Accepting male privilege while doing nothing to eradicate it and uplift women of color will not save me, and it will not save other transgender men.
By Morgan Givens
I stand at the cross-section of multiple identities as a queer black trans man. I remember what it was like to be viewed as a black woman. I remember how I was treated, spoken to, and neglected by society. It’s true that there are dangers inherent in being a black-bodied person, of being seen only through the lens of a society that trains others to view me as subhuman, as worthy only of a bullet or chains, of being seen as a black man who needs to be put down.
I never realized how unsafe I had felt, how heavy the weight of fear had pressed against me until it lifted. I distinctly remember when it happened, my shoes as they slapped the pavement, their scuffing reaching my ears as I trekked across an open parking lot, blanketed in darkness on a frigid December evening.
I remember the fear of being gendered as a woman evaporating, and the final puzzle piece of male privilege sliding into place, as I was struck by the sudden realization that I no longer had to worry about being attacked as I moved towards my car.
I didn’t have to worry about a man watching me, waiting to accost me, or seeking to make an attempt at robbing me of my dignity. I no longer had to worry – as I had the summer before my sophomore year in college – when a man approached me in my apartment complex parking lot to say to me: “I’ve been watching you for weeks, and I think you’re really cute. You should come out with me.” I was fully ensconced in maleness, in the privilege of being seen as the stereotypical depiction of cisgender masculinity.
Male privilege had been coming for me for a while beginning shortly after my first shot of testosterone, when my shoulders began to broaden, my voice began to drop, its newfound bass commanding attention in work meetings. I made the same comments as before, but actually began being recognized. My bosses would no longer glance at me, feign the slightest interest in my suggestion before ignoring it and moving on. Now their eyes lit up – my raised hand capturing their attention over the hands of my colleagues who were predominantly black women, women who began receding further from my consciousness, because surely I had earned this level of respect and attention from my supervisors on merit alone.
I pretended not to see the look of exhausted defiance on their faces, pretended they weren’t representative of the look I had worn for far too long, when I was once ignored with them. Privilege was holding open a door of accepting protection, and every testosterone shot moved me closer to walking through it, made my body more acceptable to the cisgender gaze.
It’s also true that I can acknowledge this while understanding the privileges given to me by a society that assumes I’m cisgender, but this temporary shield is not enough – it is gone as soon as it becomes clear to those in positions of power that I’m transgender.
Accepting male privilege while doing nothing to eradicate it and uplift women of color will not save me, and it will not save other transgender men who are assumed to be cisgender. I have seen white trans men become accepted in cisgender circles, and forget their pasts, soaking in all the benefits of being white and male in this world. I have witnessed black trans men find acceptance in the cisgender community, and forget the struggles of black women, focusing only on racism, because it is the only thing preventing them from accessing the privileges of white men –– screaming that once we have eradicated white supremacy, we will come back for women. Then, and only then, will we eliminate misogyny, ignoring the toxic combination black women face in misogynoir.
I nearly became that black trans man myself, seemingly learning nothing from how the lesbian, gay and bisexual community left transgender people behind when fighting for their rights, as if it were not all connected – as if their rights were not inextricably tied with ours.
Those of us who are able to move within the cisgender world – to enter spaces that exclude black and brown women, that denigrate trans women and trans men – we have an obligation to speak up. Our liberation will not come when others are still bound by the chains of oppression. We cannot make ourselves free by donning the toxic masculinity of the oppressor.
We are obligated to speak out when confronted with instances of misogynoir, to create a masculinity that is healthy and to shun the patriarchal masculinity that destroys lives every single day. We cannot take the male privilege some trans men have and pretend others will not be more inclined to listen to us because we are men. We cannot take it and refuse to elevate the voices of other marginalized people.
As a black trans man, it is often times hard to remember this, to not grow resentful at feeling as if no one speaks for us, as if we are invisible within the most invisible, but this is not a contest, and history teaches the same lessons. White supremacist patriarchy is coming for us all. It is understandably not safe for everyone to do so, but for those of us who can, for those of us in positions to push back, we must find the strength in our voice to do so.