Misogyny, or hatred of the feminine, is commonly associated with straight culture, specifically as an attitude upheld by straight cisgender men to the detriment of women. While it is absolutely true that misogyny is rampant in straight culture, it is also rampant amongst queers. We queers do ourselves a disservice by not talking about this.
For most of my life, I lacked examples of people who looked like me or shared my experience. Figuring out my gender and sexuality was like trying on many costumes until one of them fit. I definitely was not a straight woman. It turned out I was not a queer woman either. Nor was I a straight man. With each transformation, I began to understand how my gender informed my sexual orientation, while still being distinct from it. At each point in my journey I found myself situated/associated with some segment of the LGBTQ community for an extended period of time. This journey “over the rainbow” gave me much insight into gender and sexuality. It also gave me much insight into the many-sided prism that is our community. I can confirm that each facet of this community engenders a culture as unique and beautiful and diverse as any other. I can also confirm that misogyny is alive and well in each of these cultures.
One of my first girlfriends was a soft butch lesbian who had several years on me and a lot more experience. She was my gateway to the lesbian community, a circle of lesbians interconnecting by varying degrees of separation to an infinite number of other circles of lesbians. Her community was very insular, consisting almost entirely of other lesbians. As I became initiated and integrated into the group, I was initially surprised to discover that toxic masculinity was a recurring theme, indeed, a norm, among these women. They would objectify other women, refer to their girlfriends in derogatory/misogynist terms, and engage in other forms of “locker room talk” commonly found in frat houses. Equal parts fascinated and disturbed, I remained silent for fear that if I spoke out I’d be seen as an imposter. As problematic as I knew it was, this was the only context in which it felt safe and socially acceptable to explore and express my gender. Here it was okay to wear men’s clothes, to cut my hair, to present and speak and act in ways that are seen as conventionally masculine. I wasn’t a freak; I was a lesbian: a butch lesbian. In my attempt to be read as butch, I would be crude and inappropriate, and make unwanted sexual comments and advances. It was gross and embarrassing, and I owe a lot of women an amends.
Eventually I would migrate away from lesbian circles. I never quite felt like I fit in there to begin with. I continued to masculinize my presentation, now forming friendships with straight men—friendships which functioned to affirm my gender on an even deeper level. Most of these men were straight, but they weren’t attracted to me, I reasoned, because they saw me as one of them. They satisfied my craving for validation: to be seen as masculine, as one of the guys. Some of these men were deeply misogynist, others deeply anti-misogynist. I would find myself shape-shifting, depending on who was in the audience. Among misogynist men, I was misogynist. Among anti-misogynist men, I tried not to be. At this stage, my toxic masculinity was still fueled by my insecurity, gender confusion, and need for validation. These defects were in turn fueled by my alcoholism, which found its peak expression in a relationship with a woman who for three years I would control, manipulate, and emotionally and verbally abuse between drinking sprees. We eventually broke up, a process which coincided with my coming to terms with the fact that I was not in fact a lesbian, I was a trans man. A problematic one, at that.
The first couple of trans men I encountered as I began my transition were also problematic. Bellied up to the bar, they told sexist jokes and mocked their “hysterical” girlfriends between pints of beer and Four Horseman shots. (Side note: as a former-bartender I can confirm that the only people who order Four Horsemens are insecure mascs.) Trans men exhibit traits of toxic masculinity for the same reasons that cis men do: social pressure from other people, especially other men. Trans men are often even more susceptible to toxic “male socialization” because our gender, especially early in transition, is invalidated at every turn. This was me. Thankfully, in my case, there would be an intervention.
When I started transitioning, I was dating a woman who to this day remains my best friend: a wildly intelligent, outspoken feminist. She was also a survivor, who had experienced misogyny in its purest, most horrific forms: sexual assault, rape, abuse. Furthermore, she had survived the gaslighting, erasure, and re-traumatization she was met with when she told her friends and partners what had happened to her. It did not take very long for her to identify and point out my misogynist beliefs and attitudes. At first I was defensive, and very much in denial. But with her help I came to understand that I had indeed become infected with toxic masculinity, and participated in the misogynist culture that very nearly killed her. And while I could not personally relate to her experience as a survivor, as a trans man I understood what it felt like to be told that my pain, my experience, and my anger was invalid and “all in my head.” With her help, I would take steps to recover, both from my alcoholism and from my toxic masculinity, as I transitioned over the course of our four-year relationship.
I find it fascinating that much of my internalized misogyny originated, not in my conservative upbringing, but in my upbringing as a “baby queer.” And this internalization was reinforced at numerous formative stages of my queer development: by lesbians, by other trans men, by “masc4masc” cis gay men and gay men who want nothing to do with women and/or non-cis-male genitalia. Don’t get me wrong: I am absolutely not suggesting that misogyny originates in the queer community. As Foucault points out, sexual identity or sexual orientation is a relatively recent concept (though all kinds of people have been having all kinds of sex since the dawn of humankind.) Sexism, however, has existed for as long as sex and gender has. In fact, I would argue, with certain feminists, that sexism and sex and gender categories are inextricably connected. Like race, sex and gender are social constructs intended to give certain bodies power over others. But that is a whole other blog post.
Though misogyny does not originate in the queer community, it certainly harms queer people. Misogyny or hatred of the feminine is the root of homophobia, biphobia, femmephobia, and transphobia. It is the root cause of anti-queer violence, including the slaughtering of trans people, especially trans women of color who live at the intersection of misogyny and racism, or misogynoir. So if it harms us, why do we participate in it?
I believe that trauma is the reason we perpetuate misogyny as queers, that every masc4masc gay man, every toxic trans man, every misogynist lesbian has at some point had their emotional or physical safety threatened by a misogynist: be that a parent, partner, or friend group. And what they learned from that encounter was that their safety and survival, whether physical or social, was dependent on their ability to “man up,” i.e., conform to patriarchal standards of masculinity. And so we conformed like our life depended on it, until it became second nature. Until we became the bullies, the identity police, the misogynist pigs enforcing the misogynist standards. This did not happen overnight. For many of us it took years, even a lifetime. Therefore it will take conscious, continuous effort to undo the damage. But it is worth it. There is so much freedom, individual and collective, to be found in this undoing. We have nothing to lose but our chains.