I can’t count how many times trans men have complained of being “invisible,” or where they (or, admittedly, transphobic cis women) justified paying more or exclusive attention to trans men’s issues because of their “lack of visibility,” or implied that my “visibility” as a trans woman was a form of privilege.

But “(in)visibility” is an incoherent idea. One is not simply “visible” or “invisible” like Harry Potter putting on his cloak–invisibility cloaks don’t exist, some people can see you even if you are wearing one, and one is always standing on the other side of a wall/behind a tree relative to someone, and the near side of the wall/in front of the tree relative to someone else. What “invisibility” universally fails to ask is: to whom is one visible, and why? Under what circumstances, and in what light? Am I visible to the friend looking out hir window for a houseguest, through the binoculars of a peeping tom, or within the crosshairs of a sniper rifle? The concept “invisibility” implies that these things are all linearly correlated, so that as my chances of being harassed on the street go up, so do my chances of finding a partner who will know about and be sensitive to my issues and be a fierce advocate for me, and the fact that trans men don’t get murdered at anything approaching the same rate as trans women, drag queens, and crossdressers is something that will change as they get more spots on Oprah.*


These things are only weakly correlated:

  • Trans women are the targets of the large majority (though by no means all) of cis feminist transphobia, and almost all pathologizing/objectifying/fetishizing/misgendering/transphobic/non-feminist sociological, psychological, sexological, and anthropological research, while trans men and (conflatedly) FAAB genderqueers get the bulk of positive, sympathetic (though not necessarily trans-positive) feminist research (MAAB genderqueers, in this scheme, are subsumed into drag queens/crossdressers/trans women).

  • Trans women have the overwhelming edge on number of autobiographies–the surviving ones, for some weird reason, are all (with two mid-90’s trans-woman-bashing-smash-the-gender-binary exceptions) of the disempowered, desexualized, pity-me medical model variety, despite empowered trans woman writers of the period like Susan Stryker, Sandy Stone, and Angela Douglass (who did, in fact, write an unpublished autobiography) and several (also problematic) pornographic autobiographies no longer extant (see Joanne Meyerowitz, How Sex Changed, 198-202)–but trans men’s books have, on the whole, taken a much more empowered line, with sexuality discussed on their own terms in a non fetishizing way. As Serano writes in Whipping Girl, these were the only stories of trans women’s lives that were allowed to be told. (Some might say better something problematic than nothing, and while there’s limited truth to that up until sometime in the 1990s, there’s no room for argument in 2009.)

  • And though with Serano’s book there is a public and empowered voice for white trans women’s issues, and films such as Still Black attempt to broadcast the admittedly under-publicized lives, voices, and issues of trans men of color, our women of color’s self-advocacy has never or almost never been amplified by publishing or filmmaking institutions–yet trans women of color are all over self-published media (the blogosphere)–and murder reports and fetishizing/exploitative media articles, that almost universally omit their voices and ideas. (see my 2008 post about this phenomenon.) The closest thing to an exception would be Paris is Burning–and if you’ve read Butler and Prosser on the subject, you’ll likely agree that it’s not really an exception (though it is a highly enjoyable film).

To oversimplify: trans women are visible: as a sexual threat, as sex objects, as objects of derision and hate, and as objects of pity. Trans men are visible: as potential partners, as activists and revolutionaries, as an “invisible” group that deserves your advocacy, and (recently) as parents. The Thomas Beatie case is the exception that proves the rule–the unusually degrading media treatment that drew totally justified anger and analysis happened only in response to his pregnancy and open defiance of cisnormativity and transphobic eugenics, where that kind of media coverage is par for the course for trans women regardless of what they do, and doesn’t get that kind of attention, analysis, and anger simply because it is so common. And, you know, because fewer people and institutions care. That many trans men victim-blamed Beatie for this coverage and were angry about this making them “look bad” represents a tacit understanding that “visibility” isn’t inherently good or bad, but only good or bad relative to specific circumstances and situations.

Let’s dump “visibility”–and start thinking about to whom, as what, under what circumstances, when, why, to what end, and at what cost.

*(A bit of a tangent: Related is the idea that trans men pass better either a)because people don’t think about trans men or b)because testosterone is powerful, manly, and dominant while estrogen is submissive and weak, rather than being related to a)the ways in which masculinity is seen as natural and femininity as artificial and suspect (see Whipping Girl) and b)male as default (see Kessler and McKenna, Gender: An Ethnomethodological Approach chapter 6 “Toward a Theory of Gender, also anthologized in The Transgender Studies Reader, Stryker and Whittle, eds. See the overlay study in particular, which talks about how “male” gender cues count *much* more strongly toward gender attribution than “female” gender cues.)

EDIT 3:20 AM– General Note: For about half an hour after a post is first published, I’m revising it, generally without “edit” notations. I always intend it to be done before it’s published, but it never is/HTML doesn’t work out the way it’s supposed to, etc. The substance stays the same, (this time it was trying to get the spaces in between the bullet pointed paragraphs plus “to oversimplify”) but if you’re wondering “did something just change?” …it might have. After half an hour, though, I generally include a note. and my half hour’s up.


Since everyone seems to be doing it. This is a response to this post/rant defining feminism.
There is a glaring omission in this list of feminist actions. Glaring. It makes me sick that none of other the commenters mention it.


I can’t take surviving for granted, and neither can women of color, undocumented women, transsexual women, gender nonconforming women, or poor women. Middle class white cissexual American citizen women–like her, like most of the people who are commenting on that post yea or nay, can.

I can’t categorically rule out participating in sex work (and in fact I have), and what’s more, I can’t in good conscience work to end opportunities for sex work. Why? because, to use her own phrase, that’s not “putting women first”. That’s putting “the movement” first, and that’s wrong. That’s not feminist. Women (and some men/others) will die, literally, no I really mean literally, if all sex work were outlawed tomorrow. I happen to think that she’s wrong also that it’s an inherently bad thing, that feminist porn and empowered sex work are impossible or unattainable–even for survival–but even if they were it’s wrong for her to work to limit the available options for survival for women. And it makes me livid that she, in her privilege, is spending her efforts trying to kill people like me, not literally, not directly, not intentionally, but doing so all the same.

Feminism is not just for white women, it’s not just for cis women, etc etc. But she, essentially, makes ‘being a feminist’ a matter of privilege, something off limits to the unwashed masses, and none of them [white] [middle-class] [cissexual] folks seems to care. (OK, Belldame222 does say some things similar to what I’m saying here, but not, so far as I could tell, in response to that post.)

You think pr0n promotes f’ed up shit in men’s minds? Whatever. You think it harms women’s minds? Whatever. You think women shouldn’t do it because of these things? Whatever. You want to find ways to ‘get women out of the industry’ [an into other forms of employment/survival]? ok, that’s kinda legit. Kind of. (providing resources to women (et al) who want to get out of the industry find other employment? legit and important.) But you know what? The underlying cause of pr0n & other kinds of sex work being able to be as fucked up as they are, and the underlying cause of it being able to get folks to do it despite how hurtful it is–is 1)systemic economic inequality and 2)the marginalization of women’s voices/lack of accountability to women (et al)–but especially the marginalization of the voices of women who are also poor, not-college-educated, of color, trans, etc. Fighting porn/sex work itself does nothing about the first, and if it does anything about the second, it’s for white (etc) women at the expense of all other women. But you know what? Why don’t we fight systemic economic inequality? Why don’t we fight rape itself? Why don’t we work to create accountability?

When we center survival, when we center quality of life, when we center ‘putting women first’ (ok, by first I assume we do not actually mean “first” as in hierarchy but as in prioritizing ourselves), so many of these other things are just fucking clutter. Not wearing makeup? OK, fine, I can see that helping promote the right to not wear it–but demanding others to not wear makeup? Putting in a hierarchy of validity, ranking women by their virtue and conformity to a certain set of actions? Not putting women first. Not helping anybody’s quality of life. It isn’t the act of wearing or not wearing makeup that is feminist or not feminist–it is the act of liberating women’s bodies from public control–something that this segment of radical feminism doesn’t want to give up. They want to be the ones in control, to have the reins, to order the hierarchy. Liberating women’s bodies from public control is completely, totally, incompatible with opposing S/M–but so is remaining silent about the sexist bullshit within the community, BDSM norms and the way they are created, the stories we tell and don’t tell to the outside, the messaging we give each other and the broader culture.

That is to say, there are a damn lot of things you can do to reclaim one’s body, and to work for others’ bodies as well. And no one can do all of them. Even all of them in one’s daily habits. We have to keep challenging each other, to call each other out, to ask ourselves and each other what we’re doing and if we could do more, to push ourselves, to work out of love for each other and not merely anger–because only then will we really fight for all of us, not just ourselves, and only then can we stay in the fight…

Jessi mentioned that she’d gone to a center for labor organizing in (I think) TN, and how striking the difference was between that organizing and queer organizing. There, there was a long term plan, the assumption was that everyone would be in the movement their whole lives and planning happened out generations–and there was no rush. Go swimming, of course you need to relax and flake out. That’s ok. This work’s gonna happen, and it’d be great if you were part of it… Rural activists in Thailand were totally the same way. We need some of that in our movements–space for impurity, space for ourselves and our souls, space for living. Not ‘this has to happen but it won’t if you personally don’t step up.’ That’s busted. We will reclaim our bodies at our own pace, in our own way, because doing it at someone else’s pressure, at someone else’s valuation, is no reclamation at all.