AI: Trans Issues 101

AI: Trans Issues 101

(I know you're all probably still trying to stop watching George Takei's Happy Dance – thanks, Rachel – so I'll just jump right to it.)

Yesterday, a friend of mine was driving me to the bus stop because it was late and people were afraid I’d be eaten by bears if I walked there, when we passed by a transvestite prostitute (it was a very nice neighborhood, aside from the bears). Then, the following conversation happened:

Friend 1: Are men who have sex with trans people gay?

Me: Not necessarily.

Friend 2: Yes, obviously! If a guy has sex with another dude he’s gay and that’s it!

Me: But trans women are women. So they’re having sex with women.

Friend 2: There’s no turning into a woman. You were a guy, you’re a guy. Dressed as a girl or not. 

Friend 3: Now there’s the bus stop.

So I had to leave the car, and the conversation, unfinished. And though I’m probably never talk about that with that specific friend again, trans issues are very new to my life, and I realize I may not always be the best at advocating for them. So I thought I might ask:

What approach do you recommend when trying to educate people about trans issues? How do you argue with the claim that trans women are really gay men in an informal, conversational way (especially when you’re somewhere you know trans awareness approaches zero)? Is there a better way to deal with this kind of situation?

The Afternoon Inqueery (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Queereka community. Look for it to appear on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, at 3pm ET.

Aretha is a lesbian girl born in Amazon-covered northern Brazil, and currently lives closer to the Atlantic Ocean. She is working on becoming a biologist and her interests include feminism, LGBTQ rights, particularly small soil fungi and anything Anne Hathaway does.

12 Comments

  1. I'm a big fan of asking something along the lines of "is a man who loses his penis in an accident still a man?" when I end up in this type of situation (granted, this hasn't happened more than a handful of times). This usually gets people to answer yes, then justify. 

    • I don’t like this, especially because it suggests transitioning is a kind of amputation or diminishment and that only people with bottom surgery are really trans.

  2. I usually go Socratic on them: ask them what makes someone a man or a woman, follow up with why (whatever they've said) is the important and definitive part of gender, keep pushing them to define their exact notions of gender (and make them aware of various intersex conditions that complicate the binary even for people who don't accept trans people's internal realities.) I also like to use sci-fi scenarios, if they're the kind of person who can roll with that sort of thing: "Suppose a man woke up in the body of a woman. Would he then be a woman?" (You can work with this whatever the answer is: either a person's "true" gender can change as their body changes, or a person's internal sense of gender is independent of their body.)
    It's important to have realistic expectations in conversations like these. You can't get from "a man involved with a trans woman is gay" to "everybody has the right to define their own gender however they want" in a single conversation. Simply getting them to question one or two of their initial assumptions, or casting doubt upon the simplistic gender binary, is a good first step.

  3. The "trans women are gay men" one? That's easy: point out the existence of trans lesbians.
    If that doesn't work, stab them in the throat.

    • Knowing the guy that said it, I don't know that that would help. He is really ok with people "thinking" they are whatever they want to be, but he'd still maintain that a lesbian trans woman is, ideed, a man. And if said hypothetical lesbian trans women were, say, raped by a cis man, that man would still be gay (and also, a rapist).

      (I SERIOUSLY NEED NEW FRIENDS)

      Also, throat stabbing sounds nice

  4. Generally people don't say this kind of thing to my face anymore. Given that I often look more manly than them (what with all of this chest hair and male pattern baldness) the argument that assigned birth gender is perminent  identity falls pretty flat.
    Back before my body matched my identity I wasn't so good at this.  My lack of confidence made it difficult to make the arguement well.  But today I'd probably say something like "Respecting people means respecting the identity they carry.  If you do not respect someone's identity, you do not respect them as a person.  I think that's pretty sad."

  5. definitely in favor of pressing their concept of gender.  if we're anywhere near the internet, i will direct them to Natalie's blog, or here: http://tranarchism.com/2010/11/26/not-your-moms-trans-101/

  6. Wow.  Your friend is pretty close minded.  First of all, gay men like to sleep with(get this) men.  They're attracted to men.  Not to women.(Or even people that LOOK like women according to your transphobic friend)  Secondly, I don't even know where to begin with how plain old stupid it is to assume that trans women are just gay men.  Most of the trans women I know are lesbians.  Again, just wow.

  7. Are men who have sex with trans people gay?
    Also, is your friend asking about trans men as well?  Or ignoring them completely by assuming "trans people" only means trans women? :/

    • Agreed with your first comment (I would have gone there had I had the time), but that one is really just bad translation from my part. The girl who asked used a word that limits it to trans women, that wasn't trans women, but I have no idea how to translate that.
      But I'm PRETTY SURE she has no idea trans men even exist.
      I have serious problems finding good unprejudiced friends, :/

  8. I might approach this from another angle, with the argument that sexual behaviour itself can’t “make” anyone gay, unless they choose to adopt that identity for themselves. People can be gay even with no same-sex experiences (and some opposite-sex experience, which many gay people have had) and people can be straight even having had same-sex experiences. This might introduce some nuance even if the person doesn’t understand trans issues very well.

    A second point is that when you are attracted to someone presenting as a given gender, it stands to reason that you are attracted to the presented gender to at least some degree. It might also be interesting to see if they think that the same situation reversed (i.e. a gay man who has sex with a gay trans man) makes either of them straight. My money would be on “no” and this might be a good way to segue into why these seem to be different and on to their conceptions of gender and sexuality.

    • I wish I could re-have that conversation and use what you just said to make my point.

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