Leveraging Access

by Zami Tinashe Hyemingway

Recently, I had an experience at school where I was listening to a cisgender, straight, white male, explain why he feels that he only has limited access to white privilege. His reasoning for this belief is that he is not apart of the 1% and his great grandmother was a German peasant, who had a child out of wedlock. In listening to him, I felt myself analyzing his degrees of privilege. He was able to live a more than comfortable life solely off of his public speaking engagements and multiple publications, in a field that is dominated by white, cis, straight men. The fact that he was speaking the majority of the time during our small group, his comfort in challenging and wanting to convince people that he was right, and insinuating that we had not evolved for not thinking like him, made it clear that he had been comfortable in his privilege most of his life. It was in this experience that I began to further and deepen my understanding of why it is difficult for my femme/feminine/female/non-transmasculine peers, to understand me when I say that I have conditional/minimal access to male privilege, as a transmasculine person who “passes” as cisgender.  

Since transitioning, I have struggled with people telling transmasculine folks (including me) what levels of male privilege they feel that we access. Part of my frustration is how white and male privilege are inherently linked and how that influences socialization. In my experience, those who are assigned male at birth (especially those who are white), have been socialized to believe that they worked hard for the resources in which they have access to. They were taught, that if their female peers, peers of color, transgender peers, and other marginalized peers worked just as hard as them, then they would be just as successful. This line of thinking ignores the continual effects of the systemic racism, sexism, transphobia, as well as homophobia that people of color, women, trans, queer and undocumented people have faced everyday since colonization. Those assigned male at birth have been taught that misogyny and violence against femme and feminine identified folks is acceptable, and that anything  threatening their masculinity deserves to be stopped, harmed, and even killed.

So when people tell me that I have access to male privilege as someone who “passes” as cisgender, I often struggle because of the violence and oppression that I/we often associate with male privilege, and what feels like the ignoring or erasing of my history, identity, and socialization. I was socialized as a woman. I have understood power and privilege and the effects of white supremacy through a Black, womanist lens. I have lived the majority of my life as a Black, queer woman. I have consciously fought against white supremacy and patriarchy as a Black, queer woman, and now as a Black, queer, trans person.

I do recognize that I am often acknowledged first by cisgender men when I am standing next to a woman of color in a room. My opinion is more likely to be heard, acknowledged, considered and respected by cisgender men, than my femme and gender nonconforming counterparts. I am someone whose body is considered to be “hyper masculine,” meaning I am of a muscular/athletic built. My physical performance of masculinity gives me access to a certain amount of privilege, due to society situating masculinity over femininity. I have witnessed public discrimination against my femme and female peers, as well as against my more effeminate, cisgender, male counterparts and my gender nonconforming peers. Due to my degrees of pass-ability, I also have access to conversations that cisgender men have where they actively engage in misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and other expressions of violent masculinity, and I don’t know if I would call that a privilege. I recognize that I experience all of this daily, until my trans identity becomes known, and then that access, that “privilege,” is stripped away.

Although my access to these spaces and conversations are conditional and often temporary, I do feel that it is my responsibility to use the time I have to speak out, challenge the toxic gender norms present in these spaces. I feel that it is my responsibility to decenter masculinity, bring femininity to the focal point, and model a different way of engaging in masculinity. My transition has given me access to places that women and femmes are denied, and that when they speak of me having male privilege, they are speaking of me having access to spaces where I can leverage pieces of my identity, and the way society views my identity, to help create a world that is safer for everyone.

I realize that because of my own association with what I feel male privilege is, it has been difficult to hear the requests from my peers asking me to recognize that I have acquired a new form of responsibility to my community. Prior to, in the midst of my transition, I have always tried to be intentional about not engaging in misogyny and harmful forms of male privilege, and to not remain silent in the face of it. I have assumed that my peers would have known this about me. But I am now reminded that just like I have to heal from misogyny and male privilege, so do my femme peers.

As hard and painful as it is to be associated with something that has brought me great pain and suffering, I recognize that it is my duty and responsibility, to use whatever access to spaces that I have, to aid in creating a gender-just and free world.

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Zami Tinashe Hyemingway is a Transmasculine healer, poet and teacher. Zami has a Masters in Social Work, and has worked in the field for over six years. He has multiple years in facilitation, and has worked with several communities including youth, the LGBTQ community, People Living with HIV/AIDS, people who inject drugs (PWID), People living with Hepatitis C, survivors of violence and re-entry populations. Zami is dedicated to gender justice work that reflects the fluidity of gender and encouraging people to create spaces that honor all forms of gender expression. Zami is also a spoken word artist, and uses writing as a modality of healing for himself as well as others. He has a spoken word album called Self Made Man/A Lovers Journey, and is currently working on two writing projects one being released this summer. Zami’s writing has lead him to feature at several events as well as be one of the keynote speakers at 2015 The Body Love Conference, held in Tucson, Arizona. Zami believes in using love as an ethic for liberation and in practicing radical self care and honesty. Zami is a fitness enthusiast, and is always down for a good workout session He currently resides in Berkeley, California with his supportive and amazing partner, their dog, and attends the Pacific School of Religion as part of the Changemakers Fellowship, and pursuing a Masters in Arts and Social Transformation.

 

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