Monday, December 1, 2008

The Gender Power Shift

Monica of Transgriot has so graciously authored this post.

When you transition from one gender role to another, you do more than just swap bodies and sometimes genitalia.  You are also picking up all the cultural and societal expectations and baggage associated with that gender role as well.
Race and class also enter into this mix as well in terms of the differing reactions we have in terms of transition for white male to female transwomen and male to female transwomen of color.

One of the things I noted when I first transitioned back in 1994 was how much White transwomen lamented transitioning.   I was the lone African-American along with a Latina in my gender group at the time, and she and I discussed in our conversations how so many of the discussions for some of them centered on laments about how much money they lost after they transitioned, pining for the executive jobs they held, or how shocked they were about how nasty and virulent the discrimination they were facing for the first time in their lives was..
It was my first exposure to The Gender Power Shift.

Basically, in Western societal structures, it’s all about the White male.  Even if they have a PhD, a GED or no degree, they grow up with a sense of entitlement based on their skin color that makes them feel as though they are superior to anyone, much less a mere person of color.

And as I have stated for over a decade, the GLBT community is a microcosm of society at large.  Whatever problems and ‘isms’ are prevalent in the parent society are manifested in our little subset of it.

Some carry those attitudes into transition feeling that they’ll have their new gender role, the cash and the power to go with it.   They get a rude awakening from their former brothers in arms, which see them as delusional for willingly stepping down from the role as a White male and angry because in their eyes it’s one less white male to help procreate and keep whites in the majority population against the surging tide of rising minority birth rates and immigration.

To punish them for their ‘crime’ of voluntarily stepping down from the white male club, they get busted them down to white women power levels and face heightened levels of discrimination to keep them there.

Now, at the bottom of the societal power structure is the Black male.   They’ve been told their whole lives by the parent society they’ll never amount to nothing, they’re predisposed to criminal activity…well, you get the drift.    So when a Black male transitions, the parent society doesn’t care as much, but the end result is that it’s a power upgrade for that individual.

Black society is matriarchal based and power is shared somewhat equally between males and females.  So when a Black male transitions, while we’re seen as less of a threat to the white power structure than we were as males, it’s conversely a step up in terms of power and prestige because of our new gender role.

In addition to that, being a Black woman is liberating to the person that chafed at being stuck in the Black male gender role.   They get the benefits of no longer being considered a ‘menace to society’ with the corresponding improvements in quality of life.  So to them, transition becomes a step up in class and power levels and it’s reflected in their perceptions of it.

The reactions of biowomen to transwomen are also different based on race and class.    White transwomen are battling the burden of getting whacked with the anti-transgender feminist backlash instigated by Janice Raymond and Germaine Greer in the 70’s and 80’s and their radical feminist disciples.  They are seen as interlopers in women’s spaces still seeking to wield WMP despite being in female bodies.

The reaction of Black biowomen to their transsisters is totally different.   Black women have had their own bruising battles with those same Raymond-Greer radical feminists, and for the most part reject their philosophy.    They are womanists, and reject the demonization of transgender women as espoused by the radical feminists.

As long as Black transwomen immerse themselves in and take seriously the role of Black womanhood, we are down with the goals of uplifting the race and advancing the causes of all women, we are accepted for the most part as women by the biowomen in the Black femininity club.

In addition, Black transwomen because of lack of capital, not only have extended transitions, they tend to focus more on perfecting the inner femininity first before they get to the point of dealing with surgical issues.   That helps us hone the social skill we need to smooth our acceptance into the ranks by some Black biowomen.

White transwomen, who tend to start with more capital, blitz through the transition process, get SRS, then focus on the internal femininity issues.   Their progress is also retarded by the resentment that some White biowomen have toward White transwomen as well for various reasons.

And in case you’re wondering, White transmen have noted their increased societal power gain after they transitioned, and Black transmen have noted the increased negative perceptions of them post transition as well.

So yes, race and class affect transition in many ways, and the Gender Power Shift is only one small example of it.

For more Monica check out transgriot.


Monica Roberts said...

Thanks for the honor and opportunity to post here.

Renee said...

It's my pleasure and as you know I think you are pure awesomeness.

victoria said...

Thank you for this post.

T. R Xands said...

That post was great Monica! You bring up something really interesting with the Gender Power Shift--I've seen it in action before but never really knew what to call it or what to make of it. Your post makes it really clear (and kinda obvious) to me now.

GallingGalla said...


Thank you for writing this. This article sure did open my eyes to some things that I was not aware of.

Speaking from my perspective as a white middle-class trans woman, I think you've hit the nail on the head, wrt to how white trans women deal with transition and how we are treated by other white ppl.

I've seen so many of my fellow white middle-class trans woman concentrate on the externalities, sometimes to the total exclusion of internalizing what it means to be a woman - to the extent of, in one case, "oh, I want it all! hormones! surgery! High heels! Lipstick!"** while continuing to do things like calling some black men that she had almost walked into, "P*ssies", meaning that she's put ZERO thought into, maybe, questioning her own racism and (internalized) misogyny.

I fell into the same trap for a couple of years, and I think that the only thing that pulled me out is my ambivalence towards surgery (and my current inability to afford it after several job losses), which has allowed me to get a grip on myself and focus - at least a little bit - on the internal aspects.

** Please note that I'm not making a judgement against those who seek medical treatment and those who present femme. I am myself taking hormones, am on the fence regarding SRS, do not wish to have facial surgery, and vary my presentation (femme some days, tomboyish-to-almost-butch on others) on my mood. What I'm commenting on is the focus on external symbols vs. what one feels, and works on, deep inside one's self.

I wonder, whether there are any differences on how poor and working class white women deal with this, as opposed to middle/owning class?

Anonymous said...

I don't quite see how being a black female is a set up from being a black male in america. It's like going from a D- to a D and saying "what an improvement, amazing!". Okay, maybe a D+.

We have horrid stereotypes connected to us as well. Booty shakers, welfare queens, babymomma's etc. While I lament the state of black male america, I don't put black female america on any higher standard.

It should be okay to present how one feels. And this should be extended to everyone. Would it be to radical to require schools to have a transgender day where students are required to wear clothing of the opposite sex for a day and show the same "mannerisms"?

Monica Roberts said...

It's a step up when people no longer cross the street, clutch their purses or cower in fear on the elevator because you're in their presence.

It's s step up to be part of the mothers of civilization.

It's a step up to be in the same class of women as Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou, Harriet Tubman......

Renee said...

The idea that there is a matriarchy amongst blacks was created by white males. To exist with a matriarchy black women would have a form of social power relative to men which we do not. We are the oppressed without an institutionalized other.