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Lost in transition

Lost in transition

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Searching for belonging as a trans man

My wife and I were knee-deep in February snow when we arrived at a northern Ontario campground earlier this year. I was proud and uncharacteristically confident with my breasts strapped down, my voice a high tenor and my chin boasting a month's sprout of reluctant, pubescent hair. It was the first time I'd attended a queer retreat since coming out as transsexual and beginning the physical transition from a female body to a male body just four months prior.

For weeks I had entertained visions of myself walking through those doors as a man, possibly attracting the gaze of a few gay guys (what better validation than that?) and sparking some buzz about who I was and why I had a wife.

Instead I discovered that it was already common knowledge that I was a trans man and I found myself reluctantly enduring a long winter weekend of being referred to as "she" by the girls while the guys disappeared en masse to the Jacuzzi without a glance in my direction. If I'd had any illusions about being taken seriously as a man they were shattered on the first evening when I was badgered by one woman, ostensibly drunk, who referred to me loudly as "she... he... it."

Looking back I admit that I pursued my transition naively; I belong to a generation whose queer acronym has always included at least one T. I assumed that transsexuals were equal members of the queer community and that my transition would have no effect on the relationship that I'd enjoyed for more than five years as a lesbian.

Now, after nearly a year on testosterone and a few girl parts lighter, I'm unquestionably a happier man, but my internal feelings of comfort are tempered by unexpected feelings of loss.

Living in the world as a white, heterosexual male has its privileges but as far as I'm concerned these pale in comparison to the privileges that I lost in transition. Like many trans men my identity is heavily invested in solidarity with women, with lesbians and queers at large, but I no longer have access to my former place of natural intimacy within those circles of belonging. It isn't enough to tempt me to continue living as a female imposter but it is enough to leave me mourning the loss of that connection.

I'm not the only one to suffer this sense of loss.

"Having come out as a lesbian at 15 the gay community became my family and my level of commitment to the LGBTQ community is profound," says Aydin Kennedy, a queer-identified trans man who is partnered to a lesbian. "The thought of not being part of such an amazing community was sad to me. There was also a sense of loss of my lesbian identity, the power of women and the connection that women have with each other. Although I never felt like a woman, I was afforded the privileges of being part of their energy."

"I'm still grappling with this," says Alex, a trans man whose transition cost him his lesbian partner. "I've lived as a lesbian for my entire adult life, so I feel lost around this right now."

Alex says that, after a year on testosterone, he's no longer certain about his sexual identity. "Hetero," he says, but adds, "I find some guys attractive.... I'm so horny at this point everyone looks kinda good."

Alex says his experience with gay men has included "some cruising, some hostility. Both feel strange."

As with many trans men Alex struggles with a sense of not belonging. "I often feel like a breed apart," he says.

Jeff Thiefeldt is a 38-year-old Toronto trans man who, prior to his transition, was active in the lesbian community.

"The reaction I often get from lesbians or straight women with butch lesbian friends is that they are so accepting of masculinity in women that they accept me too as a woman," he says. "If a woman wants to grow a beard, that's okay with them. It's coming from a really good place, but I wish people understood that I'm not a butch lesbian who has taken things 'a little too far.'"

But if there's one thing that's worse than an overly persistent welcome into the girl's club, it's an outright rejection from it.

"Whenever I see lesbians it makes me happy," says Thiefeldt. "I often smile at them and wonder if they read me as a trans guy ally or a creepy straight guy. I miss the way they used to look at me as though we shared a secret."

This is not to suggest that all trans men want to be welcomed as queers.

"Personally I can celebrate the wins and mourn the losses of the queer movement... from a human rights perspective," says one straight trans man, who asked that his name not be used. "However I have no desire to align myself with the community publicly.

"Now that I have transitioned... I aim to live a stealth life and the less the general public knows about the meaning behind our scars and our challenges, the safer I feel in living stealth."

But for those whose sense of identity and belonging is invested in the queer community, expulsion can be devastating. While trans men are in a league of our own, we are a scattered and scarce population.

"If you start out in a place where you find any sense of belonging, you don't want to lose that," says Rebecca Anweiler, a feminist visual artist and activist living in Kingston, "and there's not such a large population of trans men that you can instantly access some other sort of community when you transition."

Anweiler's experience as a queer feminist offers insight into why some trans men occasionally encounter resistance from lesbians.

"I think that lesbians have a hard time with [female-to-male] transitioning because many of us struggle with our own gender identity and there was a longing that somehow we would be able to fit the range of what femininity was on some kind of map that went all the way to masculinity, and that it would suffice," she says.

While the map of femininity should not stop at the border of masculinity the reality is that it is the wrong map altogether for trans men. Still when there are only two categories widely available — male and female — and when belonging to either is typically grounded in biology, many trans men experience exclusion from both.

This might explain why transsexuals — too few in numbers to form an extensive community of their own — often seek safety and belonging among different groups who have been subject to other forms of exclusion.

"We purport to embrace difference, we have struggled to be more inclusive around race, class, ability, etc and we need to expand our horizons once again," says Anweiler, one of many feminists and lesbians working to create a safe space for transsexuals in their midst. "Transsexuals need a bigger world and the people who have been talking about a bigger world have been feminists and the queer community."

For those of us who want in, we look forward to living in that bigger world one day soon. For now I'll keep sweating the small stuff and hope for a little Jacuzzi time at next year's retreat.
 

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Comments

Wow cont.
Sorry ran out of room.
It occurs to me re reading your points Leanne that you pushed your own buried views onto me.
It was something towards the ending of your comments that nagged at me and had me keep re reading your points then it hit me.
You said, :I fully support the pussy palace welcoming trans people in addition to women"
Now that speaks a great deal It says, least it's how I'm reading it, that you see people who are trans as one section "in addition to women" as another. Maybe that's the reason these events have done this. Because they themselves don't see the women as women and the men as men, but feel they should in some way all be included someway. It's that reason I tend to write women who have a transexual history or men who are transexual or people who are transexual. To make people focus on the real point. We are women, we are men, we are people.
Maybe others should start doing the same thing. BTW I do tend mostly to write women who are lesbian or men who are gay. Just as I saw marriage not as a gay issue but as an equality issue. Equal marriage.

Like Gina, I do hope some men will feel comfortable and also add their thoughts here
wow
""your hateful and ignorant comments about trans women reflect the high levels of transphobia still present in queer women's communities against trans women ""
==========
So now I am self hating am I?
Thank you Gina for actually reading/listening and seeing what I was saying.
To be clear I am a woman first, with a transexual history second, just as I am a femme second to my being female.
I've spoken with a number of men who are transexual on this issue many times, it would be those men, who are straight, that you never see at these events because as they say, they don't feel they belong there. Regardless of how many years they fought for the rights as women before self acceptance happened, they understand to put themselves into a place where they are some how loop holed into a women's event makes them feel those who are doing so, allowing them, either don't understand who they are or don't care and follow the views of Janice Raymond, that they have some how been brain washed. An even better example is how the g/l community used to look at the butch femme dichotomy, as sell outs. "Stone Butch Blues" is a good book which speaks somewhat to that issue.
No I'm not anti men but I do see the confusion come over faces when they have attended women's events with me for their first time and see men there.
In fact we now see some places in Universities changing their names from Women's Centers for this very reason.
But back to my point of men attending an event such as the Pussy Palace. Clearly I'd stake a great deal of money which I can not afford that these men are not gay but rather straight or at the very least bisexual. So we, collective, have set them loose into an event which not so many years ago storm trooping male cops raided. In fact that was one of the points of that case, they sent all male cops into a place they knew there would be women of various stages of undress at.
Maybe the confusion comes from people
Um
Sounds like Leanne is not hearing Femme on her terms. Femme asks an interesting question: Why do some trans men feel comfortable at an event that is predominantly dyke-identified? I am interested in hearing transmen comment on this question, and I hope this is a space where they feel comfortable doing so.
pussy palace and trans rights to access
the toronto pussy palace has always been a space that welcomes women and transfolks, be they trans men or trans women.

while you refer to 'trans men' as being welcomed at the palace, and question this as not acknowledging they are 'really men" i can only think you are referring to trans *women* not men, since gender is what's b/w your ears, not what your body reflects.

TO BE CLEAR!!!

trans folks face legitimate and serious barriers in both the general community and the queer communities regarding being truly accepted.

your hateful and ignorant comments about trans women reflect the high levels of transphobia still present in queer women's communities against trans women - in my experience trans men are much more accepted by queer women and I suspect it's for the reasons referred to in the body of the article - at some level many women still think of them as being women, even though they most emphatically are not. there is a lot more resistance to trans women because they once may have had, or still have, a penis, which is incredibly unfair and discriminatory.

I fully support the pussy palace welcoming trans people in addition to women, and suggest that those who don't like the policy either go elsewhere or put on their own bath house, with their own (discriminatory) rules.
Agreed
Each year Toronto holds the Pussy Palace and women's only beer garden and each year I wonder why it is open to men who are transexual. In my mind, and that of others I know, doing so is disrespecting these men by saying"wink wink" you're really a woman.

It occurs to me that if those men are permitted to attend then why no other straight men? Not saying I want men to attend but in reality that's what is happening.

It's why I don't attend these events any longer.

Sort of reminds me of the MWMF which opens it's arms to men who are transexual but frowns on women with the same background.

It's very clear that so much educating needs to be done within the L%G community let alone the greater straight community.

People who are transexual spend years being in conflict with their bodies until that day of realisation and self acceptance of a mind and body misalignment.

Once that self acceptance happens a new struggle begins, one with the outside world.

The men who are both transexual and gay fight for acceptance and even relationships with other men who are gay as do the women who are both transexual and lesbian.

It's a sad reality about people who of all should know better yet show just how much they don't. They don't like being discriminated against but feel it's their right to do so to others who's brain is at it's core is the same as their own.

It's why so many would rather life in secrete, not sharing their medical history for fear of ostracism and possible harm.

I find this even more sad when speaking about women since it is this community that fought so hard to be regarded, by others, not by their looks but by the person they are. After all women are suppose to come in all shapes, sizes, colours etc. aren't we?

It is very clear, and sad, that both the women and men who are transexual are forced to live the struggle of really belonging. Not only with their birth families but also within their own community.
Thanks
It's a privilege to listen into this trans-centric conversation; thank you. I'm just one guy, but for what it's worth, I fully accept transguys as men in my world. As a queer man with HIV, I felt a few resonances with some of the things the guys you quoted said -- including the stealth guy. I'm not saying my experience is the same as you guys, but I do feel judged and misunderstood and considered untouchable a lot. I felt a pinge of sympathy with the view of the stealth guy because I sometime feel like I would like to carry my own "secret" all the way to my grave if it would save me unfair hassles. I wish the people at the campground hadn't treated you that way. Adam.
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