by Anthony J. Williams
Masculinity is killing trans women, and more specifically, trans women of color. The concepts of masculinities and femininities are not themselves killing trans women or gender nonconforming people. It is instead the reproduction of toxic masculinities by folks who feel “threatened” by transgender women. This is not just an observation, but a statement that is proving more and more true with each murder of trans women. However, reported statistics do not accurately reflect the actual number of trans women killed each year.
The violence inflicted on trans folks is not expressed through solely physical or psychological means, but in the daily experiences as less-valued bodies in a capitalist system. This aspect worsens when the trans person is a person of color, differently abled, queer, or femme. The 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey interviewed over 6,400 transgender and gender nonconforming people with not-so-surprising results. According to the survey, trans and gender nonconforming folks are:
- Income: 4x more likely to have a household income of less than $10,000/year compared to the general population
- Unemployment: 2x more likely to experience unemployment compared to the general population. This increases to 4x for Black trans folks.
- Suicide: 41.0% reported attempting suicide, compared to 1.6% of the general population.
- Identification: Of those who have transitioned gender, only one-fifth (21%) have been able to update all of their IDs and records with their new gender.
- Police: 16% of respondents who had been to jail or prison reported being physically assaulted and 15% reported being sexually assaulted.
- Health: 19% of the sample reported being refused medical care due to their transgender status, with even higher numbers among people of color in the survey.
These statistics are important in creating a fuller picture of the life of a trans or gender nonconforming person in a world that caters to the most masculine of men. And much of the masculinity we perform in the U.S. (and many other places, like Brazil) is rooted in male entitlement. Stanford sociology professor Robb Willer even explores testosterone as a predictor of masculine overcompensation. Queer men, trans men (and queer trans men) are not immune, and in many ways, we actively subscribe to these same beliefs in order to appear less “gay,” and therefore less feminine.
As a Black queer man, I have to openly acknowledge that queer men are still men programmed by a patriarchal codebook that determines the way we treat women. Too often we’re willing to engage in sexism, transmisogyny, and misogynoir–a term created by Moya Bailey to capture anti-Black misogyny–while simultaneously expecting emotional labor from those same Black women when we feel that we need them. This is similar to the entitlement that cis Black heterosexual men display, however the difference lies in our responses. For Black queer men, misogyny in the form of psychological violence, as opposed to misogyny in the form of physical violence, is a more common reaction to denial of what we feel we are owed. Men rely on having constant access to Black women’s time, bodies, energy, or all three. There is an expectation that we can rely on Black women for our support in private, but disparage cis Black women in public. There is an implication that men can have sex with trans sex workers in the evening and clown them in front of our boys the next morning. This happens in person, but this same relationship is recreated in online spaces as well.
Twitter is one such space where transmisogyny runs rampant. I wrote for the 2015 ASA Sex & Gender Newsletter about how useful Twitter can be, particularly as sociologists, but also for personal reasons. Twitter is a space where I can frequently proclaim that I am Black, queer, and that I need us all to do better. The next step is consistently taking that bravery from within my own online echo chamber and into the masses of Black men who need to hear this good word. It is easy to lecture to those who feel the same way about gender and sexuality, but much harder to engage with the population that often hates queers, women, and femmes the most: straight men. I listen to and surround myself by amazing thinkers like Zoé Samudzi and Myles E. Johnson. Their tweets often remind me to check my privilege as a masc cis man in ways that my cis queer and cishetero man friends rarely do. But getting my cis queer and cishetero friends and family to do the same is not such an easy task.
Before looking at others, I have to examine my own journey, as that is one of the best ways for me to convert my experiences into real world consciousness raising. My personal masculinity shifted from degrading women as a teen to defending women, femmes, and trans folks as a young man. However this centers my individual experience and ignores that our collective masculinities are actively killing trans women. And we keep letting it happen. When the so-called “emasculation” of cis men by others drives them to insult (at minimum) or kill a trans woman, something needs to change, and in order to do that we have to stop dehumanizing trans people. There is a direct link between a man feeling that his [toxic] masculinity is somehow challenged, and the violent response that damages all parties involved.
Recently one of my friends told me that they felt that the privilege of being a masculine presenting Black queer man may be at the root of why I so openly fight for Black femmes, Black women, and Black trans folks. I had to sit with that a moment before recognizing that he was onto something. My guilt as a cis man is one reason I felt the need to write about Deonna Mason when no one else had. My guilt as queer masculine man who has survived 26 years of life is definitely a reason I began to call out other people’s transphobia. When I consider how I can “blend in” as a straight man or even engage in the same violence as cisgender heterosexual men, it becomes clear that my own masculinity may be rooted in a patriarchal need to “protect.”
My advocacy for these populations does not justify working from a place of guilt. Neither does it justify a paternal form of protection that my trans and women siblings did not ask me for. And at the same time, it seems that guilt–whether it be white guilt, class guilt, or male guilt–is one of the only ways to humanize those we reduce to less-than human in the eyes of those who do the dehumanizing. I need push myself and others to get to an advocacy that is rooted in seeing trans, gender nonconforming, and femmes as separate and fully human, as opposed to working from a place of guilt for our own privilege(s). Working toward equity for folks who do not identify as cis or as men requires introspection that should have started years ago. Unhealthy masculinities are killing trans women, and we have stop it before it is too late.
Anthony J. Williams is a writer, Editor-in-Chief of the Afrikan Black Coalition, a recent sociology alumnus of UC Berkeley, and a frequent twitter user (@anthoknees).