the week. She told us she agreed with most of it, but that she was furious about one particular passage that read, “When members of the dominant group believe that they have the right to get rid of the minority group solely because of their own fear, such as when white aircraft passengers request Middle-Eastern passengers to be removed from a flight because the presence of Middle-Eastern people makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe, it is called an undeserved sense of entitlement and it needs to be challenged.”
This festival woman (who happened to be white, like me) proceeded to lecture us about how inappropriate it was for us to make any analogies with race. It didn’t seem to faze her when I mentioned that the author of the pamphlet, Emi Koyama, is Asian.
Emi is also male, unlike the camper, but that’s essentialist to point out. I find that the people who seem to get the most upset by comparisons between Michigan’s anti–trans woman policy and instances of race-based exclusion are white women defending the festival’s reputation. This is because I don’t actually know any Women of Color, and have decided that because I don’t know Women of Color, there are no Women of Color who know I am male. I am also damn sure, as a white male, that there are no Women of Color who support the Festival. I mean, how could they? I’m not there!! They wouldn’t do that to me. To me, it seems as though these white bitches’ primary motivation is not actually sticking up for people (and by people, I mean Women) of color, but rather to thwart any attempt at comparing Michigan’s policy to other historical examples of exclusion. What? This makes no sense you say? You say they object to the race analogy because it’s false, because Men have sexually abused, raped and tortured women forever, which thus provides ample reason why Women want women-only space, while race-based exclusions are not rooted in anything except bigotry? Well fuck you. What” You say there ARE Women of Color who support the MWMF? Well, they are not actually Women of Color. Oh and it’s racist to say I’m a man.
Dani, who has been a queer activist since she first came out as a dyke in the early ’90s, does her best to reason with the woman. Eventually the woman calms down and brings up other issues that concern her. Did you see how my girlfriend supporting my delusion is calm while the woman who knows I’m a guy needs to calm down? She asks if Camp Trans is fighting to let trans men into the festival, a common question since so many male-identified trans folks continue to attend the festival. We tell her no—Camp Trans supports the idea of women-only space, but believes it should be open to all self-identified women.
Next, the woman brings up her fear that trans women might bring “male energy” onto the land at Michigan. This is a classic argument that has been used time and time again to justify trans woman exclusion. So I ask the woman if she senses any male energy in me. She looks confused at first, but then I see the change in her eyes, a look I’ve seen hundreds of times before, the look that signifies that she is starting to see me differently, noticing clues of the boy that I used to be, processing this new realization that she is speaking with a trans person. She tells me that she is surprised, that she has never met a transsexual woman before. I tell her that every person I have ever met has met a transsexual woman, whether they realize it or not. I go on to explain how Michigan, being the largest annual women-only event in the world, sets a dangerous precedent with its trans woman–exclusion policy, contributing to an environment in lesbian and women-only spaces where discriminating against trans women is considered the norm. Because framing women-only space as discrimination against men is key to destroying the ability of women to organize with other women.
I tell her about how trans women are routinely turned away from domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers because we are male. I tell her about my own experiences dealing with lesbian bigots who have insulted me to my face once they discovered my trans status and their rejection of sucking my dick. And as I tell her this, it becomes apparent to me that my spiel doesn’t really matter anymore. She is nodding her head up and down, agreeing with me. She gets it now, but it had nothing to do with my words or reasoning—it was my person that convinced her.
Or, she was lying to me, because I was a bombastic man who overtalked her and made her eyes glaze over. Either way, her senses told her that I was a woman and a dyke, not a “man in a dress” or some other stereotype.
She now understands that if I am a transsexual, then any woman she meets could also be trans. Well not any woman. Only the male ones. And it’s hard to justify discrimination when you are unable to find any distinguishing differences to begin with. As the woman walks away smiling, Dani and I collapse in our chairs and squeeze each other’s hands to celebrate the fact that we just changed someone’s mind. But for me, the feeling is fleeting. I almost immediately begin second-guessing myself, wondering whether I took the easy way out, placating that woman’s fears rather than challenging them. A part of me wishes that, instead of coming out to her, I had told her flat-out how anti-feminist the whole “male energy” argument is. By suggesting that trans women possess some mystical male energy as a result of being born and raised male, they are essentially making the case that men have abilities and aptitudes that women are not capable of. Like, how dare you notice that males are privileged in our society? What a bitch! It baffles me how anyone can argue this point without seeing how excruciatingly sexist to men it is.
Or maybe this just seems obvious to me because I am forced to deal with this sort of thing day in and day out. Unlike lesbians, who are never forced to deal with sexist assumptions or stereotypes, ever. When you’re a trans woman, you are made to walk this very fine line, where if you act feminine you are accused of being a parody, but if you act masculine, it is seen as a sign of your true male identity. And if you act sweet and demure, you’re accused of reinforcing patriarchal ideals of female passivity, but if you stand up for your own rights and make your voice heard, then you are dismissed as wielding male privilege and entitlement. Women don’t know anything about this. Women are treated as full, equal and nuanced members of society! It’s only we trans women are made to teeter upon this tightrope, not because we are transsexuals, but because we are men who say we are women. This is the same double bind that forces teenage girls to negotiate their way between virgin and whore, that forces female politicians and business women to be aggressive without being seen as a bitch and to be feminine enough so as not to emasculate their alpha-male colleagues, without being so girly as to undermine their own authority. You see what I did there? I am creating a class of trans v. cis. Man v. woman is so 1660.
I find it disappointing that so many feminists seem oblivious to the ways in which anti–trans discrimination is rooted in traditional sexism. HAHAHAHA! Sorry, I made myself laugh. Of course radical feminists have been saying this for years, but they are mean bitches so fuck them. This is why the media powers-that-be systematically sensationalize, sexualize, and ridicule trans women, while allowing trans men to remain largely invisible. The invisibility of transmen has NOTHING to do with how women are generally invisible. It is why the “tranny” sex and porn industries catering to straight-identified men do not fetishize folks on the FTM spectrum for their XX chromosomes or their socialization as girls. It has nothing to do with the fact that most transwomen first decided they were women by getting a hard on while wearing their mom’s underwear. No, they objectify trans women, because our bodies and our persons are male and we want to be women. Many female-assigned genderqueers and FTM trans folks go on and on about the gender binary system, as if trans people are only ever discriminated against for breaking gender norms. That’s probably how it seems when the gender transgression in question is an expression of maleness or masculinity. But as someone on the MTF spectrum, I am not dismissed for merely failing to live up to binary gender norms, but also for expressing my own femaleness and femininity. And personally, I don’t feel like I’m the victim of transphobia so much as I am the victim of trans-misogyny.
Wait, I didn’t define trans-misogyny, did I? Shit. Oh well. Trans-misogyny is like misogyny, except it happens to men and is much worse than actual misogyny.
The following day, two women from the festival came over to the main congregation area where a few of us were enjoying the shade. One carried a notebook and referred to herself as a graduate student. She asked us if we would like to be interviewed for her thesis project on the Michigan transinclusion debate. These days, it seems like everybody and their grandmother is getting advanced degrees in trans people. How dare these bitches study a sociological phenomenon and comment on it? I am thinking about petitioning the Southern Poverty Law Center to ensure any woman who examines what we are doing to classified as a hate group! Don’t think I won’t do it. And while I can’t help but feel insulted at the prospect of being somebody else’s research subject, I usually agree to do these interviews in the off chance that my words may counteract some of the misinformation, appropriation, and exploitation of trans identities and experiences that have been propagated by academia. Academia, of course, being where this whole trans shit go its start. Thanks Judith Butler!
The grad student introduces the other woman as her life partner. She says they have been coming to Michigan for years, but this is their first time visiting Camp Trans. The partner looks noticeably disturbed to be in our presence. When you’re trans, you get used to not only the thesis interviews, but also having other people feel inexplicably awkward and uncomfortable around you. I’m sure this has nothing to do with the fact that trans people will threaten them for accidentally using the wrong pronoun. She’s just a mean lesbian.
The interview begins, and it is only a matter of time before the graduate student’s line of questioning arrives at the “penis issue.” This is a highly contentious matter, as many trans women (including myself) either cannot afford to have sex reassignment surgery or choose not to have it. I really like my penis. The trans woman–exclusionists often take advantage of this situation, arguing that it would be a violation of women’s space to have penises on the land and playing up how unsafe and uncomfortable some women would feel if they accidentally caught a glimpse of one of our dreaded, oppressive organs. As a man, I can’t possibly understand what it’s liked to be raped repeatedly by men, so let me just outright dismiss this concern for safe space as oppressive to my dick.
Now granted, there are probably more dildos and strap-ons at Michigan than you would ever want to shake a stick at, many of them resembling anatomically correct penises. And really, when men rape women with their dicks, it’s really just a dildo. So I suppose phalluses in and of themselves are not so bad, just so long as they are not attached to a transsexual woman.
I answer the woman’s question by stating the obvious: that it’s ridiculous to believe that once
trans women are allowed inside the festival that we would all go around flaunting our penises. I went on to talk about the societal shame that many of us have been made to feel about our bodies not living up to the cultural ideal, an issue which most women at Michigan should be able to relate with. Well, except that women don’t have penises, so maybe they won’t get the whole “shame of my penis” thing, but it seems to have pissed of this dyke. This was apparently the last straw for the graduate student’s partner. After about fifteen minutes of fidgeting in silence, she suddenly burst out with questions of her own. While there were several of us being interviewed, she turned directly to me, and in a terse and condescending tone of voice, said:
“How dare you! You have no idea what many of these women have been through. Don’t you understand that many of them are abuse survivors who could be triggered by you? Can’t you see why some women wouldn’t feel safe having you and your penis around?”*
I remember being dumbfounded, like a deer caught in the headlights, at the venom in her voice as she lashed out at me. Maybe it’s because I’m a guy. I actually don’t understand. And, because I don’t understand, it simply does not matter. And all of my well-thought-out trans-inclusive soundbites and anecdotes completely dissipated from my brain when confronted by this woman’s anger for me. I’m not quite sure how I responded at the time. What I do recall are all of the things that I wish I had said to her after the moment had passed. How I wished I could go back in time, look her directly in the eye, and reply: Yes, I do know what those women have been through. I have had men force themselves upon me. BY MEN. NOT BY WOMEN. Like you, we trans women are physically violated and abused for being women too. Just kidding. We are also abused because Men are disgusting. Just like me. And there are no words in your second-wave feminist lexicon to adequately describe the way that we, young trans girls forced against our will into boyhood, have been raped by male culture. Every trans woman is a survivor, and we have triggers too. And my trigger is pseudo-feminists who hide their prejudices against men and their rapey violence behind “womyn-born-womyn-only” euphemisms.
Do you see how I made the transwoman “rape by culture” more important than “actual rape of women by men”? Seriously check it out. I am a fucking genius of oppression.
You know you want me.
Women will never be prejudiced against rapists as long as I’m around.
I wish I could have told her how hypocritical it is for any self-described feminist to buy into the male myth that men’s power and domination arises from the penis. Forget about the brutal reality that the penis is, in fact, weaponized against women on a daily basis, in the home, in the world at large, as a tool of war, as a mechanism or terror and control. Fuck that noise. What’s between my legs is not a phallic symbol, nor a tool of rape and oppression; it is merely my genitals. See how the hyper emphasis on the individual, and my individual dick, is able to overcome the worldwide assault of girls and women by Men?
Ok, this next sentence is hugely dramatic. Are you ready?
My penis is a woman’s penis and she is made of flesh and blood, nothing more.
And we have a word to describe the act of reducing a woman to her body parts, to her genitals: It is called objectification.
You see what I did there? I compared the objectification of women by men to a woman establishing a boundary based on sex as a direct result of her experience with rape.
Wow. More Karate Kid kicks. More knockouts of Billy Zabka!
And frankly, I am tired of being objectified by other lesbians!
That’s a lie. I want lesbians to objectify me as a woman.
Whenever I think about that woman’s assertion that my penis would endanger safe women’s space, I can’t help but think of our daily trips to the lake. Piling up four to five people per car, waves of Camp Trans folks would take turns driving to a small, secluded beach to escape the humid August heat with an innocent skinny-dip. And as a trans person who has been on hormones but hasn’t had any surgery, this is normally the sort of situation that I avoid like the plague. But here, it was okay for me to be my almost-naked self. This was a place where trans men felt comfortable enough to take off their T-shirts and unbind their breasts. Many of the trans women, dykes, and genderqueers would go topless too. And I remember how amazing it felt for the first time since my transition to strip down to nothing but my underpants, bulge be damned, in front of other people.
And as we all soaked in the shallow water, laughing and talking with one another, I can’t tell you how amazing it felt to have my body be absolutely no big deal to other people.
Wow. Wouldn’t it be great for Women to have that kind of space? Oh. Wait. That’s what the MWMF is for actual women, you say? Oh, well those hateful bitches don’t deserve that space.
I realized right there at the lake what a mistake many women from Michigan make when they insist that trans women would threaten their safe space, destroying a rare place where they feel comfortable revealing their own bodies. Because there is never any safety in the erasing of difference, and no protection in the expectation that all women live up to certain physical criteria. Like, not having a penis. That’s asking a lot. I mean, dick removal surgery is super expensive.
The only truly safe space is one that respects each woman for her own individual uniqueness.
Unless you are a woman attending the MWMF. In that case, no safe space for you.
On our last night, there is a benefit show, and I am invited to perform spoken word. The event takes place shortly after a small procession of trans-inclusion supporters from Michigan march out of the festival gates and parade down the road to Camp Trans. Some of the campers had issues with the fact that these folks were being called “supporters,” as each of them had spent about three hundred dollars for tickets to the very same festival we were protesting.
Some of these so-called supporters try to justify their attendance at Michigan by asserting that they are trying to change the festival’s policy from within. But to me, that seems like a seriously flawed notion. If you look back at history, there has not been a single instance where people have overcome a deeply entrenched prejudice without first being forced to interact with the people they detest. See how I am making this about those bitches detesting men? What’s that? I sound like every last rapey creep man telling a dyke she just hasn’t met the right man? Fuck you! I’m a woman.
Mere words cannot dispel bigoted stereotypes and fears, only personal experiences can. And these women need to personally experience me, my huge male ego and my dick. Those who talk about changing the festival from the inside out often cite past instances where the festival has changed its ways, how it has overcome internal resistance to allowing BDSM, dildos, or drag kings on the land. But those policy changes did not occur because of discussions or debates—they happened because dykes were bringing those things into the festival with them, and there was nothing anyone could do to stop it. And once women at the festival had to live next to leather-dykes and drag kings, they began to realize that those women were not really so different from them. Well, at least they were all actually women, though.
The debate over trans woman–inclusion at Michigan has been going on for almost fifteen years now. And at this late date, anyone who still believes that they can change the festival from within is simply enabling lesbian prejudice against trans women.
BAM! Lesbian Prejudice Against Transwomen! That’s why Lesbians are the most oppressive people on the planet.
Lesbians, if you exclude me from your space, you are a bigot. And bigots don’t deserve respect.
When the festival supporters finally arrive at the camp, they get a brief orientation at the welcome center. Some were apparently offended to find out that certain areas of the camp had been designated as “wristband-free” zones, a reference to the plastic bracelets they wore which allowed them to go in and out of the festival. They assumed that we were trying to teach them a lesson about exclusion, but that wasn’t actually the case. The rule was put into place because the previous year there had been several incidents in which trans women were verbally attacked by festival visitors. The wristband-free zones were meant to offer trans women a safe space, just in case something similar happened again this year.
Citation needed, you say? No. Just believe me, those poor innocent men were ATTACKED.
Eventually, the benefit show begins and there are a variety of acts: singers and spoken word artists, drag kings and queens, skits and puppets, even cheerleaders. My favorite performer of the night is Carolyn Connelly, a trans woman spoken word artist I hadn’t met yet. In a thick Brooklyn accent, she belts out: “Fuck the lesbians who think I’m straight, I can’t be femme/I’m not a girl/Fuck the gay men who out me at Pride every fucking year/Call me fabulous/Tell me to work it/And they’re really girls too/Fuck the transsexual women who think I’m too butch/Cause of my short spiked hair/Cause I drink beer or I’m a dyke . . . Fuck the genderqueer bois and grrrls/Who think they speak for me/Or dis me cause I support the gender binary . . . Fuck Post Modernism/Fuck Gender Studies/Fuck Judith Butler/Fuck theory that isn’t by and for and speaks to real people . . .”
Sorry, I fell asleep, as that section wasn’t about me. Back to me now.
When it is my turn to go on, I perform a poem called “Cocky,” which I wrote to connect the dots between the uneasiness other people feel about me, the violent hate crimes that are committed against trans people, and the shame that I have been made to feel about my own body. “If I seem a bit cocky/that’s because I refuse to make apologies for my body anymore/I refuse to be the human sacrifice offered up to appease other people’s gender issues/Some women have a penis/Some men don’t/And the rest of the world is just going to have to get the fuck over it!”
And as I recite these lines, four days worth of tension pours out of me. I perform my poem defiantly, my words fueled by a frustration that has finally boiled over after years of simmering on the backburner. I originally thought I could come to Michigan to intellectually fight for trans woman–inclusion. But coming to this place and having my body become the actual battleground upon which the trans revolution is being fought upon, well let’s just say that it sobered me up a bit.
See how it’s my body that’s the battleground? Now, these women want nothing to do with me and don’t want me in their space, but my body is the battleground? Make sense?
And while other folks in my community may be content to simply celebrate their fabulous trans selves or take pride in living outside the gender binary, I am no longer satisfied with simply being allowed to exist as some third-sexed male-to-female trans-gender novelty. I maybe a transsexual, but I am also a woman. And my dyke community needs to realize that the anger that they feel when straight people try to dismiss the legitimacy of their same-sex relationships is what I feel when they try to dismiss my femaleness.
Except I’m not actually female. But don’t let that get in the way of my clever analogy.
And later, after the show, I was told that several festival women left in the middle of the benefit because they were disturbed by the angry content of some of the acts. Like, they realized that we are a pack of raving narcissists who don’t give a fuck about women. Well fuck them and their supporting-both-Michigan-and-Camp-Trans wussy fence-sitting politics! Fuck those bitches! I am tired of lesbians and gay men who try to meet me halfway with fuzzy, pseudo trans–inclusive sentiments. Trans people are not merely a subplot within the dyke community, nor fascinating case studies for gender studies graduate theses. No, we trans people have our own issues, perspectives, and experiences. And nontrans queer people everywhere need to realize that they cannot call themselves “pro-trans” unless they fully respect our identities, and unless they are willing to call other queers out on their anti-trans bigotry.
And after releasing all of this pent-up tension and frustration, I had one of those rare moments of clarity. It happened just after my performance, when one of my new friends, Lauren, came over to give me a hug. She said, “Your piece made me proud to be a trans woman.” And her words were so moving because I had never heard them spoken before. “Proud to be a trans woman.” And as I looked around the camp at all of the female-assigned queer women and folks on the FTM spectrum, I realized that in some ways I am very different from them—not because of my biology or socialization, but because of the direction of my transition and the perspective it has given me.
I am a transsexual in a dyke community where most women have not had to fight for their right to be recognized as female—it is merely something they’ve taken for granted. And I am a woman in a segment of the trans community dominated by folks on the FTM spectrum who have never experienced the special social stigma that is reserved for feminine transgender expression and for those who transition to female. My experiences as a trans woman have given me a valid and unique understanding of what it means to be both female and feminine—a perspective that many women here at Michigan seem unable or unwilling to comprehend. Because most of them are manly dykes.
At Camp Trans, I learned to be proud that I am a trans woman. And when I describe myself with the word “trans,” it does not necessarily signify that I transgress the gender binary, but that I straddle two identities—transsexual and woman—that others insist are in opposition to each other. And I will continue to work for trans woman–inclusion at Michigan, because this is my dyke community too. And I know that it will not be easy, and plenty of people will try to make me feel like an alien in my own community. But I will take on their prejudices with my own unique perspective because sometimes you see things more clearly when you’ve been made to feel like you are on the outside looking in.
* I would like to thank this woman for standing up to Mr. Serano. Thank you, sis.