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What Men Aren’t Taught About Rape

If you are triggered by graphic descriptions of rape, self-injury and body horror, you may want to skip this post.

To put it bluntly, men are raised to be incredibly ignorant of rape. Male socialization systematically devalues the trauma and pain of rape and leaves those raised to be men painfully and insultingly misinformed on the subject. That’s not to say that men can’t learn—just that an understanding of rape, with all its irrational anti-patriarchy implications like empathy for the survivors, is not included in the syllabus.

What’s interesting, and infuriating—and will doubtless get me called a transphobe, again, because I’m not self-interested enough to selectively ignore the realities of a gendered society—is that male-socialized blindness to rape is only limited by firsthand experience. Which is to say, the ignorance and misunderstanding of rape is universal among people who have been socialized as male, unless they have directly experienced rape or empathy for a rape survivor, as a person—not as property or them-by-proxy. An adequate understanding of rape is not created by considering the theory of rape or by rejecting either stereotypical manliness or by identifying as a different gender; you can only grow one by either being a survivor yourself or by deeply caring for a survivor.

It’s been bothering me lately how flippantly men speak about rape, and how lightly they use it to refer to something without the concrete characteristics of rape; that’s why I’m writing this post. Rape 101, right here, folks.

I. Concreteness of Rape

The concrete reality of rape is this: first, that rape is committed by a specific person; second, that rape is committed against a specific person.

Any other definition of rape deliberately obscures what actually happens in rape. It does not “simply happen,” you aren’t walking down the street and trip over a rock and get raped. Someone does the raping. A rapist isn’t epheremal; there aren’t rapist particles floating around in the air, lurking around particularly sharp dips in the sidewalk.

When rape happens, it happens because a specific person is a rapist, or because several specific persons are rapists. This is part of assigning accountability—when several boys get together and gang-rape an eleven-year-old, they are rapists. They weren’t “drawn into” anything—they are rapists; without an actual, real, concrete rapist, rape does not exist.

The second part of that definition is the counterpart to assigning accountability: it’s assigning harm. Rape is experienced by a person; it doesn’t happen to no one for no reason. A person—someone who can feel and think and experience what is or was done to them—suffers rape, because that’s the meaning of the fucking word, and because the widespread misunderstanding of the experience of rape is what makes men so comfortable with using rape outside of an injustice, against a person, perpetrated by another person.

This is part of what I’d like to submit as a basic guideline for radical feminist questioning of atrocities:

1. Who is targeted? Who is suffering from it?
2. Who is committing the atrocity?
3. Who benefits from the atrocity—i.e., why is the atrocity happening? What use does it have to the Kyriarchy?

Too often, rape is spoken about—by men, but also by people being excessively gentle with men’s feelings—as if it’s this mystical woo-woo magical thingy that just kind of like, happens. “Rape is an epidemic in the Congo…” By who? Against who?

Because the concrete reality of rape, right now, in this universe—not the universe of The Spearhead or Larry Flynt or whatever—is that men rape, and it’s largely women, children, animals, transfolk, and disenfranchised men who are raped on the basis of not being male enough—which also means not being human enough, which also means not being worthy enough. It is an ongoing tactic of rape culture and rape apologists to obscure these realities of rape: who suffers from it, who is perpetrating it.

II. Men Speak Casually About Rape

K’naan, in the song My Old Home: Justice has been raped in my old home…

Emmanual Jal, on his album Warchild, has a song entitled Vagina. It speaks of how Africa is exploited and sabotaged by the Western, white world, but it appropriates sexual violence against women to fight racism… on the same album, Jal talks in Skirt Too Short about how the way women are or are not dressed magically makes him incapable of respecting them.

And have you heard Date Rape by Sublime? It’s a disgustingly upbeat song that describes a near-stranger rape, a rapist who admits he’s a rapist—”If it weren’t for rape I’d never get laid,” sez he (since, obviously, it’s so horrible and life-destroying to accuse a man of rape without his permission)—but never fear! The members of Sublime have no allegiance to such a silly thing as reality; his victim takes him to court and wins and gets him put in prison! And, as a final fuck-you to feminism, the end of the song has the (male, need I point out) singer gloating about how her rapist gets raped in prison, lolololol! Rape is so funny when it happens to people who deserve it! HOORAY EQUALITY.

Nine Inch Nails, too, joins into the fray when Trent Reznor sings in Animal, “you let me violate you/you let me desecrate you.” Of course, it’s really about pain and agony and obsessively needing someone—so sexual violence is really your only answer when you are trying to expressed your tortured manly maliness!

There are more, of course, from AC/DC to Led Zepplin, not to mention the entire genre of gore metal and the “romantic misogyny” of emo, but I’ll leave off the musical references with a shout-out to a classic: Rape Me by Nirvana. Sure, Kurt Cobain was never actually raped, but that doesn’t mean he can’t co-opt the soul-destroying violation for his self-important angst!

Literature is a goldmine of men speaking casually about rape, too.

In this one book I got a few years ago—I am honestly sorry I don’t have the name, but it was so forgettable that the few details I can recall aren’t nearly enough to find the title with—by some Eric Whatshisface manages to write a rape into the first few chapters of one of the few female characters he introduces, and the first native woman on a planet invaded by a species whose language is completely nonsensical when Eric translates it into English (for some reason he thinks having three letters in a row—like “tiiirn”—can work, ever). She gets pregnant from it, and is chastised for even considering abortion by one of the Great White Masters ultra-superior demigods of the invading race—I’m not even exaggerating—because he knows her better than she does.

This Ubermensch, who is masculine, tells her, “but bleeding was never enough, was it?” Implying that she should be thankful for being raped and impregnated, or that being raped and impregnated occured because of her mystical woo-woo womanliness. Because it made her “whole.” This is near the end of the book; strewn throughout are patronising lectures about why animals are not people—Eric has apparently never noticed that animals do change in personality over their lifetimes, which neatly ties off his justification of women not being people either. After that, he has another female character gang-raped and stabbed to death, by the man who raped the native woman earlier (main character’s love interest, naturally). Which is like, fine, because you never develop any emotion for her; she’s evil but she’s in love with one of her rapists, so it’s just another random act of violence against women. Just more to develop male characters as evil (rapist) or as good (rapist-by-proxy by forcing you to carry a fetus to term).

And who could forget good ol’ Chuck? Bukowski, the sainted fucking classic-writer, thinks of women literally as props: they reflect on men, are there for men, to tell the reader things about men, to be used to move men’s stories along. Sexual violence and sexual exploitation is merely a way to progress the story—barely even a fucking plot point.

And Julia Serano, whose Whipping Girl definitely qualifies as fiction, albeit of the likes of Ayn Rand, and who was raised and socialized to be a man, writes this:

When I was a child, I was sexually assaulted, but not by any particular person. It was my culture that had his way with me.

And one of my best friends, who survived several rapes throughout zeir life, shivered and snorted when zie read that. “That’s not how rape happens. That’s not what rape is,” zie said, pissed off that someone who’d never been raped could ever fucking be allowed to say that kind of shit.

Then there’s this: “Trans women are raped by our own bodies.”

You can only say things like this when you don’t understand what rape is… or when you want to trivialize the suffering of those most likely to be rape victims: women who were forced to be women. Which also includes FTMs. Because by the same standard—that no FAAB person “chose” to be a woman, they had that gender role forced on them—women are raped by their bodies, too. Or, if you’re going by the standard of severe body dysmorphia (which not all transfolk have!), fat people who don’t accept themselves are raped by their bodies; people with eating disorders are raped by their bodies.

No. Rape does not occur without a perpetrator. It does not merely happen.

And how many of you have not heard this from men (or have thought this about rape)? Shere Hite, The Hite Report on Male Sexuality, published accounts of men who said they wanted to be raped on pages 794-5. Here is one example:

I have not been raped by a woman yet, unfortunately. But I am patiently waiting for such a moment because it would make me feel sexual if I caused a woman to attack me out of lustful desire. Female motorcycle gangs seem to fascinate me. If I were in a large city where female gangs existed I would like to flaunt myself in hope of being raped. I have not sexually attacked a woman and never plan to.

I chose to display that one specifically because it’s so difficult to justify it as “just a fantasy.” He clearly believes that rape would be a sexual action, and far beyond the idea that men can’t be raped because they “want it” all the time, it’s actually very telling in terms of what men believe about rape victims. That rape is sexually pleasurable; that you are “begging” for rape if you “flaunt” yourself (as defined by what could possibly turn men on—which, as far as I can tell, is basically anything); and that rape is caused by sexual desire for someone, instead of an inability or unwillingness to understand that no one owes anyone the use of their body, whether for gestation or experimentation or orgasm.

George Carlin, whose death I am not particularly saddened by, thought that anything was funny—even rape. Rape just needed the right target to be funny, like an old man. Of course, George Carlin wasn’t raped; it could be funny to him because he never had any reason to know what rape actually was.

Then, of course, there’s the fucked-up shit that went on with PennyArcade. Recap: two white men made a rape joke. Rape survivors thought this was inappropriate and callous and said so. The two white men complained about censorship—which is quite an interesting claim when you are actively behaving in a way that will silence already oppressed people—and along with more white boys, but not only white boys, commenced the twisting of the knife to show how badass they were. Also cue one hundred bazillion dudebros and dudebro-identified women mansplaining why the joke wasn’t about rape, it just used rape as a way to make the joke funny. Yadda yadda, the survivors got death threats and rape threats—but threats and silencing only started mattering once the two white men got ’em. Then it was all like “hey yo, truce man, back off” and everyone forgot about it except for the survivors who now irrevocably knew they were not safe or supported within their community.

And Palaverer believes that rape does not matter when it happens to women when zie says:

[T]he abuse transgender individuals suffer…is, statistically, far, far higher than what women collectively suffer.

Because those who identify themselves as transgender make up, at best, 10% of the population; those raised to be women make up 51%, of which every one out of three will be raped, sometimes more than once. Not even if every single transgender individual was raped would that statistic hold any kind of water. The only way you can claim that is if you do not believe rape—a violation overwhelmingly directed at female-bodied people, and even more overwhelmingly young female-bodied people, and even more overwhelmingly young lesbians—is as bad when it happens to women.

When Julian Assange was arrested for rape—several months after the reports were filed, just in case Swedish women didn’t understand that their country hates them—Michael Moore and Keith Olbermann deliberately and intentionally lied to discredit the women accusing him and the validity of their charges. Assange’s own lawyer lied and said that he was being charged with having sex without a condom, which is a crime in Sweden (except, not); that he was charged with “sex by surprise”—which is, you know, rape, because if someone doesn’t consent then you’re raping them.

Assange’s lawyer made fucking rape jokes on TV; Assange claimed that he was being personally persecuted and oppressed by “the Saudi Arabia of feminism.” And yet I am still expected to be “reasonable,” to not necessarily believe that he is a rapist, when he has shown every indicator—masculine outrage, a fondness for rape culture, a putrid contempt for women’s concerns and wishes, and hatred of feminism—of being a rapist.

Men fictionalize rape in ways that do not even begin to grasp at women’s experience, or in ways that specifically reject women’s experience as ridiculous in favor of what a man thinks rape should be. Men speak casually about rape because they don’t understand it: they may use it to refer to something horrible, but the vast majority of the time they trivialize the experience of rape by stereotyping why it is horrible for women. And honestly, it’s almost worse.

Oh yeah, rape is horrible ’cause, like, you can get pregnant. ‘Cause you’re not a virgin anymore—you’re dirty and used up and since women are objects, not people, nobody will want to buy you from the store and you’ll end up getting put on the discount rack to be bought by some cheapass uncle for his nephew that he doesn’t really care about. ‘Cause you feel like you cheated on your owner husband/boyfriend/predestined Mormon Vampire Soulmate. ‘Cause you can get a VD. ‘Cause you can have, like, physical discomfort (getting torn up).

Look at those reasons. Look for the pattern within those reasons. They’re shallow, sure; they’re fucking awful. But there are two common threads within male socialization of rape culture on Why Rape Is Kinda Sucky For Girls. Do you see ’em yet? Secret fucking eye, c’mon now.

All those reasons revolve around one of two things:

1. Men.
2. Physical pain or inconvenience.

And that doesn’t even begin to cover it.

III. Rape as an Experience

I speak as a survivor of rape.

When I was raped at the age of eighteen, by a man in his thirties who had informally expressed interest in hiring me, I barely registered what was happening. Sometimes I think that the realization of what was going on would have been so intensely painful that my mind refused to acknowledge it; I dissociated automatically, instinctively. I can still barely remember it, the same way I can barely remember my worst panic attacks—I get the gist of what happened, I remember a few details in an indistinct way, but I can’t dredge up anything more. I don’t want to dredge up anything more.

I remember that he had a green wall hanging and that he offered me one of those disgusting Sunkist sodas before he took my pants off. Why do I remember that? I can’t fucking remember how my body felt when he raped me, for Pele’s sake; I just went completely numb, like I wasn’t really there.

I got dressed and went home and he contacted me again for a second interview, which I went to, of course. He told me he didn’t think I’d be a good fit and gave me his private cell number and told me to call him if I “ever wanted to meet up again.” I don’t even know what I thought about it at the time or what I did with it, but two years later I found it in my closet and gave myself a thick scar on my right wrist; I lit it on fire with a lighter and set it on the back of my wrist and kept relighting it, letting it smolder out against my skin.

I thought I was fine. When I figured out that I’d been raped, I felt almost relieved—like, I was one of the strong ones; I didn’t want to curl up bawling in the shower, the way men write rape victims on Law & Order SVU. But at the same time that fucked me up—the idea of rape victims, I mean—’cause I never really recognized on any kind of deeper level that it was rape, and that it fucked me up really bad. I just thought that because I wasn’t one of those victims, that it didn’t really mean anything for me—sure, it was technically rape, but it clearly wasn’t real rape because I didn’t completely fall apart, you know?

It took me four years to figure out that the little terrors—my inability to cope with being watched while eating or drinking, my incessant urge to start stripping off layers of my skin, my need to purify something from my body (hair, lip skin, fingernails, toenails, dandruff, hangnails, skin tabs, pimples)—were actually symptoms of PTSD. The ways my mother had abused me had been so thorough and desensitizing that I had trouble noticing that I was upset, panicky, anxious, triggered, that a lump was forming in my throat, that the urges I felt weren’t just urges. I’d long before dissociated emotionally; by that point I was almost completely incapable of recognizing that I felt anything except “fine” and “bouncy” and “angry,” let alone being able to name or explain the sensations. I thought I was strong; I was just fucked up.

Even now I can’t even go around one of those stores without getting the nerves; I all of a sudden just get antsy. I bite my nails until they bleed; I pull out hair by the roots and pick out dandruff until my scalp bleeds; I run my hands over my upper arms and neck, looking for something to grab at, scrape out or off. If you saw me doing it you’d think I was just jumpy; I act the same way abused dogs do when they get anxious or triggered. A lot of erratic movements and watchfulness, a lot of wary edginess.

But even that doesn’t provide any kind of glimpse into what my life became. I became a raw nerve: seemingly random shit triggered me and after I got triggered once, it would last for days or more and then everything would trigger me.

And now I need to stop and explain something.

When rape survivors speak of being “triggered,” we aren’t talking about being upset or angry or depressed or anxious or offended. To even begin to grasp what being triggered means, you need to understand what rape does to you: it destroys your protection, the line between “you” and other people, the silhouette that distinguishes within from without.

You can picture it more vividly by using one of Aslan’s metaphors: take a human being and peel it like a banana.

Skin is symbolic to a human, in a lot the same way that claws are to a cat: protection, security, safety, identity. It holds you together—makes you distinct from the rest of the world. Andrea Dworkin wrote specifically of the preoccupation of male writers with skinning as a part of sex in Intercourse. They thought it made you more intimate, unable to hide, completely open to your lover; they’d also never been raped.

Being triggered is the sudden overwhelming recognition that you have no skin. It’s not that you’re naked. You have no skin. You have no protection from anything; you are not you; you are not anything except horrible fucking roiling pain and terror and horror. Cut yourself with a knife and pour lemon juice and pat garlic on the wound and that sensation is your entire body and soul.

You become suddenly and unavoidably aware of how shamefully vulnerable—at risk, in danger, threatened—your body is, and you could almost feel pity for the pathetic, defenseless thing except that it’s the thing allowing the rest of you to be threatened, too. You want to scratch your skin off, you want to destroy your body—you want to get the fuck away from this trap that’s so transparent and weak. Your body is a trap that forces your mind into a constant, stinging contact with the world, and there are times when you feel like you’re literally going out of your mind; you’re breaking out of your skin and you contemplate suicide just to free yourself from your body, because through the interface of your raped body the entire world is just one overwhelming violation.

It’s not romantic. Men have a tendency to believe that vulnerability is romantic, sexy, intimate. People who’ve been trained to get off with BDSM tend to do the same thing—to glorify danger, being at risk, being helpless. But this is something entirely different from the vulnerability they adore: in sex, there’s no risk involved because you are sharing, not having something taken from you. Feeling as though everyone can see inside you—that you’re transparent—and knowing that they see something ugly and painful and horrific because that’s what it feels like inside you—is not sexy, not romantic, not hot, not intimate.

And at first I was oblivious—barely, in the way that you kind-of sort-of know but not really—that I felt this way. I’d go through entire weeks feeling vaguely on-edge in a way I couldn’t place, uneasy—not wanting to be bothered but not wanting to be left alone—and I’d stay inside all the time because it felt like everyone was watching me. Not that they were; I just had the unshakable conviction that there was something horribly fucking wrong about me and that everyone else in the world could see it. And I wanted to deal with my pain on my own—I was never comfortable with sharing my feelings with my parents; my father traveled and my mother always managed to make me end up feeling humiliated and inferior for ever feeling anything except “fine.” I’d learned by the time I was six or seven never to confide in her. So feeling skinless—see-through, unprotected, unsafe, insecure—reinforced the idea that sharing any negative feelings with other people would inevitably end up making me feel worse than I’d started out.

I never admitted it to anyone, except my best friend and roommate, Aslan, and then it took so long because zie’d been so horrifically fucking abused that I thought claiming rape would be pretentious—I clearly didn’t suffer like zie did. This is the first time I’ve written about it in detail, ever. It hasn’t gotten better with time; I’ve just learned better tricks, ones where I can ignore a minor trigger in a way that makes it not bother me.

The physical sensations are often the most minor part of rape, especially in the face of emotional turmoil so intense that it actually manifests as physical agony; more than once I’ve woken up in the middle of the night because my entire body was cramping from the tension. It is a peculiar sensation, feeling like it hurts just to be inside your head. It is even more peculiar to be waiting for the crosswalk to turn and suddenly you find yourself seriously considering stepping out in front of a passing car, automatically making calculations on which car will be able to best kill you based on its speed and size. Looking around to make sure no one’s watching you, because you feel like everyone is constantly looking at you, consuming you because you haven’t got any kind of distinguishing line between you and the rest of the world. Punching the wall to make yourself feel the pain because it gives you something to center on and ignore the way your nerves jangle in warning and alarm.

But that’s not what men are taught about rape.

It’s a lot harder to say the things that men are allowed to if you know what rape is: after all, you’re a target.

Privilege 101: The Slant

Continuing on the topic of elaborating upon and understanding how privilege functions—as opposed to simply its effects—I wanted to talk a little about what I’ve termed “the Slant.” Part of how privilege behaves—the processes it uses to perpetuate itself as a vicious cycle—is a particular mental distortion inculcated within everyone growing up inside a power dynamic.

What makes it so insidious is that the Slant is entirely perception-based. The Slant describes two specific “cognitive biases” that are entirely based around the status quo: the reasonableness and trustworthiness of both the “empowered” and the powerless.

To clarify:

1. The “empowered” are:
a. Reasonable.
b. Objectively motivated.

2. The powerless are:
a. Unreasonable, irrational.
b. Personally or deceptively motivated.

Part A of the Slant is particularly important because the falsehood that humans are uniquely rational, reasonable beings, set apart from all other animals by a capacity for logical processes, is actually the freaking basis of human civilization.

It’s fairly obvious, given enough time and energy seriously dealing with other animals, that this is not the case: all animals have logical processes—they just aren’t necessarily based on sight-stimulus and technology the way humans’ information-gathering is. Animals come to logical decisions, like humans, but using different sets of information. Furthermore, animals only seem “irrational” if one is thinking of them specifically as not-person—as someone malformed because they were not born with a human interface.

And not to put too fine a point on it, tell me I’m the only bee in your bonnet the human concept of “logical” has always had quite a bit to do with whether or not you supported the status quo. Here’s where we get into the mind-boggling reinforcement of one oppression to another, which yes, means you support all of them if you are not vegan.

Women’s insistence that women were not inferior—not irrational, not child-obsessed dunderheads, not incapable of brilliance, not frail, needy histrionic cases—has always been used as an example of how women were inferior and irrational, and it still is. Evolutionary psychologists, MRAs, and trans misogynists use women’s belief that they are, well, people in order to argue that women are irrational. They’re delusional; they don’t get that we’re just the way we are because nature made us that way, which is not an argument for our extermination, somehow, but an argument against it and an argument that women should just, like, let us be evil. Women are just too stupid, self-absorbed, naive and idealistic to understand that the Kyriarchy exists because it is inevitable.

The fact that Black people did not want to be enslaved was used as evidence for how little they understood, and how much they needed to be “guided,” however brutally, by white people (men, generally). The fact that they didn’t agree that they were inferior was proof that they were inferior.

That fat people refuse to starve and emotionally torment themselves over the size of their body is evidence to the fatphobic, body-obsessive, carnist medical establishment that fat people just don’t understand how inferior they are. When fat people point out that any self-destructive endeavor would be fruitless—starvation, even with exercise, doesn’t work for somewhere around 98% of the population—they are assumed to be too stupid to understand “the facts.” Literally, fat people are expected to ignore the actual facts and embark on a terribly scarring journey of self-loathing—the more you agree that fat is evil and wrong, that fat is an indicator of a personal flaw, the more “rational” and “reasonable” you are. Surely we can all agree that you are weak-willed and immoral.

And today, too, if you are “mentaly ill” and object to the idea that you need to be institutionalized and “treated” into docility with psychotropic medicines—or if you and your others refuse to believe that integration is necessary in order to live a healthy and happy life—then it’s further evidence that you are just too mentally ill to understand you need to be controlled helped.

In our society, reasonable is a loaded word. It doesn’t take brilliance to see that.

Part B is simple but slippery, because it’s so easy for the “empowered” to wordle their way out of the claim. I can’t be responsible for what other people think of my motivations; are you implying my motivations aren’t pure? Yadda yadda, whine whine whine, what about teh menz/whitez/humanz.

But really, the best way to describe “assumption of motivation” is in terms of a good-faith/bad-faith argument. An assumption of good faith is the default: it’s reasonable to assume that a given human doesn’t mean you any harm unless you are given actual evidence to suspect otherwise—for example, the epidemic of rape perpetrated by men; the disenfranchisement of nonwhite people by white people; the abuse of animals by humans. It’s not unreasonable to assume that someone who was born and raised as an “empowered” person will be able or willing to see you as a person if you’re on the “powerless” side.

Bad faith is what is automatically attributed to those who are powerless, or who are fighting for the powerless. Their words are interpreted within the most unflattering meaning; on the other hand, when the “empowered” say bigoted things, they are defended and excused. Very often someone challenging the status quo is simply not listened to at all—my experience with trans commenters made me wonder, briefly but seriously, whether or not being transsexual actually impaired your reading comprehension. Simply by not agreeing, you can be accused of derailing or having impure, personally-motivated, bigoted motives:

1a. Animal experimentation has not brought about any serious medical advance; in fact, most medical advances have happened IN SPITE of animal experimentation and were slowed down by it instead of being helped. And in fact many diseases have afflicted humans specifically from their use of animals; it’s not good for humans, either.
1b. You care more about animals than humans!

2a. The gender dichotomy is fucked up. We should destroy it so that no one is gendered; then we can all be free to be people, instead.
2b. You’re transphobic! I worked HARD to be seen as a woman!

3a. Dude, what you just said is really racist; affirmative action doesn’t give non-white people an advantage.
3b. You’re just a reverse racist who doesn’t want to work for what you have!

And on a deeper level, the experiences and feelings of the powerless are unconsciously demeaned. Women are hysterical and overreacting about rape; women of color—people of color in general, but especially women of color—are “angry and militant” when they object to being alienated from a group (yes, as if it were undesirable); children and animals aren’t as complex or as rational and logical as adults, humans; and women who were forced to be “women” from the day they were born are just expressing “insecurity” about their “femininity” when they object to male-socialized people in their spaces.

Unreasonable. Hysterical. Irrational. Doesn’t know anything. Ignorant. Naive. Idealistic. Delusional. Doesn’t understand how the world works. Illogical. Emotional. Silly. Empty-headed. Airhead. Man-hater.

The Slant makes it impossible for you to know whether you agree with, or find persuasive or intelligent or competent, any “empowered” person because of the behavior/reaction sets they and you were indoctrinated into; similarly impossible to know whether your opinion of anyone on the “powerless” end—on the basis of age, race, sex, species, body shape, etc.—is based on your cultured filters of power or on who they really are.

No, scrap that: the Slant virtually guarantees that your opinion of anyone will be, in part, based on the place of power they are given in the Kyriarchy, regardless of how reasonable and logical you think you are.

And there are no easy answers. You can’t watch porn and pass out condoms to encourage sexual liberation; you can’t buy cage-free eggs and grass-fed cow products to encourage animal rights; you can’t put a Black or Asian person smack-dab in the middle of the photo amidst a group of white people and expect to be hailed as anti-racist or inclusive. You can’t decide that it’s okay for people to switch sexes in the gender binary, but not for anyone to object to the existence of a gender binary at all, and ever help anyone except the most privileged male-socialized people.

It is a long, hard, fucking cold road, and it’s one you have to take alone; there are no quick fixes. You can decide that every animal can feel and deserves not to be used as property, to be farmed; or you can give the fuck up and resign yourself to the fact that your unwillingness to dispense with the idea of property—with gender, with capitalism, with a “right” body to have, with the idea that sex can be power—has doomed everyone you claim to be fighting for. Because you are too fucking obsessed with getting yours to ever do anyone any fucking good.

Take people seriously. Listen to them; genuinely consider their experiences and feelings as valid; and don’t ever justify anything that is done to them in the name of oppression and power as “not as bad” as something happening to another person elsewhere.

Guest: Transactivism Shames Me

This is a post by a friend of mine who wrote this and asked me to post it, as he has no blog of his own.

I’m a half-Mexican, gay, F2M living not to far from a major city in the southwest right now (it’s NOT in California though, so don’t think I’m from San Fran or some gods forsaken place like that), and I’ve been able to spend most of my life passing as male until recently when I became waaaaaay to poor to afford the rather expensive habit of passing. I’ve got more curves than a mountain road, and there’s not a binder on this green earth that can work for me, so unless I’m willing to spend the big bucks that I don’t have there’s no hope for me really. And than of course my boss is Mormon and Chinese so if I wanted to pass as male I’d have to find me a new job ASAP, and at 22 with only a GED in the middle of a recession the odds aren’t looking that great.

But of course you never hear these things from the Trans-Community, because right now it’s all about the cock; who has one, who wants one, and who wants to get rid of theirs. It’s all about passing, and how horrible is it to have/not to have a cock. Every time I go on to a message board or got to a trans-community type deal all I hear is cockcockcockcockcock. And Okay I would like one, and I won’t lie and say I’ve never pulled down my pants to pee expecting my little buddy to be there, and phntom penis issues are a huge thing for me, but if this is a community where’s the support and discussion that’s supposed to happen?

Instead what the Trans-Communtiy really means is Macho F2M’s blaming everything on T and “just being a guy LOL” to M2F’s playing the opression olympics with the same feminists who used to back their causes when they weren’t trying to force the non-issues. Yes I just blamed the M2F’s for their own stupidity, sue me you’ll get a dog brush, maybe the Husky mix it’s used on and that’s about my collective worth right there, since at $10 for the brush, and $70 for the dog those are the most expensive items I own.

I’m neither of those so the few times I’ve been to trans-only spaces in real life I’ve either felt uncomfortable due to everyone holding classist and mysoginistic ideologies, and insulting me for not (too young, well I’m not on T yet so I’m still thinking with my WOMAN Brain, etc…), or they’ve been all M2F and I was the one always getting questioned about EVERYTHING I did, basically it was like being a woman in a room of men.

And really that’s the problem with the trans-community, it’s been taken over by a bunch of bigots claiming opression, and how they’re opressed more than everyone, and how no one understands so anyone claimning to be opressed is a bigot. You’re a racist if you claim that Native American are more likely to be raped and/or beaten than an M2F, you’re a misandrist if you say that those raised as boys and men feel and act like they are allowed certain privileges because that’s what culture does to you, and you’re a ugly man hating lesbian feminist, who’s also a gender essentialist if you think that the gender dichotomy is socialized and not natural. EVERYONE IS A BIGOT BUT ME!!!!!

Now let’s not mention that it’s really rather gender essentialist to say things like “The women who took on men’s jobs during WWII were trans men.” or saying that you were born a specific gender and that you can never be anything but that gender and it must be either man or woman, exclude all the many other forms of gender and is thus gender essentialist. And then of course there’s the whole homophobia thing even though us transpeople love to invoke the LGBT community whenever we want to say how bad our oppression REALLY is. Oh and than there’s the fun fact that most M2F’s will call themselves feminists while saying all of this.

And a big gripe of mine as a transman is that everything boils down to the M2F’s and those who support them. the F2M’s that get a voice in the community agree with the M2F’s who we are supposed to believe form the bulk of the community. And really how can you doubt that M2F’s don’t form the entire Trans-Community when every message board and trans-group you go to is dominated by them and only a small minority are F2M’s, and they’re the only ones that go onto T.V. and talk about how scary it is to be a transwoman (because women never feel the same fear, the fear of a man raping and beating you is only for transwomen), and they’re the ones gay men and straight men gawk at and talk to? M2F’s are the ones that get the acceptance of the popular vote and they are the ones you have to brown nose to if you want to be accepted as liberal and progressive, and open minded.

But of course they are the oppressed ones. They are the ones who go to feminist blogs and tell these women they are wrong on the female experience and that they are the right ones, and that they are the ones who make the issues for the Trans-community. The Trans-Community is fighting for the right of M2F’s to go into women’s bathrooms so they can avoid being hurt by men, but the only advice they have to F2M’s is that they should pass better or use the women’s bathrooms. It’s the transwomen who are going around and telling me and other transmen that they couldn’t understand why we’d want to be men, and calling us misogynist if we say that “well duh that’s why you’re going through all this to be a girl”. It’s the M2F’s that the fun-fems use as a way to say women are women, and men are men, and this is empowering, and it’s the M2F’s who are soaking it up and strutting around like no raised woman female would for fear of someone harming them, or because women are meant to feel ashamed of feeling powerful, and because strutting and saying you’re righter than people who were FORCED to be women is privileged.

But of course all this makes me a transphobe, because saying woman hating things while being a transwoman isn’t transphobic, and talking down about trans people who don’t fit in isn’t transphobic, and fetishizing transexuality isn’t transphobic, but saying “you have some major issues and your shit is wack yo” is transphobic. It’s oppressive to tell people that they must change so as to not hurt others, and that being a raging asshole doesn’t make you right it just means you’re a acting like a dick. Sorry was it too soon?

All of the above and more is why I’m transsexual and refuse to be in the Trans-Community, because the Trans-Community makes me feel bad about being trans and I’m not enough of a culty to stick with a group that wants to destroy me and everyone in its path.

The Erasure of Dicks

In about forty different ways.

Now for your daily dose of transactivist transphobia!

This time it’s “the majority of transphobic violence is committed against MTFs.”

It’s a general sentiment, but Julia Serano has actually written this in her book Whipping Girl (very closely paraphrased). And it is an unexplodey piece of shit.

This claim is bullshit because of two things: first, it’s unsubstantiated; and second, if you actually consider the actual way the world works, it’s very likely false. For simplicity’s sake (and honesty’s), I’m going to consider “violence” to be specifically physical violence, because even I know that having something shouted at you from a passing car is not nearly as traumatizing and intimidating as being physically attacked.

The first problem is self-explanatory; let’s focus on the second. Without any actual evidence, for example a survey that takes into account the relative time spent outside versus online, we don’t have any idea how often MTFs:FTMs are attacked—we don’t actually know how often either of them are attacked. Surveys are not very enlightening when it comes to the most vulnerable and abused, because they are the least likely to have the leisure and safety to fill one out.

And that’s part of the problem. From my observation, corroborated by the FTMs I’ve had the pleasure to meet, MTFs are by far the most prominent voices in the trans community. Put simply, FAAB men are not heard or counted as much or as loudly as their male-born counterparts.

This is not a trend isolated to the trans community. Reporting of eating disorders are similarly confused on a class and race basis: because of the way eating disorders are reported, they are incorrectly assumed to be largely specific to upper-middle class young white women. Here are the problems with assuming eating disorder reporting is correct:

1. Reports are gathered from medical and psychiatric authorities. Consider monetary and time expenditure, as well as cultural values and expectations (stigmatization, bootstraps fuckery, et cetera).

2. Eating disorders are often well-hidden until an extreme point; for example, Lierre Keith has gone more than twenty-nine years with an eating disorder without anyone recognizing what it was.

3. Those who are typically victimized by “authorities” are more likely to be suspicious of medical and psychiatric authorities, for good reason, and thus more likely to hide their eating disorders, if they go to aforementioned establishments at all.

4. The majority of eating disorders are not recognized and acknowledged; severe emaciation and/or constant self-induced vomiting is required for it to be seen as a “real” eating disorder.

5. Whether or not someone’s eating disorder qualifies as a “real” eating disorder is also highly dependent on sex, size, age, race/ethnicity and class.

That’s a lot of societal crap standing in the way of that nice, neat conclusion. Fact is, street kids—generally the poorest of the poor and marginalized so much that the word doesn’t even work to describe it—have eating disorders. All the time. All of the street kids I’ve met have eating disorders; the vast majority of the street kids Aslan has met (dude, Denver Five Points Area) also have eating disorders; almost none of them were white. I’ve got way more than enough evidence that the “profile” of people with eating disorders is worth less than the bananas I ate yesterday.

And even then, street kids have one more thing working against them—something that FAAB men do, too: they’re usually starving anyway, so any intentional starvation on their part is obscured and rendered as invisible as the lives of street kids generally are.

Same with FTMs, which the people crowing about how MTFs are the primary target of trans-related violence always miss: when violence is perpetrated against FTMs, how much of it is just violence against women? How much violence against FAAB men is identified as “merely” another woman killed, raped, beaten?

Certainly, that’s what their attackers mean it to be; it’s virtually certain that an FTM’s attacker is going to be MAAB, and even more certain that he is going to be viewing the violence as not against someone who is trans as it is a woman. Generally, MTFs get beaten, raped and killed for being “freaks” and “fags”; FTMs get beaten, raped and killed because they’re girls. The reality of violence is different for MTFs and FTMs, and it is exceedingly male-centric to deny these two things: first, that MTFs are more visible because of their at-birth assignment (that is to say, as male); second, that MTFs are not the standard by which transphobic violence can be measured.

We can see that to deny these things is patriarchal, also, because of the history of homophobic violence and the focus of the recent gay rights movements. When gay men are beaten or killed, it is horrific, although not so much for rape (since sexual violence is still a big no-no in the hot-to-trot social justice scene); when lesbians are beaten, killed and raped, it’s more of the same. The rape of lesbian women is so institutionalized, in fact, that we have a fucking name for it: “corrective rape.” And you can bet how widely-used that is—I found it via surfing a bunch of feminist blogs.

What about the New Jersey Four? What about the lesbians who have been subjected to male violence because they were lesbians? What about the lesbians who have been subjected to male violence because they were women? What’s the fucking difference between those two things? The life of women—people who are put into boxes labeled “women,” a fucking social reality—that landscape is covered with so much blood and violence that it becomes virtually meaningless. Violence against women is normal; as it is said, “the water we swim in and the air we breathe.” When an MTF actually goes beyond a refusal to see and avoid dealing with the privilege and behaviors she was socialized into from birth, when she reaches the point of being just a woman, when that woman experiences rape, battery, abuse, murder at the hands of men, she isn’t experiencing it because she’s trans. She’s experiencing it because she’s a woman. That’s what life means; that’s what the social reality of “woman” is.

And it is important too to ask the questions: Who is doing the beating? Who is doing the raping? Who is doing the abusing? Who is doing the murdering?

If transactivists are genuinely interested in stopping trans-related violence, then the answer to that question cannot be fudged. You can’t argue these words are beating, raping and murdering you. I am doing no such thing and, furthermore, no person who ever reads these words and agrees will be doing any of those things to you, either. Get over yourself. You either care about trans-related violence or you don’t. And if you want to stick the responsibility of violence to people who are not perpetrating actual violence against transfolk, then you don’t care about ending that violence at all.

FTMs are not given this extra-special kind of respect by the holders of power (that is to say, MAAB men as a social reality) because they want to be one of the guys or whatever. They’re still seen as women. When they get attacked, they get attacked because they’re seen as women. And their safety is exponentially more at risk, because they are traveling into the domain of those who are most likely to beat, rape and kill them. Invisibility is paramount. Invisibility is passing, and passing is safety.

But when you’re an MTF, and you’re exploiting that invisibility to argue that you’re the most specialest and oppressed, you’re just acting like everyone born with a dick is trained to act. Which is, well… a dick.

I Can’t and Won’t Be You

Gender is an outrageously complicated thing. I’ve been trying to figure it out since I was barely pubescent, and I barely have down the basics. And even those basics are really, really weird. In order to have any kind of grasp on it, I have to believe that gender is (at least) three things simultaneously.

1. Gender is a spectrum, a kind of mental flavor, that intellectualists would scoff at and that on the streets is a vital people-reading skill, much like fluency in body language and intuition. Gender is not a continuum; it’s a complete three-dimensional realm all on its own that most people don’t notice because they’re too busy living it. Because of the huge amounts of variation, gender very rarely correlates to any kind of physical attribute (including sex), but because sex/gender correlation is assumed too often to actually be explained, most people assume that their gender just matches their sex.

2. In greater society, gender is a mental sensation that correlates exactly to your physical sex, unless you’re a freak. Even among many of those “freaks,” though, gender correlates to sex; it just may be the opposite socially-defined sex. Gender is binary (masculine/feminine) except in very rare cases.

3. Gender is a binary-segregated pattern of behaviors that you are indoctrinated into from the day you’re born based on the sex you’re assigned, most of which are unconscious or automatic. You can have gendered behaviors that do not match your gender/sex identity. Gender behavior goes way beyond “male” and “female” and instead defines “maleness” and “femaleness,” which are (again) behavior sets that are then conflated with both social gender laws (masculine/feminine) in addition to sex (male/female) so it all seems very “natural.”

All of these things can be true, because you have to take into account more than just personal or social realities. And often they’re still quite contradictory. You can be a woman who happened to be born with male genitals, because gender is a personal and behavioral reality as well; you can also be a male-bodied person who identifies as female, but acts with male-socialized behaviors. You can be an FTM who identifies as both transsexual and genderqueer (or insert gender-variant-label here) and vice versa. Sex, sexual, and gender identity, like most identities, are convoluted at best for most people.

You can feel like a woman and still act like a man. You can feel like a man and still act like a woman. You can feel like a complete freak and revolve around any one of those. That’s just reality. It’s messy, sometimes unsanitary, more often just strange, and occasionally unpleasant.

So, no. For the record, I don’t think that your gender must match the body you were born into. For the record, I don’t believe that “women” can never be “men” and vice versa, because it’s inaccurate; women and men are not biological realities—they’re social ones. For the record, I’m not saying that your genitals are or should be inescapable. A lot of people seem to think I have, which confuses me, because I’m not sure whether to feel sad or contemptuous. Nuance—detail, variation, innumerable shades of color and texture and flavor—is the way of the world. I can’t accept “men are men and women are women, period” any more than I can accept the idea that one person’s inner reality should override the perception of everyone else—that, for example, a transsexual person that the right to demand everyone accept their identity as a particular social caste when they’re acting like the opposite social caste all over the place, especially when those social castes are defined by behavior—and they’re still participating in the same illusion as everyone else.

I can accept your personal reality as valid while still pointing out that your behavioral reality is at odds with what you believe to be true. I can respect you and still not adopt your worldview wholesale. I can believe you are transsexual and respect that identity while still pointing out that you’re acting with male-socialized behaviors and that those behaviors, regardless of who’s using them, are harmful and wrong. If you can’t understand that, it’s pretty much a problem on your end, not mine.

But more to the point: I learned pretty early on in my internet life* that, even when someone claims to merely want me to accept them as a woman (/man, but rarely), they’re lying out their ass. I can say, “Okay, you’re a woman,” and it won’t be enough. I can say, “I understand it’s hard for you. I understand that you face social pressures and threats that no one should have to face. I understand you have to fight for your identity to be respected,” and it is not enough. I carried on being extremely confused for a while until I realized that it’s not so much about having your identity respected as it is that disagreement on the subject of identity itself—not your identity, ’cause yes, okay, You Are A Woman/Man, since I have never really given two fucks about ovaries and testes—is seen as a threat.

That’s the only conclusion I was able to derive. That, because their politics are integral to their identity, you must agree with their politics in order to respect their identity. And I can’t.

Because in my experience, that means I have to stop thinking about and questioning and developing new layers of nuance and new, better ways to understand the way the human social world works. I have to stop talking about women who were forced to be women, who did not choose it and the attendant oppression that goes along with it, and for whom it was a prison just as much as any forced identity is. It means that I have to adopt the use of “transmisogyny,” even though I’ve never been able to get anyone to explain to me how it’s supposed to differ from either transphobia or misogyny, and similar for “cissexism”—that I have to accept concepts that I believe are unrealistic or simplistic or diversionary.

It means that I have to accept a version of reality that I had to build myself up from in the first place: in order to not be “cissexist,” I have to become ignorant again. I have to regress. I have to give up the personal growth I’ve fought so desperately for, because otherwise a bunch of people will come and be very aggressive and hostile towards me and think badly of me (maybe even talk behind my back!).

What I have been shown it means by these people is that I’m not allowed to have my own identity, and my own way of looking at the world, ultimately so they don’t have to change their way of thinking of the world. Fucking carnists; they’re always insisting vegans are rude to them, or proselytizing, but I never met a carnist that didn’t try to convert me instead of leaving me alone—even when I was over in the corner, calmly eating my smoothie.

I respect your identity, and the suffering that’s been heaped on you from that supposed “deviance.” I also disagree with you. These things are not mutually exclusive; I don’t have to move in lockstep with you so as to not be perpetuating oppression, even and especially if I don’t believe what you do about that oppression. You’re not the only one experiencing it, after all.

It is the most dangerous thing to think you are absolutely right. Because if you do, there’s a high probability you’re wrong.

By the way, negative comments are still welcome, provided you don’t engage in anti-feminist tropes (goodbye, Iambic!), actually explain why it is how you say it is, and otherwise not be a total jerk. (Being a little bit of one is fine.) Some of them are actually pretty good brain-fodder, and one or two have actually been changing my beliefs.

Because I care more about actually being right than just “being right.”

*Because, weirdly enough, it’s only the transfolk active on internet trans communities that act this way. I’ve never known any transdude (yes, it’s a gender-neutral pronoun and I’ll continue using it on literally everyone, deal with it) IRL who’s acted in any way close to this. Is it a problem with the internet transcommunity? Or is it a problem with the internet? I’ve no idea.

In the Transitive

Just a small note.

Trans can be used in several ways, because it is merely a prefix that means to move. For example, transition means to move where you are positioned. It stands to reason that trans means different things depending on what it is placed before.

Next, sex is a binary: male and female. There is such a thing as “intersex,” but there’s a reason that the word means “to lie between” or “to take from both sides.” Sex is a binary only in that there are two clearly-defined sides, not to erase the existence or naturalness of intersexed people.

Gender, however, is not a binary. As a sensation or feeling, it does not have any clearly-defined sides whatsoever, and would be better explained by a sphere where all colors and luminosities exist, amorphous and unstable.

Granted, gender can also be understood as the inner feeling supposed to correspond to a given sex, with behavioral (and to a point appearance) stereotypes associated with those sexes described as gender roles.

When you are transsexual, it means you want to be identified as the opposite sex of the one you were assigned at birth. You can be genderqueer and also transsexual, but apparently it’s fairly rare—or maybe not, depending on how the individual interprets gender. Someone who is transsexual may very well simply associate their gender with their chosen sex regardless of “accuracy.”

The trans in transsexual means to go across—because there are two binaries. Like transcontinental, the prefix specifically refers to linear travel.

Transgender is to fall entirely outside of the gendered sex binary: your inner feeling of gender has no reflection or relation to your sex, regardless of whatever similarities it shows to gender roles. In this way, the trans in transgender means to transcend—to rise above or outside, that is, to move from the binary (feminine/masculine and assumed genitalia) outside of it, to the color-light gender cloud described above.

It is virtually impossible to tell who is “cis” or not because of two inarguable facts about the state of gender-sex relations right now:

1. Someone who you would define as transgender were you to see their gender-flavor might not define themselves as transgender for a number of reasons—because they assumed their gender corresponded to their sex, because they never wanted to actively change their sex, or just because they don’t feel any particular importance in identifying as transgender.

2. Large swaths of people—especially those who were assigned the sex of “female” at birth—are not comfortable with their assumed gender, gender roles, and the way they are treated and perceived.

There are serious ethical and ideological problems with focusing so strongly on dis-identification with one’s genitalia and the desire for surgery. Assuming that merely because someone does not want to alter their secondary/primary sex organs, they can be described as “cis”—which is shorthand for not oppressed by the gender-sex system. Similarly problematic is the assumption that someone also oppressed and trapped by the gender-sex binary is privileged simply because they “win,” even though it’s a pretty harmful thing to “win” at.

Destroying the gender-sex binary can only be a good thing for everyone involved. Transfolk, please stop treating people who were assigned “feminine” at birth as enemies: they aren’t in control of the gender-sex binary—in fact, they’re forced to compete in it as well, with consequences just as dire as you have seen for any transperson—and are not the people who are likely to enact violence against you at any level. Those assigned “female/feminine” gender roles at birth do not hold significant social or economic power over you.

Solidarity is working with everyone who is oppressed, marginalized and maligned by the status quo—not slandering them with accusations of nonexistent privilege.

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