Transandrophobia: we need to ditch this word now

It’s been a long time since I blogged, I may say more about why another day. But today I want to speak up about how destructive the “transandrophobia” discourse has been.

Where transmisogyny was a clarifying word that helped us understand something about the specific attack on trans women, transandrophobia is a muddying word that has entirely betrayed our community and made nuanced discourse impossible, as well as pulling apart our spaces when we desperately need to pull together. I’m furious at the number of people who’ve adopted this word and dug in at the inevitable conflict this has stirred.

Who am I?

It feels important to own where my voice in this is coming from. I’m a disabled, transitioned AFAB non-binary person, living a relatively marginalised and fragile existence. I’ve been on the receiving end of much violence in my life that lives at the intersection of queer and transphobia. I do want a way to have conversations about that violence without talking over trans women. I’ll blog more about this later. I have thoughts on how we have these conversations, but this blog is about how not to do it.

I am transmisogyny exempt (TME), and have always considered it vital to reflect on my TME privilege. I know many trans women have highlighted how bringing diverse trans experiences into the frame when done right has the power to disrupt TERF discourse, our invisibility fosters narratives that collapse when we become more visible.

But there are ways to talk about trans men’s experiences and TME non-binary experiences (which are not the same) and this wasn’t it.

These things are relevant: I am not a man, neither am I masculine. The tedious way AFAB trans people are categorised as either “trans men lite” or “not really trans at all” is only reinforced by this discourse. I am not having an experience that can be “rounded up” into a trans man’s and I am not responsible for trans men’s or indeed masculine people’s words. I hope at some point to blog more about my own experience, including the very gendered way I get treated by men and masculine folks, regardless of their AGAB, but in this particular blog I’m going to concentrate more on the TME privilege I do have than the gendered privileges I’m not so blessed with.

But note: catch-all words with analogs of masc, man etc are not in any way helpful to my liberation and are just reinforcements of the binary. Transandrophobia is a word that, even were it not a cursed and oppressive concoction, explicitly excludes me. “Transmasculine” does not describe me.

But this is a conversation about feminist discourse that should have taken us way past the point of invoking such a word, and much as this discourse does harm me, the much bigger problem is that it harms trans women and harms our community cohesion.

Transandrophobia and its origins

The word started out as “transmisandry” and effectively it is still “transmisandry” wearing a supposedly more palatable mask. Like the word “misandry” it was intended as a mirror of “transmisogyny” – a way to equalise conversations about trans men and women’s experiences in the same way men’s right’s activists inserted themselves into feminist conversations. “What about teh menz?” we used to mockingly say in feminist spaces about these folks who would only ever talk about male suicide or the draft in the context of talking over feminist conversations, never in their own spaces and on their own merit.

Is this a way to highlight trans men’s experiences or does it simply talk over women and also, conveniently, abandon trans women at the time they most need us to be vocally and steadfastly alongside them?

What it looks like is male entitlement to take from women. By jumping onto the transmisogyny conversation, trans men did the equivalent of asking about International Men’s Day on International Women’s Day but not actually getting involved in IMD on the day it falls, or building a discourse on its own structures rather than stealing from trans women’s labour.

Masculinity is complicated by various marginalisations

Black men have specific experiences at the intersection of masculinity and blackness. This means, for example, that black men can be prized for their physicality in a way that is deeply objectifying. Think of the dehumanising way Linford Christie was treated when he was winning as a runner, for example. Young black men face profiling and institutional, state violence, including murder by the police, as in the case of Chris Kaba here in the UK. Just two examples among millions.

Working class men have specific experiences at the intersection of masculinity and class. In some cultures they can be drafted, for example, or in certain contexts have no prospects outside of work that is physically damaging to them. They may be heavily indoctrinated in toxic masculinity; ideas that encourage them to not value their own health and safety, take risks, see themselves as expendable, neglect their emotional wellbeing and each other’s, see themselves as inessential to family life and nurturing children, see themselves as needing to be physically strong and capable of violence – all of these values are indoctrinated into working class men to serve the ruling class.

And just so we’re clear, a way working-class men are ‘rewarded’ for this terrible deal, is by being placed above working-class women.

Disabled men and gay men may fall foul of masculinity based on not meeting the expectations of masculinity that society holds. These expectations can prove fatal for gay and disabled men.

Any man who also occupies a place in an oppressed group will have their masculinity complicated by oppression in ways that create a unique group experience. Trans men are not remotely special in this regard.

Expectations of maleness and masculinity are called toxic for a reason. Nearly every time an MRA shouts “misandry” what they are reporting on is in fact toxic masculinity and they just need to go read about that through a feminist lens. Start with Bell Hooks Feminism is for everyone and go on from there.

There are many experiences that gay men have that lesbians do not. But they do not need a special word for their oppression, nor do they need to claim parity with lesbians in a game of oppression top trumps. Misogyny, while it undoubtedly is part of the origin story of homophobia, alongside colonialism, is still a structure that gay men (conditionally) benefit from.

Masculinity is constructed to make everyone insecure

Of course there are specific experiences for those who live at the intersection of transphobia and masculinity in all its toxic constructions. Masculinity was designed to be a game most people lose and fall foul of. Just like wealth, it makes you insecure, and is by its nature precarious and violent to even its most privileged members, let alone those otherwise marginalised. It is designed to create power and incite fear through strength, violence and rape culture, but the cost of that for marginalised men is high.

But these negative associations with men did not come from some group of people oppressing men. So when trans men post those tiresome entreaties that “men are good, we shouldn’t hate them” they are ignoring that “man hating” is usually the term levelled at people who call out men’s violence as it is enabled and constructed by patriarchy as a system of oppression.

Example: when a trans man entitles himself to physically lash out at a partner because culturally the message is that’s something excusable for men to do, he is not being oppressed by toxic ideas about men, he is being indoctrinated into toxic masculinity, the seductive idea that men can’t help being violent, and therefore are held to less account when they are violent, even in queer spaces.

Masculinity is a pyramid scheme, just like wealth and power. Just like whiteness was a tool to divide white working men from enslaved people in order to make them feel like they were winning at something and stop them rising up together, these structures were created to maintain the power of ruling classes. Toxic masculinity and male supremacy is designed to make men feel like they have something special, to feel superior.

Masculinity as a construct lures marginalised men into thinking there is one power in the world they ought to have. And when they find that they don’t have as much power as the story told them they should, they blame women and cry “misandry!” when women did not create this unequal structure.

White women, do of course perpetuate the objectification of black male bodies, and they are also co-opted into white supremacist ideas of men of colour being a threat to them, something that has perpetuated racism and segregation throughout the history of white supremacy. These oppression structures interlock – they are designed to work together, so even though we talk about them separately, we really can’t pretend that colonialism, white supremacy, male supremacy, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, ableism and class are not interlocking systems that are designed to support each other.

So yes, being marginalised complicates masculinity and the entitlement to the benefits that male supremacy sells. But male supremacy is a fiction, men are not better than women and they don’t deserve to have things easier or be in charge.

More to the point, the reason gay and trans men have certain experiences lesbians and trans women don’t is because they are falling foul of the expectations society attaches to masculinity and power. It is because of the power story associated with masculinity – gay and trans men threaten that story and so they are attacked. But that doesn’t mean that there can’t be power attached to being a man even when your marginalisation disrupts that power.

Who gets their own special word?

If the community want a special word that really means transmisandry, then it’s probably because a lot of the TME community haven’t had to think this stuff through collectively since 1976, Sandy Stone and Janice Raymond. And that’s because of privilege. They are only just now grappling with the reality that TERFs hurt them too because they haven’t been in TERF lines-of-sight for half a century. That’s the only explanation for such a half-assed and obfuscating discourse starting up around this at the worst possible time, like someone asking a really basic question in class because they didn’t do the reading.

If we’re to keep “transandrophobia” we’re going to have to accept that we also need a special word for gay men, and black men, and disabled men, and working class men, and so on. And we’re going to have to accept that in doing so we’re saying that these particular intersections are specifically notable at this moment in history in the same way that transmisogyny and misogynoir are. That there is a particular reason above other intersections why the world is piling on trans men because they’re men and not just because they’re trans. Otherwise the word we’re looking for is transphobia.

Transphobia is bad enough on its own

I cannot overstate how much we ignore that transphobia is in and of itself bad enough for all trans people. At a time when we are being scapegoated by fascism, hell yes all trans people are subject to a monstrous and violent form of oppression. Transphobia is not the low-powered junior sibling of misogyny, far from it. I’ll talk about this further in another upcoming blog.

We can talk about things better if we don’t insert ourselves into other’s discourses. For example, it’s problematic to talk about trans suicide at TDOR because on that day we centre the violence happening disproportionately to trans women of colour. When white trans people bring the conversation away from that and centre the more universal difficulties we face around mental health, it’s white people centring themselves in someone else’s emergency. You have every right to be upset about your leaky roof, but best not to draw attention to it when people are responding to another person’s house burning down.

Likewise, we should not be inserting ourselves as TME folk into conversations about transmisogyny. The word transandrophobia does exactly that. It tarnishes every important conversation we want to have about our experiences of transphobia with the lie that there is some sort of equivalence here with transmisogyny. There isn’t, and there doesn’t need to be. A leaky roof is a leaky roof, regardless that it’s not the same as a house on fire. It needs attending to. We don’t have to compete with people to get our own needs met. That’s a questionable neoliberal idea, that says we can only get anything in this world in competition with others.

By pre-loading our discourse with the word transandrophobia – and I cannot state this in strong enough terms – we have entirely lost the ability to have this conversation in the appropriate spaces, at the appropriate times, and on its own merits. The discourse has trampled in big, patriarchal boots over my need to talk about the violence I’ve experienced on its own terms, and not in comparison with transmisogyny.

Every time the word transandrophobia is used, its user is co-opting a trans woman’s discourse by default. Nothing after that is going to be listened to by anybody who’s a feminist, however important the point is.

Thus the word transandrophobia is a manifestation of men’s violence against women because it diminishes a particulary lethal type of misogyny and puts it on the same level with men’s experiences as well as co-opting women’s labour instead of building something from scratch. It’s also often a lash-out at trans women with a veiled insinuation they have privilege (which is transmisogyny) rather than a genuine call to attend to trans men-specific issues. It is invariably breathtakingly unaware of the extent of male privilege and transmisogynistic violence.

It’s ugly. It has done nothing but seed conflict and it needs to end before it tears our communities apart.

The level of hate, fear, disgust and vitriol levelled at trans women is specific and extreme, and when Serano coined the term transmisogyny it functioned in a very useful way to name the way pseudo-feminist arguments were killing trans women. It helpfully added to a growing collective understanding of intersectional feminism.

Who are trans men trying to have a conversation with by using the word transandrophobia? Not intersectional feminists, because there are so many other ways of having a conversation about how toxic masculinity and gendered oppression damages marginalised men, without seeing masculinity in itself as a form of oppression. It could appeal to the same people who like the idea of men’s rights activism in general – the people who claim that women hold the power in this world. You know, the right wing. But if trans men think they’re going to find a home with Jordan Peterson’s buddies, they need a reality check.

For me, it’s worrying to see how closely the transandrophobia discourse mirrors men’s rights activism discourse circa 1990s which I thought we were past. It’s a testament to how little trans men have needed feminism that they are so cut off from its arguments as to fall into this trap. Proof if we needed it that trans men are men and hold male privilege.

The conversation we should be having is the way that TERFs have essentialised gender oppression as the “one true oppression” (well, they would, they’re a bunch of middle-class white women, many of them millionaires), and so trans women and trans men are left dragging our oppression origin story over onto their territory and completely ignoring the huge structure that overwhelmingly harms all of us – transphobia.

I’ll offer a better term that fits the complexity of this: we are talking about a nexus of gendered oppression and yes, it manifests in so many interlocking ways that relate to misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, colonialism, classism, the imposition of the gender binary, ableism, endosexism…

But, transphobia is bad enough. Transphobia is violent and deadly.

It’s big and it’s ugly and being a man or masculine does not mitigate it, it just doesn’t add to it.

You do not need a special word

Trans men do not need a special word. And neither do AFAB non-binary people (and if we did it wouldn’t be this word). Transmisogyny and misogynoir are not words to be jealously copied.

If trans men deserve a special word for how they face a special kind of trans oppression, here’s a list of other trans people who should be in the queue ahead of them, all deserving of their own words: trans people who are sex workers, trans people of colour, disabled trans people, fat trans people, autistic trans people, young trans people, immigrant trans people, poor trans people, trans people without access to healthcare…

When all those people have their own special words, well, trans men still shouldn’t get one, because being a man is still not a form of oppression.

We cannot have the conversations in community we could five years ago, thanks to this obfuscating discourse. I’ve seen good, supportive mixed trans spaces unravel over this discourse. We need to be pulling together and we need to be fully alongside trans women right now, not finding excuses to look away from what TERFs are doing to them by claiming “TERFs hurt us too”. Yes, they do, and it’s still not equivalent. We will find our moments and spaces to speak about our own experiences without inserting ourselves into a discourse that isn’t about us.

A lot of people steeped in this discourse got there by engaging with TERF nonsense rather than spending their time on good feminist discourse, especially trans feminist discourse. TERFs have warped the way we speak about everything, and it’s not good. Most of the arguments for the term transandrophobia would quickly be cleared up by intersectional feminist responses to the men’s rights movement. Feminism has been here before, we had these conversations, and it’s tedious to have them again.

Trans men and masculine folk, please stop tearing our community apart with this sense of entitlement to this special word of yours and understand what, structurally, the invocation of that word actually means and why we can either have good discourse about our experiences or we can have the word, but we cannot have both.


1 thought on “Transandrophobia: we need to ditch this word now

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s