My ex’s life is sucking right now, if the things he’s doing and saying and the sadness and anger in his social media posts is is any indication. Despite the fact that hundreds of online trans friends and hipsters rally around him constantly with tales of how brave and beautiful he is, he has somehow decided that his life suckage is the result of oppression, and not the result of his spending every ounce of his time and energy hating himself and his body and pretending his sex organs are something other than what they are.
Oppression. It struck me recently that white MtFs who like women have managed to convince themselves not only that they’re a member of an oppressed class, but a member of three oppressed classes: women, queers, and transgender people.
They grew up in identical circumstances to those experienced by non-female, non-queer, non-transgender people, but fancy themselves victims of three class struggles. They’ve always liked women as much as the other straight guys they know, but suddenly identify with the struggle of homosexuals. Straight white guys, the most privileged group of people on the planet, have managed to convince themselves that they are three kinds of oppressed.
It should be noted that oppression, which is defined as the relationship in which a dominant class systematically abuses and exploits a subordinate class for its own benefit, is not the same as simple mistreatment. If one white guy beats up another white guy in a bar for flirting with his girlfriend, that’s not oppression. That’s mistreatment. That’s bad luck. Some might even argue that’s reaping what you sow. I’m not sure; I’ll stop short of claiming that. But it’s not oppression.
If a white cop beats up a poor black kid, however, that’s oppression. That’s a member of a dominant class exercising an age-old entitlement-fueled power over the people he perceives as lower class and materially limiting their safety and livelihood because of it.
Oppression depends upon class status. Class status depends upon being recognizable, on sight, as a member of a class. Women are a class. Women are oppressed based on our perceived reproductive capacity. To be plain: it’s because we look like women. African-Americans are a class. They are oppressed based on the color of their skin.
As a short aside, saying that women are oppressed based on gender, instead of sex, is every bit as offensive as saying that black people are oppressed based on behavior instead of skin color. Lipstick is a choice, being born with a uterus is not. Conservatives love this trick too: that black kid wasn’t beaten because of the color of his skin, it was because of his baggy pants, his use of slang, his sideways ball cap, his attitude. In both cases, the implication is that the victim could have avoided the mistreatment by changing their behavior; thus, in a way, they invited it. The former is sexism, just as the latter is racism.
This is also why there can be no such thing as “transmisogyny.” A MtF must fail to pass to be the victim of mistreatment based on transgender status (the “trans” part of the word). But if a MtF fails to pass, he is read as male and is punished as a gender non-conforming male, not as a woman. Misogyny is by definition directed at females; he cannot experience it. If he passes, on the other hand, he may experience misogyny (accidentally, as it was never intended for him) but not punishment for his unreadable transgender status. It’s quite simply one or the other.
The “oppression” of transgender people who don’t pass, such as it is, can be cast off with a change of clothes. This is not analogous to the situation of women or people of color, who know all too well that one does not simply outrun oppression.
You can be sure that if I could flip a switch and look like a man as I walked home at midnight through the streets of my city, I would. That’s because I don’t get any kind of kick out of oppression. By contrast, transgender people don’t exercise this option because they wouldn’t be expressing their true authentic selves.
Putting aside for a moment the extraordinarily disgusting claim that the true authentic selves of women consist of copious amounts of sex-stereotypical make-up and clothing, this attitude reveals the incredible privilege enjoyed by those who can make this choice. I don’t need to express myself when I walk home at night — indeed, I’d rather not draw any attention to myself at all — because the possibility of being harassed, stalked, beaten, raped or killed is real to me, having lived with such threats my entire life. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and whatnot. I don’t need for you to appreciate my fashion sense, or even know the most sincerely held values of my heart. I need for you to not kill me.
Anyone who can entertain the idea of toying with that hierarchy enjoys an astonishing ignorance of the lived realities of the people whose oppression they appropriate.
The endless lists of things “cis” people aren’t allowed to do and say and think reveal the incredible appetite some MtFs have for seeking out and finding oppression in the most innocuous acts. Using the wrong pronouns, speaking of someone’s past, talking about birth control, making the wrong cupcakes, gathering for a book club, wearing a body-positive t-shirt — these have all been claimed as oppressive acts against transwomen. Calling them brave and beautiful is wrong, not calling them brave and beautiful is wrong, refusing to date them makes you a bigot, wanting to date them makes you a chaser. No treatment is ever really good enough.
Then there’s the appropriation, by rich white straight guys, of a “transgender murder rate” that upon close inspection seems to affect mostly poor black gay guys (often in the context of prostitution or domestic violence). This is a problem, to be sure, and it always was a problem. But the people affected by it aren’t the same ones filling their social media feeds with posts about it. The people affected by this problem are too busy trying to survive. Where were the random middle-class white men rising up against the murder of black prostitutes before they thought of themselves as having something in common with them?
Idle time, the kind you have a lot of when you’re not actually fighting for your life, is the devil’s playground.