I’m not sure whether she coined it, but in her book Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity (strongly recommended, BTW), author Julia Serano brings the word “transmisogyny” to greater attention. She defines transmisogyny separately from transphobia — hatred faced by any trans person as a result of their trans status — describing it as follows:
Transmisogyny: Sexism that specifically targets those on the trans female/trans feminine spectrums. It arises out of a synergetic interaction between oppositional and traditional sexism. It accounts for why MTF spectrum trans people tend to be more regularly demonized and ridiculed than their FTM spectrum counterparts, and why trans women face certain forms of sexualization and misogyny that are rarely (if ever) applied to non-trans women.
Of course, femme men are not the same as trans women (although some of us may identify as “on the trans feminine spectrum” — more on this later). However, I think that transmisogyny provides us with a useful tool for understanding the hatred that femme men face.
To look at this, she points out two categories into which what we usually call “sexism” can be divided. These are oppositional sexism and traditional sexism. Put simply, traditional sexism is discrimination against women and the feminine, whereas oppositional sexism is the belief that men and women are separate, mutually exclusive categories that should never overlap.
Transphobia in general is a form of oppositional sexism: trans and genderqueer people, by their very existence, refute the idea that the shape of your genitals at birth indicate neatly and ineluctably that you are male or female; as an inevitable consequence of being male or female you will become masculine or feminine respectively; and you will stay male and masculine or female and feminine for the rest of your life. Same goes for homophobia, since homosexuality and bisexuality refute the specific notions that femaleness always entails attraction to men and maleness always entails attraction to women.
When you add traditional sexism into the mix, you get the full effect: people assigned female at birth are always women and feminine; people assigned male at birth are always men and masculine; and men and masculinity are superior to women and femininity. Traditional and oppositional sexism combined, then, come down the hardest on those who transgress gender boundaries by womanhood or femininity — i.e. trans women and non-masculine male-bodied people.
Serano and others have pointed out that this seems to account for the savagery directed at trans women and, I would argue, femme men, as opposed to trans men and masculine women: the well-known “a girl can wear pants but a boy can’t wear a dress” phenomenon. Serano says (page 285):
Because femininity is seen as inferior to masculinity, any man who appears “effeminate” or feminized in any way will drastically lose status and respect in our society, much more so than those women who act boyish or butch. … Males who express femininity challenge both oppositional and traditional sexist norms (i.e. someone who is willing to give up maleness/masculinity for femaleness/femininity directly threatens the notion of male superiority as well as the idea that men and women should be “opposites”). [Emphasis added.]
By “giving up maleness” (in the case of trans women) or “abandoning/rejecting” masculinity (in the case of femme guys), we confute the assumption that maleness and masculinity are naturally the most desirable state of being. For people who are invested both in seeing the female or feminine as both completely separate and below the male or masculine, this freaks the hell out of them on some very unconscious, primal level (more on this later), leading to especially heinous and unbridled hatred towards us. It’s not a coincidence, I think, that bashings of trans women and femme men often use forms of violence that are especially savage and bloody and seem aimed at completely obliterating the person.
Even where it’s not violently expressed, people often seem preoccupied with editing male femininity out of existence, and that’s what we’ll be talking about next week.
Video of the week: Going on with today’s theme, the new video, “Batty Boy’s Revenge,” by Toronto artist Troy Jackson.