Op-ed: How LGBT Communities Can Better Listen to Trans Male Violence Survivors

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I’ve found that LGBT communities are not always a safe space to have conversations, though we don’t like to admit it. I’ve been quiet for years over one issue because of this, but its importance has trumped my fears. We need to talk about something:

Trans men face pain and struggles every day for being who they are, but many feel pressure to remain silent about it.

Though this claim is often immediately met with skepticism, I — and, I hope, we — can no longer ignore that it’s a valid topic for community discussion, if only because we face an ongoing trans suicide crisis. I only ask that LGBT readers realize that this is a very real situation and give it due consideration before jumping to critique.

I started breaking my silence about this earlier this month, when I received a message from a trans male friend that finally broke my heart. He spoke of the struggles he has as a trans man — in his case, also as a gay trans man. I won't divulge his exact experiences here to preserve his privacy.

I will say, though, that this wasn’t the first time another trans man had come to me privately with stories of pain or facing transphobic violence. I know of trans men who have been raped. I know of trans men who have been physically attacked and beaten up by groups of heterosexual, cisgender dudes. I know trans men who have been beaten by their fathers because they are trans, then thrown onto the streets to become homeless.

And the aftermath of their stories all had one detail in common: The men did not feel free to speak openly of their experiences in trans or LGBT spaces.

Why? Because these men felt that the only narrative being told about them was that they were always “privileged” and protected because they were male. They felt that in such a context, their true experiences of facing transphobic violence would not be taken seriously, perhaps even dismissed as mere complaining or a tactic to take attention away from the undeniably important topic of violence against trans women.

I know that feeling well. At one point I reached a place where I felt so invisible to my community — so invisible as a complex human — that I contemplated just not living anymore.

There is a dangerous invisibility that comes with being a trans man that people are not speaking about: Trans men are not considered plausible “victims” once they transition to male. I find the assumption that our gender instantly makes us invulnerable or always protects us from violence when others learn of our trans status to be violent in and of itself.

Why? Because it makes me feel as if I cannot speak openly about my pain, about my struggles, about the dangers I face in daily life. I feel that I cannot get media coverage that wouldn’t trivialize my struggles because of some apparent all-encompassing privilege that many people assume I and most trans men have gained. And I can say for sure that I’m not the only trans man to feel this way.

Let me be clear. I know that I have more privilege than most trans women. We live in a world where trans women, and especially trans women of color, are incredibly persecuted. The violence, the beatings, the murders and, of course, the everyday struggles — I would never delegitimize these, and I know that they need ongoing attention in order to create change. It’s undeniable that trans women face horrific and too often fatal violence specifically because they’re women.

But I also cannot deny that I’ve been seeing and hearing of personal stories of violence toward trans men that go unnoticed and unspoken. The problem has become that our communities tend to compare the two: Violence against trans women is “worse” than that against trans men, so the latter can give no voice to their struggles.

It needs to be said: Violence cannot be compared or ranked. Struggle and oppression are not an Olympic event. There should not be a measure by which we say that one group of folks suffer more than “you,” so your suffering is not worthy of being noted.

Further, we need to realize that those who accuse trans men of only wielding privilege are not aware of most of the struggles trans men actually face because we are told to be quiet about them, as most victims of violence are.

Trans and LGBT communities set a dangerous precedent when we dismiss or hush trans male survivors. New victims observe and learn that they cannot speak openly about their experiences. I know from trans men who have confided in me that this is at times a situation that has led to suicide attempts. And I know because I’ve been there myself.

If this were a few isolated events, I would say nothing. But after years of observation, I can now say that the dismissal of trans men who speak openly about their experiences of violence — the silencing of any storytelling beyond tales of gaining male privilege — is a pattern that is causing severe harm. And it's happening despite the reality that nearly half of all U.S. trans men will attempt suicide in their lifetime (46 percent).

Part of addressing this trend is listening to the actual lived experiences of trans men. Please listen when I say that transitioning from female to male is not a lottery of privilege. Of course, I would never deny that trans men receive some privilege — but it looks different on all of us, and in most cases it doesn’t play out the way many assume.

For example, some people think I only received privilege at my job when I transitioned. But I’m a public figure in the media, a musician. After I came out as a trans man, I lost music gigs. I lost a lot of lesbian fans, and then I lost a record deal. All of it was directly because I’m a man who regularly states that he used to be a “woman.”

Or consider what it’s like to be a black “woman” who transitions to become a black man. I have had more than a few conversations about this, and one with a black trans man who had just recently started transitioning stuck with me. He described how when he grew more visibly masculine all he could think, amid watching the riots caused by police murders of black men, was that he is now becoming “public enemy number one.” That doesn’t exactly sound like a privilege to me.

I don’t point this out in anger. I point out these dynamics as a conduit for the voices of many other trans men who have feared speaking out. I point them out as a friend who’s been through some shit himself and who has a bit more of a platform to say what needs to be heard.

This is not a call to put trans men’s struggles “above” those of trans women. It’s to say we can acknowledge both without drawing comparisons, because both are important in their own ways. It’s a call to anyone who has a trans man in their life to also validate that man’s pain without pronouncements about his assumed privileges. To listen, to love, to help when it’s needed.

Trans men want to be seen. Trans folks are already so immensely oppressed, and suicide rates indicate that this oppression does touch trans men too. There is nothing more dangerous in our own communities than to feel invisible.

 

LUCAS SILVEIRA is the front man of Canadian rock back The Cliks, who have released four albums since 2006. Silveira is also a multimedia artist, actor, and speaker who often focuses on LGBT and trans issues.

Check back tomorrow to hear more stories in the Boys Do Cry series that pull back the curtain on trans men's experiences with violence.

If you or someone you know are a transgender or gender-nonconforming individual struggling with thoughts of suicide, you can contact the Trans Lifeline at (877) 565-8860. LGBT young people (ages 24 and younger) needing support can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at (866) 488-7386.The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 can also be reached 24 hours a day by people of all ages and identities.

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