Bruce Parker

Some thoughts on Lesbians, Transmen, and the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival

Filed By Bruce Parker | August 23, 2006 2:12 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
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Recently Mellissa invited us to take part in a conversation around lesbians and transmen. Instead of commenting inside her post, I decided to expand my thoughts a bit and continue the conversation on the main page. I am really curious how other folks read this piece and how they made sense of it?

The article opened by talking about the most recent season of "The L Word." Now one of my secrets is that "The L Word" is one of my favorite shows on television. I find it much more interesting, engaging and well by far hotter than Queer as Folk ever was. When the interent buzz began around the L Word having a transmale character, I was extremely excited. Their portrayel of Moira/Max was at times complicated enough to almost capture certain elements of transition and at times simplistic enough to be read by the audience in a number of troubling ways. Anytime television attempts to represent subaltern underrepresented populations to the public the character becomes a token of the highest order. Moira/Max was not taken as a transman to the majority of the L Words audience he was taken as the transman. Max's experience with Jenny and the lesbian group of friends is not that unrealistic and at times a little more at ease than those relationships often play out in actual life. As Max began taking hormones (this is the concerning part) the at times negative side effects that come along with intial stages of hormonal transition were made to become Max's personality. Max became a man who disrupted his supportive partners love of him and his lesbian communites acceptance of him with his stereotypically negative male behaviors. This has alot of potential to contribute to already epidemic false understandings of what transitions do to personalities of transmen.

I am going to veer away from focusing on The L Word and Max's character to focus instead on the larger point of the article. Yes. Some lesbians find it threatening for Transmen to make choices that bring them closer to who they understand themselves to be. All lesbians do not struggle with this and at times transmen continue to live in lesbian communities because that is where they feel most welcomed. Some transmen feel like they never were lesbians but it was the closet option available to them prior to beginning to live as men. I am not claiming that the tenstion that the author of the original article places between the two communities isn't there. I am simply saying it is not a simple tension and probably much more complicated than gay mens tension with drag queens and transwomen.

The author does betray his transphobia and lack of understanding of the identifications of transfolk in general by saying, "Among lesbians -- the group from which most transgendered men emerge -- the increasing number of women who are choosing to pursue life as a man." The author demonstrates an inherent disrespect by framing transmen as women who choose to live as men. It is of course not that simple. That is similar although not identical to saying gay men are straight men who choose to live as gay men. Whether Nature or Nurture or complex combination of the two as most queers know we are undeniably who we are. It is not ever simply a choice.

Framing men and women on opposing sides is terribly out dated feminist thinking. The most ardent feminists know that they cannot overcome patriarchy without accepting that men can be allies in this struggle. Much like the gay rights movement and transgender movement has learned that Significant Others, Friends, Families, and Allies are essential partners in struggles for equality. So by accusing transmen of "going over to the other side" these women are demonstrating their commitment to exclusion not equality.

I am particularly taken with the quote from the lesbian that was included in the article that I have placed below

"I am a lesbian because I am attracted to women, and not to men," said a 33-year-old woman who broke up with her partner of seven years, Sharon Caya, when Sharon became Shane. The woman, who asked to be identified only as Natasha, to protect family members who are unaware of her lifestyle, said that she was ultimately faced with the reality of her sexual orientation and identity. "I decided I couldn't be in a romantic relationship with a man."

Clearly Natasha doesn't get that she was dating Shane the whole time she was with Sharon. If we are willing to define each other only by bodies and genitals we have more serious problems than disciminatory marriage amendments.

"some lesbians view it as gender treason

Just as some lesbians and gays consider it treason when bisexual people date people of either gender, treason is a strong word. However, we do as marginalized communities police our boundaries in some profoundly damaging ways. I felt very much like I was commiting sexual orientation treason when I started becoming involved with transmen and at times butch lesbians.

Finally, this article was in all fairness bad journalism for so many reasons. These are conversations that are essential and should be had on respectful levels. The best demonstration of the problems with this piece can be the fact that with ten minutes on google and the information in the article the protected source "Natasha" is easily found.


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Marla R. Stevens | September 19, 2006 6:47 AM

About defining people by bodies:

Of course Natasha was dating Shane the person the whole time she was with Sharon and, if we were talking a parent/child relationship or a hand-only-friend, it ought not matter more than the amount that changes in hormones change people's personalities.

But we're talking about a primary adult sexual orientation in this example and it's not unreasonable at all for bodies to matter, too, in those.

I love my wife's body and can wax eloquently and pornographically about its delights for hours long after one day has changed to another. I acknowledge that it is the shell of her soul and that her soul would be the same in another shell but her body would not be and I would be so sad at its loss.

If it were in a man's body, it would be a different experience than being enveloped in her softly ethereal skin. I am enough not a Kinsey six not to think I'd recoil from it but I know I'd miss the touch of a woman's body at a very deep place in my being enough to feel compelled to at least hunt for a woman to add to my life. And I could easily see it bringing me a sense of sexual orientation confusion that would be, at minimum, uncomfortable and complicating, however I came to live with it in the end.

It's one thing to enter into a relationship with someone who has already transitioned -- informed and attracted. It's another altogether to have such a big change of someone else made yours to live with mid-relationship. Ideologically and ethically, people ought to be cut more slack than you're cutting them here, Bruce. Natasha isn't being mean to Shane, much less transphobic in general, she's just trying to live true to herself which seems to include a body-aware sexual orientation.

Bottom line: Bodies do matter for some things and adult sexual relationships can be one of those things without having the person to whom it matters labeled transphobic.

Marla R. Stevens | September 19, 2006 6:49 AM

Error correction: Paragraph three should read "primary adult sexual relationship", not "primary adult sexual orientation".

I understand Natasha's response, I don't know that I agree with all of it, but I understand it. As a longterm feminist and lesbian, I have recently found myself in love with a butch lesbian who is figuring out her gender identity as a male. We have very straight strap on sex, and my cocksucking of his dick (both his packing and erect cocks) are a regular part of our sex play. This is confusing to both of us, since until a few months ago, my lover never allowed his male gender to be fully alive, and until a few months ago I would NEVER have considered this kind of sex as a lesbian (particularly sucking on his packing cock). Do I love him? Yes. Does he want to transition? Maybe, maybe not. Do I want him to transition, maybe, maybe not. I adore women and women's bodies and I have ZERO attraction to bio males, but here we are. I can't fault Natasha for her decision, there isn't a one size fits all, here. And the truth is that our society remains quite sexist and homophobic and to love another woman as a woman produces a different set of challenges in dealing with the outside world and within my own sexism and homophobia, than loving a man, and that choice may be as hard as loving a FTM. But all I know now is that my lover absolutely turns me on and I adore him.

As for the LWord, the writing is bad, the acting is mostly terrible and the kind of real depth that it takes to examine this very complex and complicated issue is not the forte of a series that exploits lesbians as lipstick or pretty (including Max). Real life is hard, it is what makes it worth living.