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trans woman writers of the period like Susan Stryker, Sandy Stone, and Angela Douglass (who did, in fact, write an unpublished autobiography) and several (also problematic) pornographic autobiographies no longer extant (see Joanne Meyerowitz, How Sex Changed, 198-202)–but trans men’s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.

Last time around, not having read The Man Who Would Be Queen except for exerpts/quotes, I wrote about how the two type/Blanchard-Bailey-Lawrence (BBL) theory is misogynistic/regulates female sexuality. I stand by everything I wrote there, but I’m pissed at how much discussions of the book hinge only on the autogynephilia part, and neglect the ridiculous racism/classism of the “homosexual transsexual” (by which we mean straight trans women) section.

Seriously, it’s so bad it’s hard to even talk about. But, among other things, he says [straight] trans women are mostly [W]OC with below average IQ, and are trans (rather than being gay boys) because they come from lower-class non-white broken households and don’t have enough ambition or family support to ‘defeminize,’ and there are more Latina trans [women] because of machismo.


He’s yet to come out and say that black/Latin@ and lower-class people are bad parents and should have their kids taken away from them, but he does seem to think that 20% MOC in his gay boy sample is a perfectly standard percentage for Chicago residents, whereas 60% TWOC needs remarking on.

From Wikipedia:

As of the 2000 census,…The racial makeup of the city was 41.97% White, 36.77% Black, 4.35% Asian, 0.06% Pacific Islander, 0.36% Native American, 13.58% from other races, and 2.92% from two or more races. 26.02% of the population were Hispanic of any race. 21.72% of the population was foreign born; of this, 56.29% came from Latin America, 23.13% from Europe, 17.96% from Asia and 2.62% from other parts of the world.[4] The 2007 community survey for the U.S. Census showed little variation

Some examples:

Alma has also noticed, as I have, the large number of Latina transsexuals. In Chicago, there are several bars that cater to Latina transsexuals. About 60 percent of the homosexual transsexuals [sic] and drag queens we studied were Latina or black. The proportion of nonwhite subjects in our studies of ordinary gay men [sic] is typically only about 20 percent. …Another transsexual, remarking on the same phenomenon, attributed it to ethnic gender roles: “My culture is very macho and intolerant of female behavior in men. It is easier just to become a woman.”

J Michael Bailey, The Man Who Would Be Queen, 183-4.

(It might be argued that he’s not endorsing the claim about machismo, because the next line starts “I am not sure of about the validity of all of Alma’s observations, much less her theories”–but it wasn’t Alma who made that statement, thus the statement isn’t disavowed by the disclaimer, which constitutes tacit endorsement.)

Ken Zucker…tried to predict which boys with [GID] would still have the disorder when they become adolescents. Adolescents with GID are much rarer and presumably much closer to being transsexual. Zucker found several predictors of adolescent GID: lower IQ, lower social class, immigrant status, non-intact family, and childhood behavior problems unrelated to [GID].[‘Coz IQ tests are totally unproblematic.]

ibid 178-9.

They [straight trans women] are outcasts as children because of their extreme femininity. They mostly come from poor, broken families, and family rejection is common.

A feminine boy from a middle-class or upper-middle-class family (such as Danny’s) has more motivation to “hang in there” until he normalizes his gender role behavior, because he has a good chance at a conventionally successful future. Defeminization might also require more ambition and family support than some homosexual transsexuals possess.

ibid, 183,4.

Their customers, of course, are not gay men. They are either unwary straight men or men looking for she-males.) This kind of prostitution is dangerous, especially for transsexuals, whose customers sometimes do not know what they are… The rate of HIV infection among transsexual streetwalkers is very hight, partly due to the high rate of intravenous drug use. [while injection HRT is the same as recreational IV drugs for HIV risk, the implication is pretty offensive.]

their taste in clothing is much more expensive than their income allows… In female impersonator shows, transsexuals often wear designer gowns, which are widely believed (by other transsexuals) to have been acquired via the five-fingered discount. [yep, it’s totally that those irresponsible black/Latina/poor people just want to live beyond their means, not an occupational expenditure…]

ibid, 184-5.

Three trans women [of color] have been killed (presumably by hate violence) in the two weeks since the election. That’s three too many–any is too many–but our sisters are dying at rates much faster than we normally see.

Cross burnings. Schoolchildren chanting “Assassinate Obama.” Black figures hung from nooses. Racial epithets scrawled on homes and cars.

Incidents around the country referring to President-elect Barack Obama are dampening the postelection glow of racial progress and harmony, highlighting the stubborn racism that remains in America.

From California to Maine, police have documented a range of alleged crimes, from vandalism and vague threats to at least one physical attack. Insults and taunts have been delivered by adults, college students and second-graders.

There have been “hundreds” of incidents since the election, many more than usual, said Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate crimes.

Emphasis mine. Huffington Post, via Anxious Black Woman

There’s been a hell of a lot more than one physical attack.

White trans people, cis people of color, white cis people: being trans does not strip you of other identities and oppressions. When white trans people forget about the racial dimensions of transphobic–trans misogynistic– violence, we lose perspective on why they’re happening and what to do about it. For our survival as a community those of us who are white need to join ranks against violence with people of color (cis and trans), and start remembering racism at the Day of Remembrance and all year round. We need to speak out against the increase in racist violence, because racism is killing our sisters every bit as much as trans misogyny is. We need to remember their deaths, because they’re an attack on all of us.

And white cis people, get your act together. HRC, NGLTF, I’m looking at you. How many emails have you sent out in outrage about our people dying–about the police refusing to investigate? Hell, white trans guys, you too. (“I’m not tied to the case at all and therefore really don’t have that much interest … to do all the research.”)

EDIT: Some problematic language fixed. edited again 11-20.