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TransMistake

Dear Editor of the Village Voice:

            I am writing you in reference to the article “Transmale Nation,” by Elizabeth Cline that was published in the June 23-29, 2004 issue, the “Queer Issue.”  First of all, it is extremely problematic that all four articles of the “Queer Issue,” which is supposedly reflecting the cultural diversity of New York City, were written by white people.  Second, in the other three articles, the three white gay male authors wrote pieces about their white gay male identities, either through the authors’ personal experiences or historical analysis that included gay male culture.  Cline’s article about “transmale” experiences, then, is an anomaly since Cline, a nontrans white woman who self-describes as a partner of a transperson, writes about an identity that is not her own.  Hello?--did it ever occur to the Voice to publish an article on transgender identity actually written by a transgendered person?

 

            Numerous erroneous facts, assumptions, and interpretations occur throughout Cline’s article, which reveal how little Cline is familiar about transmasculine identities and culture.  For instance, where did Cline get this term “transmale” much less “transmale nation,” in the first place, since I have never heard this used in the several years I have been involved in transgender and FTM community organizing?  Cline’s conflation of “transmen” and “genderqueer” is also inaccurate, since there are some transmen who identify as genderqueer but transmen often do not identify as genderqueer.  Cline’s assertion that five years ago most FTMs only wanted to be seen as “real men” is also completely erroneous since FTMs and transmen started complicating the gender binary and publicly coming out en masse as transsexual/transgendered since the late 1980s and early 1990s—this is evident in community organizations such as FTMI, American Boyz and the True Spirit conferences.  Cline also states that there is “now” pornography that includes transguys and genetic men sexually engaged with each other—apparently she is unaware that FTM filmmakers Christopher Lee and Del LaGrace Volcano have been making such porn since 1996.

 

From my understanding, the Voice is interested in new and interesting cutting-edge movements within social and popular culture, yet Cline’s framing of transgender identity is totally conservative.  Similar to crass mass media news and talk shows, Cline sensationalizes her subjects with such terms as “hip kids,” “au courant,” and “hottest queer parties.”  Cline also fails to incorporate any of the up-and-coming strains within the transmasculine movement, such as the intersections of race and class within gender identity, especially in relation to access to hormones, surgery, and passing (what she calls “realness”), or not passing.  In fact she does not even bother to elaborate on the term “transfags of color,” and I wonder if that is because she, herself, has no clue on what that means. 

           

Finally, Cline ends her article with an egregious discussion of “masculinity,” in which she projects her own white, privileged, myopic view by writing that the “attributes of manhood reign supreme” and that there is a “macho obsession” within contemporary U.S. culture, in which masculinity dominates over femininity.  Since most men of color in this world would gladly trade in their privilege for 1/10th the privilege of a white, middle-class woman, Cline’s presumption is entirely false and ignores the actual power dynamics that exist in the U.S. and world.  For example, how many New Yorkers actually “obsess” over the “macho” identities of the hundreds of thousands of men of color service workers that subsist on the poverty level of NYC?  To then state that FTMs and transmen transition as a way to gain a “desirable” male “endowment” utterly elides FTMs’ and transmen’s of color experiences, since a male of color “endowment” is often not considered desirable by mainstream society.  I conclude that Cline’s energies would be better served by encouraging, supporting, and facilitating transpeople to write and disseminate articles about ourselves, instead of using transgendered subjects to promote her own journalism career.

 

This letter was written with input and suggestions from Lala Endara, Bran Fenner, and Ian Lundy.

 

Sincerely,

                                                                        Sel J. Wahng