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To Trans Haters

Mar 31, 2017

It started as a normal conversation on a gay hook-up/dating site. He seemed friendly enough – asked why I’d been in town and said he’d be interested in meeting up the next time I was around. Then he said he was “curious about me”... I’ve had enough of these conversations to recognize the red flags and this is usually about where the “friendly” energy starts to shift to something else. This case was no exception.

As a gay man who is very open about the fact that I’m transgender, I have grown accustomed to these kinds of interactions. I try not to let these things get to me, but in reality they still sting. However I choose to be out and vocal about my trans-ness because I want people to know I exist - That lots of people like me exist. And unfortunately, sometimes the price of visibility and progress is a whole lot of hatred floating down a never-ending river of ignorance.

What perhaps baffles and saddens me most though is how much of the nasty responses to me being trans come from cisgender, gay men. In my experience, cis, gay men have had some of the most blatantly rude and hateful interactions with me regarding my sexuality and gender identity – the conversation above is one of many like it I experience on a regular basis. We’re talking about a group of people who have had to fight for acceptance to love, f**k, and be who they want to be. White, cis, gay men who have earned the rights they celebrate today on the backs (and ever-accumulating bodies) of trans women of colour.

Yet it is these same people who can be so quick to judge one another. So quick to draw more lines, point more fingers, perpetrate more hatred. If you’ve ever been on a gay dating or hookup app/site, you’ve seen it: No fats, no femmes, no Asians, Masc4Masc, whites only, HWP only, DDF, CLEAN UB2, >8” +++, hairless only, under 25, etc.… So much dehumanizing mass discrimination disguised as “sexual preference”. As if it’s such an inconvenience to at least talk to another human being and get to know them before deciding to toss them aside.

Now I know what you’re thinking: what do you expect from online dating sites and hook-up apps? But unfortunately this is a phenomenon that is not isolated to my personal life nor the online world, but one that pervades my professional work in queer men’s health as well.

Last year at a local queer men’s conference themed on the stories of queer men living on Vancouver Island, I presented a workshop on the challenging, messy parts of sexuality that people all experience but don’t often talk about. When I shared some of my story about how it has been challenging to find a sense of sexual self-esteem being a gay trans man, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and someone who struggles with body image issues, three of the perhaps 30 people in the room walked out of the conference. Three (presumably) cisgender men left, enraged that they let a trans guy speak at a “gay men’s” conference. Luckily I didn’t have to bear the brunt of that myself, but I definitely heard about what transpired afterward.

Once again, that was definitely not an isolated incident, but it was one of the more memorable ones. From what I’ve observed in the field in the last few years, these conversations are ever so slowly starting to happen - Conversations about how to create queer spaces and organizations with clear intentions of inclusivity… spaces where people of colour, indigenous people, people who don’t benefit from colonial frameworks, people with different abilities, people of different classes, people who are gender-variant, and people who are non-gay identified who fit under the “Men who have sex with men” (a.k.a. MSM) umbrella are welcome, have voices, and are represented from the top, down. I understand that the process is slow, messy and imperfect. But it is one that really needs to be embraced by all organizations working in MSM health.

It’s unfortunate however that often times the people who need to hear these perspectives the most are those who walk out of the conversation before it’s over. These people do not like being challenged or contradicted on their stance. The cis, gay man from the online conversation above didn’t even give me a chance to respond before blocking me. The three men who walked out of my workshop didn’t get to hear one participant’s epiphany during a group break-out discussion: he commented that he didn’t understand why someone would transition to be a gay man, after all wouldn’t it just be easier to stay a straight woman and another participant asked him if it would be easier for him as a gay man to transition to be a straight woman and then he responded, “well no, because I’m not a woman” and something clicked for him.

So to the people who walk out of conversations early, here are the three things I’d really like you to know:

  • Know that… whatever you think you know about me…. You don’t know me. You don’t know my life or the choices I’ve had to make or the struggles I’ve gone through to make them. You don’t know all that I’ve lost or sacrificed to be who I am today. If you know one thing about me, know that I am the only person on this planet who can tell you who I am. And I AM who I say I am. It is not up to you or anyone else to decide you know me or my life better than I do.
  • There is more than enough rainbow unicorn dust to go around. My claiming my identity as a gay man will not take anything away from your identity as a gay man. When I hold my partner’s hand walking down the street, I can assure you that I receive the same treatment you would for doing the same. When I stand up against a homophobic slur or educate somebody about the realities of HIV today and how far we’ve come, I am talking about our shared community. So when I try to tell you how far we still have to go as a community to support one another, I am still talking about our shared community. And I promise that our community is better with me in it.
  • Above any identity, I am a human being. You do not have to understand me to respect me as one human being to another. You do not have to like me to co-exist with me peacefully. In case you were never taught: if you don’t have anything nice to say, you should kindly stop your face flaps from spewing any further verbal flatulence. Seriously, what do you really gain by dragging my identity through the mud? I mean, it must take a really sick kind of person to take pleasure from giving unsolicited hateful comments to a complete stranger on a topic you clearly know nothing about. I personally think it’s quite disgusting actually… (see what I did there?)

I am so glad I had a positive experience when I first started volunteering with the Men’s Wellness Program, a program for prevention and education around STI among MSM, at AIDS Vancouver Island three years ago. I have learned so much about my personal risks and harm reduction strategies in negotiating comfortable boundaries for mitigating risks. I’ve learned to take my experiences of marginalization based on my body, gender identity, and sexuality to better understand how to act in solidarity with other marginalized groups. Plus I’ve made some amazing friends and found a sense of community and family I didn’t know was possible in the small community of Victoria, British Columbia. I can’t imagine where I’d be if I’d started my venture into queer men’s health with one of the negative experiences.

 

"Marshall works as a laboratory technician by day. He's also a contractor with the Men’s Wellness Program at AIDS Vancouver Island, focusing in sexual health and harm reduction outreach. As a fat, gay, trans man living in the relatively small city of Victoria, Marshall spends much of his free time trying to carve out inclusive spaces amongst (predominantly cis) gay men's communities. When that doesn't work, he also enjoys watching Netflix with his cats."

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