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A Trans Dyke on Passing and Unwanted Privilege

Trigger warning: Transphobia and transmisogyny

As I sit on my bed after a day’s work, I stare blankly into this fake piece of paper on my computer screen. How in the hell do I invite people into finding my identity, my reality, and myself in one article? And how do I do it without sounding preachy, condescending, or confusing? Well, here it goes.

My queer and trans journey was not typical. Sure, I had fantasies as a young kid of learning how to use an Easy Bake oven and sometimes playing with my sister’s Barbies, but I loved my three-wheeler and playing for hours at a time with Lego’s. After trying out all the sports my parents could think of, I found myself having fun performing jazz and musical theatre. At first, I tried so hard to fit in with the popular kids in middle and high school, but always resigned myself to a very few close male friends who liked being weird and listening to stuff like Frank Zappa.

I grew out a beard, wore flare jeans, aviator sunglasses, and went to one of the hippiest public universities in North Carolina (where I grew up during my teen years). I was pretty happy being a dude, a quirky, straight one at that, until college.

After hooking up with a boy, my first roommate in the dorms, I found that I had always been into cute, skinny, middle-of-the-road, not-too-masculine-or-feminine guys. My first big boycrush was Julian Casablancas of the Strokes. Hubba, hubba!

Leading an anti-war protest on campus

I became politically conscious and active in progressive, grassroots movements. I organized against the Iraq war, identified as a socialist and feminist, and strove to be a good ally to women, LGBTQ folks, and people of color. I questioned my ideas, my goal of becoming a history professor, my desires, my sexuality, and started playing more with gender.

Then I found myself turning from bisexual, to pansexual, and finally to the label-as-an-anti-label: queer. I was still strongly attracted to cisgender¹ women, but was fervent about making my orientation known to others. My girlfriend and I would go out to bars and hit on other people as a polyamorous couple, sometimes of our genders, but really with whomever we felt attracted to. I then found sex-positive feminism and queer porn, and it finally shattered my old binary ideas of sex, gender, and orientation.

See, ever since one of my friends snuck over porn to my house in fifth grade and I saw a “chicks with dicks” ad, I thought trans women were ultra-feminine, fake, silicone-implanted she-male’s. I had really messed up ideas about who they were and what they did. It’s plain to see that so many other Americans still have those same views—just look at popular movies and TV shows.

It was only when I dated my first boyfriend (all others had been hook-ups), when I became so passionate with transgenderism. He is a trans guy, and we are still close friends—in fact I would call him my chosen brother. It blew my mind to be so attracted to a gender rebel, someone who reclaimed his body from his assigned birth. I was so gay for him. (Aw, shoot. I still am!)

Drew Deveaux, trans woman and queer porn star

As I became more and more exposed to positive representations of queer bodies and orientations, they sunk to the deepest level of my core. I saw beautiful transfeminine bodies online, in radical feminist pornography by Tobi Hill-Meyer and Courtney Trouble, and I said to myself, this is what I’ve always felt. I can be futch, soft butch, a little femme here and there, and that’s me. And I don’t need to prove that I’m this or that to anyone. I will make a beautiful woman and a beautiful dyke.

But now, I come to new problems and unwanted “privileges” of asserting myself as a queer trans dyke. From different spaces I inhabit, some safe, others not so safe, and most in between, it’s proved a difficult challenge.

At my workplace, I presented as male² when I started my job in 2009, and have transitioned through hormone replacement therapy for the past nine months, still at the same job. I know old habits die hard, but treating someone like their womanhood doesn’t exist is really shitty, and I have to go through it almost every day there.

Now, I have some cool managers, a couple cool co-workers, and several people who may or may not know about my transgender status. Or maybe they’ve all seen my chest grow? Whatever. The point is, I still suffer from trans invisibility at work, because I wear t-shirts, no bra (usually), jeans, hardly any make-up, and generally just act like my weird, semi-butchy self. This is my unwanted “male” privilege.

This is what I mostly look like everyday

My battles for correcting people’s misgendering of me are painful, awkward, and tiring. I stand in front of male workers who make the most sexist and stupid jokes while I feel powerless over the half a dozen or so who laugh along, sometimes including other cisgender women. To them, I’m still one of the guys, and if I complain (as I have before) I’m called “P.C.” and overly sensitive. I’ve come to learn and cope with people’s assumptions by smiling and telling myself that it’s only a job.

Outside I face a different set of challenges. If I don’t look femme enough, I’m not a trans woman—much less a woman. I get weird looks from passerbies. Sometimes I’m read as a “soft dyke” woman, sometimes as an effeminate man. Despite how open I feel my neighborhood is, sometimes I feel in danger walking down the street.

“Passing” is not my problem—or it shouldn’t be. It shouldn’t be anyone’s problem. It shouldn’t exist. If I’m read as a cisgender woman, I’m subject to sexism and possible violence; if I’m read as a transgender woman, I’m subject to transphobia, sexism, and possible violence.

This is what I look like sometimes when I go out

Too many times trans women will focus on the very minutia of what makes someone look like a cisgender woman. Usually that means dressing femme, or high femme, and deemphasizing any masculine traits: any residual facial hair, jawbones, big shoulders, and so on. And yes, I’ve been through the same routine. It seems every night before I go out to a fun event I ask my partner if she can see my “beard.” Sometimes it’s in earnest, other times it’s just a way to smile about my transgenderness.

But this is not supposed to be a sob story, nor a primer for critical transgender theory. These are simply my own experiences. I would much rather do without pity, especially from my sisters: lesbians, dykes, butches, femmes, and trans women of all shades. We’ve all gone through our aches of queer non-conformity and know there is celebration around the corner.

A special community of queer resisters, of lovers and friends, celebrate me. I go out to queer dance parties and am welcomed, hit on, kissed on, grinded up against to sweaty, sweaty gay music. I come home to a beautiful femme woman who snuggles, eats Doritos, and drinks crappy beer with me. My love.

With resistance comes love, and I am pleased to say my life is a beautiful struggle.

  1. Cisgender means someone that agrees with their given gender and sex at birth. It is the opposite of transgender.
  2. It is more correct to say that one “presented as” their assigned at birth gender than to say this or that person was once a man/woman. Transpeople have always been their identified gender. Just because a person was born and coerced into a specific gender that was based on their sex/biological parts, doesn’t mean they’ve always felt that way. Personally, I’ve always felt like a “soft” butch trans woman.

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About Dee

Dee is a transgender woman, queer dyke, and political activist who lives in the Andersonville neighborhood. She has worked at Early to Bed as a sex educator, and is a writer who performs at All the Writers I Know, a monthly queer literary event. She loves movement-building and organizing for civil liberties, accessible education, queer liberation, and against U.S. wars. One day she hopes to bring home a hairless cat to live with her and her girlfriend.

Discussion

28 Responses to “A Trans Dyke on Passing and Unwanted Privilege”

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this story. I’ve worked with the trans community and hear a lot about expectations, rejections and privilege and this sums it up beautifully. Luckily some of us strive to be our genuine selves and force the system to deal with our uniqueness. It all creates progress!

    Posted by Danielle Tipping | January 25, 2012, 11:26 am
  2. Great article- it is good to have you on the team- I am looking forward to getting to know you much better :)

    -OO

    Posted by LC | January 25, 2012, 11:31 am
  3. Great Article!

    Posted by Nina | January 25, 2012, 12:30 pm
  4. Thanks for sharing your experience, Dee. It’s one people need to hear.

    Posted by Stuff Queer People Need To Know | January 25, 2012, 1:04 pm
  5. Gender nonconforming trans people frequently experience erasure inside and outside our “communities”. Butch trans women and fem trans men face double hurdles of intersectionality where we may not be wanted in trans circles (where we are “not trans enough”), in lesbian or gay circles (where we are “not really” lesbian or gay), or in cis heterosexual circles.

    There is an interesting and important and terrible aspect to my own experience as a genderqueer m2f dyke/fag who primarily presents as a soft butch woman. Even though lesbian women experience oppression on the basis of being female and their sexual orientation, I have experienced more leverage in allowing myself too express myself in a more masculine/androcentric way. There is male privilege, and this is masculine privilege. The curious thing is that even in the most progressive circles of queers and radicals, masculinity is still valued over femininity. If I use a more feminine tone of voice, what I say is immediately perceived as dumbed down and frivolous, whereas if I use a more monotone, chest-resonant masculine voice I am taken seriously. I want to fight androcentrism, but how can I honestly say I am doing that when I have to deepen my speaking voice to call people out on being oppressive? It’s tricky.

    Posted by blickblocks | January 25, 2012, 1:46 pm
  6. Doubleplusgood!

    Posted by Black Dahlia Parton | January 25, 2012, 3:04 pm
  7. You are my hero. I’m in the same boat, I Identify as a Genderqueer Trans Dyke and it freaks people out. But I just don’t feel comfortable in ultrafemme like I thought I would. I really want SRS because I hate my genitals, but I really just wanna be a girl who is “one of the guys” and a loving cohort to a pretty femme girl, trans or cis doesn’t matter.

    Its a huge plate to fill and eat.

    Posted by Maxine Payne | January 25, 2012, 3:25 pm
  8. I’m still gay for you too!
    So proud o’ my sister for coming out. Excellent article
    :)

    xo

    Posted by Jay Very | January 25, 2012, 3:35 pm
  9. This article resonated hard for me.

    I’m a binary identified trans dyke. I’m very masculine in my mannerisms, my social presentation and my choice of activites. My dress is pretty chapstick femme and preppy.

    I am consistently misgendered at work my coworkers. I am consistently compared to men in my social life. In trans circles I’m misgendered and judged for not being trans enough and in cis circles my gender identitiy isn’t taken seriously because I’m not femme enough.

    Anyway. I feel you. I think I’ll create a butch/masculine trans woman tumblr or something so we can all get down on the man for being so fucking heteronormative and cis-centric.

    Posted by TheSummerRobin | January 25, 2012, 11:24 pm
  10. Dee, THANK YOU for writing. I’ve been around the block a few times, and in 2012, Queer doesn’t mean what it did in 1986… I appreciate your candid style and I hope you will continue writing about your fascinating journey which is not even at the halfway point I think. :) And by the way, OMG you are SO queer!! :) I say that with warm mischief, and look forward to your next installment.

    Posted by Karen | January 26, 2012, 12:30 am
  11. Oh and I also wanted to extend a warm welcome to you for joining the LStop. WELCOME!! I know that I think differently than many people in our community, primarily because I see labels as a method of divisiveness for a group that seems to seek building bridges with mainstream … I would like to see a true live-and-let-live society. As much as it was important to have a place to commiserate back in my 20s, at this juncture I feel my orientation and who I sleep with is no one’s biz but mine because it doesn’t define who I am. At the same time, role models are great for our youth. And my conflicts ensue. :)

    Posted by Karen | January 26, 2012, 12:34 am
  12. Welcome to the team! Love the article. :)

    Posted by Sam Hamilton | January 26, 2012, 8:49 am
  13. Vital. Can’t wait to read more! I am so proud of you and the work you do for yr and our community. Yr my hero :)

    Posted by Rosy | January 26, 2012, 11:18 am
  14. Thx for ur honesty & forthrightness. Tho I dont get 1/2 as much discrimanation as u & other trans people I feel more than a little guilt & invisibility as a “femme” lesbian. I “pass” in the “straight” world & feel guilty. I’ve been asked what % of me likes women. Seriously! In the lesbian world I’m discriminated against for being too femme & thus not “a real lesbian.” Actually had a woman tell me I wasn’t a “real” lesbian becuz I like glitter. (Didn’t know there was a “real” lesbian rule book.) I too hate all the labeling & divisiveness & prefer to be called “queer” if someone feels the need to label me at all. In a perfect world we could all just live & let live. Kudos for your courage to just be you. You are much loved by people you don’t even know. In solidarity…

    Posted by E.G. | January 27, 2012, 7:21 pm
  15. Thanks E.G.!

    By the way, here’s one of my favorite videos on trans women and femme cis women and how our paths of oppression are parallel. I hope you enjoy!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQu_2hOannU

    Posted by Dee | January 28, 2012, 4:20 pm
  16. Having a partner must help a lot, I guess.

    Posted by J.A. B. | April 13, 2012, 4:10 pm
  17. Great article.
    I currently describe myself as Genderqueer Amazon Femme Trans Dyke, because it is as close as I can come to the reality I feel.
    Having been in a Friends With Benefits situation with an Intersex woman friend for a while, I learned that I quite like penises for instance. As long as they are on women. I tolerate mine at the moment, but will probably get renovations in the next year or so.

    Posted by Karen | May 17, 2012, 7:24 am
  18. I am a trans-questioning man, and I think I want to be a trans dyke. This article has meant so much to me in finding some commonality in the way I feel.

    “As I became more and more exposed to positive representations of queer bodies and orientations, they sunk to the deepest level of my core. I saw beautiful transfeminine bodies online, in radical feminist pornography by Tobi Hill-Meyer and Courtney Trouble, and I said to myself, this is what I’ve always felt. I can be futch, soft butch, a little femme here and there, and that’s me. And I don’t need to prove that I’m this or that to anyone. I will make a beautiful woman and a beautiful dyke.”

    This, a thousand times over. Thank you.

    Posted by N | May 29, 2012, 10:41 am
  19. Yes! Lady, you win a thousand internets for saying this…

    “As I became more and more exposed to positive representations of queer bodies and orientations, they sunk to the deepest level of my core. I saw beautiful transfeminine bodies online, in radical feminist pornography by Tobi Hill-Meyer and Courtney Trouble, and I said to myself, this is what I’ve always felt. I can be futch, soft butch, a little femme here and there, and that’s me. And I don’t need to prove that I’m this or that to anyone. I will make a beautiful woman and a beautiful dyke.”

    I had a friend of mine who also identified as a femme lesbian tell me once that if I thought I was a lesbian, I should view some real queer lesbian porn — not the stuff produced for straights — and see if I can even relate to it. So I got hold of several of Courtney Troubles videos and watched them…and as it turned out, I did relate to it and I had the same epiphany you have so brilliantly articulated here.

    My presentations are very polarized…the way my natural hair frames my face gets me read as male consistently. With a wig and makeup, I femme up quite nicely. I mean, I went to see my therapist in my male presentation for the first time and she didn’t know who I was! Just so you know. Ironically the effects of HRT have regrown a bit of my hair and smoothed out my skin so I have become even better looking as a male based on the sharp uptick in attention from both sexes. I am kinda stuck w/my male presentation — it’s unfortunate to have a high, male hairline bestowed upon me but it’s what I have to work with. So if I have to work the male presentation then so be it.

    Posted by Christine Martins | May 30, 2012, 11:03 am
  20. Thank You for sharing yourself with the world.

    Posted by Svetlana | May 30, 2012, 11:08 am
  21. “I thought trans women were ultra-feminine, fake, silicone-implanted she-male’s.”

    Wow. Thanks for contributing to the stigmatization of femme identity, especially as it relates to femme trans women like myself. It’s great that you feel more butch and I totally support you in that expression. But somehow I would really like to think you could find a way to express your butch identity in a non-oppositional manner (i.e. without the suggestion that femininity, and femme trans women in particular, are “fake”… especially considering that you never return to that in the article, or question why you might have considered that to be fake in the first place?).

    And as a trans woman who fits more narrowly into the parameters generally associated with the slur “shem***”, I would really appreciate if you could consider refraining from use of that word in the future. Thanks.

    Posted by Savannah | May 30, 2012, 12:25 pm
  22. Hi Savannah,

    Thanks for your comment. I feel like you missed the point with my criticism.

    First off, I tagged the post with a trigger warning for transphobia and transmisogyny. This was the particular sentence why I did that. I’m sorry you’re offended that I used that term, but that’s the reason why I used it in the first place. To show how from an early age we are conditioned to marginalize trans women and how that keeps back more trans women from coming out.

    I didn’t suggest that femme trans women were more fake, I suggested that it is the dominent perception of society, including my preteen self, to think of *all* trans women as such. My illustration of that point is twofold: one to point out that no one ever considers more “butch” trans women to even exist, and the other of how awful it is that we confine femme trans women and femininity as such to artificiality. Maybe I could’ve been more clear on the latter.

    Hopefully I’ve conveyed to the average reader how that’s wrong with using charged words rather than to contribute to the stigmatization of femme trans women.

    I’ll take ownership if I’m being femmephobic, but I don’t think I am here.

    Maybe this has been unclear in my article, but I want to point out that all trans women have agency to choose their own paths for their gender expressions, whether that be femme or butch or anything in between or outside of that. I don’t think pursuing any form of body modification / surgery makes one “artificial.” I think that whole “natural vs. artificial” dichotomy of labeling bodies is wrong, particularly when applied to trans women and trans folk. Again, I was illustrating how I thought growing up, and how that was wrong.

    I’d love to live in a world where kids grew up understanding and respecting gender much better than I did.

    Thanks,
    Dee

    Posted by Dee | May 30, 2012, 2:17 pm
  23. hey dee,

    awesome. srsly. thank you very much for sharing your story.

    “Or maybe they’ve all seen my chest grow? Whatever.”

    i’m right there with you.

    xx
    –joe

    Posted by joe | June 1, 2012, 3:52 pm
  24. So it isn’t wrong to be a female bodied person who sometimes wants to be more androgynous and sometimes loves her boobs? Or someone identifying as female but wanting to “pass” as a guy?

    Posted by Katie | June 9, 2012, 10:25 pm
  25. Katie – yeah that’s great! I love any gender bending / transforming whatsoever. Find love in how you express yourself. You’ll find a lot of people who do as well :)

    Posted by Dee | June 10, 2012, 12:39 pm
  26. Hiya!

    First of all, thanks for sharing, it’s a wonderful piece of writing, and gosh you are a cute thing on that pic! (I mean the one in the purple shirt)

    I’m a cis woman, and only related in a way that I’ve been reading blogs and articles and studies dealing with the topic for some time now, but I’m also a teacher who works with teens and kids and living in a totally non-pc country (Hungary, that is) I find it more and more important to at least know and try to be pc.

    Here gender issues are still not really talked about, but we have intense racism, homophobia, and darn, would have transphobia, if trans people had the chance to walk around. I honestly don’t know what’s better, being out and hated and mocked or not even daring to come out. *irony*
    It’s very sad, what’s going on here, really.

    But I meet all kinds of sexism and racism every day, on the streets, while going to work, or even at the school where I work(ed), from collegues. And I feel insulted. As a woman, as someone with Jewish ancestors (though I don’t practice any religion myself) with being supportive, with being… Human.
    And I feel frustraded and sad that I can’t do anything about it. I won’t start arguing with random strangers on the bus or fellow teachers at my school. I’m too insignificant, too small, too vulnerable to go into situations like this.

    My friends usually jokingly quote the saying you might know: ‘Don’t argue with idiots. They’ll drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.’
    But yeah, it doesn’t help, I just feel so useless, not defending what I believe in. Still, the best I can do is take a deep breath and leave.

    So again, thanks for sharing, I seriously believe that people like you do a lot for a world and future where people are more open and understanding towards each other and themselves too. (Uh, this sounds cheesy, doesn’t it? :D)

    Love,
    Lyona from budapest

    Posted by Lyona | June 19, 2012, 5:11 am
  27. I think the real problem is that people still cannot treat people as human beings no matter what there sex. The way trans, genderqueer and other gender none conforming people are treated highlights a problem in society. This problem is called hate, transphobia etc, but in reality its something else. Average streight men do have a degree of contempt for other men, there afraid of homosexual feelings. This is why that hate people who cross gender or are inbetween in some way. They like to know where they stand with people in there own mind, so they dont end up questioning themselves. When they see a transwoman as attractive they carnt get there head around it, as this is a person who a few years ago was a man. I identify as a lesbian, and a couple of years ago i dated a pre op transwoman. When she stopped hormones before her op i found as her face changed i was less attracted to her. After she had the op and was back on hormones i was more attracted to her. This made me realise how superficial attraction is, as she was the same person. Transpeople often take the lid off peoples fixed identities, and thats something people seek to avoid. I know i feel uneasy if i see a man who is too metro and is wearing really fitted clothes in soft fabrics (not womens clothes) as it draws my attention and i look like a typical lesbian. I tend to envy those types of men, as ive questioned my own gender. If someone is between genders many people will be tense around them, because there scared of there being any attraction towards them. Most streight people dont even have to think about there gender or sexuality, they see themselves as “normal”. They react with hate and anger when there norm is challenged. But my experience is that whats false has to be defended, the truth needs no maintaining. The most common sexuality is probably bi, and most people probably are more gender fluid. You look good in the checked shirt, im wearing a more masculine version of that today in blue. Its nice to see a transwoman dressed like that, i like other masculine women thought, i bet for those masculine women who only do femmes would be pissed with you. X

    Posted by lindsey | July 30, 2012, 4:35 am
  28. Hi, I found your post about your expierience as a trans-dyke very encouraging. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who feels that way!

    Posted by ande | August 9, 2013, 11:09 am

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