Trans Men and Ciscentric Male Privilege

September 3, 2008

This is a sketch to be added to Beyond Inclusion. It doesn’t actually have sources cited, isn’t polished, etc, which it will be before joining the essay, but in case y’all want to read it now:

but this is a sketch of something I want to insert into Beyond Inclusion re: male privilege:

Ultimately, the definition of male privilege that non- trans woman feminists are working off of is hopelessly ciscentric. Does it make any sense to say that trans women “have” male privilege because we didn’t experience certain aspects of sexism that cis women experience, or did not experience it as intensely, without also saying that cis women “have” male privilege because they don’t experience certain aspects of sexism that we do, or not as intensely?

…some trans men exploit this ciscentric understanding of “male privilege” to their benefit, claiming they lack male privilege because they don’t have as much gender privilege as a cis man. [quote from Trans/forming Feminisms article, possibly also Jamison Green? should find more examples] But by comparing himself only to cis men and (sometimes) to cis women, ___ erases and naturalizes the oppression of trans women. If we think about male privilege in a trans context, it becomes fairly easy to see that trans men do, in fact, have male privilege even if they don’t pass. Because while a trans man may no longer be treated like a cis man or seen as such if he doesn’t pass or is outed, may no longer be welcome in the boys club, it should be clear that a transsexual man who fails to pass as a cissexual man is still taken more seriously than a transsexual woman who fails to pass as a cissexual woman, still internalizes some male privilege in the form of messaging about being a man or woman [Bob Barres quote re: surviving sexism in the sciences], is at less risk of violence, is more likely to be able to pass as an acceptably gendered person, is at significantly less risk for ridicule and fetishization [quote Serano], etc etc. If we say that he does not have male privilege, how do we explain these advantages other than by saying that he deserves them?

Furthermore, it’s important to note that this kind of trans-man-favoring ciscentric definition is made possible in part through workings of trans misogyny, and in part the actions of trans men themselves. …maintaining “transmasculine” only space (read: trans male spectrum and masculine, crowdaggers and femme female-assigned trans people not welcome) has prevented trans women from being able to hold trans men accountable; (de facto or de jure) trans-woman-exclusive “woman and trans” and “queer/trans” spaces have meant that trans female spectrum folks have been unable to call out the dynamics of trans misogyny within many feminist and trans-activist communities. By rigidly separating trans people on the basis of assigned sex, trans men have created a situation where trans people of various genders cannot easily come together and share our experiences, and where young, feminist trans women have few-to-no queer community spaces that are truly accessible and comfortable for them… if this sounds accusatory and is inaccurate, remember that that is made possible by and through the segregation of trans women–which trans men and cis women are both complicit in–which allows for those errors to go uncorrected.

(insert somewhere: Serano’s extremely mild call-out of trans men in her alternet piece written off as male bashing, attacking, going to far, etc; sexism and lack of accountability, trans men used to lack of accountability for their complicity…)


10 Responses to “Trans Men and Ciscentric Male Privilege”

  1. Interesting.

    Where do you place cis gay men–I mean particularly those who don’t “pass” easily, I suppose–in this?

    Do you know a book called “Sissyphobia?” can’t remember the author at the mo’ unfortunately, but it’s about femphobia within the gay male community. don’t know if it addresses trans men or trans anyone for that matter, I only skimmed the beginning of it ages ago, but it looked interesting.

  2. Thanks for the call out in space creation and control.

    I think that it’s important to recognize diversity of experiences without turning complexity into the oppression olympics. I don’t think it’s true that we men are “taken more seriously.” *Trigger Warning* I’m a man, and I get talked over and given unsolicited obvious advice and street harassed. By saying that men don’t experience those things as often, I feel like you’re trying to invalidate my experience and the experiences of a lot of other people. It’s really important to me that conversations about gender happen with the recognition both that I am a man and that I experience misogyny in addition to transphobia.

    I think it’s a lot more helpful to describe certain experiences, and talk about how they’re different, and how we can support one another, than it is to put things into hierarchies of pain. I really wish you wouldn’t speak for my experiences.

    • Cedar said

      Are you contesting the idea of male privilege or that trans men have it?

      That particular quote (taken more seriously) refers to the repeated meme that trans men don’t have male privilege because if they get read, they’re suddenly treated like cis women again. This completely ignores the experience of trans women, who, if they are read, are treated substantially worse than if they are not–that is, than cis women. That is, the argument that trans men don’t have male privilege depends on defining male privilege by how it affects cis people.

      I’m not trying to say trans guys have it great, but the framing of getting read that trans men themselves give is very different than trans women’s experiences of getting read.

      • Ryan said

        I agree with your statement, “the framing of getting read that trans men themselves give is very different than trans women’s experiences of getting read.”

        By your definition, however, it appears that cis women also have male privilege because they aren’t treated as poorly as trans women who are read as male are treated. It feels, to me, that you are extending the idea of male privilege too far. It seems that you’re really talking more about the transmisogyny that trans women face more than male privilege that trans men have. Am I making sense?

      • Cedar said


        You make sense. But in that case it’s cis privilege they have. The realities have their similarities, yes, but ultimately a trans man who’s been outed as trans isn’t actually seen as/treated as a woman even by the people who might call him one–he’s treated like a trans man. (The example is more obvious when you ask if trans women who are read are treated like or seen as men–obviously not, even though those around us might mistakenly believe that to be the case. See my third post in the ignorance series.

        As weird as it might seem to label two similar realities as two different kinds of privilege, it’s kind of the way it is. Women married to men, for example, have provisional access to the income of a man, but it would be pretty strange to call that male privilege, no? It’s straight privilege (well, it only is when applicable but you know), even when in some ways the result is the same–and even though straight men can’t really be said to be privileged by their heterosexuality in the same way. (The obvious objection to the “straight women have male privilege” logic is the potentially heavy cost that this access may come at, and its provisional nature–and so too I’d argue to anyone who claims trans women have access to a “[cis] man’s income” and therefore “male privilege”–that it came at an unbearable cost and was provisional on compliance with cis authority. (also in that we have higher unemployment rates, more unsubsidized medical costs, and most significantly are paid 67 cents on the dollar for the same work that we did pre-transition–that is, *at most* 85% of what a cis woman would be earning, etc etc)

        (see also comment below, especially portion about dominance vs support.)

  3. Kian said

    I’m a trans man and I have been subject to ridicule by many many trans men over my gender expression (I’m really effeminate and gay). I no longer speak with trans men by and large for this reason. They tell me I’m a disgrace to trans men, that I don’t belong with them, that I’m just too different, that I’ll never make it, that I’m too girly, that I’m just genderqueer… and all from people who supposedly understand my life. They are often just as misogynistic, sexist, homophobic, and sissyphobic as cis men. I think many of them, particularly the straight ones because they were former lesbians think they implicitly understand what it means to be a woman, but they don’t. They were faking it before they transitioned and now that they’re men, most would rather never think about womanhood ever again, which contributes even more to the denial of privilege.

    After several years of living and being perceived as a man, most trans men (including this sissy) receive and benefit from regular doses of male privilege. Any trans man that says otherwise is just fooling themselves.

    I’m really glad you wrote this article. I want to write about sissyphobia in trans male communities and your words will help.

    • Cedar said

      Yay, I’m glad! Good luck.

      (Also, “just” genderqueer UGH. 1)Not the same, masculinity != maleness, 2)implicitly invalidates and subordinates genderqueer people, 3)there’s not some spectrum from femme to butch to genderqueer to trans man, it doesn’t work that way. ARGH.)

  4. Forth said

    This seems like I’m supposed to resent transmen because they won’t suffer discrimination as badly as me. I’m sorry, but I’m going to be *pleased* that they’re not as likely to suffer violence or ridicule. That’s not the same as being pleased that I’m in turn going to be more likely to suffer those things, but I really don’t see that transman suffering more will make my lot better. If *individual* transmen do something reprehensible I’ll take issue with them just as I would anyone else. Demonising them as a group is mistransandry pure and simple. We should be reinforcing bridges in the queer community, not doing our best to burn them.

  5. j said

    I think it is important to realize the differences in trans* experiences, but I do not think the naming of that privilege experienced by trans men as “male privilege” is entirely accurate. I will concede that trans men do not face all of the oppression that trans women do, but I do not think it is appropriate to term the experiences of oppressed groups as “privilege.” Trans men are still generally situated as subordinate to cis women on the gender hierarchy. I think that the experiences specific to trans women are transmisogyny, but I do not think that the contrast in the experiences of the two groups should be compared in terms of who has privilege and who does not.
    Also, not to derail, but consider the additional experiences of misogyny that many trans men experience during their socialization as female-bodied individuals. This is a different experience of oppression, but does not mean that trans women experienced male privilege in their youth, as their experience as male-bodied individuals was definitely not one of privilege, either.
    I think you raise some very important points, but I just think the term privilege is not appropriate for this particular comparison.

  6. Cedar said

    Everyone, sorry I was so long overdue in approving your comments! As is probably clear from my lack of posting the 4th in my series on ignorance, I’ve taken a step back from this blog.

    There are two basic points to respond to:

    1)Blame and resentment:
    Having privilege isn’t anyone’s fault, it’s not a bad thing and it’s not a choice. Denying it, exploiting it, and perpetuating it all are bad things, but having it isn’t something any person is responsible for. In fact that blaming/invalidating for privilege is part of transphobia, in that only trans people and bi people are held to that kind of standard. So when talking about male privilege that trans men experience, it’s an important, subtle, and sometimes difficult distinction to make. (Taking advantage of it is only bad insofar as it reinforces that or other privileges and oppressions, though occasionally it may feel gross to those that don’t have it.)

    2)Expanding the idea of what privilege means:
    In Beyond Inclusion, which this was a sketch toward inclusion in a later edition of, I propose two interlocking binaries as a way of categorizing privilege: internalized/external (whether you expect it and whether you get it) and dominance/support (whether it’s harmful to others and something no one should have, and whether it’s not harmful to others and something everyone deserves). So, yes, I’m happy for trans men when they don’t get hate murdered or harassed on the street or raped and abused to the extent we are–that’s external support–but when they take over Day of Remembrance ceremonies and erase the fact of that privilege, I get angry.

    j: Despite being trans and a woman, I still have white privilege, and it’s something that I can see play out in my life often. Privilege black men or white women have compared to black women–that is, if you hold race/gender as a constant–is very different from that which white men have over white women/black men (which is how male/white privilege are most commonly defined). I would argue that it is racist to define male privilege in such a way that it only explains white men’s privilege, sexist to define white privilege only as it applies to men, etc etc–and transphobic to understand male privilege solely from the perspective of cis people. Yes, some aspects of cis privilege and male privilege mirror each other, but those that have both and those that have neither are each in a very different place than those who only have one. I think that defining male privilege solely in reference to cis people 1)erases trans misogyny, and 2)invalidates trans people’s genders, reducing us and analysis of our lives to a cis perspective, as imitations of cis people, as only real insofar as we are like cis people. Male privilege is the privilege men have–not just the privilege white, cis, straight, temporarily able bodied, etc men have, but the privilege of being a man in whatever other circumstances one is in.

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