the Hot Tranny Action Manifesto!

Hot Tranny Action exists to fight for the safety, respect and equal rights of trans women everywhere. For the purposes of this manifesto, we define “trans woman” as any person who was assigned a “male” sex at birth, but who identifies as and lives as a woman. We do not place any qualifications on the term “trans woman” based on a person’s ability to “pass” as female, her hormone levels, or the state of her genitals – after all, it is downright sexist to reduce any woman (trans or otherwise) down to her mere body parts or to require her to live up to a certain societally-dictated ideals regarding appearance.

We denounce all those who attempt to define trans women according to their own personal beliefs and theories regarding gender and sexuality, and all those who falsely believe that their own discomfort with our trans or female status justifies their attempts to ridicule us, hyper-sexualize our bodies and motives for transitioning, and/or exclude us from our own communities.

Of all of the gender and sexual minorities in our culture, trans women tend to be the most maligned, ridiculed and despised because we are uniquely positioned at the intersection of two binary gender-based forms of prejudice: transphobia and misogyny.

Transphobia is an irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against people who transgress gender norms. In much the same way that homophobic people are often driven by their own repressed homosexual tendencies, we believe that transphobia is first and foremost an expression of one’s own insecurity about having to live up to cultural gender ideals. The fact that transphobia is so rampant in our society reflects the reality that we place an extraordinary amount of pressure on individuals to conform to all of the expectations, restrictions, assumptions, and privileges associated with the sex they were born into.

The most common form of transphobia occurs when people attempt to deny trans people the basic privileges that are associated with the gender the trans person self-identifies as. Common examples include purposeful misuse of pronouns, insisting that the trans person use a different public restroom, etc. The justification for these denials is generally founded on the assumption that the trans person’s gender is not authentic because it does not correlate with their birth sex. In making this assumption, the transphobe attempts to create an artificial hierarchy – by insisting that the trans person’s gender is “fake”, they attempt to validate their own gender as “real” or “natural”. This sort of thinking is extraordinarily naive, as it denies the basic truth that everyday we make assumptions about other people’s genders without ever seeing their birth certificates, their chromosomes, their genitals, their reproductive systems, their childhood socialization, or their legal sex. There is no such thing as a “real” gender – there is only the gender we identify as and the gender we perceive others to be.

This artificial “real”/”fake” gender hierarchy establishes three unique forms of privilege that discriminate specifically against trans people:

Birth privilege is the privilege enjoyed by all non-trans people of having been born into a sex that matches the gender that they identify as. This privilege not only allows the non-trans person to take for granted the fact that they feel comfortable with their birth sex, but it also immunizes them against transphobia.

Passing privilege is the privilege of being able to be true to one’s own gender identity and expression without having their sex or gender questioned as a consequence. While one could theoretically say that the overwhelming majority of non-trans people “pass” as the gender they identify as, in practice the word is only ever used to describe people whose gender presentation differs from their birth sex. Thus, when we say that someone “passes”, the implication is that they are “getting away with” being a gender that they are really not. The concept of passing hurts all trans people. Those who do not “pass” become obvious targets for transphobia. And those that do “pass” soon realize that it is a fleeting privilege, because it creates a Catch 22: the trans person can either keep quiet about being trans, an act which inadvertently transforms their trans status into a shameful “secret” that they may be forced to reveal at any moment, or they can constantly “out” themselves, thus making themselves targets for transphobia.

Essential privilege is the privilege experienced by all non-transsexuals of being able to fall back on, and partake in the privileges of, one’s birth sex. Once transsexuals transition, we are often denied the privilege of having any authentic gender and are more often than not treated as if we are permanently “in between” – neither fully our birth sex nor the sex we have transitioned to. This is evident from other people’s tendencies to place transsexuals into unique gender categories (such as “third-sex” or “other-gendered”) and to describe us with derogatory hybrid terms (such as “boy-girl”, “he-she”, “she-male”, etc.).

Thus, while all trans people potentially face transphobia, we experience it in different amounts largely based on the extent to which we transgress gender norms and how obvious or “out” we are as trans people. It should also be noted that, while quite different in practice, both transphobia and homophobia work towards the same overall goal, namely, punishing those who express gender or sexual traits typically associated with the so-called “opposite” sex. This explains why trans folks, bisexuals, lesbians and gays, while all quite different from each other, are often confused or lumped into the same category by society at large. Our natural inclinations to be the other sex, or to be attracted to the same sex, challenges the assumption that women and men are mutually exclusive categories, each possessing a unique set of attributes, aptitudes, abilities, and desires. By breaking these gender and sexual norms, we essentially blur the boundaries that are required to maintain the male-centered gender hierarchy that exists in our culture today.

In addition to the establishment of rigid, mutually exclusive gender categories, the other requirement for maintaining a male-centered gender hierarchy is to ensure that maleness and masculinity are generally considered to be superior to femaleness and femininity. For the purposes of this manifesto, we will use the word misogyny to describe this tendency to dismiss and deride femaleness and femininity in our culture.

Just as all trans people experience transphobia to different extents, we experience misogyny to different extents too. This is most evident from the fact that, while there are many different types of trans people, our society tends to single-out trans women (and others on the male-to-female (MTF) spectrum) for attention and ridicule. This is not merely because we transgress gender norms per se, but because we, by necessity, embrace our own femaleness and femininity. Indeed, more often than not, it is our expressions of femininity and our desire to be female that become sensationalized, sexualized, and trivialized by others. While trans people on the female-to-male (FTM) spectrum face discrimination for breaking gender norms (aka, transphobia), their expressions of maleness or masculinity themselves are not targeted for ridicule – to do so would require one to question masculinity itself.

When a trans person is ridiculed or dismissed not merely for transgressing gender norms, but for their expressions of femaleness or femininity as well, they become the victims of a unique form of discrimination: trans misogyny. When the majority of jokes made at the expense of trans people center on “men wearing dresses” or “men who want their penises cut off,” that is not transphobia – it is trans misogyny. When the majority of violence committed against trans people is directed at trans women, that is not transphobia – it is trans misogyny. When it’s OK for women to wear “men’s” clothing, but men who wear “women’s” clothing can be diagnosed with the “psychological disorder” Transvestic Fetishism, that is not transphobia – it is trans misogyny. When women’s or lesbian organizations and events open their doors to trans men but not trans women, that is not transphobia – it is trans misogyny.

In a male-centered gender hierarchy, where it is assumed that men are better than women and that masculinity is superior to femininity, there is no greater perceived threat than the existence of trans women, who despite being born male and inheriting male privilege, “choose” to be female instead. By embracing our own femaleness and femininity, we in a sense cast a shadow of doubt over the supposed supremacy of maleness and masculinity. In order to lessen the threat we pose to the male-centered gender hierarchy, our culture (primarily via the media) uses every tactic in its arsenal of traditional sexism to dismiss us.

1) The media hyper-feminizes us: by accompanying stories about trans women with pictures of us putting on make-up, dresses, and heels, in an attempt to highlight the “frivolousness” nature of our femininity, or by portraying trans woman as having derogatory feminine-associated character traits such as being weak, confused, passive, or mousy.

2) The media hyper-sexualizes us: by creating the impression that most trans women are sex workers or sexual deceivers, and by asserting that our motives for wearing women’s clothing or transitioning to female are primarily sexual in their nature.

3) The media objectifies our bodies: by sensationalizing sex reassignment surgery and openly discussing our “man-made” vaginas without any of the discretion that normally accompanies discussions about genitals. Further, those of us who have not had surgery are constantly being reduced to our body parts, whether it be by the creators of tranny porn who over-emphasize and exaggerate our penises, thus distorting trans women into “she-males” and “chicks with dicks”, or by everyday people who have been so brainwashed by phallocentricism that they believe that the mere presence of a penis can trump the femaleness of our identities, our personalities, and the rest of our bodies.

4) The media puts us in our place: by propagating the false assumption that we transition in order to attract straight men. This, in combination with the media’s hyper-sexualization and objectification of us, creates the impression that we exist solely to sexually serve men.

Because anti-trans discrimination is steeped in traditional sexism, it is not simply enough for trans activists to challenge binary gender norms – we must also challenge the idea that femininity is inferior to masculinity and that femaleness is inferior to maleness. In other words, by necessity, trans activism must be at its core a feminist movement.

Some might consider this contention to be controversial. Over the years, many self-described feminists have gone out of their way to dismiss trans people, and in particular trans women, often resorting to many of the same tactics (hyper-feminization, hyper-sexualization, and objectification of our bodies) that the mainstream media regularly uses against us. These pseudo-feminists proclaim that “women can do anything that men can” one minute, then the next ridicule trans women for any perceived masculine tendency we may have. They argue that women should be strong and unafraid to speak our minds one minute, then the next tell trans women that we act like men when we voice our opinions. They claim that it is misogynistic when men create standards and expectations for women to meet one minute, then the next they dismiss us for not meeting their standard of “woman”. These pseudo-feminists consistently preach feminism with one hand, while practicing traditional sexism with the other.

It is time for us to take back the word “feminism” from these pseudo-feminists. After all, the word feminism is much like the words “democracy” or “Christianity” – while each has a major tenet at its core, there are an infinite number of ways in which one can practice that belief. And just as some forms of democracy and Christianity are corrupt and hypocritical while others are more just and righteous, we trans women must join trans-positive women and allies of all genders to forge a new type of feminism, one that understands that the only way for us to achieve true gender equity is to abolish both transphobia/homophobia and misogyny.

It is no longer enough for feminism to fight solely for the rights of those born female. While that strategy has furthered the prospects of many women over the years, it now bumps up against a glass ceiling that is partly of its own making. For while the movement worked hard to encourage women to enter into previously male-dominated areas of life, many feminists have been ambivalent at best, and resistant at worst, to the idea of men expressing or exhibiting feminine traits and moving into certain traditionally female realms. And while we credit previous feminist movements for helping to create a society where most sensible people would agree with the statement “women are men’s equals”, we lament the fact that we remain light years away from being able to say that most people believe that femininity is masculinity’s equal.

Instead of attempting to empower those born female by encouraging them to move further away from femininity, we should instead learn to empower femininity itself. We must stop dismissing it as “artificial” or as a “performance,” and instead recognize that certain aspects of femininity (as well masculinity) transcend both socialization and biological sex – otherwise there would not be feminine boy and masculine girl children. We must challenge all those who assume that femme vulnerability is a sign of weakness. For when we do open ourselves up, whether it be honestly communicating our thoughts and feelings or expressing our emotions, it is a daring act, one that takes more courage and inner strength than the alpha-male facade of silence and stoicism. We must challenge all those who insist that women who act or dress in a femme manner necessarily take on a submissive or passive posture. For many of us, dressing or acting femme is something we do for ourselves, not for others. It is our way of reclaiming our own bodies and fearlessly expressing our own personalities and sexualities. It is not us, but rather those who foolishly assume that our femme style is a signal that we sexually subjugate ourselves to men, who are the ones guilty of trying to reduce our bodies to mere status of playthings.

In a world where masculinity is assumed to represent strength and power, those who are butch are able to contemplate their identities within the relative safety of those connotations. In contrast, those of us who are femme are forced to define ourselves on our own terms and develop our own sense of self-worth. It takes guts, determination, and fearlessness for those of us who are femme to lift ourselves up out of the inferior meanings that are constantly being projected onto us. If you require any evidence that femininity can be more fierce and dangerous than masculinity, then all you need to do is simply ask the average man to hold your handbag or a bouquet of flowers for a minute, and watch how far away he holds it from his body. Or tell him you would like to put your lipstick on him and watch how fast he runs off in the other direction. In a world where masculinity is respected and femininity is regularly dismissed, it takes loads of strength and confidence for any person to embrace their femme-self.

But it is not simply enough for us to empower femaleness and femininity – we must also stop pretending that there are fundamental differences between women and men. This begins with the acknowledgement that there are exceptions to every gender stereotype, and this simply stated fact disproves all gender theories that purport that female and male are mutually exclusive categories. We must move away from pretending that women and men are “opposite” sexes, because when we buy into that myth it establishes a dangerous precedent. For if men are big, then women must be small; and if men are strong then women must be soft. And if being butch is to make yourself rock solid, then being femme becomes allowing yourself to be malleable; and if being a man means taking control of your own situation, then being a woman becomes living up to other people’s expectations. When we buy into the idea that female and male are “opposites”, it becomes impossible for us to empower women without either ridiculing men or else pulling the rug out from under ourselves.

It is only when we move away from the idea that there are “opposite” sexes, and let go of the culturally-derived values that are assigned to expressions of femininity and masculinity, that we may finally approach gender equity. By challenging both transphobia/homophobia and misogyny simultaneously, we can make the world safe for those of us who are queer and for those of us who are female, while simultaneously empowering people of all sexualities and genders.

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