ETA: This post is getting some attention–which I wasn’t expecting–so I made a follow up. Here it is, if you’re interested. The long and short of it is, I bear Chaz no ill will, but I have some serious ideological problems with him as a spokesman for the trans community.
If you’re here from Jezebel, or Radar Online, or one of the various outlets that picked up this post, and you’d like to find out what I’m about and what you can expect to find on my blog, I wrote an introductory post to explain what I do a little bit. Cheers!
I’ve been feeling conflicted lately about Chaz Bono’s relationship to the media. On the one hand, he’s being unfairly vilified by bigots like Keith Ablow and so many others. He’s being misgendered, called by his assigned name, pathologized, threatened with physical violence, had medical abuse advocated as “treatment” for him, and treated in other unforgivable ways. Presumably he went into this knowing that that would happen and believing he was strong enough to take it. That’s brave. I admire that. And when people say fucked up things about Chaz, I am moved to defend him, because he’s a transgender man and I am a transgender man. We both want full recognition of transgender people as human beings. We are meant to be on the same side. The hell of it is, we aren’t.
Chaz has appointed himself as the representative of a group of people who are not all like him. He has said misogynistic and prescriptivist things about gender. I take particular issue with his comments on trans embodiment and on women.
Here’s a link, for example, to AN INTERVIEW CHAZ DID WITH ABC.
Here’s something he says in that interview:
“If you are a man and you have breasts, any man would want to have them removed,” Bono said. “It is scary for a woman to think about it because it is something that they are really attached to. Being male and having breasts is about the worst thing I could imagine.”
Chaz is erasing the experience of trans men who don’t need top surgery. He needs to realize that “men” is a more inclusive category than he seems to believe. He’s reinforcing the cissexist idea that having breasts that you intend to keep equals being a woman, which we know from the experiences of many non-op, non-binary and intersex people is just not true. Chaz is ignoring the needs and lives of many people who belong to the very group he purports to represent and to fight for.
Here’s another prescriptivist quote:
“I think of it as hormones that, you know, went in the brain but not in the body, and that’s all being transgender is. It’s just that the sex of your body and the gender of the brain don’t match up.”
Reading this, I think first of my non-binary transgender friends and comrades in arms. Chaz is defining transgender in a way that excludes them completely from the category. That is wrong. I know so many trans people who saw rhetoric and metaphors like this early in their lives and immediately assumed that transgender could never refer to them, that they were outside the purview of even transgender issues, completely freakish, completely alone. I am a binary trans man, and I do not want Chaz, another binary trans man, representing me and simultaneously mistreating my non-binary comrades in this way.
And here’s the interview that finally made me decide I was done with Chaz. It’s with the New York Times. Here’s a LINK.
“There’s a gender in your brain and a gender in your body. For 99 percent of people, those things are in alignment. For transgender people, they’re mismatched. That’s all it is. It’s not complicated, it’s not a neurosis. It’s a mix-up. It’s a BIRTH DEFECT, like a cleft palate.”
I do not have a birth defect. If you feel like you have a birth defect, fine. That’s how you feel. Go feel that. Do not put it onto me. Do not define me that way, and do not define other trans people that way unless they claim that label.
It’s beyond that, though. Chaz is a misogynist. He is a trans man who seems to believe that his female-assignedness and his female socialization makes him immune from being a misogynist, and he is manifestly wrong. Look at this quote about testosterone, from the ABC article again:
But an added benefit of the hormone injections, the couple said, is that the testosterone has improved their sex life.
“[It’s] just a higher sex drive, like all men,” Bono said.
All men do not have higher sex drives than women. The idea that women have inherently lower sex drives is sexist and sex-negative. Plus, what about asexual men?
Now this little excerpt is the kicker. If I hadn’t abandoned Chaz before, I would have after reading this.
“I never really understood women before, to be honest, but I had a tolerance for women that I don’t have now[…]No, really. There is something in testosterone that makes talking and gossiping really grating. I’ve stopped talking as much. I’ve noticed that Jen [his partner] can talk endlessly.” He shrugged. ”I just kind of zone out.”
“You just don’t care!”
“I just don’t care!” He laughed.
I was floored by reading this. Can the guy really lack self-awareness to this degree? Does he really not realize that this is a variation on saying, “Women should shut up and let the men do the important things men do”? Does he not realize that there are women in the trans community that he claims to represent, women who are offended by this kind of sexist bullshit?
I can speak to what the experience of being on testosterone is like. I still gossip just as much as I used to. I still love to listen to my female friends and I love to gossip with them. I don’t think they’re “grating.” And I don’t want any rich white straight trans guy going out there into the world and telling the media that testosterone made him into a misogynist. If this is how he feels about women, I can tell you as a trans man who takes T, it is not because of T. It is because he has some deep seated misogyny to work through.
This man doesn’t represent our community. He especially does not represent those of us who are non-binary, non-op, women, or feminist men. Chaz needs to do some hard thinking about what it means to appoint oneself representative of a whole group without considering the desires of all the group’s members.
And yeah, the guy didn’t spend his formative years in communities where people were actively talking about trans men and male privilege. (They were too busy having useless radfem dialogue about trans women and their “male privilege.”) But he certainly did spend his formative years in a world that was thinking hard about women, feminism, and misogyny. Any guy Chaz’s age, who’s had that many opportunities to educate himselfand is still going around saying that he finds it “grating” when women talk, is a misogynist.
I think how we refuse to let this guy speak for us is that we actively and loudly contradict the messages he sends–that being trans is always a “birth defect,” that testosterone is an excuse for trans men to behave in sexist ways. I think other visible queer people should be speaking out about Chaz’s misogyny and binarism. (The reason this isn’t happening–and I’m not aware of it happening–is probably because Chaz has a lot of money, and queer rights organizations need a lot of money.)
The next time you hear Chaz’s name brought up in a conversation about trans issues, point out the things he’s said about surgery, “birth defects,” and women. Because I don’t want a single person thinking this guy is the best of us.