Speaking For Those Not Voiceless

I’m not sure why, but I’ve seen more articles floating around the internet recently about, let’s say, “trans issues”. Not necessarily entirely unique conversations, but consistently framed or angled in such a way as to employ the discussion of isses as they relate to trans people. One of the things that seems to strike me the most, though, is that there’s a lot of things that — to me — are glaring omissions in a lot of these pieces. Fundamental aspects that, if you’re wanting me to take you seriously when you’re discussing trans folks in any regard, you absolutely must discuss or at least acknowledge. There’s different pieces, depending on what you’re talking about, but there’s some common ground ones that seem to come up the most.

First and foremost — and this really should not be something I need to say — is that if you’re going to talk about trans people, you absolutely must also talk to trans people. This is a non-negotiable part. If you are not trans, and if you did not consult even one person who is, your opinions on how things affect “the trans community” or those you’d say are a part of it do not matter. I don’t want to hear them, even if you’re dead-on right in what it is you’re saying. Again: this is non-negotiable. I cannot stress enough how important it is to include any marginalized group in any discussion about that group, regardless of what it is you’re trying to say about or around it.

Speaking of marginalized groups — and let’s be honest, when am I not these days? — there’s some unpacking to do here as well. This one’s not specific to discussons of so-called trans issues, but a wider berth: people of color within LGBTQ+ circles, or any other subset of humans that experiences marginalization. If you look at the history of how the “gay community”, or the “lesbian community”, or the “trans community”, or the entire gender-rainbow breadth of people (shoutout to the bisexuals, I see you there!) and how any of this has grown to the place in society it now holds, one fact holds true: it was people of color who led the way. They were the trailblazers, the risk-takers, the front line soldiers. Because this was a war they’d fought before, and they knew how to bring it. They’re still doing this right now. I’m white as hell and far behind on the revolution, but I know who I need to look to if I want to learn.

Now, one of the other things that seems to cross wavelengths so much of the time when it comes to any thinkpiece or other discourse about trans people is their inclusion (or lack thereof) within feminism. This is an intrinsic part of the conversation, if only because when we’re talking about gender at all, we’re really talking about equality. Nobody writes anything that’s centered on gender without it being a discussion of equality and inclusion. When we’re talking about trans women through the lens of feminism, things can get a bit murky. I’m not sure I’ve got the wherewithal to really pick all of that apart, but the basic problem is that there’s large swathes of women in feminist circles who subscribe to “gender essentialism” — that trans women aren’t women, and trans men are. That’s, like, a whole complete article right there, but it’s related to some of the other things, too.

One of the things I saw making its way around numerous portions of my various interwoven Twitter circles was an article that, without really saying anything at all, was written on the topic of trans women and their place in the “lesbian community”; the crux of its unanswered question was whether it’s transphobic to prefer that your sexual parters have vaginas. This is a pretty loaded question, but of course — once again — the article touched only on some broad, largely vague, statements made by a few cisgender (a.k.a. “assigned female at birth”) lesbians. No trans voices were included. Now, maybe this is just me, but maybe if you’re even posing the question as to whether an act or attitude is offensive or hateful towards a group of people, you should remember that bit a few paragraphs ago where I said that speaking to trans people is non-negotiably necessary — in this case, trans women. Hell, if you want, you probably could’ve even found a transgendered lesbian with a penchant for long-winded op-eds on topics that affect trans people. Gee, I wonder if I know any of those.

Coming back around to the article’s question, I guess I’ve got a pretty extensive number of feelings on it. Again, can’t imagine why; surely it’s not because I’m a lesbian with a penis. As to whether having a preference in sex organs is transphobic — honestly? I don’t really think it is. There’s a lot to think about there, but it boils down to a few things. Firstly, that one’s gender and one’s sexual orientation are pretty clearly not going to follow one another down any particular path. This can manifest in a number of ways, but if we’re going to agree that a person’s sexual organs do not define their gender, then I think we’re also going to have to examine the role of those organ’s in a person’s sexuality.

Here’s the thing. To me, transphobia is rooted in that gender-essentialist view I mentioned earlier. It’s a mentality built on a rejection of gender identity; people who are transphobic are typically the ones who’d say (despite the actual scientific evidence) that being transgendered is a choice, or something that someone just “decides” one day because they think they’d like to see life from the “other side”. When you express that you’ve got a preference for certain equipment when it comes to your sexual partners, that’s not an evaluation of your ability to see trans people for who they are. It’s a facet of your sexuality, and when we’re talking about sex, the things you want — the limits you set, and the things you prefer — are entirely personal. They’re not even necessarily a reflection of any other part of yourself or your worldview.

By speaking to your own sexual preferences, whether we’re talking about the gender you find yourself romantically interested in or the things you like to do “in the bedroom”, you’re setting boundaries. I think we can all agree that having boundaries in your sexual relationships is important. These can vary, of course, not just from person to person, but from day to day. Some of them, though, are things that are inherently a part of our ability to want or enjoy sex. A cisgendered straight man can enjoy being on the receiving end of anal sex — that’s not, by necessity, an expression of some latent homosexual tendencies, or a condemnation of their “manliness” or whatever else you’d like to quantify it as. Similarly, a cisgendered (or hell, even transgendered!) lesbian might prefer that the sex they’re involved in not include penises. That’s not, by necessity, an expression of latent transphobic beliefs. These things are simply facets of how different people approach their participation in sexual activity.

Some people like to include toys in their sex lives; some find the idea patently ridiculous and unnecessary. Some people like to be tied up or controlled by their partners; some people would find this horrifying or traumatic. There’s all sorts of flavors when it comes to how we, as human beings, engage in and find our enjoyment in the act of sex — whatever that may mean to you. Again, I feel that it’s incredibly important that we separate “what a person enjoys for themselves” from how a person views or treats those around them. Saying you’d rather your partner didn’t come with some extra gear down there, in part because you’re a lesbian, doesn’t mean you’re telling a trans woman that she’s not a woman — just that she’s not a woman you’d want to sleep with. I think pretty much every human ever is “guilty” of not wanting to have sex with someone because of a physical trait they possess. We like what we like.

Anyhow, I guess the point of this — all of this — is that society as a whole still has a long way to go when it comes to inclusiveness and, more importantly, intersectional inclusiveness. I’m just one transgender lesbian offering my opinion on some things here, and with time some of this may change. However, I feel remarkably confident that the following points will remain a core part of my personal philosophy for as long as I’m capable of cognitive thought: discussing how an issue impacts or relates to a marginalized group absolutely requires participation from that group, people (and, again, especially women) of color should have their voices in these conversations, and what you like in your sex life is not a direct reflection of any other facet of yourself or something for which you should be harshly judged (within certain limitations, of course, including age and enthusiastic consent).

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