#IfIWereABoy Is The Latest Hashtag Campaign, But It Means Something Different To Trans Men

For some transmasculine people, who may have years or decades of experience being treated as women, there is a nuance to our interactions with women that runs a little deeper.
Publish date:
August 16, 2014
sexism, activism, transgender, hashtags

Last week, the staff at Elite Daily took to the Internet to fight sexism with the hashtag #IfIWereABoy (h/t Hello Giggles).

Twelve Elite Daily employees answered what they would do differently if they were men -- if they were truly equal -- and every answer was different, unique, inspiring and encouraging -- and that’s just the beginning.

The responses have been incredibly varied, from women speaking out about a variety of sexist issues they experience to the predictable "what about the menz?" dynamic with oodles of people spewing sexist bile in an attempt to hijack the hashtag -- not to talk about legitimate gendered experiences unique to men, but to make it sound as though men are some sort of oppressed minority being harmed by those Big Bad Feminists.

The fact is that we all live in a sexist society where both men and women are socialized from a very young age with incredibly damaging norms -- and this harms people of all genders. Unfortunately, women bear the brunt of it, as men are socialized to treat women like garbage and women are socialized to take it.

I was extremely cranky yesterday, and by the end of the day, I was entrenched in a pit of existential despair alternating with rage blackouts. Everything was pissing me off, and I was picking fights with everything I could find, including various inanimate objects in the house.

(Whatever, that spoon was asking for it.)

I was also experiencing an extreme frustration with being in my own skin. So I took on the only thing in my life that I really could control: I decided to deal with the epic puff situation going on atop my head since I haven't clipped it lately.

I took it short and had this brief moment of feeling much better for having done something productive with my day -- but also for having done something to feel a little bit more comfortable in my body.

What the hell does this have to do with #IfIWereABoy?

Mainly because I wake up a lot of morning these days asking myself that question as I find my genderqueer identity increasingly becoming transmasculine, and I struggle with who I am. My body feels more like my enemy than ever before. What if I were a boy? What would that feel like?

I know from speaking to numerous trans men that their treatment in the world shifts radically as they transition, and I think about what that would feel like for me, and how my relationship to women would change pretty dramatically. I would go from being read as a woman and treated as someone in solidarity with women to being a man -- and dealing with all that entails, including a need to be more self-aware about how my social power and status affects my interactions with women.

#IfIWereABoy highlights the fact that in even the smallest interactions, sexism dominates the conversation. Which is something I've experienced on a daily level my entire life as someone who's treated like a woman -- but what about when that dynamic is flipped?

That's the question the women of Elite Daily are asking, and it's an important question, and I don't want to hijack their conversation, but I do want to ask if it can be expanded: What if I am a boy, and what role do trans men play in this conversation, given that so many were socialized as women, experienced sexism first-hand, and are now on the opposite side of that experiential divide?

(Though, as we know, gender is extremely complicated and many trans men experience and identify with gender oppression in a variety of ways.)

When we talk about what we would do as boys to change the world for women, we're sending a powerful message to men interested in working in solidarity with women. That message includes concrete examples of specific situations where men may thoughtlessly oppress women without even considering the implications and ramifications of their actions, and challenges men to do better.

But it's also, fundamentally, a message that invites men to sit down and be quiet, because while this is a conversation about them, it's a conversation about how they relate to those with voices that are often silenced.

How are trans men and transmasculine people supposed to fit into this complicated dynamic?

The simplistic answer is that we should join our cis male counterparts in sitting down to listen -- but that answer isn't enough, because we didn't experience the deep socialization those men did, and many of us have a different perspective to bring to the conversation.

This is not to state that trans men are women, that trans men aren't "real" men, or that trans men should be treated as anything other than the men they are -- but rather to acknowledge the reality that some trans men identify with the experiences women bring up in conversations like this one.

How can the transmasculine bring what we have to offer without overwhelming the voices of the women we want to work in solidarity with, instead complementing and enriching the conversation and talking about how our experiences being socialized as women inform the way we interact with women today?

Should the conversations even be melded in the first place, or should they be taking place in separate spheres?

Gendered interactions are incredibly complicated -- and in a gendered world, every interaction is gendered. Whether you're walking down the street, sitting on a train, speaking at a board meeting, or selecting a pomegranate in the produce section, your (perceived) gender is the most obvious marker about you, and it informs the way people relate to you.

For some transmasculine people, who may have years or decades of experience being treated as women, there is a nuance to our interactions with women that runs a little deeper.

Because trans men know what it's like -- they are among the very few men who can say that we've been in those shoes and fundamentally understand it -- and many of them try to treat the women in our lives not just as they want to be treated, but as they wanted to be treated in their past lives.

People assigned female who experience gender dysphoria and are struggling with their gender identity are not, of course, identical experientially to cis or trans women, but they share some life experiences with women, and there has to be a way to acknowledge that without erasing the experiences of women.