Feminist FTM Professor – Semester 2

I’ve been on T for about five months now, and am regularly read as male in most spaces. I guess, though, that I still have trouble believing this is actually the case. I just entered into my second semester of teaching since I began transitioning. I considered saying nothing to the students about my gender and hoping they would see me as male, but, up until the first day of classes, had not made up my mind as to what I should do. For my French class, I introduced myself as “Monsieur [Last Name].” I checked their faces for surprise, confusion, or amusement and saw nothing, but I couldn’t tell whether this was because they were already reading me as male, or simply because they were being polite and respectful in spite of having initially seen me as female. I decided to play it safe later, by specifying that I used the male pronouns “he,” “him,” “il,” and “lui,” though I said nothing about being trans. Again, I saw no particular reaction on their faces, and again, I didn’t know how to read this lack of a reaction.

For my Intro to Women’s and Gender Studies class, I felt constantly aware how my gender was being perceived. First of all, I was concerned that, seeing a male professor, students would think they were in the wrong class, or balk at being taught by me. When I began talking, though, I gradually became convinced that my students saw me as a butch lesbian. I’m not sure why I decided this. A couple female students said “we” while talking about women and “our” while talking about women’s bodies, and, for some reason, I felt that they were including me in these pronouns. And I suppose it just made sense to me that in a Women’s and Gender Studies class, of all places, a gender ambiguous person like me would read as a masculine woman rather than as any kind of man.

I decided, then, that I absolutely must correct this misapprehension and told them that I was transgender. At which point the room went suddenly silent with held breaths. So I asked them if they knew what that meant, and one student volunteered something about taking hormone pills. So I did a quick 101 of transgender vs. transsexual and FTM vs. MTF. At which point someone asked which one (FTM or MTF) I was. When I said FTM, several students made shocked and surprised gasping sounds, and one said that she had thought I was MTF. Which kind of delighted me. So then, I tried to make my transness teachable by saying a little about how being trans influenced my feminist subjectivity and giving an overview of different feminist perspectives about trans men. Overall, students seemed quite interested and reflective, it seemed exciting to be able to have a dialogue with young people around trans issues, and it felt like a good way to build trust and to model, for my students, how I want them to use personal experience to reflect on gender norms. But it did turn a bit, in the end, into Ask a Tranny a Question, with a couple students posing some personal questions that seemed to be of limited pedagogical usefulness. I had to tell one student that I didn’t feel comfortable answering one of her questions.

So I’ve created this huge opening now: if I want, and if it seems applicable to our discussion, I can discuss my trans experience in class; I can talk openly about forms of gender discipline to which I was subject as someone who was assigned female; and I can reflect on about differences I’ve observed in how people treat someone they perceive as female vs. how they treat someone who they perceive as male. However, I may not end up wanting to speak directly from personal experience. I’m actually quite a private person, and it’s not my pedagogical style at all to speak about my personal experiences as a professor, much less my trans experiences. This whole thing came about, however, because I’m trying to change my pedagogical style, since it doesn’t seem to be well-suited to my current institution. I may, then, have to discuss with my students how part of cis privilege is the presumption that trans people exist in order to tell cis people their personal narratives and medical history and effectively have no privacy. That is, if I can figure out a way to say this that is not too aggressive or defensive. After all, the students don’t mean to do harm; I am, ultimately, the one in the position of power; and I did, in a sense, open the door myself. The good news is that teaching by semesters means that each semester is an experiment in itself. I can gauge the benefits, this semester, of teaching women’s studies as an out trans man and of openly discussing prior female experience; and I can try, the following semester, teaching as a gay man, and see which seems more comfortable and more pedagogically valuable.

To backtrack a bit, though, I still don’t entirely know what gender students read me as prior to my disclosure. When they said that they thought I was MTF, I was initially delighted, since I imagined it meant that they initially saw me as male and thought I was disclosing that I wanted to be a woman when I said I was transgender (which would account for the breath-held silence – this would certainly be a surprising disclosure for students to hear a masculine-presenting presumably male professor make). This would mean, however, that the whole thing was a farce: I outed myself unnecessarily, and I really needn’t have worried that students (or anyone else, for that matter) sees me as female. Which makes me wonder what it would be like to teach an Intro to WGS course as a gay man without making public any prior history I’ve had with either femaleness or lesbianism. Of course, I also suppose there could have been some students who did initially see me as a butch woman, and correctly surmised that I was FTM when I said I was trans, but who remained silent throughout about this entire thought process. And there could even be students who initially saw me as an extremely masculine woman, thought that I was outing myself as having transitioned from male to female when I said that I was trans, and imagined that this male history was somehow the explanation for my masculine appearance as a woman… Who the hell knows?

After class, I went to a talk by a prominent queer feminist theorist, and sat in the front row, directly in front of her. Last year, when I was pretty close to identifying as trans, I went to one of her talks and, again, sat directly in front of her. At the time, I clearly interested her. She looked directly at me curiously, warmly, and often. She may have found me attractive; she certainly found me interesting; and she probably saw me as “the next generation” of queer female scholars. I can surmise all of this because I was accustomed to receiving such looks in queer and feminist feminist academic spaces, where was usually the only young, clearly masculine-identified queer “female” person there. Often, there would be both older, butch female scholars and young dykes present, but I am used to getting particularly warm and interested gazes, due to my evident masculinity, from older feminist scholars both queer and straight. It’s the “baby butch” academic phenomenon, wherein I am seem as the “next generation” of both queer feminist scholarship and butch academic presence (which, in my generation, seems to be dwindling), along with the erotics of being one of very very few masculine-presenting “female” people. It is nice to feel legible as a queer feminist scholar; it is nice when people are automatically interested in you because of the way you look (I’m also tokenized by another prominent lesbian scholar, who doesn’t answer my emails, but who makes a show of hugging me and calling me “buddy” in front of others at academic events); it is nice when you are welcomed as part of a legacy before you have even opened your mouth. The cultural capital of the baby butch queer feminist scholar is valuable currency in these particular circles (though it certainly isn’t in most academic settings).

This time around, my experience was completely different. I was invisible to the queer feminist scholar in question – just another man. This is not to say that she would have been disinterested or dismissive if I had tried to speak to her afterward; but simply that my appearance did not immediately mark me as an interesting and sexy young person within the queer feminist academic lineage (though, to be sure, even in the past there would often be an unspoken disappointment when feminists learned that my scholarship was more on the gay male side of things).

Many trans men (but not all) are saddened when they lose recognition from the lesbian community in which some may have previously had a home. Thus far, in social spaces, I am all too happy not to be considered a lesbian by lesbians. But in academic feminist spaces, this immediate sense of recognition and interest from other queer feminist scholars – many of whom I admire – is something I will have to mourn. It remains to be seen whether some other form of recognition will one day come to replace it.

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12 Responses to Feminist FTM Professor – Semester 2

  1. Christopher says:

    You sound strong and self willed. I wish you well as you tackle what you are tackling.

  2. Faggot Boi says:

    Thank you, Christopher. I don’t think it’ll be anything I can’t handle.

  3. Tarald says:

    This was very a very interesting post. Thank you!
    Most of your posts are very interesting, though. I’ve stopped identifying as a feminist myself, because I would have to fight other feminists to stay, and I’ve learned to pick my fights. Your blog is important in showing me and others that it is possible to be a man, even a transman, and still be a feminist.

  4. Faggot Boi says:

    Hi Tarald, whatever my personal sense of guilt, I think it’s ultimately important to emphasize that being a feminist is what you DO – in terms of teaching, analysis, daily interactions, and activism – rather than who you ARE. Nobody can take your feminist thoughts and actions away from you simply because you are trans or a man. They can try, but they will be wrong. And feminist activism and scholarship of the last thirty years has shown that, in order to remain vital, feminism must find a way to account for differences – not just in terms of gender, but also in terms of race, class, national status, and so on – in a manner both more rigorous and more difficult than through an idealist linkage of all women through a vague notion of sisterhood. Trans names a set of experiences of gender-based oppression that feminists would do well to heed. And negotiating the differences between trans experiences of transphobia, cissexism, and sexism and cis female experiences of sexism is an important exercise for a form of feminism that would be truly committed to differences.

  5. Christopher says:

    I am a feminist myself even though I solely identify as a man who has had his breasts removed due to breast cancer.

    When I was 19 I had the women’s lib symbol put on my right arm and then later that same year I had part of the trans sign put on my left arm.

  6. Larkin says:

    Hi there,
    I have really been enjoying reading your blog, in fact it’s an invaluable conversation for me to have, even if only through reading, as I negotiate my own transness within academia (as a student). (I’m a gay trans man who is about to take hormones and have my body change in front of my fellow classmates–we are a class of 25 who are in all of the same classes together). Very scary and *very* exciting.
    I recently moved to a small city where there is not much of a trans community or much understanding of what trans means. I’ve been doing quite a bit of educating but have tired of that after a semester of it.
    Anyway, I just really wanted to say thanks for your incredibly articulate and well thought out writing….. so so appreciated, I always look forward to reading what you write.
    It was also nice to find some analysis in amongst the (enjoyable) trans fag sex blogs…. 😉

  7. Faggot Boi says:

    Hey Larkin, thanks for your comment. Transitioning in a small town in a smaller class of 25 does sound challenging – I’m glad you’re focusing in on the excitement of it! If you have any more specific questions about transitioning in academia, feel free to email me at faggtboi@gmail.com. Not that I have all the answers, but I do enjoy discussing these kinds of things.

  8. Shalom Bond says:

    (Hi FB, this is Bond formerly of Dear Diaspora, if you remember the blog. An explanation of my transition and return to the blogosphere is here.)

    I’m an FTM student, about 4 months on T, and had very similar anxieties especially about my Gender Studies classes. I know I’m now mostly passing with straight folks, but could gender-aware people see me as man when I’m such an outspoken feminist? To my surprise I have had no pronoun mistakes or misgenderings — either I’m passing extremely well or people know I’m trans and get it (likely both in concert). I try to mention I’m a guy without noting that I am trans in case I am being gendered correctly, and this seems to work well.

    It’s so damn weird, really. My body has certainly changed since beginning HRT, but the changes seem pretty subtle to me — and yet they make the biggest social difference. It’s not like I’ve sprouted a full beard or become six feet tall or anything. I’m just a tenor instead of an alto, my shoulders are a little bigger and my butt a little smaller, my face a bit more square…. And somehow all this adds up us “21-year-old guy” instead of either the “21-year-old lesbian” or “14-year-old boy” I got before hormones.

  9. Faggot Boi says:

    Hi Bond, of course I remember you – your articulate explorations of gender in Dear Diaspora were important in my own process of starting to blog and thinking about my own gender. Thanks for commenting and congratulations on having come to a realization of what is right for you.

    It is bizarre, isn’t it, how much of a difference minuscule physical changes make in social perception. In addition to the changes you mentioned, I would add a thicker neck. I’d have to say that this is the major difference, even more so than a slightly squarer face or broader shoulders and a fuller chest, that sticks out when I look at older pictures of myself. This is what makes those pictures still look so unacceptably FEMALE to me, and what makes me want to not go completely off T. And yet, it never would have occurred to me to think, “I need to go on T so that I can get a thick neck. I think that’s what’s really gonna do it for me.” Far from it! I think neck thickness is a huge subconscious indicator of sex.

    I probably could have done as you did and just thrown some “as a man”‘s in there rather than outing myself to my students. I just hadn’t acclimated yet to the fact that I would be seen as male, even in the women’s studies classroom! What I really should have done is taken a poll after outing myself, “So how many of you thought I was a man when I started talking? How many of you thought I was a woman? How many of you thought I was something else?” Now that would have been entertaining and instructive…

    For the present, though, I feel comfortable with my students knowing that I’m trans. Somehow, it’s a relief to know that some key aspects of my feminist positionality can be deduced by a thinking person. I haven’t done any “when I was a little girl”‘s yet and doubt that I will, but it’s interesting to know that this pedagogical option exists.

  10. Larkin says:

    Hey Faggot Boi,
    Just wanted to say thanks for your offer of support 🙂

  11. Guest says:

    Very interesting post. I am a fellow FTM and I also teach at a university (in the UK). And transitioning while having to teach was difficult. I spaced out my teaching such that I was able to finish all my lectures/classes before my voice was totally broken. I then came out and addressed the admin side of things after all the students had sat their exams (or during exam period!).

    I have to say, I still feel uneasy about how the students would react if/when they eventually find out. The staff have been extremely supportive and it all went very smoothly, updating their website, my personal website, links etc. But I am still at the beginning of my journey I suppose, plus it is the summer vacation at the moment so things may get more stressful when term starts again.

    It seems very hard to find other academic FTMs out there to talk to, so I was thrilled to discover your blog. You seem like a strong and independent person who can stand up for themselves, and one who would try their best to pursue what they firmly believe in. I realised the importance of this when I finally decided to transition. After all, this is the only path to happiness. My real life started there and then.

    Good luck with your career and I hope you achieve a fulfilling life!

  12. Faggot Boi says:

    Hi Guest,

    Best of luck on your journey. It sounds like you are proceeding carefully and thoughtfully. When I was offered this job, I thought I knew no pre- or non-physical transition trans men in academia. I now have personally met 3 (and a score more of grad student TAs). It’s good to know that there are many of us finding our way. I think that the kinds of experiences we have and choices we make will depend to a large degree on our institutions and our own preferences in terms of privacy and identification. I opted to make it clear to my students while I was transitioning but not yet passing that I was trans and used male pronouns. But I can see the advantages to allowing students to assume that one is female during this phase. I know one trans-identified but not-ever-going-to-physically-transition professor who says nothing in his classes and lets students assume what they will. I am curious what you are afraid will happen if your students found out. Feel free to email me at faggtboi@gmail.com if you have specific questions or concerns.

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