Author: TransJoy Page 1 of 4
Let me start off by saying I shouldn’t have been browsing on LinkedIn at all. It’s literally Facebook with more Gary Vee worship, somehow. However, I came across a hot take from someone who bills themself as an LGBTQ+ educator and I have some thoughts.
I don’t have the exact post anymore, which is honestly a good thing. I would never want to bring unwanted attention to a fellow trans person online. Beyond the potential for harm, I try to avoid directly responding to individual personal opinions I come across on the internet. But I am making an exception because I feel so strongly on this issue, and I feel the amount of positive response this persons perspective received could indicate a larger acceptance of their opinion.
This person expressed a disdain for the rising popularity of the phrase “we need accomplices, not allies”. Their interpretation of this phrase was that trans existence is not criminal, and being associated with criminals/criminality is morally wrong. Therefore they preferred having allies to accomplices. Thus completely missing the political backbone of this deliberate word choice. Let’s explore some reasons why I, and many who are in this fight for trans liberation, choose to use this specific wording, “accomplices, not allies”.
Are trans people criminals?
While I definitely agree that trans people shouldn’t be criminalized anywhere in the world, this is simply not the reality in which we live. The 500+ anti-trans laws currently in front of state and federal legislatures in the U.S. serves as direct contradiction to this author’s primary point. There are thousands of people in this country that would have the very existence of trans and gender expansive people made criminal. In some places, the existence of transgender minors is currently illegal. Legislation that is tantamount to cross dressing laws has already passed in Tennessee. Ron DeSantis is on the warpath in Florida. How can you really sit there and say that trans people aren’t considered criminals?
Criminals vs. The State
It is, in fact, in everyone’s best interest that those deemed “criminal” by the state retain some measure of human and civil rights. The state has the power and sole discretion to define what is “criminal”. Who can really say that this power will not be applied to groups that have historically escaped it’s clutches?
To argue as much is to rely on what is known as normalcy bias. This fault in reasoning occurs when one makes the assumption that because something has not happened, it will not happen in the future. In the case of this LinkedIn author, they have made the assumption that because they are not currently being criminalized where they happen to live, they will never be. These last few election cycles should have been enough to disabuse anyone of this notion, but alas, here we are. I hope those trans people who have not already, can collectively overcome this human tendency to think things will continue to be as they have always been. We cannot afford to ignore these threats to our existence.
The Anti-Trans Hate Machine
What exactly are these threats to trans people? There is a political machine that is well funded and largely hidden from the public eye, that seeks to eradicate trans people from public life.
This machine accomplishes it’s goal through spreading misinformation about trans people and supporting political candidates that are sympathetic to the evangelical ideology at it’s core. The team at Translash Media has put together an insightful podcast series entitled “The Anti-Trans Hate Machine” which illuminates the evangelical Christian origins and funding sources that fuel this machine. Just recently, Mother Jones, Vice News, and many other large media outlets have reported on thousands of leaked emails that expose how these elected officials talk about trans people when they think no one is listening. It disgusts me, but it does not surprise me in the least.
The true history of the “criminal” in the U.S.
Unsurprising because the system of law enforcement in U.S. is rotten to its core. It is only an extension of state sponsored enslavement into the modern day. The roots of the policing system in this country lie in the “slave patrols” of the mid to late 19th century. These informal patrols which were originally tasked with hunting down, capturing, and returning enslaved people to their enslavers, eventually organized into the formal state run systems of law enforcement we know today.
Many people have covered the basics of this better than I ever could. You can take a look here, and here for resources to learn more about the history of law enforcement and prisons in the United States. I make note of this history to highlight the fact that law enforcement agencies are nothing more than state sponsored gangs that can be turned on anyone, at any point in time, for truly any reason, as long as that reason is reason enough for the state to deem you a “criminal”.
Wrapping it all up
To my mind the only recourse we have against this machine is advocating for the abolition of the system of criminality in this country. We need people who are willing and able to use their privilege to take a stand against the state and alongside trans people. If this means being seen as a criminal, so be it. As long the state continues pouring more funding into these systems, imperialism, and white supremacy will continue to affect everyone, though these effects are not equally felt across demographics. Everyone is not currently a criminal, but anyone could be.
Complement this article with a deep dive into how modern iterations of transphobia have used racism’s political playbook to maintain power or with an excellent lecture by author and abolitionist Dean Spade on the necessity of an anti-state approach to dismantling carceral infrastructure in the U.S.
Another poem this week.
Guess who’s still looking for work?
Image depicts a medieval engraving of a farming scene. A figure in a crown appears on the left side of the image, overseeing workers harvesting grain and plowing fields.
Over the years , I have become aware of the fact that the version of masculinity accepted as the hegemonic ideal in the Western Imperial Core is based on white supremacist, bourgeois, patriarchal, misogynistic, transphobic, and ableist values. I have also learned there is an alternative to this ideal: positive masculinity. The most basic definition of which is choosing to consciously deviate from societal pressures or stereotypes that dictate what makes a person more or less of a man.
This definition is a great starting point, however I wish to address two of the main points I see repeated when people attempt to promote or discuss positive masculinity. These are people who excoriate many men’s general obsession with increasing their ability to physically dominate another person, without understanding and addressing the possible causes of this desire. Discourse around positive masculinity also focuses heavily on calling for men to get in touch with their emotions. While both of these points are worth your consideration, the framing of these messages can come across as denigrating aspects of the hegemonic ideal that are central to many people’s identities as men. I feel this to be something of a miscommunication that can be solved with the inclusion of a little nuance.
Stoic Philosophy, Buddhism, and Emotionality
So many (usually cis/het and white) men resonate with the philosophy of the ancient Stoics that it has literally become a joke these days. I understand where this is coming from, as the people who typically espouse the virtues of Stoicism often use it as an excuse to do little else in the way of self-examination. However, I argue that Stoic philosophy is not wrong in and of itself.
I believe that training yourself to avoid immediately reacting to situations can be useful to most people. Incorporating techniques designed to lower my reactivity has been healing for me, as a person who has been primed by trauma to react to every situation, often before I am able to fully understand what is actually going on. As a physically diminutive, and legally disenfranchised child this ability kept me alive, but as an adult this reactivity has taken a toll on my personal relationships. My mental safety systems are immature and in need of some renovations. Stoicism and Buddhism are two of the many different tools I have used in pursuit of this change.
However, I do not wish to engage with this philosophy uncritically. I do agree that the classical teachings of Stoicism are incongruous with a healthy relationship to your emotions. Classical Stoicism teaches the rejection of all human emotion on its face, a requirement with which I vehemently disagree. I have found that attempting to permanently reject all emotions that would disturb my “inner quietude” only leads to the sublimation of all emotions to anger, or to depersonalization and derealization. Often, my psyche is best served by fully experiencing my emotions, but I do not believe this must always be done at the exact moment they begin to occur in order to be effective. Positive masculinity discussions should include methods of handling big emotions and situations of extreme conflict.
Extreme situations often require one to be fully present, and focused on physical survival, which can often mean that it’s imperative to your (or someone else’s) safety that you not be bursting into tears or screaming your head off because you’re upset. Crying and screaming certainly might help you process what you’re experiencing but there are many situations where this would lead to worse outcomes than would simply putting a pause on emotionality, and pushing through to safety.
This imperative to maintain control of one’s behavior is where my accordance with Stoic philosophy ends, as we humans are not masters of our emotions. We could not possibly be. Emotions are signals and drives from our bodies that are intended to convey messages to our conscious mind, usually in the interest of preserving our sense of self or physical safety. While I agree with Stoic philosophy only insofar as we should not be beholden to these signals, or driven solely by them; I disagree with the Stoics in that I have learned1 the healthiest method of handling emotions is to address them consciously as quickly as possible. This allows the conscious mind to take these signals into account when planning how to address the situation causing the emotional response. In my experience, conscious awareness of one’s own emotional state is only an advantage when handling interpersonal conflict. Stoicism does not offer substantive help in developing this awareness.
Though Buddhism can. Incorporating certain Buddhist teachings into my daily practices has helped me endure some fairly traumatic experiences and given me more tools to keep myself safe in situations such as deadnaming and misgendering in public. These experiences are deeply scarring for me, but using breathing/walking meditations and mantra I am better able to keep a handle on my behavior until such a time as it is safe to process my emotions. Sole credit is not due to either Stoicism or Buddhism, but these are mental frameworks to which I can turn when I need to process the ongoing trauma that is my existence.
The Desire for Physical Power and the Necessity of Vulnerability
The desire for physical power is not inherently wrong. Wanting to be big and strong is not a bad thing. However, we must not engage with this desire uncritically. We should question our motivations for physical strength else we find ourselves driven to unhealthy extremes such as eating disorders, and/or steroid abuse. Often the fitness industry, and products associated with it, will sell you a sense of invulnerability along with whatever pill, shake, or workout plan they’re shilling. This is a problem because everyone needs to work on their relationship to disability and the vulnerability that comes along with it.
Personally, I want to increase my physical prowess in order to better support and protect the people in my life who are less capable of defending themselves or may have mobility issues that require physical assistance. I also use strength training to improve my personal relationship with my bodymind. These are noble goals. Many men who, like myself, were fed patriarchal ideas of what constitutes manhood feel that the call for men to “be soft” is a direct challenge to the traditional condition of manhood that is striving for greater physical capability. True strength is all encompassing. This call to strength, and the necessity of vulnerability should be cultivated simultaneously. It is wrong to argue that men need to work on one of these without also addressing the other.
Unless you die abled, you will become disabled at some point in your life. Put another way, even if you get to live a long, and relatively healthy life you will still be disabled simply by dint of your age. This means the vast majority of us will be very vulnerable at some point in our lives. If you can’t handle this fact emotionally, you are not a strong person. Focusing on the physical development of the bodymind is an honorable pursuit, but it must be accompanied by developing a healthy relationship with the mind part of one’s bodymind. This includes addressing your attitudes and anxieties around disability. Lean into this anxiety. Do the hard thing and learn more about what it’s like to move through the world as a disabled person.
Doing the Harder Thing and Positive Masculinity
That’s what this is all about, taking the more difficult path by leaving room for learning. Do the harder thing, and instead of shying away from your emotions, address them consciously, and immediately. Do the harder thing, and question your view of the world, and yes, maybe even your sense of self. In these ways, positive masculinity is not just getting in touch with your feminine side or learning how to cry. It can be these things. But positive masculinity, to me, is the active pursuit of being a better person in service to my self-actualization and to the people around me. Don’t most people want to have better, more secure relationships with themselves, and the people they hold dear?
So, what exactly is positive masculinity?
Men should be encouraged to feel their feelings, and, in fact, would be better served by learning how to address their feelings appropriately. Men need to criticize the motivations behind their quest for greater physical capability, and the anxieties that could be at the heart of this desire. No, it’s not right that men are by and large afraid of publicly expressing some personal qualities that may be deemed “feminine” because of society’s toxic expectations of them. These are just a few of the great things that positive masculinity promotes and I encourage you to learn more about the above concepts.
But we can go beyond this. When speaking about masculinity as it shows up in our society, we need to be offering a substantive framework of aspirational masculinity as well as pointing out the flaws of the current system. This mental framework does not have to be a set of standards to which to adhere, however it should consist of some guiding principles that are as inclusive as possible without being so broad as to be impotent.
When engaging with masculinity as a concept, most people will use the phrase “Whoever identifies as a man, is one” and leave it at that. I agree with this statement wholeheartedly. But it doesn’t do much for people who are questioning themselves, or seeking any greater understanding as to the nature of their gender itself.
I do not seek to define what masculinity is in concrete terms because this is not necessary and promotes gatekeeping manhood. Rather, I see my own relationship to manhood as more of a journey that I am continually on, instead of a destination or ideal model for which I must strive. Or as the artist Mars Wright likes to say, “Gender is a game, and I’m having fun playing!”
I recommend taking some time to think about how you would like to play this game that we call gender. Below are some substantive questions you can ask yourself to discover more about your current relationship to your gender, and how you might like to change it.
What are some things you like about your gender as it is now?
How does it feel to move through the world as you are now?
How do people currently address you? Does the way people treat you reflect the person you know yourself to be more of the time than not?
Can you name some expectations society places on people that have your body type, wear the type of clothes you wear, have your skin color, or hair texture?
How do you fit into these expectations and where do you diverge from them?
How do these differences make you feel about yourself?
How important to you is it that people’s perceptions of you align closely with your inner understanding of yourself? For some, this may not be a concern, for others this could be the primary driver of the choices they make around their gender.
Even if gender isn’t important to you, still consider the impression you wish to give others. What do you want others to see when they attempt to perceive you? If this is confusion then by all means, confound the masses with your gender. If you wish to be seen as an average Joe Schmo even if that could never explain the multitudes you hold inside yourself, that is just fine too!
I also understand not wishing to be perceived at all, I spent quite a bit of time in that space myself. What I found is that I could not stay there forever. The world imposed it’s own ideas of who I am onto me. These ideas were so off base that I was eventually forced to acknowledge the dissonance this caused and assume responsibility for relieving this distress. It is not my fault that the system of gender exists as it does today, but it is my duty (and yours) to actively take control of what I can about my gender and my relationship to it.
From these questions we can start to paint a picture in our mind’s eye of the kind of person we can aspire to be. This picture can fluctuate and grow, it can be very defined and concrete, or more ephemeral and changing, like a quick sketch or an elaborate oil painting.
To continue the game metaphor, your gender could be a highly structured, and elaborate game like D&D, or Settlers of Catan. Or your relationship to gender could be more like a quick, pickup game of basketball in the park. Recently, my relationship to my gender has felt more along the lines of Calvinball, a game invented by the protagonists of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip with rules that are invented on the fly, and are often self-contradictory.
Wrapping it all up
My ultimate point is that positive masculinity is so much more than getting in touch with your feelings. We need to deconstruct our entire understanding of what gender is, in order to make sure that our relationship to it is genuinely our own, and is not solely the reflection of other’s perceptions or lack thereof. Our gender should not be based on transphobia (i.e. I want hormones and he doesn’t. I’m more of a real man), misogyny (Men are just so much smarter than women), ableism (I’m stronger than him, so I’m a better man), racism (He’s a thug, I’m such a nice guy), or classism (I make a lot of money because I’m not lazy, that makes me a good provider).
It is simply a waste of time and energy to define ourselves by what we are not or how we measure up to other’s ideas of us. No, the true self is exactly that, self-oriented. When we attune to this true self, we can begin to take active steps towards embodying who we really are, and focus less on who we are not. I argue this is the crux of a truly mature relationship to gender and what the message of positive masculinity does a decent job of promoting.
I highly recommend you look into some resources for learning more about positive masculinity, which you can find here, in article form, and here is a great video breaking down the basics of the concept.
1 – Gibson, L. C. (2015). Adult children of emotionally immature parents: how to heal from distant, rejecting, or self-involved parents. Oakland, CA, New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
People can have all kind of reactions to finding out you’re trans. Because of this fact, I have often found myself in need of a scripted answer to offer when confronted with a question that makes me uncomfortable or is just unexpected. It is in this spirit that I humbly offer the table below. In it, I attempt to provide some scripts for common (and a few uncommon) questions and comments that people have asked regarding transition. This list is by no means exhaustive, and I would love to hear the weirdest question or comment you’ve heard regarding transition, or trans people. Simply shoot me a DM on Instagram, and while you’re there you can follow the TransJoy Media account to stay up to date on all the latest happenings.
|What was their/your name before transition?
|That’s not relevant.
|Unless the situation specifically calls for using the name that is on an ID no one should ask this about anyone.
|Is it rude to ask about someone’s deadname?
|Yes, it’s irrelevant.
|What’s in your pants?
|Your mom. What’s in yours? Or as above, that’s irrelevant.
|If someone has the audacity to ask you this, I would seriously consider leaving the situation immediately and avoiding this person as much as possible. This is an incredibly aggressive approach, and is likely indicative of a general disregard for your bodily autonomy.
|When did you know?
|My go to response is: “That doesn’t really matter; this is something that has always been a part of me whether I knew about it or not.”
|How much to reveal when answering this question is a personal preference, so consider your level of comfort around explaining your relationship to your gender before answering.
|Aren’t you too young/old?
|People are never too young or too old to know who they are.
|Please do not buy into the whole “Your brain isn’t developed until 25/26 years old” bullshit. This is a manipulation tactic commonly used to deny young trans people access to life saving care. You are NEVER too young or too old to know yourself.
|Are you sure you’re trans?/How do you know?
|Are you sure you’re cis? How do you know? Being trans is not a phase or trend. I am who I am right now in the moment, take it or leave it. I do not owe you an explanation.
|This question assumes that cis people are the default type of human, when there is no such thing. Trans people are just a slightly different type of person.
|Have you had THE surgery?
|If you want to be a smartass you can ask them which one? Or otherwise, you could say: “That is a personal question I am not comfortable answering. Please don’t ask anyone questions about their private medical history.”
|Are you planning on taking hormones/having surgery?
|“That is a personal question I am not comfortable answering. Please don’t ask anyone about their private medical history.”
|If you feel comfortable, and would like to discuss this topic then by all means, have at it. But I would like to point out that (in the U.S.) medical information is private. You have the right to keep the details of your medical transition between yourself and your medical providers.
|How should you refer to someone when talking about them pretransition?
|As a rule of thumb, please use the name and pronouns that people currently use to refer to them at any stage of their life. Only if you know that they prefer to be referred to differently, should you then call them anything other than the name and pronouns they currently use. If you don’t know, ask the person how they would like to be referred to in any given situation.
|If they are a genderfluid person, be sure you are asking them how they wish to be referred to at regular intervals, some people prefer to be asked as often as daily.
|Do you feel more masculine/feminine now?
|I have always been myself. I will continue to be myself, whoever that may be.
|How long are you going to be doing that for?
|Seriously, the fuck kind of question is this?
|Do they use stem cells for bottom surgery?
|No, it is unlikely that this will ever be possible.
|Don’t believe everything you read online.
|You only came out as trans because it’s trendy.
|Being trans is not a trend. I am who I am, and only now am I making other people aware of that.
|Testosterone will make you aggressive.
|There is more to it than simply ‘Taking testosterone makes someone more aggressive’. Taking hormones is an act of self-care regardless of what changes may or may not result from taking them. It is wrong to suggest that trans people who take testosterone will automatically be any more aggressive than your average cis person of a similar age.
|This is a possibility. Please read this information regarding side effects of T. For me personally, I saw an increase in reactivity when I first started. Things pissed me off easier. But since I have adjusted my dose slightly higher this has improved significantly. Inadequate T levels in any man can cause aggression. Also, this “T makes you aggressive” narrative is often used by parents to control their teenage trans masculine children because they couldn’t possibly control themselves while on testosterone. You know, the normal human hormone that everyone has in varying amounts. Ridiculous.
Complement this guide with an exquisite article about lessons we can learn from our queer ancestors! If you have more questions about transition, check out the TransJoy Media guide to researching the trans experience.
Rupert Raj’s story is an interesting look into a pivotal time in the history of medical transition. Raj was born in 1952 and began pursuing medical transition in 1971. Because he was only 19 years old at the time, New York State required written consent from an older family member to obtain an appointment with an endocrinologist in order to receive hormone therapy. In the 1970s there was an extremely small body of scientific work on the trans experience, and even less understanding of trans people’s specific needs than there is today. During this time, trans people were also often excluded from LGB action groups, so a few trans and gender expansive people started organizing their own political action groups.
Raj participated in this wave of community action throughout college, and in January 1978, he started an organization for trans people (including trans men and women, as well as cross-dressers), called the Foundation for the Advancement of Canadian Transsexuals (FACT). During his time with FACT, Rupert Raj edited and published the foundation’s newsletter. This contained much needed information on transgender resources and included lists of books and articles relevant to transgender people, along with tons of other information that was otherwise very difficult to source. Raj was involved with this organization until 1981, when he chose to focus on serving the unique needs of trans men.
In 1982, Raj founded the bi-monthly magazine Metamorphosis, with which he hoped to serve as something of an information broker between the trans community and the greater scientific community. The magazine aimed to provide information on various aspects of being a trans man, including clinical research, hormones, surgery, tips to effectively passing as a man in public, and legal reform for trans people. There was also some levity in the form of jokes and cartoons, and the subscription even included 3 business card sized ads for subscribers free of charge.
Metamorphosis reached an international audience, at one time having subscribers from as far away as Great Britain, and New Zealand. In 1988, Raj decided to end publication of the magazine due to extreme burnout.
The Digital Transgender Archive, and Canada’s The ArQuives, have graciously preserved digital copies of what appears to be the entire run of Metamorphosis, which you can read here. I am planning on reading these in their entirety and writing a deep dive on this awesome piece of trans masculine history. Should you choose to read these, I would caution you that the language and understanding around trans people and our experiences has changed quite a bit since this time, and these should be read with this context in mind.
After shuttering the magazine, Rupert took a 9-year break from public advocacy to heal. At one point he commented, “No matter how important the work you’re doing may be, sometimes you need a decade off from being a trans person in the public eye.”
Raj re-entered the public stage in 2002 when he founded RR Consulting, continuing his work as an educating consultant, psychotherapist, gender specialist, and trans-positive professional trainer.
In 2017, Rupert Raj made available the text of his international trans poetry anthology “Of Souls & Roles, Of Sex & Gender: A Treasury of Transsexual, Transgenderist & Transvestic Verse from 1967 to 1991.” The volume includes nearly 400 poems penned by 169 trans people throughout Canada, the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand.
His sociohistorical memoir, “Dancing the Dialectic: True Tales of a Transgender Trailblazer” was first published in 2017; a second edition of which was published in 2020.
Rupert Raj continues his work as an advocate for transgender people, and a community educator to this day. Most recently in October of 2022, Fantasia Fair recognized him with their 2022 Transgender Pioneer Award. This is the longest standing award that solely recognizes trans people. Established in 2002, this award honors the lifetime achievements of trans people who have made the world a safer place for people like us.
If you would like to learn more about Rupert Raj and his work, you can follow this link. And if you enjoyed this look into the life a trans activist, you may enjoy looking into the lives of other LGBT+ Figures in History.