Month: June 2014

Moving on to new things

Well. Here we are. I think the new site’s temporarily how I want it.

I recently did up some business cards for myself, and I got a professional Twitter account, and I made a Facebook page for the entity that is “Devon Llywelyn Jones”— you know, me, but first/middle/last name all together and thus something different than how people know me in our daily lives. Also something actually closer to the sum total of “me” than just Devon. Being myself unfortunately means being more pretentious. I apologize in advance. Anyway, I did all of those things because somehow, a couple of years ago, I completed a novel.

I hadn’t expected to complete it, I wasn’t sure who would be interested in reading it, and I definitely had no idea if anyone would want to publish it. For a little while, I did send query letters to agencies about my completed manuscript. There were rejections, of course, and here is where I’ll state emphatically that I understand this is part of the process for new writers. I wound up self-publishing this novel, not out of impatience or bitterness, but rather because a respected friend of mine who was accidentally responsible for the entire circumstances that allowed me to write it— who also very fittingly became a beta reader and continued believing in my ability to write when I had gone for several years convinced that I could not— she pointed me to the Lambda Literary Awards, highlighting that the Transgender Fiction category receives few submissions, and suggested I get my novel in before the submission deadline, just to see what happened. Well, I never wrote Tiresias specifically thinking of it as a work of “transgender fiction,” but it certainly has a transgender protagonist and it certainly addresses big questions about gender identity and expression. So, essentially on a whim, I self-published, made this submission, waited around for a few months, and discovered I’d become a finalist.

It felt pretty surreal to be a major literary award finalist with my first novel— with only my second publication since being out of college. I still haven’t worked out what I really think of that fact. I probably shouldn’t hide the fact; I’m just figuring out how to present the fact without making it a brag. In any case, surreal as it’s been, it also felt silly to receive that kind of recognition without otherwise resembling a professional writer and having all the trappings that professional writers are (fairly or unfairly) expected to handle these days. Hence… cards. Twitter. Facebook. YouTube channel tied to Official Writer E-mail Address. And now, following the LLAs, realizing that oh, a real website would probably be smart. If nothing else, blogging has been something I’ve enjoyed since the tender age of fourteen, and I think I’m ready to do it in a way where my full name and identity are attached.

So this site now exists. What should I actually say in my first full post written for it? I could intro myself, but I’ve said more than enough about me on some of the static pages, and I’ve got some older posts transported here from a defunct blog that I’d like to leave up for posterity’s sake. I could write a little about the LLAs themselves, maybe. I think too much detail on those would indeed be bragging, however, so maybe I can summarize that experience as, “I came, I saw, I lost my category, but I met some lovely people, and it made me feel like I’m not just pretending to write.” I am a writer. I am. It might not be how I really make money, and I can’t make any predictions about that, but in the grand scheme of things, it is my actual profession— and describing myself as anything else first would be a lie, a lie I ought to stop telling.

I also now feel particularly comfortable qualifying myself as a queer & trans writer. “LGBT” is not the constructed audience I want to write for, it isn’t the section in a bookstore where I’d like to see all my fiction sitting. But I think it’s important to recognize that what I write has heavily queer elements, and if neither I nor anyone else commented on them, it would do my work a disservice. I think it’s likewise important to establish the fact I am trans to my audience, not because every trans person is obligated to out themselves— far from it— but because a) on a practical level, the degree of physical transition I’ve sought is insufficient for people to auto-call me “he/him/his” unless I explicitly establish that this must be done, and b) in a society where it is so especially hard for trans people to find professional recognition or meaningful employment, if I ever can live off of my writing then I am comfortable becoming an example of how yes, trans writers have legitimacy, trans writers have value, trans writers should exist.

Those are some things I think I learned about myself at the LLAs. Oh, I did also have the honor of meeting both Justin Vivian Bond and Kate Bornstein. I can’t resist mentioning that tidbit, if only because it was gratifying to have that sort of genderqueer presence at the awards, to feel welcomed by an older generation of gender rebels who have continuously laid the groundwork for me to feel safe owning myself as a he but not necessarily as a man.

And there is something else I’ve learned, or maybe not learned, but determined. It’s my conclusion from not only the awards but from experiences surrounding it— a book reading I did last week at Trident Booksellers & Café, the sales of Tiresias that have happened in general, the overwhelmingly positive personal messages I have received from friends after finishing the book themselves. The determination is… I am more ready than ever to write new things. Not simply in the sense of feeling validated and prepared to build an audience— no, that’s there, but not nearly as much as knowing I have truly exited the period in my life that prompted me to write Tiresias at all. More surreal than the honor of being a Lambda Literary finalist is the thought: “There was a time when I actually had to tell that story.” That time was, broadly speaking, from 2007 to when I completed the first draft in 2012. Not actually that long ago, but for so many reasons, I have become an extremely different person. I intended catharsis when I started the manuscript, and I have now had that catharsis ten times over.

I am ready to start tying up the very last loose ends. I was thrilled to have an impromptu lunch the other day with a dear friend who has not only served as muse and beta reader but who additionally works in (non-fiction) publishing, and unsurprisingly we got on the topic of next steps for this book, for my career. I mentioned how I was excited to be able to put “Lambda Literary Award finalist” in future query letters, but tired of thinking about queries for getting Tiresias proper literary representation when, as much as I valued my own novel, I wanted to keep my brain in new brainspace, not sitting back with this thing that I originally wrote just to fix the part of me that didn’t believe I could do it anymore. And my friend more or less asked, “Why make this effort, then, for a book that you do feel done with? Why not save your energy for moving forward as you like?”— and I realized immediately she was right.

I do intend to still find an agent and a publisher, but I’m going to look for them when I’ve got something fresher, something I’ve created that just needs to grow and grow and grow. Tiresias is an exorcism, a eulogy, a banishing, and though I welcome an audience for such a thing— for instance, I’m perfectly willing to do more readings, to promote the novel in its current form for purchase, and what have you— but I suspect it is a work of literature that will not grow itself as naturally as other things I have in mind. It is more like the soil fertilized from what I cannot help referencing in light of its content and themes: the burial of the dead. I will do what I can to maintain that grave in my life, to keep it in pleasant condition, to make it a place people will want to visit, but I cannot keep standing vigil by it. I have other places to go and things to do.

The last step I can think of for Tiresias is, honestly, just that I need a tattoo. Despite dreams of being covered in tattoos, I have none at present. Unsurprisingly for a writer, I can’t afford them. But the first one I will get is the one that fully closes the Tiresias chapter of my existence. It is a T. S. Eliot quote. Despite some obvious choices, it is not from “The Waste Land” and it is also not even from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” It is from a somewhat recognized but much more privately relevant poem of his. Maybe even my favorite of his, I don’t know. These are the lines, from “Rhapsody on a Windy Night.”

The lamp said,
“Four o’clock,
Here is the number on the door.
You have the key,
The little lamp spreads a ring on the stair,
The bed is open; the tooth-brush hangs on the wall,
Put your shoes at the door, sleep, prepare for life.”

The last twist of the knife.

If you have read Tiresias or you know, in a sense, what caused it— then you may understand the emotional significance of those words. Not necessarily, but maybe, and if not, I’m content to leave this an enigma for the future. The words will go on my skin, and they will become a part of my body, a marker of the way that I was changed, and I will go on, I will go on, I will go on.


Violence & Violation: Prologue

This post was originally written in 2013 and posted on a defunct blog. It’s been migrated here because I still think it’s worth sharing.

It’s been a while since I hypothesized about doing this essay series— and because it’s only just getting started now, I’m going to keep things organized as best I can, but I may come back and tweak things later. I’m certainly not going to prepare an overall outline for people to access unless I really follow through with more than just a few posts.

But without further ado…



This essay, or set of essays, is about the isolated infliction of suffering, about what happens when patterns of suffering develop, and about the importance of observing suffering on those two distinct levels. More casually, this is about why we do not live in utopia. Talking about all of this will get complicated enough to require that I establish many “first principles,” i.e. some kind of philosophical framework that I expect people to accept as given before I proceed onward with the real bulk of my writing. I will attempt to rationalize each initial premise, too, rather than ask that readers simply assume everything and move on.

But first, truly first, I want to establish the audience for whom this has been written, and why.

I’m sure more exist than what I can think of right now, but philosophical treatises tend to land in a few basic categories:

• Academic papers intended for achieving a degree or other concrete personal advancement
• Academic papers created by a professional in the field, for dissemination amongst peers
• Either one of the above, with the twist that these papers become so well-regarded that they become expected reading for newcomers to the same field, or even to utter laypersons, which may result in some revisions
• “Popular” nonfiction that intentionally addresses itself to laypersons but is written by an informed scholar and/or is intelligent regardless of author
• “Popular” nonfiction that intentionally addresses itself to laypersons but is written by a charlatan and/or is complete tripe
• The rare attempt to straddle both the purely academic and the purely popular without alienating either readership

I would like to say I’m trying that last thing, but since I have a particular academic (and anti-academic) pedigree, and since I have chosen to simply write in the way that feels most natural, I believe I’ll inevitably produce something that alienates some people while enthralling others, just not with specific regard to their OWN background, only their personality. On the one hand, these days I still try to explain my thoughts precisely, thoroughly, and with some measure of real eloquence, which should earn me points with more “hardcore” intellectuals— as it did during my school days. On the other hand, I have absolutely zero patience for language that either a) uses unhelpfully esoteric vocabulary, or b) discusses a perfectly common sense topic as though it were rocket science; this trait of mine, I suspect, will convince some of the same intellectuals that I’m writing for some lowest common denominator in a trashy, less-than-rigorous ploy to market “pop ethics” to the masses. Meanwhile, though, I can hardly guarantee that my writing is automatically accessible to every English speaker on the planet. But I am at least strongly motivated by a desire to have a large, diverse audience; if my essays could somehow get on a bestseller list, I would openly consider that a success, insofar as it could indicate accessibility on some level. I might be wary if my essays only got there by a clever publisher marketing campaign.

So, to you, the reader— and I’m just going to call you you, at this point, because doing otherwise feels dry after a while— I cannot make any promises, but I hope to put as much intellectual rigor into this as is GENUINELY, humanly necessary, and I hope to keep my wording clear even when it is not concise. It will often not be concise. If I allude to a particular thinker from the past (or a contemporary), I will try to always explain who they are in-paragraph or via a footnote. I will also try to not rely on too many references in general. I will favor providing meaningful statistics over tossing in meaningful quotations. I believe that any empirical claims I make require empirical evidence, but I believe I’m largely working from scratch— beginning from a place where any person, regardless of education or scientific inclinations, could manage to do the same thing.

Philosophers themselves would be tempted to interpret this procedure as me using a priori reasoning, a.k.a. the reasoning used “prior” to the application of the senses, a.k.a. pure logic alone. But I would like to assure them this is anything but. The senses are the immediate point from which I will really start this essay, and I will also immediately explain why. I just don’t rely upon other people to tell me facts that I already know, and that any individual can find themselves.

In some way, I guess, this entire essay ought to be something that everyone already knows, too, but maybe— very maybe— it hasn’t been said all together before. On that unfortunately considerable possibility, I now depend.


Speculating about a long essay series

This post was originally written in 2013 and posted on a defunct blog. It’s been migrated here because I still think it’s worth sharing.

Once again, I’ve gone a while without writing here— and I think now I’m developing more energy to do it, with or without an audience, but my new challenge is that many of the thoughts I ought to write down are really all part of the same interconnected mega-essay. So maybe what I need to be writing is that giant monstrosity. It will obviously be in pieces. In advance, this is loosely what I’m considering— and if I think it turns out cohesively enough, it might become fodder for some kind of nonfiction print publication, assuming I can ever achieve such things.

Essay series: Violence & Violation

Cover entire interlaced network of existentialism 101 (Sartre), identity politics as a whole (various writers), sociobiology & anthropology of mutual aid & interdependence (Graeber, Kropotkin, others), labor relations (Marx, others), and consequently what violence means, how gender is enforced violently, how violence is gendered, and how revolting against global violations— violations being a special nuance of violence— requires a pragmatic, materialist understanding of reality plus uncompromising dedication to consent, consensus, and the destruction of class. Despite cited writers, try to avoid overdependence on others’ texts for making arguments, and assume no one will care about a citation without it being literally the only good way to say what could otherwise be paraphrased. I am really invested in saying things that other people MIGHT have already said before but that remain worth saying in my own words in light of how no one is perfect and I’d also just like to codify (albeit as a living document) my life-view.

Broad headings should include (at minimum):
I. Existentialism
II. From the Construction of Self to the Construction of Others
III. The Human Species as Social Animals
IV. Constructing Identity, as a Social Phenomenon
V. Task Performance
VI. From Classed Bodies to Gendered Bodies
VII. From Gendered Bodies to Colonized Bodies
VIII. Enforcement
IX. Violence vs. Violation
X. Freedom from Violation-by-Labels
XI. Freedom from Violation-by-Acts
XII. Freedom from Violation-by-Capital
XIII. Ending Monopolies of Violence
XIV. Humanity’s Violent Future

Secretly or not-so-secretly crucial topics will of course be revolutionary queerness, liberationist kink, sex positivity/negativity/alternatives, a shit ton of linguistics, and (because I am the wrong person to write too extensively about race, I just can’t EXCLUDE it) me referring everyone to Nell Irvin Painter a lot. If I give enough fucks I might try to summarize all my feelings about animal welfare and, by extension, the vegan movement; at a bare minimum, environmentalism will get discussed somewhere.

Stay tuned?


Gendering role models

This post was originally written in 2012 and posted on a defunct blog. It’s been migrated here because I still think it’s worth sharing. My gender has further morphed since the time that I wrote it, however.

A bit earlier today, I had some interesting thoughts about childhood/adolescent role models, in the context of gender & being trans.

Namely, it generally seems to me that commonly (or in popular expectation), young trans guys, non-binary FAAB people, tomboys, butch women, and other FAAB folk with trans/nonconforming gender & gender expression… well, there’s just this whole idea that our heroes, when we’re growing up, are the myriad literary characters or characters in other media who embody the trope of “a badass girl, young woman, etc., who dresses up as or disguises herself as a boy/man, either because she’s not comfortable with femme things, because she must in order to get around societal conventions, or because of some other necessity.” In Game of Thrones terms, we admire— or are expected to admire— the Arya Starks of the world, the Briennes. Our preferred Shakespearean heroines are the cross-dressing Viola in Twelfth Night, not Juliet or Ophelia.

I am sure there is much truth to this; actually, I feel safe saying I KNOW there is truth to it. However, while I can’t say anything about other people’s experiences, I realized today that I largely did not have that sense of admiration or identification when I was young. I’m curious as to whether other people with my background— trans, FAAB, male pronouned, etc.— might read this and express similar feelings. Some people have already written a lot about how it’s problematic and even anti-femme to idolize the proverbial tomboy Arya over the proverbial girly-girl Sansa; I’m not going to venture into that territory, since I more or less agree with it but I actually have a separate problem.

See, I grew up reading and watching various great stories with great girls-dressed-as-boys, tomboys, and what have you, and I often did like all of that, but while I admired those girls for being tough and doing what they had to do to survive, for being a marked antidote to all the stereotyped damsels in distress I got from other media— admiration was never identification. I identified much more readily with actual male characters. The only thing I really felt deeply invested in reading about with those Aryas and Violas, gender-wise, were the moments where they managed to be read as male, and how this affected them. I always felt disappointed by the numerous lost opportunities for such characters to treat their assumed male persona as something other than an act of survival. I knew nothing about actual concepts like “being trans,” but I still got tired of reading about these characters who were never “girl becomes boy” and always “girl must pretend to be boy.” In retrospect, I think it’s clear that many of the people who write such narratives for children, teens, and even adults do not have much experience with trans identity, only with popular concepts of gender bending. So many of these lauded female characters are precisely that: female. And cis female, to boot.

I have tons of respect for cis women & girls who crossdress or otherwise have a nonconforming gender presentation; they face many of the same social problems that trans FAAB people do, even though there are significant distinctions, just as cis males who crossdress etc. can run into similar issues as trans MAAB people with distinctions. Therefore, I can’t possibly say that Arya Stark et al. are subpar role models. They’re just… not role models for me, not from a gender perspective. To me, a girl who must pretend to be a boy often, depending on context, sounds a lot more like a trans girl than a trans guy.

The character identifications and fascinations I had, growing up and continuing to this day, are the male characters who are either “mistaken for female” or deemed “deficiently” masculine. If I see myself in anyone I read about or watched in movies and TV, it is not the female-identifying and female-assigned person going around with male gender presentation; it is the male-identifying and still often male-assigned person going around with “pretty” aka delicate features, short stature, physical weakness, sexual innocence. The eternal boys who are mocked by their fellows for their effeminacy, their romanticism. The fey, or the impotent. Not necessarily queer, although that is a reasonable chance.

Some might say that this has happened mostly because I am a queer, genderqueer, often quite femme sort of guy, but I prefer to think of it as a self-feeding cycle. I was initially drawn to these characters because there was no question of their maleness on a fundamental level, for me or for people who treated them respectfully, but they were often not taken seriously as men. These characters over time influenced my own self-image as a male person, which then fed back into the characters I identify with, which then affect my self-image, and so on, endlessly. I no longer identify with exactly the same characters that I used to, because I’ve also evolved due to separate factors. But the point is, I seem to have had a different character-identification experience than what a lot of trans guys talk about, or what people expect for us. I loved Éowyn in The Lord of the Rings as much as the next fan, but I never read the book for her. (Honestly, I’m not sure there’s a character in it I identified with at all, even as a diehard for all things Tolkien.)

Does anyone out there have stories of personal experiences they can contribute to this topic?


Can straight be queer?

This post was originally written in 2012 and posted on a defunct blog. It’s been migrated here because I still think it’s worth sharing. My gender has further morphed since the time that I wrote it, however.

Can straight be queer?

I run into this debate sometimes. It’s a debate that I really want to not take seriously because… hey, you know what’s queer? QUEERNESS. By definition, it should be impossible for something straight to be queer. However, now I’ve sat down and done some thinking about what is ultimately a semantic problem, and my answer is still, “Fuck no,” but it’s a complicated fuck no.

The catalyst— can cis people be trans? Many in the trans community who are obsessed with rigid lexical categories would like to say, “No,” but I— someone trans across the board— feel obliged to say, “Yes.” That is, if you recall that cis- and trans- are prefixes that can be added to -sexual or -gender. When we talk about an overarching collection of people who are trans, then of course the exact opposite is cis, but if we place the prefixes fully into context, then yes, there are cissexual people who happen to be transgender, and cisgender people who happen to be transsexual. My personal guess is that there are a lot more people in the first category than in the second, but that’s a topic for a whole other post, and still, plenty of both categories exist. There is also a lot of fluidity that some people are scared to acknowledge. I myself would say I’m a lot MORE transgender than transsexual, but that’s just how things are right now, and when you say that I’m transgender re: my assigned gender at birth, that transness is much different from the transness of how I attempt to transcend presentation and behavioral aspects of my currently chosen gender (yes, I call it a choice, on my part), which is why I also choose to say I’m a transvestite.

All that aside, of course it is impossible for people who are both cissexual AND cisgender to be trans in any way, but I raise this situation because it’s complicated. My random self-query now has been whether it is perhaps just that complicated for straight vs. queer.

Think of it this way: just as some trans people are both transsexual and transgender, but not all are both (or either, depending on self-identification), not all people lumped under the umbrella of non-hetero orientations will readily identify as queer. This is for somewhat different reasons, the most important one being that queer has a prominent history as a slur, and not everyone wants to reclaim it. Another reason is that some people are “turned off” by the strong radical associations of the word and it simply doesn’t match their liberal or conservative worldview. Others just like being more specific— some f*gs are just f*gs. Queer is clearly a political category as much as it is a sexual one. I myself use it frequently as an umbrella term for “LGB” because I find it LESS problematic than the holdover from that insultingly useless “LGBT” acronym, speaking for myself as part of that T, but that choice itself is very politically motivated. I also fervently believe that my strongest allies for gender & sexual liberation do not simply need to pass the requirement of not being straight. They need to pass a certain threshold of radical political understanding, which I will argue is fundamentally queer even if they do not want to use that label.

So might straight people have the ability to access queerness as a political category if they manage to transgress the norms that queerness does? Thinking along those lines, I must initially say yes. Because queerness, to me, is not about which body parts are fucking which other body parts. Queerness, to me, understands sexuality as going beyond that. If being straight were simply about penis in vagina, then plenty of sexual encounters involving one or more trans people would be “straight” when they are patently same-gender. Likewise, there is also something subversive about sexual encounters involving “opposites” on the sex-binary that happen to be straight if you acknowledge the real identities of the parties involved, if the body parts involved are still something that would upset the simultaneously transphobic and homophobic majority. Queerness understands that sex ≠ gender, and in my view it should routinely question the way that we talk about sex acts, even the way we talk about orientation itself. Shouldn’t there, for instance, be a difference in discussing “homosexual” vs. “same-gender-attraction”? Queer people are divided on this, but it’s a topic of discussion in the first place, and that’s a good thing. To the degree that straight people are capable of challenging many sexual & gender norms, I would therefore like to say they can have a place at the queer table. Straight people are capable of challenging many norms.

But straightness is still, of course, a norm itself. And that is why I draw a line. Language has, even requires, social context. If you wish to be queer, but you say you are straight, you insist you are straight, why do you insist on that? Why is it important to maintain that you are one gender on the binary, that your partner is the other gender on the binary? If this extends to your sexes as opposites, why is it important to establish straightness there as well? If you ask me, it’s only important to maintain those things for the sake of acknowledging that you ARE what society expects of you, in terms of sexual pairings. It’s only important to maintain awareness and acceptance of your straightness as a way of owning the privilege that comes with being straight. And if you are really aware of your straightness, if you really accept it, if it really extends down to every level where we can talk about straightness, then I cannot fathom how anything that you do sexually or romantically is queer. And if you are as transgressive and subversive in your sexuality to the degree that is clearly queer, why would you wish to continue calling yourself straight instead, wearing the label of an oppressor?

In other words, very short words, the only way for a straight person to be queer is to stop being straight. And yes, if you’re straight by every possible definition and you want to say you’re queer, then you actually do have to make a choice.


My life as a semi-freak

This post was originally written in 2012 and posted on a defunct blog. It’s been migrated here because I still think it’s worth sharing. My gender has further morphed since the time that I wrote it, however.

Disclaimer: This post is in direct response to another one that deliberately solicited thoughts from individuals with, I quote, “trans* masculine experiences,” which more or less includes myself even if I do not consider myself a masculine individual; I understand the sense intended. The post also solicited others’ general experiences. Since my thoughts are far too wordy to go into a comment at the source, and since some thoughts were likely to wind up here anyway, I’ve written this up, so please note that I do not take credit for the original idea being discussed, and I’m only speaking for myself because it was implicitly asked of me.

I doubt the idea of a gender ternary is instinctive to most people. Your average ignorant cis person would, if pressed, undoubtedly answer the question, “How many genders are there?” with, “Um, duh, two,” and quite a few trans people, queer people, and/or gender theorists would tell you that there are more than two (or none) but we generally all have a gender binary forced upon us. The notion of an enforced ternary is so uninstinctive, I find myself now questioning my immediate positive response to the idea when I saw it introduced so very recently over at A Radical TransFeminist. However, the argument is curiously compelling, and I think that with an open mind we may all want to consider its merits. I’m going to attempt that here.

First of all, you should really, REALLY read the entire post, but the best one-paragraph summary I can give of her theory is… 1) In addition to the commonly named genders “woman” and “man,” Western society has a third option of “freak.” 2) She finds support for this possibility in how genderqueer individuals who actively assert their identity as such are dismissed specifically for “weirdness,” i.e. discrimination against nonbinary people is justified through placing them in a category that is indeed beyond the woman/man binary but that carries sexually/socially monstrous connotations not derived from the monstrosity assigned to women. She notes that male or female trans people are also put into this category when they do not pass for cis. 3) She also finds support in how this model helps reconcile trans feminist concerns with radical feminist concerns (radical feminist in the Second Wave sense of Dworkin, not the broader idea of being feminist + otherwise politically radical), primarily re: the question of trans women having/not having male privilege.

One reason I’m not sure this works is because I haven’t seen (or may have missed) any responses from gq/nonbinary people, AFAB or AMAB or intersex, who can provide reports of lived experience in this assigned “freak” gender; even though I’ve reached the conclusion that by at least some criteria, I’m gq, I don’t really go around asserting that as much as I do assert a desire for male pronouns and other mostly-male terms of reference, at least at the moment, so I’m just not comfortable touching this issue. Consequently, room is still open for other people to pinpoint problems with the way gq identity is handled here. Another reason I’m uncertain is simply that while I see precisely how the freak category exists, I’m skeptical about it semantically qualifying as a gender when it’s a category used, by Lisa’s own admission, for people with disabilities, people with deformities, people of color, and others. Or perhaps it can be a gender, but if it is, this new dimension takes theories of intersectionality onto a whole new plane.

Really, from all this I have to conclude that I’m not entirely sold on the gender ternary idea, but I’m also not opposed to it. Meanwhile, what gets me about the post in which it was proposed is the excellent breakdown of faceted privilege, and I want to explore THAT some more here— so I’m willing to use the ternary as a framework in discussing my own experiences of (trans) male privilege. Maybe that can help test the idea’s value, but really, the breakdown of faceted privilege is worth exploring in its own right. By faceted privilege, by the way, I mean what Lisa describes as the following:

A common theme in radical feminist discourses around transsexuality is the assertion that a transsexual woman retains male privilege and that admitting transsexual women to women-only feminist organising spaces admits male privilege to those spaces, undermining the reason they were set out as women-only.

A quick google will find you any number of articles arguing for or against this point, but predictably, as a radical feminist transsexual woman, I’m going to tackle it a little differently, with the help of our ternary-gender model. We’ll need one existing model as well, which is the privilege knapsack model of male privilege, where male privilege is constructed as a network of multiple privileges.

I loosely categorise these privileges into internalised, social and power-over privileges.

Internalised male privileges are about who you are or who you feel yourself to be

Social male privileges are about treatment in society or access to institutions

Power-over privileges are those which give men influence and control over women

Of course, male privileges interact with each other and also inhabit multiple categories. For example, a man might come to feel his opinion is important (internalised) because he isn’t talked over in a group (social); he’s able to avoid street harassment (social) in part due to a confident body language which becomes part of his self-image (social); and part of the pressure he can place on consent (power-over) comes from his expectations (internalised) and the response society would make to non-consent (social). So it might be more accurate to say that male privileges have elements of internalised, social and power-over to differing extents for each privilege or set of privileges.

From here she goes on to relate how she has experienced different privileges at different times, as a trans woman— how privilege for her has temporal impermanence and varies according to the aspect of one’s life. My interpretation of this is that she simultaneously recognizes a) how she has been privileged by others in the past and how she has internalized some components of this, right alongside b) how she has experienced transphobia and misogyny as linked but unique phenomena, the more that she’s transitioned, and this has coincided with a loss of privilege bestowal/loss of internalized privilege. (Since I think she may be reading this, I hope I’ll be corrected if I’m wrong.) This seems like a valuable viewpoint to share when the most frequent response I see from trans women and their allies about whether or not trans women have male privilege is, “Of course we/they don’t, because we/they have never been male; transmisogyny has been experienced since day one.” Ditto for nonbinary AMAB people. That frequent response is perfectly valid and I entirely see the importance of asserting it, but for some time, I’ve been baffled about how this serves as a universal retort when not everyone has a static gender identity and not everyone with a static one realizes it correctly during their childhood.

I grew up having an intense dissociation from any idea of myself as a female entity, and also from several parts of my body. The latter dissociation was (and remains) coupled with a sense that I should have some other body parts instead. The extremely short way to describe the outcome is that I’ve figured out I’m both transgender and transsexual, though for the purposes of this post, the transsexuality is mostly irrelevant; imagine that instead of physically transitioning I still took steps to change my appearance/presentation/grammar for both loved ones and random people to instinctively gender me as male, even if they weren’t permanent changes, e.g. binding, packing, very short “masculine” hair, using male pronouns, wearing unambiguously male clothing, etc. But that aside, it took me seventeen years to actually decide that publicly presenting a male or semi-male identity was both accurate and advisable, which is to say it took me seventeen years to “come out” even to myself. Before then, I absorbed facets of male privilege through internal identification— and simultaneously internalized patriarchal oppression vis à vis my own person, because of what society handed to me. Now, I have absorbed more of those facets and at a quicker rate, but I’ve also retained some traits that clearly came from others gendering me as female; I do not expect to ever fully lose those traits, regardless of my actual gender, and I also do not expect to fully gain every possible privilege that a cis man would have, also regardless of my actual gender. I’ll break it down into some of the same categories.

When I used to be mostly misgendered as female…
• My power-over privilege was extremely limited. I would argue it did not exist except on the few occasions online where I early on displayed an overtly male persona. Outside of that, I could control girls/women around me by any patriarchal means, I think it was only in the same ways that patriarchy encourages girls/women to control each other, because they couldn’t respond to me as they would to a guy if they didn’t know I was one.
• My social privilege was questionable. I often had the courage, if you will, to readily place myself in all/mostly-male spaces and subcultures, and I was not inherently discouraged from it once I tried— the way that many women are. On the other hand, I did not have the courage if the guys whose sphere I was entering didn’t have much in common with me besides being guys. They could not see a reason for me to be there because they didn’t see that common ground, and usually neither did I. There were also many ways that people responded to me as an individual, on a daily basis, that were nakedly centered around my being “female” and that I couldn’t change without facing the usual charges of being “a [insert slur]” or “stubborn” or “impolite” or… hey, a “freak.”
• My internalized privilege was noticeable and came from three things: 1) insofar as I didn’t identify as female, I eschewed some female-stereotyped qualities because they felt unnatural; 2) insofar as I hesitantly understood a degree of male self-identification, I instinctively patterned my behaviors off of boys/men because it was natural, and consequently some male-stereotyped qualities themselves also felt natural; 3) insofar as I found some female-stereotyped qualities to be servile, I eschewed them because servility itself was both ethically objectionable and personally unnatural. I was a strange kind of “feminist”— 100% convinced of gender equality, 100% determined to not let anyone set me back in life on the grounds of “being female,” yet frequently unable to relate to pro-choice arguments, and I will admit to making some very rape-apologist arguments at the tender age of 14. More frequently, though, my problem was just that I simultaneously admired “strong” women and viewed weaker ones with disdain. I was strong, so why couldn’t everyone else be? In any case, I often felt entitled to my opinion, entitled to speaking it, and entitled to academic & career success, but damned if I could tell you how much had to do with actually believing in women’s rights vs. feeling like women’s rights had nothing to do with my personal situation.

All in all, therefore, my experience pre-outing and pre-transition was a mixed bag where privilege went. I had what I could manage to absorb under the circumstances, but while it increased the self-confidence I would have already had without it, it’s the kind of self-confidence that I imagine belongs to some fallaciously convicted prisoners, who can take pride in their innocence but are completely unable to use that pride or that innocence when they’re still sitting in a fucking cell block. (Not an actual analogy, but I hope that loosely points to what I mean.)

I came out while at a relatively trans-friendly college. This meant that right away, saying I was male didn’t relegate me to freak status in most people’s minds, but of course, because I was mostly shifted to male in their minds, with or without transition, I could rapidly accumulate internalized, social, and power-over privilege, which I did for a time. However, this backpedaled to freak for a while, once I wound up in a relationship where my cis female partner read my accumulation of male privilege as a deliberate pursuit and also presumed my (waning) insensitivity to some feminist issues said things about my moral character that merited outright verbal and emotional transphobic abuse. In other words, it was a classic “trans men are gender traitors” situation from someone who professed pansexuality but seemed more like a lesbian who chased trans women and happened to confuse that chasing with across-the-board chasing for a short time. Under those conditions, which I will not go into here in detail, I swiftly lost most power-over privilege thanks to the imbalance of cis privilege/trans oppression in our relationship, and thanks to us reaching a shared level of isolation/agoraphobia/depression that I barely interacted with anyone else. I lost track of whom I was for a time, and I said I was genderqueer only to avoid further emotional abuse, even though that persisted through my sheer refusal of a female identity and it also became sexual abuse for a certain time period. As for social privilege, well, again, I interacted with almost nobody except for professors and classmates who largely didn’t know I was not a woman. As for internalized privilege, I was a fucking psychological mess, so who knows about that. During that time I think that in some ways I actually was not a guy because I could not attach myself to any gender whatsoever, even though that was not purely my choice— and I don’t believe that I, personally, have a gender that must necessarily be permanent, so I’m entirely open to the possibility that for a time, because I couldn’t want to be anything else, and because people got such a fragmented view of me, that if I had to exist in anyone’s consciousness for those years, I was a freak by sheer accident.

Once I finally got out of that relationship, I was able to slowly start reasserting a male identity and also start hormones like I’d basically wanted to do for years. Once again, all the different facets of privilege have been building up again. If I ever pass for a cis guy— I doubt I will until I can grow facial hair— then the shift of privilege will be complete, but I have been through a lot both pre-outing and post-outing that I think has fundamentally augmented the way that I interact with people, an augmentation that no cis guy will experience. Likewise, I have come to my male privilege(s) as if they were a sudden shocking blessing— a blessing at others’ expense— instead of living my entire life under the assumption that this is just how it goes for the planet. And of course some of those social and power-over privilege(s) are immediately removed in circumstances where people do not actually gender me correctly, whether I pass for cis or not. But most importantly, my experience of abuse within a relationship is actually the main catalyst for my feminism; factually speaking, I was abused by a woman, but factually speaking, it’s impossible to ignore how the vast majority of people who share my status as an abuse survivor are women and in fact my own abuser was a survivor herself who merely perpetuated the cycle. How could I not be a feminist after realizing that? Yet meanwhile, throughout my transition, I find people sometimes treating me as a “freak” more than as a man or a woman, and there’s a part of me that hates it but a part of me that wants to say, “Well yeah, fuck you, I’ll be a freak,” which is why I’m not sure I ever do want to entirely pass for cis, and why I keep prodding at the possibility of gq— a very complex, more-than-nonbinary gq.

At the same time, to reiterate, this is all just me. Some trans men and other AFAB trans people grow up with more social and power-over privilege than me, depending on how much they instinctively comprehend their maleness or non-femaleness, and how early that comprehension starts. Some are not raised in a pro-feminist environment like I was, so all the weird ideas and dissociation I had re: feminism are amplified in these people by a lot. Others might grow up similarly to how I did and still become douches. Finally, others are probably better feminists than me, as much as I try, and others face even greater roadblocks to asserting their maleness than I ever have had. In other words, some trans guys et al. are born dudebros, others are made into dudebros, and for others the story is far less simple.

This is why I get frustrated by debates within the trans community over the right of trans AFAB people to discuss their lives while they were largely misgendered, or over the necessity of trans AMAB people to not discuss their lives while they were largely misgendered. This is also why I get frustrated by cis feminists who think they know even a single goddamn thing about what any trans people, especially AMAB ones, go through. This is why I don’t think it’s productive or accurate to say that trans AFAB people constantly suffer under patriarchy— and implicitly, why I don’t think it’s productive or accurate to say that trans AMAB people constantly retain male privilege. Indeed, it’s also wrong to say that the former NEVER are hurt by patriarchy, and it’s wrong to say that the latter NEVER benefit from it. It’s wrong all around to generalize.

And thus, I guess I continue to warm to the gender ternary idea, even if I think it needs a lot more refining. Because it helps clarify and speak to the fact that transition is not a flip of the switch, that asserting your gender is not a flip of the switch, that different trans people run into different roadblocks from different varieties of discrimination along the way. Transphobia as hatred of a specific gender— the freak gender. Yeah, I think that’s something we should all probably be discussing a lot more.