the bitch/man conundrum

so while we’re on the topic of double-binds, let’s talk for a bit about one of the more disturbing ones because it’s as often used inside the “trans community” as outside and it really ends up having some pretty fucked-up results: the bitch/man conundrum, as i call it.

see, when you’re an assumed-cis female and you have independent thoughts that differentiate you from a doormat, to paraphrase Rebecca West and remove the messed-up part of that quote that denigrates sex workers, you often find yourself getting called a “bitch.” and, well, i am disturbingly meek and shy in person until i get to know and trust someone (and then i’m neither meek  nor shy at all), so it’s probably not the attitude i present with. i am far more of a baller on the internet, in other words.

the paradigm shifts a bit when you’ve disclosed being trans, you’re female, and you have independent thoughts that differentiate you from a doormat. see, this tends to shift things very rapidly from “bitch” to “man.” now, uh, listen, “man” is not an insult to someone who identifies as such, but at the same time, in case you missed the memo, i’m a trans woman, if you know me at all you know why it’s particularly laughable to call me a “man,” as even with some effort toward that goal i still can’t fake it as one for the life of me, at least in the eyes of others, but at the same time i know who is most likely to use that imprimatur: cis gays/lesbians who are deeply threatened by trans women, but most often, it’s used by other trans women.

alright, sometimes they use “it”, which is the more politically correct version of “man” in trans space. nevertheless, the reality is the same: statements which differentiate me from a doormat, which absent the knowledge that i’m trans, would merely get me called a “bitch”, instead magically transform me into a “man.”

i don’t like this conundrum, just in case you missed it. it’s binding, it’s frustrating, and it’s one of the tools in the toolbox of silencing that a lot of our “trans community” leaders seem to believe is reasonable to use. of course, you have to do it quietly, or use oblique angles of attack like that someone is “bitter and angry” and then in the next paragraph refer to how “men are bitter and angry”, but…it’s sort of like the social equivalent of what the little white children used to call “nigger-knocking.” you know, where you pound on the door of a Black person and run away. that’s all any of this is…it’s reminding someone that you find undesirable for a reason you can’t elucidate in polite company that they’re not supposed to be here because of that reason. naturally, you can’t actually say “nigger” to my face, but you sure can pound on the door, scream it, and run like hell.

we need to stop enabling the bitch/man thing within the “trans community” because it’s the only way we’re ever going to get cis people to stop doing it. we have to stand up and stop it all the time, every time. i don’t really care how much you don’t like someone, it’s never acceptable to call another trans woman “it” or refer to her as a man. ever. like, seriously, if we don’t knock it off, how can we ask the cis world to knock it off? i know that behind my back, it’s probably fun to mock my mental shortcomings and my weird features, but these are things you never would have paid attention to if you didn’t know i was trans, and the fact that you are paying attention to them once you know i am is pretty freakin’ reprehensible because it means you’re looking for markings, looking for differences which you can use to other someone and take away their gender identity…this is something that nobody does to cis people, but it’s pretty much a fact of daily life in the “trans community.”

now, of course, we’ve delved at length into the reasons why one is “undesirable” in the “trans community.” or, well, i’ve at least touched on the attempts at reason that the “trans community” provides, since i really don’t understand what part of dogma makes a legitimate case for the idea that you can’t be, say, a trans woman and disabled at the same time, but i don’t get the hater dogma to start with mostly because it’s primarily directed at anyone who doesn’t fit a specific narrow concept of what a “woman” is. at the risk of repeating myself, the definition of “woman” promulgated by the trans community has nothing to do with the definition of “woman” promulgated by Western society generally.  because of this, the “trans community” enforces such a narrow standard that most cis women wouldn’t actually fit it, and if you can’t see why this is problematic, you’re probably one of the people who thinks it’s funny to call me a “man” or “it” and make sure that i’m not allowed in your treehouse.

to which i say: we’re adults, grow the fuck up and get over your treehouse.

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3 Comments to “the bitch/man conundrum”

  1. I have only ever gotten this from cisgender people, not trans people. But I have no doubt that it goes on. I, for one, am trans, a woman, and most certainly vocal that I am not a doormat. What makes that worse for me is that I tell people in some form or fashion that I am not a doormat trans woman. It has lead to people deriding my gender on the basis that I transition to be me, not to be whatever image of womanhood they hold on to. It leads people to avoid or reject me on the sole basis that if they call a trans woman, or me an “it”, or a “he” or a “man” for failing to conform to their definition of woman then I’ll most certainly go off on them.

    When I first transitioned I was very, very different from how I am now. I just wanted to sit in the corner and mind my own business and not say anything. I wanted to stay out of those things, but the more I saw it the more I was disquieted by it. Mind you, it all depends on my present company. In public with strangers, for my safety I don’t out myself by pointing it out. But with people I know they’ll get an earful if they transgress that one with me. The more time passed I became very much less than meek before the world, including some of the trans folks I spend time around. I’ll point out tropes, get upset with some of the very things you have pointed out.

    I don’t know what made me do a 180 on this, but it really happened at some point that I said “I will not be silent”. I have even had some really harsh fights with people I love about saying X or Y identified me “really a man”. I like you can’t for the life of me understand how or why trans people do this to each other. The way I see it though refers to the effects of internalized oppression, when people who are oppressed do the same to their own. It’s probably the most dastardly of all forms of oppression, and it happens within every oppressed class of people it seems. I, of coarse, we do as I always do… I’ll call it out as I see it.

    • part of the problem is that the idea of “doormat” plays into a number of socially enforced dichotomies about what trans women can and cannot be. “doormat” at least means silence and goes into the “pathetic” half of the deceptive/pathetic trope that Serano et al have discussed and many of us here in the blogosphere have rehashed. of course, being quiet does not really always mean doormat…

      i think the only place i’ve ever been called “really a man”, outside medicine and wadfem circles, is by other trans women, and i suspect it’s the same old same old “you’re evidence you don’t have to be exactly like this and thus we must destroy the evidence”, as http://www.twitter.com/eassumption put it. but you are dead right (as usual) that it does happen within every oppressed class, and hell, it is almost the uniform element of internalized oppression.

      • I have also had the “doormat” issue about trans women with “wadfems” too now that I think about it, but the only trans person I ever got that from was Anne Lawrence. I used to kind of back off about it with feminists, but I had a breaking point at some place in all of that and said essentially, “Just because I am trans doesn’t mean I stand up for myself out of residual privilege”. It was probably after reading the umpteenth blog by rad fems essentially calling trans women wolves in sheep’s clothing, also by proxy inciting and validating violence against us “deceivers”, “pretendabians” and “traps” but especially against those who speak up about it.

        Hell, even Kathy Brennan got on me about it with a really vague cheeky remarks. The cis instances I faced the most were people saying “You’ll never be pretty enough to be a woman”, “You have too many masculine qualities to be a woman”, or “Real women don’t do X” and a list of other tropes too long to mention. What is funny is that these same people contradict themselves in the things they use to say “nope, not woman enough” usually by citing some woman they know who has those traits, but is “still a woman” to them. It, to me at least, tends to reveal peoples “false pretenses” in why they intentionally misgender, or degender you.

        What’s sad with the “conundrum” is that it isn’t just “non-doormat-ism” that gets you called an it, or a he (a man), it’s any sort of gender variant behavior that varies from sexist expectations of being a woman. Everything from “knowing how to fix” a car, to actually speaking your mind. I guess to a degree that all sort of falls under the “doormat woman” descriptor in some way or another. Those other traits have been used against me by other transwomen to misgender or degender me, outside of the “Not Trans Enough” trope.

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