I don’t know what women go through. OK? [TW: Transmisogyny, misogyny, homophobia, discussion of rape, sexual abuse and unwanted pregnancy]

The following post is graphic, explicit and possibly very triggering. Proceed with caution.

I’m really sick of this idea that because I happen to be trans I must have some kind of “female experience” or “shared girlhood” or knowledge of “what women go through.” It’s just so wrong in so many ways.

I think a lot of trans men have talked about how this type of misconception makes us out to be “men lite” or “decaf guys.” A lot of people have also unpacked the epic amounts of transmisogyny in a statement like this one. Rule number one of transmisogyny: If something is bad for trans people who were CAFAB, it’s gonna be worse for trans people who were CAMAB. The flip side of the assertion that trans men somehow “understand what women go through” is the sneaky implication that trans women are predatory, insensitive, and dangerous.

All of that is shit that is really worth talking about. I’ve written about it before, and I’ll write about it again. But what I want to talk about today is how this idea that I “know what women go through” totally erases what it is that I went through.

Listen to me. Just as my body is not a female body or a woman’s body, my trauma is not a woman’s trauma. It is my trauma and I am a man.

I am a young, effeminate, queer trans man who was raped multiple times. And yes, the man who raped me thought I was a woman. But the way he saw me is not how I saw myself. Pardon me for thinking that how I see and saw myself is more relevant to my experience than how my fucking rapist saw me.

Understand this, if you can: the messages I internalized, the messages that brought me to that place where I was totally vulnerable and didn’t know how to say no– those were not messages about being a woman. Those were messages about being a man.

Of course people were always trying to tell me how to be a woman, but I didn’t really hear them because I didn’t really think what they said was to my address. Instead, I listened when people told boys how to behave. The letters left in the “woman” box I ignored. The letters left in the “man” box, specifically the “submissive gay boy” box, were the ones I opened and eagerly read, even though I was not their intended recipient.

So this is what I learned:

I learned that a young gay boy like me could prove his value and his manhood by how hard and how often he could get fucked. I learned about a fantasy of casual sex, quick, risky and frequent, with no strings attached and as few feelings as possible involved. I learned about sugar daddies. I learned that I didn’t have to be physically attracted to older men who wanted to fuck me, that their attention could validate my worth anyway. I learned that I had to suck cock better than your girlfriend. I learned I had to let you put your dick up where she wouldn’t let you put it. In fact, I learned that I was better than your girlfriend because she was a drama-making estrogen machine and I was a man. I learned that I had value only when I was as little “like a woman” as possible while still being a sex object for other men to penetrate. I learned about the mystique of seducing straight men. I learned that I had to want sex all the time. I learned that I was unrapeable because I wanted sex all the time. I learned that I could prove my worth by taking bigger cock faster with less preparation and less lube. I learned that the more painful, dangerous and unpleasant sex was to me, the cooler I was, because I could take it like a man. I learned that bare-backing was sexy and that HIV was tragic and romantic. I learned that risk, anonymity, dehumanization and danger were the hallmarks of how gay men fucked, and believed I had to embrace all of those things without question.

Did it matter to my belief system that while I was internalizing all this and coming to see myself this way, the whole entire rest of the world was seeing me as a woman? No! In fact, the constant denial of my maleness put an even bigger chip on my shoulder and made me cling to these masculinist, misogynistic, homophobic and self-hating notions even more tightly. My manhood was wounded! I had something to fucking prove! I believed that I couldn’t even begin to prove it to the world, and so I was out to prove it to myself, again and again and again.

And that is why I thought I had to spend four days in a motel room with a guy I barely knew. That’s why when he fucked me without a condom for the first time, even though I had told him that protection was a must, he was able to convince me that it was no big deal. That’s why I didn’t remove myself from a situation where I ended up getting raped repeatedly. After all, saying “no” had been weakness. Saying “no” more often and more emphatically would’ve been worse. Leaving would’ve been running away. It was nothing I couldn’t handle, nothing I couldn’t take. It was just a cock. I wanted it anyway. Right?

So no, I did not experience rape as a woman even though I experienced a pregnancy scare (among other complications) afterwards. I experienced rape as a man. I experienced rape as the defeat of my masculinity, as the removal of my maleness– as my fucking castration. Even scarier, I found myself looking up to my rapist as the stronger, better, superior man. I found myself envying him, wishing to be him, and seeing myself as a failure in comparison. He was a father figure to me in some sick way. He also taught me things about manhood, things better not learned.

Yeah, I grew up in a sexist society that hated who it thought I was. But it also embraced parts of who I knew myself to me. I had a sense of entitlement to cling to at the worst of times that no woman could have had.

You can’t expect a trans person to experience life, childhood, gender or trauma like a cis person. You can’t expect a man’s experience of trauma to be the same as a woman’s.

Want someone who knows what a woman goes through? Ask a woman. Maybe even dare to ask a trans woman. Don’t turn to a man, any man, trans or cis, as an authority on “what women go through,” because by definition he will not know in any first-hand way.

Yeah, I’ve had experiences that cis men don’t, like almost getting pregnant. But pregnancy is not “something women go through,” it is “something people with uteruses go through.” Furthermore, my experience of almost getting pregnant through rape had dimensions that cis women are not likely to have had, like experiencing awful gender dysphoria, and the fear of trying to get an abortion while trans, and the fear of being a visibly pregnant man.

So to certain cis women, most of you queer, who have told me that you trust me better than a cis man because I know what women go through, I have this to say:

No. I do not know what you go through.

And you do not know what I went through, either.


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About Asher

Asher Bauer is fast becoming a fixture in the San Francisco kink community, and intends to stay that way. He has worked as a Queer Educator at LYRIC (Lavender Youth Recreation And Information Center), and since has taken his talents as an educator to a wider variety of audiences, teaching on subjects ranging from safer sex to BDSM to trans and queer identities. He is also one of the hosts and originators of Transmission, the new trans-centric party at the San Francisco Citadel, and Invasion, the Citadel's all-genders queer party. View all posts by Asher

15 responses to “I don’t know what women go through. OK? [TW: Transmisogyny, misogyny, homophobia, discussion of rape, sexual abuse and unwanted pregnancy]

  • Joan Marie McBride

    Excellent statement, Asher. Folks just don’t want to get it.

  • Lisa Millbank

    Everything ’bout this. Thanks.

    I’ve been meaning to write about this whole ‘socialisation’ thing and how trans women aren’t ‘socialised as men’ because of the way we live in society and internalise ‘knowledge about gender’ as much as ‘knowledge about me’. I think these subjects overlap and I’d love to quote you when I come to write it – may I?

  • Wafflecopters

    Also something I’ve been wanting to write about. It’s interesting to see that others have similar thoughts on the matter. For some reason, some can’t seem to understand that a trans guy is not going to experience rape the same way that a woman does, no matter how society or the rapist sees him. Not recognising that is extremely erasing.

  • Jonathan

    Powerful stuff. Thanks for writing it.

  • bewaretheswampsnark

    Thought provoking and powerfully written. Thank you.

  • Amy

    Those of us who are parents or who are concerned about helping ALL youth avoid such situations, need to understand the differences in delivering suitable messages which you have written about here. Thank you for writing this – very hard to read, personally – but I also recognize the enormous importance of what you are saying, not just for you, but for all too many others. I understand quite a bit more about John, for example, as well – since he was raped quite often.

  • mx. punk

    thank you for writing this. as a CAFAB transperson, this post helps me to understand my own situation a little better than i did before. seriously, thanks.

  • Chris Joy

    Thank you for writing as courageously to the point as you have! Sometimes these distinctions and nuances need so desperately to be flushed out and heard in order for all of us to understand and to be understood. As a radical feminist who respects and protects trans friends and family (and misunderstands too!), I needed your point of view.

  • daniel

    Thanks for sharing this, Asher. Many of the things you wrote I’d been struggling to put into words myself. I do wonder though if this way of thinking could exclude the experiences of people with more fluid genders. I know a man, for instance, who spent part of his life as a trans woman. It wasn’t that he mistakenly thought he might be a woman, but then he realised he’s not, or something like that. He WAS a woman for that part of his life. Now he’s a man. I think it’s entirely possible that some men, for example, could have genuinely experienced life as a woman at an earlier point in their life, and have valuable things to say on the matter.

  • zelia (@ityellsback)

    I’ve heard before about how trans men did not have a relationship to the experience of being a ciswoman, and I honestly did not get it.
    But I get it now. Thank you thank you thank you for writing this. Thank you for explaining, especially when the subject matter is so upsetting.

  • vorvayne

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post.

    Trans man here, still struggling to sort out my feelings on everything. But this helped me so much to examine them.

    You are so right about not having the experience of a ciswoman. I have experienced the treatment that cis women receive, because people did (and mostly still do) perceive me as such, which gives me an interesting perspective, but I still did not process those experiences as a cis woman.

    For example, I never perceived the kind of catcalls you get on the street as threatening, but either flattering or a bit gross, because I never internalised the message that I was a weak helpless woman who shouldn’t walk the streets by herself in case of rapists jumping out of bushes. I got the message that being hit on is an ego boost and I should be able to handle any physical threats if they arose (and if I couldn’t I was a failure)

    I’ve never been able to understand that until I read this post. Actually, this whole blog is helping me sort out my head.

  • Evan

    This is a thing I have complicated feelings about. I don’t think that this post necessarily speaks to all trans* experiences. For one thing, it’s important to remember that there are a ton of trans* people who don’t come by their gender identity at a young age and actually identify with being their gender assigned at birth when they were younger. So for those people, it is entirely plausible for them to say they have know what [gender assigned at birth] go through.

    Here’s the other thing. Like a some of the people commenting on this thread and yourself, I’ve also been sexually assaulted. (And it’s actually a huge relief to hear from other FAAB trans* folks about their experience with sexual assault because I’ve been struggling to find a space that understands what it means to be a trans guy who’s been assaulted for years. So thank you for bringing it up and creating this space, as small as it is.) And I don’t know if I come at my experience in the same way you do. I experienced my assault as a man. I processed it through the lens of being a man. It would come to inform a lot of the ways in which I perceived and embodied my own manhood. But I’m also painfully aware that the reason why it happened to me was because I was read as female. I don’t understand “what women go through” in terms of what it does to their perception of their gender and how they relate that gender to the rest of the world. If somebody wants to know what it’s like to be a woman, they shouldn’t ask me because I’m no authority and I’d be pissed if they tried. I’m not here to speak for women, but I have a pretty good idea of the shit women go through. Trust me I don’t want in on the ladies club, but I also can’t erase what I’ve lived. I understand perfectly what it is like to feel like my body is a meat sack for the use of other people. Not in a specific “I have been violated and I feel used” way but in a “this is how the entire world frames my body. This is what society has decided I am for” way. That’s something that is taught to women from day one. I have a pretty long history of having my bodily autonomy violated and every time I know it’s because of the womanhood that was read onto my body. The ways in which I’ve been shafted, treated as stupid, weak, too emotional, silly, inconsequential, are all things that are inextricable from my FAAB body. It doesn’t make me a woman but it does mean I have a pretty nuanced understanding of what it’s like to be read as female. I feel like the ways in which my FAAB body has informed the events of my life is inseparable from who I am, in a way that is entirely different from the fact that my body is trans.

    I get what you’re trying to do here and I totally understand the urge to reject the shitty idea that trans people can never escape their socialization and can hence never embody their genders like cis people. I get it and it is a shitty, false idea. That said, in refuting it you make a bunch of generalizations about trans people that I just don’t think are true for everybody.

    I know I’m a man. But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t lived through a heck of a lot of years of going through the motions and consequences of being a woman. Doesn’t change who I am today, but it’s still a part of what’s shaped my path here.

    • Asher

      Not sure that I actually made any general assumptions about trans people. Pretty sure I just spoke about my own experience. I might’ve said “people who aren’t women can’t know what it’s like to be a woman” and I think that’s basically true. If anything I asked for shitty assumptions to not be made.

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