Friday, March 14, 2008

Letting Go

A few weeks ago the Lesbian Sex Mafia of NYC repealed their bio-penis standards to allow people with biological penises to attend play parties with their penises uncovered. The debate and the subsequent decision have rattling about in my head for a while, and this article just gave me the extra “umph”: Curve Magazine Interview with Julia Serano and Helen Boyd.

This is an amazing, and incredibly important change. The history of transgender women being discriminated against and excluded in queer and/or LGB spaces is ridiculous and has been occurring for far too long. When I first heard that the LSM was putting their bylaws to a vote I became incredibly interested in the debate process of why and how that discussion came to fruition. In reading blogs and on-line writings about the bylaws one of the most striking arguments was comparing the forced coverage of bio-penises to the celebration of dildos and other penetrative devices as well as the terms penetrating partners can use for whatever it is they’re penetrating with (for example, a dildo can be called “my cock” or a transman may wish to refer to his genitalia as his penis). Authors of the argument argued that if members were to instill so much meaning into the penis then meaning should be instilled into the penises of transman, butch women, or anyone else who claims one. Denying that identity effectively denies transman to be men while it reinforces the idea that transwomen who have penises are not, in fact, women. As the authors surmise, that logic is demeaning, steeped in patriarchal privilege and goes against any progressive politics. I am glad that transwomen are able to come and be fully at ease in these surroundings.

I have never attended a LSM party but from their description it seems to be a woman-centric space, an area that celebrates female experiences and sexuality. LSM is inclusive of “transsexual and intersexed women who live their daily lives as women, and all female-born transgender people who have a connection to and respect for the women’s community” and this post in no way is to refute their inclusivness, which I applaud and admire. However, as a transgender man I would never attend such a gathering.

I used to attend women-centric spaces but never felt quite at ease with them. For a long time my unease puzzled me as I have always been a supporter of separate spaces. Not permanently separate, but occasionally secluded areas where women, women of color, queers of color, men of color (etc.) can heal and discuss without the privileged presence of white folks, men, etc. Clearly in any separate group there will still be issues of power but the ease that comes from being with folks that share some form of your history and identity is incredibly healing. Eventually, when I came out as genderqueer, I stopped attending women-only spaces as my genderqueer identity was so masculine I felt unwelcome and even more uneasy about my own presence. By the time I fully came out as male I was no longer upset at the women who had made it clear I was unwelcome as I was finally happy to know what had been eating away at me for so long.

With that story as my background, the transmen and the gender non-conforming masculine people who attend female-only spaces puzzle me. If one is incredibly gender non-conforming and can mediate male privilege with the experience of female identity and feelings of in-betweenness or third-gender identity than I have no issue with such a person attending a women-only space. Indeed women who have not examined their own identities often create discomfort at such events: white women who do not give speaking space to women of color, women from academic backgrounds who assume their words have more weight than women who have not attended college, many women even practice and contain misogyny within themselves. However all women, even women who perpetuate patriarchy, experience sexism and that universal is a uniting factor that male-identified people can only speak about in the past tense if at all. I know that I am in no position to determine who should and should not attend, but it seems to me that one of the many purposes of a female-only space is to feel free from patriarchal pressures and male energy. It is disrespectful of transmen to engage in women’s-only spaces while our transsisters are not let inside. Even though I am still not always correctly gendered, so long as I do not open my mouth I experience male privilege. Even though I was raised as a woman and still maintain many attributes of being female my identity as a man and my experiences with masculinity would change the vibe of any space I enter. I came into my transgender identity through queer female-affirming spaces. That connection to women is therefore still incredibly strong in me and I value queer women immensely. I understand that many transgender men have a connection to women’s spaces because our identities emerged out of the safety and acceptance of these communities, but once we decide to transition it is disrespectful of us to continue to enter these spaces.

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