Do Your Damn Dishes
This article is the second guest post on this substack this time by activist and artist Goldi Locks. again here i felt it important to give space to a trans masc person to speak on his experiences.
Our unique experiences shape how we view the world, so I'd like to briefly mention (although it should go without saying) that I don't speak for every trans-man. I certainly don't speak for people who identified as trans 20 years ago, or people who will identify as trans 20 years from now. I'm writing from the POV of a 21 year old *breathe* trans-masculine-non-binary-person. I live off grid, on protest camps (more info/context at tinaar.com) and on land squats. I'm currently writing from a leaky shack at Stonehenge Action Camp in the deluge of June 2021.
I'm looking round for pointers and for inspiration and slowly realising I don't have the vocabulary for what I want to say. Some of that is down to the fact that I can't find a whole lot to read about trans men and the patriarchy. Most articles i can find online talk about trans men as victims of this foul system, and that's totally fucking valid, but I wanna explore how we benefit from it, as well as how we can take steps to challenge the patriarchy. There's not a whole load of trans-masculine folks around me right now who I can talk to about this - these camps aren't the most accessible places in the world, and I think a lot of people are put off coming out to camps, and more broadly: coming out, because of the damn patriarchy.
This writing is already a bit tangential and sprawling. There will probably be some anecdotes and i apologise if there are unanswered questions or things that don’t make sense out of context.
A little bit about the culture/environment I'm writing from: Around two thirds the people on this camp right now are FINT (female, intersex, nonbinary & trans) which is about as diverse as protest camps in the UK right now get (in my limited experience). Despite how many FINT folks are here it still feels like men dominate the space, dictate the tone of the evening, and have the capability to sway the energy, direction and productivity of a whole camp or campaign. This says to me that somewhere, there's some work that needs to be done to balance the power structures. That's also the case outside of this weird microcosm from what I can gather about UK politics and media rn.
But that work is to be done by who? By the problematic men? - most definitely. And does that include trans men? - if we're behaving problematically, then yes. The end goal is for men to do their own dishes (and i use doing the dishes as a metaphor for undertaking any community responsibility that usually gets left to non-men). The patriarchy ends when the dishes do themselves, without being asked. But we aren't going to get there over night.
So does that mean someone else needs to chip in? Well that's down to the capacity of those around at the time I guess. I'm sure I'm not the only trans man who at times would rather be read as a shitty man, than risk being misgendered, or being othered for speaking out against something that doesn't sit right. Being a bystander is (sometimes) affirming. But bystanders (those with the capacity to act who don't), let their comrades get away with shitty behaviour, and reinforce it by not making them feel uncomfortable for being so shit. They are just as guilty of upholding a patriarchal system as those actively trying to play it to their advantages. This applies to all systems of oppression - and it is so easy for trans men to fall into this category. It's gender affirming to us at best, and it's inconvenient for everyone else at worst. We aren't making it easier for future trans people by letting the patriarchy exist. It's just not very #revolutionary. I also want to throw it out there that i think the patriarchy is only strengthened when we passively let other systems of oppression go unchallenged. And further, if we can't be bothered to fight the patriarchy within ourselves then how can we expect to fight for trans rights or with the struggle for climate justice, land rights, racial equality and people's rights to bodily autonomy and win?
I'd argue that doing the dishes is more gender affirming than being yelled at by your mum about your lack of independence. Taking responsibility for your own shit, looking after your community, those are Good Masculine Things. The ideals that capitalism sells us of masculinity are not just twisted, they're sprained and broken. Trans men don't have very good role models in men (There's not a single man in my life who I look up to) So maybe we need to look to other FINT people more for how to be and stop idolising shitty men with bad politics, bad haircuts and poor understandings of consent.
As a trans man, it's so easy to hide behind the FINT umbrella, absolve yourself of responsibility, and act like every time a cis man breathes in the wrong direction it's ruined ur day. Five days into our current covid lockdown situation I'm not gonna deny having played that card unfairly. (This is the longest that some of us have had to be in lockdown and the privilege that we have had up until this point to hop around the country freely is showing. We are all being aggy). It's so easy for trans men to avoid talking about their own patriarchal behaviour because it's rarely picked up on. Cis ppl won't point it out because their idea of good allyship is walking on eggshells around us, and other trans people are probably just happy they're not the only trans person on site. Honestly if I said "hey guys I think I'm being patriarchal" I probably wouldn't be taken seriously by my comrades. How can this precious trans boi whomst we must protecc be at fault?
So back to who is meant to be doing this work...can they be trans? Well the people who it matters to, who are already doing your dishes and feeding you don't have much free time...they're pretty sick of resisting the patriarchy, they're probably not cis men, (and since cis men shouldn't do this work alone, more on this later) that sort of narrows down who this work is for.
Trans men who have already taken on other struggles outside of fighting for their own mental health, and medical needs and human rights, who co-counsel others, and already teach consent advocacy workshops have the skills, but are probably pretty burnt out. The trans women who act like your mum and call the doctors for you and help you apply for jobs and take care of her community could probably use some solidarity too. It might be good for them to see the men they try so hard for are making an effort.
Burn out makes us mean though and we don't need any more mean men rn - so no pressure, understanding our own capacity and what we have time for, and what we give priority to, is all a part of dismantling the patriarchy (and capitalism/toxic work ethics). This work needs to come from a place of love, and not guilt or fear. Let's dismantle the patriarchy through the love for our own bodies and beings and for the wellbeing of our communities.
Sooo, why cant we just let the men crack on with it? The people who need to work on their patriarchal behaviour the most, are the least likely to take the initiative to do so. Personally I do not think men should be left to their own devices when tackling the patriarchy. It shouldn't have to be someone's job to walk men through what basic consent looks like, but it's 2021 and thats where we are at, and it is someone's job and no, they're probably not getting paid, so let's all be nice to them yes?
The patriarchy is a system, not a gender, and having spent most of my adult life with male privilege, it's probably only fair that as a trans man i pull my weight in helping dismantle the patriarchy that got me this far. I know my dysphoria is triggered when I find myself as The Other in a group of men but I imagine the dynamic of FINT-person-teaches-men-about-patriarchy would be alienating to anyone.
So this work needs to be collaborative, this work needs all voices and experiences, and trans men (and this is what I mean when I don’t have the vocabulary) experience sexism, and witness sexism from multiple angles (yikes) which gives us a unique insight into what needs to be done. This work needs to be interwoven with other discussions. All systems of oppression are linked. E.g: I want gay men to understand how they're reinforcing cis-normativity. I want cis women to work on their trans-misogyny. I want trans men to think about how they benefit from and perpetuate the patriarchy. We need to do all of these things if we want the patriarchy to go away.
The realisation that this is everyone's job struck me a few months ago when I stepped out of an emotionally heavy FINT sharing circle where people aired frustrations about patriarchal violence, consent violations and some aggressive confrontations they'd had with men. I stepped directly into a MINT (men, intersex, non-binary & trans) sharing space where a dozen or so men patted themselves on the back for bothering to show up to the mens, sorry, MINT circle. I was the only person who had been in both circles.
The other INT folk on site had abstained from attending either space because they found the binary challenging (when framed and FINT and MINT this is understandable but when these spaces are understood as "space for people who suffer under the patriarchy" and "space for people who need to work to dismantle the patriarchy" the concept makes more sense). I was pretty shaken at the contrast in the tones of these spaces and the lack of awareness that some of the men had of the struggles their FINT comrades were going through. It sometimes feels like teaching men how to communicate non-violently, and how to accommodate for the people who aren’t men on site, and basic consent keeps getting in the way of the revolution, but we literally can't do the revolution without all our comrades being on the same page.
This was the second time these MINT folk had gotten together as a group and it probably wasn't helpful of me to walk out part way through. As much as I don't want to act as a "go-between", I feel like as a trans man, I am in this unique position where men will take me seriously when I speak, and FINT people will open up to me about the shitty things those men have done. And I'm happy to weaponise my positionality against the patriarchy! (If the men stop listening I can just threaten to tell the women all the gross things those men say when they're not around xx) I want to be there while cis men talk about the patriarchy (it's cannon fodder at the very least) and I want to listen while they come to terms with how guilty they are in perpetuating it...and I won't pretend like I have clean hands during those moments, but hearing how men talk when they think there's no FINT folk around is a big yike and someone needs to be there to check in on them. Some of the challenges that cis men talk about seem a bit N/A for trans men, but that doesn't mean we cant all just be in solidarity with one another, and share resources and talk to one another. Our road to becoming anti-patriarchal, as a trans man, isn't quite the same path but the destination is the same.
I've done a limited amount of work unpacking my own patriarchal behaviour. Until recently I didn't think I really needed to. I've never been outright called a sexist, I've never had my behaviour described as patriarchal, even during the period of time where the group I lived with was practising daily Tekmil (we spent like half an hour critiquing each other every night after dinner), that doesn't mean I don't have shit I need to fix that is rooted in the patriarchy. I know I can talk too much in meetings. I know I interrupt people if i think they're taking too long to make a point. I know I overcommit my time to 100 things at once. There's probably some other shitty things I do too. Our behaviour does not always fit the stereotypes of what patriarchal behaviour looks like, so it is easy to overlook. Perhaps the fact my shitty behaviour has gone unchallenged or has been written off as acceptable, or not recognised immediately means I am in fact benefiting from the patriarchy. (shock horror)
The patriarchy isn't only strengthened through our actions and inactions, but through the values and biases that we hold. Just because someone stands in front of a some machinery to stop a tree being torn down, to stop mother nature being harmed, that doesn't mean they're off the hook for letting the same woman wash their dishes 8 days in a row.
Choosing to live in an environment where social norms are actively challenged and rejected has been affirming and my gender dysphoria is less bad here - but it has also meant my access to trans resources and spaces has been limited (especially during the pandemic). I don't know many other trans men very well, I feel like an anomaly at times. However I am really fucking lucky to have a community that supports me in being gay and doing crime, and holds anti-patriarchal and anti-capitalist values.
Lots of love
Photo Credit: Anthony