(Also crossposted on https://medium.com/@whoaitsjoan/i-am-not-transmasculine-or-transfeminine-9fe0791afa95)
I don’t like transmasculine and transfeminine being used as dividing lines for trans experience. I’m specifically talking to people who use transfem or transmasc almost exclusively to differentiate different kinds of trans people, as if it’s self vs. other with nothing in between. If you’re a butch trans woman (or just a butch trans like myself), nonbinary, agender, genderfluid, or any non-colonial expression of gender, you may have experienced some of this pressure yourself.
Whether it comes out explicitly in being labeled as transfeminine/masculine without someone’s consent, or the more systemic problem of just not seeing reference to transandrogynous as its own descriptor (thanks to @hologramvin for helping with that), there’s a real disconnect for those of us who aren’t connected to this new binary. Many of us have gone through a long back and forth journey to come to realize how our gender is not connected to being a binary trans person, and not having the language to communicate that even after all this work. This is nothing new to those of us that have to work within languages that genders each word as intrinsically masculine or feminine with no room for anything between it. Is it the fault of English speakers that we only have the few words such as “they” to describe ourselves outside of a binary, or that we are constantly forced into binaries by virtue of our language not being developed with more than two genders in mind?
Moreover, it’s important to discuss how much of this pressure is coming from outside of trans communities. How rare it actually is to not be gendered as she or he in public. How little support there is in many areas for people who don’t fit a binary trans mold. The isolation that can often come from many binary trans people who are unable to see transness without it being “MTF or FTM”. The real but unspoken pressure that comes from constantly being defined by your genitals and using a descriptor that would get rid of the need for that question from both chasers and trans exclusionists. If it’s no longer socially acceptable to ask what someone’s genitals are, then transmasculine or transfeminine becomes a more acceptable way to frame that question.
Whether you’re doing it intentionally or not, statements that divide between transmasc and transfemme erase the experiences of trans people who are both, go between the two or are neither. Oversimplifications of this form also come out in terms such as “transmisogyny exempt”, a framework that attempts to draw a dividing line between trans people who experience transmisogyny and trans people who don’t. Many who use transmisogyny exempt argue that trans women and trans-feminine people (and if they’re nice, nonbinary CAFAB people) are at just as much risk of dealing with transmisogyny from trans men/transmasculine people as they are with cis men and that such a distinction is based on privilege each group occupies.
This feel like a gross oversimplification of transmisogyny, which affects so many trans people based on their perceived proximity to trans womanhood and doesn’t even apply exclusively to trans people at that. It’s not even a stretch to say that both gay men and transfeminine people experience transmisogyny, albeit in different ways. And to say that a nonbinary transmasculine sex worker of color will always hold transmisogyny over a white trans woman is ignoring the many intersections that make this conversation a lot more nuanced. Not only that but to put this box around proximity to femininity and using it as an absolute identifier erases the experience of butch trans women, nonbinary trans people who don’t want to be read as men or women and trans men who still express themselves strongly through femininity. Ultimately, the transmisogyny exempt movement defines transfemininity by virtue of it not being transmasculinity, which divides us into further binaries and separates what are ultimately movements that are both fighting against discrimination universally. Claiming a uniqueness to trans womanhood should not come at the expense of anyone that doesn’t meet those expectations.
We need nuance in our trans discourse. If we expect to fight oppressive gender systems as well as the colonial institutions that uphold these systems, we need to be able to understand why our experiences are different and challenging in their own ways. And a big part of that is not enforcing transmasculine or transfeminine as the only kinds of trans bodies.