The Road to the Back of the Bus — When White Trans Men Take All the Seats
We at Qwear want to uphold Black voices in our community at all times, but especially during Black History Month. Our first post features a personal piece from Trans Blacktivist and long time friend of Qwear, Ryley Pogensky.
Last week, I found myself in a familiar place. Listening to a white male talk about his experiences, with a total lack of ownership for his privilege and for the amount of space he was taking up. I was on Huffington Post Live, asked to talk about trans masculinity. Because I did not get the chance to say how I fully feel on that topic then, let me do that now.
Now, I do not wish in any way shape or form to offend. This is how I feel, and how I feel alone. My words are not meant to be heard as a lecture, but instead as a prompt and call for conversation outside of the boxes that we are so often told to put ourselves into. When people ask me to speak about masculinity my first thought is: Well sure, but shouldn’t we also talk about femininity? If we are constantly talking about masculinity especially in the queer world aren’t we then by default minimizing the female experience? My second thought is: Enough already! Why are we as queer individuals focusing so strongly on heteronormative rhetoric? When can we establish that neither masculinity or femininity mean anything?
I am a member of a few FTM groups on Facebook. I rarely post in them but instead peek in from time to time to see what FTM folks from around the country are dealing with everyday. The posts that occur most often are pictures of members asking if they look like they “pass.” My immediate big brother queer self wants to tell all of these kids that they look like exactly who they feel like. But my jaded self also knows that society can be cruel. That yes in queer circles, this person will be addressed as exactly who they wish to be. But out in the real world? Who knows what they may be subjected to. What happens oh so often on these posts makes my blood boil. I sit back and read response after response from other members telling this person how to be a man. To spend time with more cis men, and adapt their mannerisms. Watch how they move through society bro! That’s who you are striving to be!
Now, it isn’t that I inherently hate cis men. But as someone who is perpetually transitioning it has always been vital for me to look everywhere for support. The last group of people I would turn to for support would be a group of cis men. They were born born into the world being perceived as men and therefore have never known what it is like to be a minority due to gender. Why would I want to emulate that person? We often equate masculinity with being strong almost to a fault. There is a softness when it comes to femininity. Are you a powerful woman? Ah, then you are showing your masculine side. You are acting like a man, good for you. No. We must move away from these absolutely abusive and ridiculous labels. You’re a man that cries? Fine. Good. Great! Your tears are no more feminine than they are masculine. You are being you. Not a gender.
As I get older, I feel like it falls on my shoulders more and more to be a voice that younger transgender and non gender conforming kids can hear and hopefully look up to. While sitting and listening on Huffington Post Live last week to a white trans man talk about how important fitting into cis male culture was for him I wanted to gauge my eyes out. For some background this authors name is Thomas Page McBee, he just wrote a memoir, and works for Vice. That is all of the space I will allow him to take up in this post (you have the internet look him up for yourself). I sat and felt my brain both numbing and firing up. When a white FTM person talks about their experience it is press tour worthy. When a Black trans* woman is murdered, it is a passing headline. And what is that white FTM person talking about? Themselves. They aren’t talking about how cis society needs to get its shit together and support and protect all trans lives. No, they are talking about how special their individual story is. It is no coincidence that this story is held together by masculinity. Because this is after all America, and American journalism a space that has always been dominated by white men.
I know how important it is for queer people to find out who they are, and how they fit into this world. That in so many ways becomes harder when you are a trans person. While no one is telling you how to be queer, society is telling you that not only do you have to pick a gender, but once you do you must follow certain guidelines. This is so harmful. Whether or not you choose to live your life as a trans person in stealth or completely out, refusing to acknowledge the person you once were and embracing the fundamental good things that have and will always exist inside of you no matter what hormones run through you isn’t healthy. As a Black person who was adopted by white parents, I know how important it has proven to be for me to not erase my past. My parents are white and Jewish, and that is the house I was raised in. But because I assimilated into that home, it does not abolish my ancestors, my genetics. Transitioning should not mean that you have to become an entirely new person. Of course it means change, it means confronting certain demons, and embracing new challenges, but the one thing that should never change once you transition is your true self.
Ryley Pogensky is a native New Yorker currently residing in the Brooklyn of California - Oakland. Earlier this year Ryley was one of 17 transgender models who posed for Barneys groundbreaking Spring campaign. Ryley can often be found behind the scenes of New Yorks biggest queer parties and in front of the camera for various queer photographers. He is the dapperQ of 2014 and runs the blog Queergrub. See more of Ryley on Qwear here.