How 5 Transgender Men Really Feel About The #MeToo Reckoning

Photo: Courtesy of PRIDE portraits.
Since the #MeToo movement took off in October, the world has started to seriously question the way we think about masculinity. Are we raising boys to believe that women are objects, that women owe them deference and sex? Has mainstream masculinity become toxic?
This issue has been further complicated by the fact that some men have been coming out with their own #MeToo stories (even though it’s at much lower rates than women, men do experience sexual assault). More often than not, these stories have been a welcomed part of the conversation and have helped to push back against traditional notions of masculinity.
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One question society hasn’t really unpacked: Where do transgender men and gender non-conforming (GNC) people who present masculine fit into all of this? Their experiences of sexual harassment and violence are certainly different from cisgender (meaning: not transgender) men and women. Not to mention, many trans people who were assigned female at birth (afab) grew up learning the same rigid lessons about masculinity and femininity as everyone else. So, when they came out as trans or gender non-conforming, many of them had to unlearn society’s expectations of masculinity and build their own version of it.
Given that, we spoke with five trans men and GNC people to hear what they really think about the #MeToo movement, and how they’ve factored current events into their own masculinity.
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Photo courtesy of Tiq Milan.
Tiq Milan, he/him, a writer and trans rights advocate.

On being an ally to feminine-presenting people:

"I can’t speak for everybody but a lot of us feel like we have allyship with women on this platform. And it's complicated because trans men need to be heard, too. The trans masculine experience isn’t visible, and that isolates us from a lot of conversation about sexual violence and inter-community violence. But how do we join the conversation without taking up too much space?

I think it can be a part of this #MeToo conversation, but it’s important to know that it’s not the same conversation. As a trans guy who isn’t read as trans, I have a privilege that I walk with in the world. I can get on a public train when I’m a little drunk and feel safe, but women and feminine-presenting people can’t do that. Even though I'm black and queer, my masculinity allows me some autonomy, and the women in my life don’t have that. So I have to think about that as I walk through the world.

Part of being an ally for me looks like giving space for women to have these conversations and really listening. Asking questions to understand. As a masculine person, I can feel as if I belong to myself — I don’t belong to anyone else. There’s still a sense that feminine people belong to everybody else and not themselves."
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Photo courtesy of PRIDE portraits.
Lou Weaver, he/him, transgender programs coordinator at Equality Texas.

On trans men needing a place in the conversation:

"Transgender men are frequently left out of conversations. Conversations about healthcare, HIV, PrEP, you name it — and it’s hard for us to speak out because we’re quieted in various ways. The #MeToo movement is a long overdue conversation about how people (mostly cis women) have had their sexual agency stripped away. That's something that happens to trans men, too, both before and after transition. I’ve had men grab me and say, 'Oh, do you have a dick?'

Women have suffered the brunt of this since the dawn of time, but a lot of other people have also suffered and trans men are really suffering because we can't find a foothold in the conversation that’s meaningful for us. In the #MeToo movement, there has to be a place for everyone to speak out. There needs to be a space for lesbians who’ve been assaulted by other women, or by men; for women of color; for transgender and non-binary people; for everyone. A movement like this is more powerful when more people are able to share their stories, and I hope trans men feel that they can share their stories, too. This happens to us and it’s real — trans folks are real folks and exhibiting just as much pain and trauma. Our stories need to be part of the mainstream movement because it's a mainstream problem. It cannot be a separate movement."

On how #MeToo has changed the way he interacts with women:

"We've had the narrative of 'boys will be boys' for far too long, now it's time that we as men need to examine how we navigate society. I’m 47 and I didn’t transition until 10 years ago. Before that, I came out as a lesbian at 19 and lived most of my life as an out and fairly visible butch lesbian. Since my transition, I've had to learn not to smile and wink at women, because it might not be taken the same way as when I was presenting as a woman.

So how do I unlearn some of those habits? I've noticed that women sometimes look at me funny and realize that it's because I was smiling at them. And when I see visibly queer people, I give them the 'oh, I see you' smile like I always have. That comes across differently now because I’m not visually queer or trans anymore. So I get the 'oh fuck what does he want,' or the 'ew, gross' looks and I’m like, 'I wasn’t trying to do that.' It’s coming up more and more now because more women are empowered — which is an amazing thing that the #MeToo movement has done. It’s made me examine the way I interact more, to make sure I’m not being perceived as misogynist."

On the impact of sexism:

"The #MeToo movement is drawing attention to the fact that women have had to deal with so much crap. But it's also educating on how much misogyny and sexism run through systematic processes. How many women even refer to each other as girls instead of women? It’s a systematic and cultural thing, and we have to empower women to call each other women. I’m looking out for systematic sexism like that, and I’m watching it in my own life. It’s something that we can and should be mindful of, no matter who we are or how we identify."
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Photo courtesy of K. Richardson.
K. Richardson, they/them, campus sexual violence specialist at NYC Anti-Violence Project.

On making space for oppressed communities:

"The large issue for me is that #MeToo comes at the expense of women of color. The founder of the movement is a woman of color, but after she put it out there it gained so much momentum and power because it affects white women. Women of color and, in particular, transgender women of color have been experiencing violence at abysmal rates, but oftentimes movements like this are given credibility because there’s whiteness behind it.

A lot of what I’m hearing about #MeToo from people in my life is that there’s no space for people who don’t identify as cisgender women. It's a question of who gets to take up space, and the sense is that if you no longer identify as a cis woman, if you’ve given up that part of your identity, then is there space for you?

Because your presentation is masculine, perhaps the narrative that you’re being told is that this is no longer about you. Your agency doesn’t matter, your experience doesn’t matter. When we associate #MeToo with just cis women, we're saying that transgender people and especially trans women don’t experience violence, which we know is not the case.

And I do think that's how the movement has been framed. One of first posts about #MeToo called for 'all women' who'd had experiences of sexual violence to say #MeToo. It didn't say 'all people,' or 'all folks,' or 'anyone' who's been sexually harassed. Using words like those would've called in the folks who would otherwise not be included.

We have to be intentional about calling people in."
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Photo courtesy of Cianán Russell.
Cianán Russell, they/them, a trans activist who moderates an online peer support group for AFAB trans survivors of sexual assault and rape.

On making space to support trans survivors:

"I made a #MeToo post myself when the hashtag started to get big and for me the power of #MeToo has always been about numbers. It's about showing the magnitude of sexual assault experiences in our society.

I think there is a really significant need for visibility of sexual assault and rape that happens against the bodies of trans men and gender non-conforming people who were assigned female at birth. I remember a 2016 study that said half of trans men had experienced rape at some point in their lives. Those numbers are staggering and heart-stopping.

I run a support group on Facebook for transmasculine survivors, and as far as we’re aware, it’s the only space that exists to support trans men who've experienced sexual violence. Transgender people are often completely ignored in conversations about harassment and rape."

On the difficulty for some trans people to tell their stories:

"For many of us, in order to tell our stories of sexual assault, we’d have to out ourselves. Sexual assault for us is often related to being trans and, for some people, talking about it can drudge up too much identity stuff."

On hearing backlash when men tell their #MeToo stories:

"There has been some backlash from some groups of people when people who are perceived as male participate.

For me, I came out about being a rape survivor three years before #MeToo. It was already something I was doing publicly, and I haven't experienced the backlash personally, but I’ve watched people experience it and have argued with people who claimed that someone couldn't tell their story. It can be aggressive.

I think there’s absolutely value in people claiming boundaries on spaces to protect those spaces, but this was always public and about amplifying voices. So telling people that they can’t tell their stories, in my point of view, it damages the work."

To join Russell's support group or for more information, contact them at: cianan@gmail.com.
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Photo courtesy of PFLAG.
Diego M. Sanchez, he/him, director of advocacy, policy, and partnerships at PFLAG National.

On feeling solidarity with survivors:

"From a personal standpoint, every time there’s a new report of people having courage to tell their stories, I feel the strength of their disclosure, pride and empathy for the person, and re-traumatization for myself as someone who has experienced sexual assault.

I know what it’s like to have lived as female. The sustained silence and solitude survivors feel with no possibility of resolution. And then along comes #MeToo and it gives them power for themselves. It gives them time to say that something happened to me and it was horrible. It lets people be heard and, more importantly, believed. I'm a strong supporter of whenever voices of courage can speak about anything that was previously private and painful."

On the power of voice:

"Every disclosure we see, read, or hear, it makes me wonder about all the people who are still having to live in silence — the unheard voices. When it comes to trans men and especially trans people of color, there’s too little data and too much danger. Without data it’s hard to know how big of a problem sexual violence is for our communities, so it really comes down to a story at a time. The people who organized #MeToo and the people who fortify it by telling their stories share a PFLAG value: The power of voice. With one story, other people might feel safe enough to tell their story. It lets them know they're not alone. That’s powerful."

On finding a place for trans men:

"The fact that it was powered by women, the voices are voluminous and I don’t feel left out. Anything that does something positive deserves to be fortified. I don’t read as many stories from trans men, but I don’t believe this is a closed conversation or that we're blocked out.

Gender non-conforming people certainly have their own experiences of being harassed or assaulted or mistreated. And there will always be a pocket of people who say this movement belongs to women, but I don’t believe that’s the majority of women. People who experience terrible things are going to be more open than that.”
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