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Uneasy allies: Trans women and Cis gay men

December 18, 2011

Controversy erupted in Toronto’s queer community recently as Danny Glenwright, a cissexual editor at Xtra, Canada’s largest gay and lesbian newspaper, publicly posted a trans woman‘s birth name on his personal Facebook. After at first agreeing to remove her information, he instead posted a non-apology to Xtra‘s website, sparking further outrage by trans people and their allies. In response, Xtra has promised to engage in efforts to increase trans awareness and inclusivity at the paper, though details of the plan are unclear.

The tragedy here for me isn’t just the incredible disrespect shown to the trans woman by a member of the LGBT media, but that it seems part of a larger pattern of backlash to trans women by cissexual gay men. Whether it is in response to the transphobic actions or words of a Ronald Gold, or Dan Savage, or exploiting our deaths for camp, or even arguing against use of the word ‘cis’, there is a significant minority of cis gay men who make no effort to restrain their vitriol for trans women who demand equality.

This is by no means to suggest all cis gay men are transphobic. Far from it, I myself have many cis gay men who are incredible friends, allies, and community, and many prominent gay men are vocal supporters of trans rights. Still, whenever conflict arises between cis gay men and trans people (trans women specifically), there is inevitably a core of gay voices who respond with anger and hatred. The tactics of belittling, derailing, and dehumanizing occur again and again.

This isn’t limited to trolling commenters on websites, either. Some gay men in positions of real power – politicians and the media, among others – hold at best regressive ideas about trans women, and at worst engage in actively anti-trans behaviour. These men directly affect the quality of life for trans people in their ability to influence laws and culture. Whether it is excluding trans people from legislation designed to protect other LGB people or normalizing our culture’s transphobia, the outcome is the same: trans people are marginalized and dehumanized.

Now, the point of writing this isn’t simply to point out that some gay men can say and do transphobic things, or to engage those men in a flame war. Though it is an uncomfortable pattern to point to, and the conversations to begin addressing this issue will not be easy, they nonetheless need to happen. One of the common derailing arguments of those internet commenters is to suggest that the ‘real enemy’ is elsewhere, and that trans people are misguided in their criticism of transphobia within the gay community. I flatly reject this. We cannot move forward to seek social justice for all if we have rot in our foundation. Allowing transphobia, racism, ableism, misogyny, classism, and other oppressions to go unchecked only undermines our efforts. Only by addressing them will our movements be stronger.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Chartreuse permalink
    December 21, 2011 12:45 am

    Although I now self identify as a gay man I was transgendered as a child and I can tell you that as bad as gay bullying is trans bullying is much worse, and escalates to violence much faster than gay bulling does. So as a gay man I do have some sense of how bad transphobia can get. I live in New York City and I hear negative trans comments from masculine and hyper-masculine gay men all the time. Many believe that if we kicked the T out of GLBT that we would become much more “acceptable” to straight people and would gain marriage and other rights overnight if we just got rid of the “gender freaks” I do point out to them that not all gay men present like Tom Selleck or Arnold and that gender presentation put’s many many gay men at risk so we do have some very good reasons to keep our T friends and realize that in many ways we are all in the boat and what’s bad for them can also be bad for us so we all really need to stick together.

  2. Elloreigh permalink
    January 6, 2012 9:39 am

    Followed the link here from John Aravosis’ blog. With regard to “a larger pattern of backlash to trans women by cissexual gay men”, there’s the equivalent accusation (yes, this is looked upon as an accusation, rather than an observation) that there is a pattern of backlash against gay men by members of the trans community.

    I would take issue with both statements. Neither gay nor trans people think as a collective, but as individuals. There are bad apples in either group.

    Bottom line: I don’t think a dialogue is possible if each side is going to keep accusing the other of a pattern of abuse.

    What’s more, I’m not sure what you hope to accomplish by having such a dialogue. Certainly we should combat the prejudice within our ranks. Trouble is, some gay men increasingly see this as becoming a one-sided discussion in which trans people beat up on gay men as a group for every perceived individual transgression. I’ve experienced something of the kind myself – I’m not encouraged to speak up on behalf of the trans community when some individuals within it are incapable of distinguishing between me as an ally versus some other gay man who perpetrated some abuse against them.

    Nonetheless, I’m unwavering in my support because it’s the right thing to do, any negative experiences involving trans individuals notwithstanding.

    One final note, regarding “cis”: Don’t expect gay men who aren’t trans to start calling themselves “cis” anything. It may be a handy label for some discussions, but there is definitely rising resistance to having it imposed on us.

  3. laughriotgirl permalink
    January 7, 2012 9:27 am

    @Elloreigh – What I find interesting is that, while the point of this post “isn’t simply to point out that some gay men can say and do transphobic things, or to engage those men in a flame war.” THAT is exactly how Mr. Aravosis presents it and EXACTLY what is happening on his blog (with the interesting absence of any trans participation… curious isn’t it).

    What I also find interesting is that, while gay men may find combating prejudice within our own ranks as trans people beating up on them, I find it quite the opposite. That increasingly gay men are intentionally making some really problematic comments about or to trans women, playing victim when called out, and then calling for a one-sided “dialogue” (that usually turns into a referendum on trans participation in the movement).

    This is probably an issue of perspective, and I can see why some gay men may be reluctant to talk about trans issues. Can you understand why it is difficult to ask a trans woman to automatically give a gay man she doesn’t know the benefit of the doubt when he says/does something that may be transphobic?

  4. Bisou permalink
    July 23, 2012 11:10 am

    Transphobia in the Gay community is hurting their own cause. Ironically, they believe that it is helping their cause, by _singling it out_.

    I think it’s an issue that is stemmed deep in gender identity and societal norms. Unfortunately, we still haven’t gotten rid of the stigmas that being a man or woman carries, without even acknowledging what is in between, or beyond the gender binary.

    I have seen a lot of hate on “effeminate” gay men, but i find that it is outside of the “out,” homopositive, gay community.

    Equality is a two-way street. Gay men can’t expect to be more equal than anyone else.

    I hope that one day we’ll dissolve all these labels and live in peace, free to be ourselves, without prejudice.


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