Monday, May 7, 2012

Trans vulnerability

A friend on my facebook asked me: Are trans women more vulnerable than trans men because of gender bias against women? 

There are a great many reasons why transgender women tend to be more vulnerable than transgender men. Please note: this isn't an attempt to invalidate the experiences or challenges transgender men face, nor is it an attempt to make their problems seem less important. I understand full well that there are many challenges we all face, this is my perspective on how, in most circumstances, trans women are particularly vulnerable. 

The first and most obvious in my mind relates to passing as cisgender. Trans men get far, far more benefit out of their hormone therapy than trans women get from theirs. By the time most trans women get their hormone therapy, testosterone has already ravaged their bodies, leaving them tall, broad, and with a deep voice. Trans men, once they begin hormones, experience their voice changing naturally, they develop facial hair (whereas trans women hormone treatments do not remove it).

This leads to trans men blending in better than trans women. This in and of itself is a layer of protection from violence - if people can't perceive you're different, then you're simply not different.

The reasons that trans women are more vulnerable is not just limited to available treatments. To begin, there's the age-old idea that men are superior to women. This is just a general thing, coming from the sexist, patriarchal roots of our culture. The man was the bread winner, the man voted, the man took care of business. Ergo, being male sets you by default on a 'higher' position. This is reflected in many places in society, from hiring practices, lower wages, 'glass ceilings', and so on, being a woman is just traditionally considered 'a step down'.

 It's even a part of how our children are raised: If a girl acts 'boyish' it's perceived as a good thing. She's competitive! She's good at sports! She's a tomboy! It's celebrated, parents enroll her in softball, soccer, track, whatever she wants. 

The male equivalent? The only word I've heard for an effeminate guy is "sissy", and it's almost always in a negative context. Even "effeminate guy" rings of someone who's "not a real man".  Young boys who more identify with stereotypically feminine things are actively discouraged; how many male flute players do you see? Male cheerleaders? For a guy to express feminine traits, it's just unacceptable.

So to begin with, transgender women are already viewed negatively, for giving up their position of assumed power. "Why would any guy willingly become... less?" is the question many people find themselves instinctively wondering. (Of course the question isn't why would a guy want to be a girl, it's why would a girl want a girl's body instead of a guy's body). This creates an air of suspicion, which combined with the misconception that we're male; trying to act/look like women (instead of being women in our own right) we're immediately branded as perverts. Either we're really gay men looking to improve our odds by giving us more people to screw, or we want our body to be female so our bodies could be our own personal playthings. Both of these are incorrect, but the idea that we're merely perverts, sexual deviants, in some people's minds, justifies acting out against us (or at least makes it more okay). Again, this is opposed to the (also incorrect) perception that trans men just 'understood men were better' and decided to upgrade their status. Trans women are just perverts, but trans men are just trying to get ahead.

Then you have the stereotypical relationship dynamic. Women are the prey, men the predators. Women put themselves on display, men come and ask the women out. (Yes, I know there are exceptions, but this is in general). This by definition puts a trans woman at more of a risk. Assuming she passes as a cisgender woman, people will assume she's a cisgender woman. This leads to the problems when people find out their assumptions were incorrect. With the aforementioned idea that we're just men in women's clothing, most males immediately react like they're being tricked into a gay relationship (which, by the way, doesn't even make sense: the things he was attracted to were her feminine traits; you know, things a straight guy should be attracted to). This leads to rejection, and tragically often, violence. 

There's two core issues here: One, the assumption that everyone is cisgender (and that we, as transgender, should voluntarily out ourselves as different), and, two, the limited scope of masculine expression. 

I could go over the first point, but it's handled in much greater detail here: (

As for the second point, this is a far, far more pervasive problem in our society. The scope of activities, modes of dress, emotions that are socially acceptable to show, and so on, are drastically limited for men as compared to women. Men nowadays are not allowed to cry, they're only allowed to show anger, they must otherwise be an emotionless stoic. Men, "Real Men(tm)" want to do women, and don't care about petty things like 'feelings'. Real men like titties, beer, sports. And the final thing, "Real Men" never, ever look at another guy sexually. (This of course being an extension of the fact that women are lesser: Women want to date men, ergo if a man wants to date a man, he's being womanly, and therefore less)  None of this reflects my view on what makes a man a man, but this is what's typically understood.

Also, if you doubt the above, consider the following: Women can wear skirts, dresses, pants, suits, pretty much whatever they want to. They can have their hair long or short. They can be bisexual, bi curious, etc. 

Now how about a guy? Even if he's bisexual (I.E. attracted to both women and men) if he's ever dated a guy, even once, he's forever gay. It doesn't matter that he's dated three girls before, or two girls after. The fact that he has one male x male relationship on his record deems him irrevocably gay. If a guy wears a skirt, it's considered comical at best. If a guy has long hair, he shoots his chances of having a serious career in the foot.

So, our culture has a very, very rigid definition of what a real man is. How does this relate to dangers trans women face? 

It's this core fear that we might be turning them gay / they're gay for liking us / people will think he's gay etc. that exposes us to this violence. The fact that we exist is a threat to his masculinity, and in our culture, for how tough guys are supposed to be, our image of masculinity is remarkably fragile. He doesn't want to be viewed as less manly, and by even being seen with us, he's risking that.

By the nature of straight males in our society, and the expectations placed on them, by being objects of their desire (in a society where bisexual-leaning men are likely to repress the homoerotic half) we threaten them. We make them confront the possibility that they might not be 100% straight. We make them wonder about things that society says they ought not wonder about. 

Now, the reason that a gay trans man wouldn't face the same trouble is simply that, by the nature of a gay male coming to terms with their preferences, they're not bound by the fragile, limited male expression discussed above. Their identity being challenged by a transgender partner isn't as threatening or damaging to a gay male as a straight male, because the straight male faces no longer being 'normal'. 

So there you have it. To sum it up, trans women are in fact more vulnerable than trans men.

As always, if anyone has any questions they want me to answer, please leave them in the comments section. Seriously, I don't have a ton of readers right now so if you post it I'll probably get to it within a few days.



  1. You are a skilled writer, I will be following this.


  2. Excellent observations and you explain your thoughts well.

  3. I have nothing to add. I'm glad you wrote this and equally glad I read this. TY!

  4. I really do loathe this idea that transwomen are "tricking" straight men. It's ridiculous, you can't be tricked into being attracted to somebody. When we call people who go, "I would never, ever sleep with a trans person" a bigot, they always say we're challenging their sexuality. Only we're not, we're challenging their insecurity, because the knowledge that someone is trans wouldn't affect how attractive they are to you.

    Very interesting article as well, of course.

  5. Iggy Pop once said something that I think makes a lot of sense: "I'm not ashamed to dress 'like a woman' because I don't think it's shameful to be a woman." As much as we think society has evolved since the ancient Greeks, the view of women as "deformed men" and being somehow less than human still prevails. For someone considered by society to be a man, to "feminize" himself is to degrade himself, and that's a fundamental narrative that needs to change.