By David T. Valentin
As is the case on the internet, you tend to learn a ton about the communities you exist in because of your identity. And while the internet should not be used as a measure of what reality and what Queer spaces are, it can certainly be used as a light to shine upon some of the nastiness in said communities, revealing shadows that are often hidden in person but are certainly still there lurking under the surface of what appears to be an open-minded person.
On Reddit, I decided to join the subreddit r/askgaybros. Aside from the use of “bro” usually being a red flag for me in general, considering the strange association I have with the word and toxic masculinity, I decided why the hell not? I wasn’t intending on using it as a way to make friends or anything. I was simply curious what those online spaces look like, since I’ve been mostly fortunate to have Queer friends in real life so much so that I don’t really frequent online Queer spaces.
That, and considering as someone who’s nonbinary and has never very much seen the appeal of masculinity (at least not outside of fantasies), I don’t find myself fitting in with most straight men and many masculine gay men either.
While the subreddit r/askgaybros is mostly tame and interesting, for the first time there was a huge red flag post. I won’t bore you with the details of said post, but essentially the Redditor was speaking of “genital preferences.” The post quickly descended into complete transphobia disguised as trying to “maintain” the integrity of what it means to be gay for gay men.
Many of us are familiar with now infamous Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling and her massively TERF rhetoric running rampant all over Twitter where she proudly, and obnoxiously, insists on “not denying” the existence of Trans women, but argues there is a very big “biological” difference” between trans women and women. I put biological in quotations because most are familiar that most of what makes up our gender, or what we perceive as gender, is a societal performance both on an individual and cultural level; and the few biological examples—hormones, organs—can mostly be altered through medically transitioning, proving to be mostly inconsequential in most discussions of what most people insist are differences that separate men and women.
In the same post, one Redditor posted a lengthy, and rather unnecessary, story of how he was sexually assaulted by a woman in a gay bar and how it’s similar to people insisting that they “must date trans people who do not line up with their genital preference,” as he put it.
In a post that was unnecessarily downvoted, another Redditor wrote:
The whole point of this thread was to do what? Announce how the OP doesn’t see trans men as men? To invalidate other peoples’ sexuality and gender expression? I don’t agree with the premise of the post being that being gay means you’re JUST attracted to dick.
Later on in response to the same Redditor, the Redditor above wrote:
My problem is you’re arguing against a point no one is making, and creating none existing problems up in your head. Literally no one is saying you have to fuck anyone you don’t want to. The point you’re making is absurd.
What you’re saying is transphobic however when you say if a gay man dates a trans man he’s not gay. He’s “bi or pan” because you’re essentially saying trans men aren’t really men. You essentially saying dating a trans man is just dating a really masculine woman. Delegitimizing trans men is transphobic.
Strangely, another Redditor commented on this post, in response to the second Redditor and called them “that homophobic asshole.”
This same line of thinking is used by transphobes who, as the second Redditor says, make their judgements about trans people based on imaginary scenarios that do not happen.
The very same line of thinking that TERFs argue when believing that transwomen are simply men dressing up to “infiltrate” women’s safe spaces or are how transwomen are somehow upending the integrity of what it means to be a woman.
The same thinking these gay men are arguing—that somehow trans men delegitimize their experiences that make them gay men.
What most transphobes and TERFs do not understand is that trans people in general by living through the experiences of both sexes to some degree offer a more nuanced and well-rounded understanding of gender that cis people would never come to understand.
For trans men, living as a woman unable to confine themselves to what’s appropriate for women, usually brought on by patriarchal standards of beauty or sex roles, they come to understand the sexism and objectification of women by trying to conform to patriarchal standards of femininity. Through removing themselves from that community through transitioning, they risk not only being shunned and rejected by other women for not being feminine enough, they also risk being shunned and rejected by men who do not see trans men as masculine enough. The same is true for trans women, who are usually never masculine enough to fit in with cis men, but sometimes not seen as feminine enough, or passing enough, to fit in with cis women.
So, it starts the never-ending question that transphobes can’t seem to see the hypocrisy of, is what actually really makes us the gender we choose to perform as? Is it truly the “biological” differences that people insist upon, or the societal cultural standards we impose upon others? You’ll never usually find two cis people who insists on strict gender norms that can agree with each other, thus, in a way, proving Queer people’s point that gender is performative.
As I tried to politely explain to those on r/askgaybros:
They’re completely ignoring the fact that what it means to be a man, in the same way of what it means to be a woman, is more nuanced and complex than having the “right genitals.” In the same way that people are attracted to different kinds of people romantically and sexually, so too is gender attraction just as nuanced and complex. To ignore that nuance is to erase the ways gender and sexuality interact with each other through platonic, romantic and sexual connections.
Of course, it was rejected by some of the worst TERF rhetoric defenses, completely disregarding the complexities of how the LGBTQ+ community as a whole exist proudly outside the boundaries of a heteronormative society which seeks to discipline us into who we naturally aren’t—a curious and explorative species that seeks to understand human experience in more ways than just one. To limit that experience is to insist upon a way of living that people aren’t comfortable in the same way conservatives insist on strictly defining things like marriage, sexuality, gender, etc.
I feel an experience such as this demonstrates the concept that someone can be gay, but they might not be Queer. In adhering to heteronormative values and modes of success, simply gay people take on a more assimilated approach to their own relationships; assimilating themselves into the same strict, gender-specific roles that het-cis people try to put the LGBTQ+ community in.
For those who identify as Queer, our identities go beyond just our sexual attraction. For Queer people, it means to not only radically redefine ourselves outside the boundaries of a heteronormative society, but to succeed through our own definitions of success. It is inherently political to go against the flow, rather than see ways in which LGBTQ+ people can “fit” in.
As much as we like to say “love is love,” historically LGBTQ+ people have experienced love differently than cis-het people because of political discrimination across the globe. Our love is different and the expression of our gender is different. To think otherwise is to disrespect the radicals who have come before us—the same radicals who have paved the way to move an inch every few years.
This experience on r/askgaybros has proved that although one might exist within a marginalized group, many (often cis white people) use their marginalized experiences to create privilege around what might be more acceptable to heteronormative standards to, in a way, assimilate into society despite lacking certain privileges. In other words, a pick me who attempts to gain favor with the oppressor by oppressing those within their own marginalized community.