Butch Flight and Other Myths
Every once in awhile, I find myself listening in on the ‘butch flight’ conversation. It’s one hell of a messy debate within the queer community, one that, despite increased understanding of trans people and our issues, rages on. And on. And on.
The argument goes like this: certain women who are attracted to butches are noticing, with considerable consternation, that many butches are moving to male or gender-neutral pronouns, starting testosterone or considering top surgery, or perhaps even coming to view themselves as trans men. To women who love female-identified butches, this represents a shrinkage of their dating pool. Understandably, they wonder what could cause this. A backward glance to second-wave feminism provides them with a theory. According to this theory, trans men are merely self-hating women—women who can’t take the heat of living under the patriarchy, tortured souls who have been brainwashed into hating and “mutilating” their own bodies, defectors who try to escape their oppression by going over to the dark side. They view trans men simply as butches who “run away,” hence the phrase, “butch flight.”
Well, all of that only makes sense if you ignore a few little things—starting with the voices of the trans men and transgender butches in question.
Inventing elaborate motivations for transition is disingenuous if you don’t even bother to ask trans people about their own identities. This is even more true when the motives assigned to a person’s transition—status, privilege, safety—are made out to be as low as possible. In reality, I think it’s safe to say that few people transition for those reasons—and those who do, I would think, probably de-transition within months and return to the sisterhood.
Because the fact is, being a trans is a lousy way to move up in the world.
Yes, it’s true that trans men eventually gain male privilege, if we pass. And that’s no small thing. But in exchange, we must deal with cissexism and transphobia—forever. And cissexism is an extremely well-ingrained system of oppression that has nasty ways of punishing its dissenters.
Losing my cis privilege was terrifying. Nothing could have prepared me for being plunged into a world where the concept of me, and of others like me, was so universally ugly, a world in which people constantly looked upon me and mine with suspicion, revulsion, scorn, or morbid curiosity. I have experienced a dramatic narrowing of my social and economic prospects, and face the harsh reality that I now depend on the transphobic medical establishment to get the hormones I need to keep my body working. The casual degradation I must endure is constant. When people know that I am trans, they confront me with their ignorance and bigotry directly; when I pass as cis, I overhear what cis people say when they think trans people can’t hear—and trust me, it’s not pretty.
Yet while I speak as somebody who knows that being trans is hard, I also speak as somebody for whom it has been, thus far, relatively easy. All my brushes with hatred to date have been fairly mild, and blessedly non-life-threatening. The scariest part of transphobic oppression, for me, is that I always know that it can get worse.
None of this is to say that sexism and misogyny don’t suck. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to being glad that I am no longer their constant recipient. However, I continue to be infuriated by the sexism, and find my personal escape from it rather ironic. It’s gender essentialism that fuels misogyny—and what am I, what are all trans people, if not living proof that biology is not destiny? And if not, how can men be inherently superior to, and entitled to, women?