Feminist Trans Men & the Narrative of Internalized Misogyny
TERFS, Toxic Masculinity, Detransitioned Women, Transgender Men, Feminism, and the places they overlap
Although TERF stands for trans exclusive radical feminist, let me be clear that there is nothing “radical” or “feminist” about their toxic ideology. There is a common TERF fallacy that any AFAB (or assigned female at birth) individual who doesn’t identify as a cisgender woman is a traitor to womanhood. Apparently, the idea is that our nonbinary or transmasculine identities are based in either trauma or internalized misogyny; both that can be overcome. Yes, as a trans man I have understandably separated myself from my identity as a “woman,” but this isn’t because I hate women or womanhood. It isn’t because of some trauma I faced while socialized as a woman that I’m struggling to escape. It isn’t a desperate attempt to flee structural misogyny. As obvious as it sounds, I transitioned simply because I am a man.
I don’t want to oversimplify a concept so nuanced and complex, but when it comes down to it, I identify as a man because I am one. The idea of my gender stemming from internalized misogyny seems ridiculous to me because not only am I a man, but I’m also a feminist ally. The two don’t have to be, nor should they be, mutually exclusive. I am not a traitor to my kind, I didn’t turn on womanhood to join the dark side, because that simply doesn’t add up. Why? Because feminism in itself should always be intersectional. This includes cis women, trans women, cis men, trans men, and nonbinary/gender nonconforming folks. The patriarchy, classism, racism, xenophobia, ableism, etc. are structural oppressors that we should all be fighting. Trans men don’t transition to find comradery in the patriarchy because, even as men, the patriarchy still harms us in many ways. bell hooks describes this when she wrote,
“The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves. If an individual is not successful in emotionally crippling himself, he can count on patriarchal men to enact rituals of power that will assault his self-esteem.”
So where does this notion come from? Why do TERFs believe that trans men/nonbinary AFAB individuals are traitors?
When I was coming to terms with being transgender, I was seeking community and likeminds especially online. I found others who shared my struggles and confusion and it helped me feel less isolated. The vocabulary helped me put words to feelings and identities that I once feared were mine alone to bear. But something that I also stumbled upon were the testimonials of detransitioned women.
Of course, not all detransitioned women share these experiences and views, and in no way am I saying detransitioned women are TERFs but, unfortunately, their experiences are unfairly used as fuel for transphobes. To grossly oversimplify, some of these women explained that they began transitioning socially, medically, and/or legally because of trauma or hoping to escape societal sexism. They explained that they believed becoming men would better their circumstances, but realized later that it wasn’t really what they wanted. Many of these women say that they wish they could’ve just found pride in their identity as women and regretted transitioning because they were not really trans to begin with. They present warnings to “other women,” cautioning us to question if we’re “actually transgender” or if we just are struggling to find pride in our own womanhood.
But I do think it’s important to hear these testimonials. Of course reading/listening to them made me uncomfortable but that’s because they caused reflection. These women deserve to have a voice and hearing their stories is moving and powerful. These women made me think about what it meant to me to be a woman and to be a man. It also provided insight into why people, specifically TERFs, doubt the authenticity of trans men/nonbinary AFAB individuals and assume we are transitioning for the wrong reasons. I also think it’s important to recognize that bringing up the doubt or regret of detransitioned women isn’t relevant when trying to argue against our identities. The difference between a trans man or nonbinary AFAB person and a cis woman (detransitioned or not) isn’t that we hate women and want to utilize misogyny, it is simply that we aren’t women.
These women’s stories and experiences are valid and deserve to be heard but also should never be used to delegitimize the lives and transitions of trans and nonbinary AFAB individuals. There is nothing inherently transphobic about these women’s experiences, the problem lies in TERFs using their testimonials to further their own transphobic agendas. It would be a blatant lie to say that trans men don’t ever struggle with toxic masculinity and misogyny, but I can honestly say that our transness isn’t inherently based in the internalization of that misogyny. I can also honestly say that institutionalized sexism is a vital problem and something we should all be fighting against, but I didn’t transition socially, medically, and legally in an attempt to escape it especially when patriarchal issues still affect me negatively as a trans man.
Being a trans man doesn’t, nor did it ever, mean dismissing my identity as a feminist. I believe that when feminism is being executed in the right way, it is intersectional and therefore recognizes how our common oppressors affect us as a society. Using the testimonials of detransitioned women to seed transphobia and fear monger is not only destructive to trans individuals, but also belittling and disrespectful to the women who share their stories.