You probably saw the video a couple of months ago of Dustin Hoffman talking about the emotional revelation he had after seeing himself in makeup in preparation for his role in the film Tootsie. I was reluctant to even watch it at first, but it kept getting shared and re-shared in my Twitter and Facebook feeds by folks all over the political and social spectrum: trans and cis, gay and straight, conservative and liberal, women and men — all talking about what great points he was making and how everyone needed to really listen to what he was saying.
So, okay, i decided to watch the video. And the first time i viewed it, i saw a guy who had his ego crushed because he didn’t find himself attractive, who realized with regret that if he wasn’t so shallow he probably could have had sex with more women over the course of his life.
But so many people found it inspirational, i must have been missing something, i thought. I allowed myself to accept that i came to the video with a bias: i do not like the movie Tootsie. It is one of those films, like Juwanna Mann and Mrs. Doubtfire, that uses the archetype of the “deceitful man in a dress” who sneaks into a space they could not access as their male self by pretending to be a woman. This media message seeps into our collective social consciousness, and when we try to move forward on equal access in schools for trans* youth or in public accommodations for transgender individuals, these issues of equality are labelled “bathroom bills” and this “man in a dress” concept creeps up from the innermost thoughts of the uninformed to create resistance, bigotry, and the fear of Tootsie or Mrs. Doubtfire doing who-knows-what one stall over.
With that in mind, i watched the video again. And again. And again…still trying to see what was so inspiring and redeeming.
American Trans Man has his own thoughts on it, which he wrote in a much more timely manner (as in, back when this was still a subject of discussion on the internet), and i recommend reading what he has to say as well.
My initial thoughts didn’t really change, but i did have an additional conclusion: women have been saying this exact same stuff for years, and their videos don’t get millions of internet views. In fact, when women complain about the focus on beauty and on being judged based only on their looks, they (we) are belittled and often told if we were more attractive we wouldn’t have anything to complain about.
And so i began to wonder why it is that this cisgender man had suddenly become the spokesperson for the objectification of women, and that kind-of infuriated me.
Any why is it that, so often, marginalized groups get shut out of their own conversation, and people of privilege are the ones doing the talking for them?
And…that leads me to my apology.
Remember that post i wrote about Criticisms and Misconceptions? It has been, by far, my most widely read and shared post. Which is really cool. Except for this one part:
One thing i have noticed with the few cases i’ve seen of women who claim to be “former FTMs” is that they all admit to having identified as male for reasons that are totally unlike any that my son or the trans guys i know have ever expressed. These women list reasons such as: being uncomfortable with males gawking at their breasts and wanting to generally get away from the male gaze, rejecting society’s concepts of femininity, and feeling “unheard” as women. Now, these reasons sound a lot like the suggestions put forth by my gynecologist as to why my child might be trans, but they sound nothing like the reasons my child has given me! It’s no wonder these “former FTMs” failed, because they aren’t men.
Access to medical care can be a frustrating and difficult experience for trans* people and i am not pro-gatekeeping, but i do wonder if the “former FTMs” had a mental health evaluation from a gender therapist before beginning their transition. The first thing we did when we learned my son is trans was seek out a therapist who specialized in gender identity, to make sure that he was, in fact, transgender (as i said – yes, i did have doubts in the beginning, even though i was supportive and affirming!). I don’t know of any parent in any of the support groups i belong to who hasn’t taken their child to a gender therapist. And honestly, i don’t know of any gender therapist who would encourage someone who gave the “reasons” listed above to transition to male.
When i started this blog, i intended to write about my family’s experiences. I did not intend to speak for anyone else. Somehow, in my zeal to defend my son and his peers and my trans friends from the accusations that led me to write that post, i got away from my original intention and went way beyond speaking to my own family’s experiences. I did that obnoxious thing where i speak for other people in a marginalized group and i became the one who just doesn’t know what i’m talking about.
Since writing that post, i have met and talked with and read writings from people who have “detransitioned” or “reverted” and the reasons are not as simple as “they aren’t” whatever gender. The reasons are very complex.
One woman transitioned later in life and her family rejected her. She felt there was no reason to go on living with no love and support in her life, and it was clear her family was never going to accept her. She believed she had two choices: go back to living as male, or suicide. She “detransitioned” and seems to be at peace with her decision to live as male for the sake of the family she loves more than her very self.
One man could not continue hormone treatment after trying for several months due to serious health concerns. Convinced he would never look masculine enough to be seen by society as a man, he “detransitioned” after months of depression and is living as a butch female who regularly performs as a drag king.
There are other stories. When i think of them reading that post i quoted, all i can say is: I’m sorry. I don’t feel right going back and changing it, but i am going to edit it and leave a link to this one. This is a journey and i’m still learning. So, i guess i was inspired by that Dustin Hoffman video after all.