What does it mean to be a feminist ally? And, for me, what does it mean to be a feminist ally who was assigned-male-at-birth (amab), raised and socialized as a man for most of my life, but who now identifies as a non-binary transfemme?
I began questioning my gender identity when I was 28 years old, and “came-out” when I was 30. Transitioning is a difficult topic for me to talk about. Many cis-folks assume transitioning means a physical transition. When I say transition, I mean a transition that is not just physical, but social and cultural. Currently, I am “out” only to a select few people and places. I am still forced to be male-identified at my workplace and with my family.
Transitioning out of cis-ness was a relief for me. I have liberated myself from cisnormativity to access my femme in ways I was forbidden from doing so before. But, I must admit, no longer identifying as a man came with some grief: transitioning grief. I was sad to lose my status as a male, specifically as a man of color.
I am a social worker of color. Due to the structural barriers of race, men of color are prohibited from access to various positions of power and employment. There are few men of color professionals in all respective disciplines and fields. Many of the clientele who are in need of mental health services are both white boys and boys of color who lack male figures in their lives. I always felt I could serve in the capacity of being a “male” role model for young boys for whom I am social worker, especially because most of the social workers and therapist boys encounter in the mental health system are white women. I am able to serve young boys simply by being amab and male-presenting to provide a space for them to be themselves.
I am also able to serve as a role model as someone who grew up in a working-class neighborhood, as someone who can relate to some of their experiences as boys of color, and who is now in a position of power to advocate on their behalf against negative interactions from various adult authorities in their lives.
I have not completely transitioned in my professional life, and I am honored I can serve my community as an amab and male-presenting person of color in social services. However, I fear as I transition and identify more as non-binary in my life, I will someday be excluded from being able to serve male youth of color due to cis male social expectations and assumptions. But, I’ll cross that road when I get there. I await to see how I negotiate my gender in the workplace and the world as time goes on. Besides this transitioning grief, I was also afraid of losing something most cis-men would never desire to lose because they take it for granted: their physical safety.
Wearing women’s clothes as a person assigned male at birth comes with dangerous repercussions. Being male-identified most of my life, I walked in the world without ever second-guessing my safety or well-being because of my male privilege.
As a person that wears overtly feminine clothing, I now fear what other women fear: threats to my personal safety. I fear for my safety on the basis of both presenting as femme and as a person that does not “pass” as a woman. Walking by myself down low-lit streets wearing overtly feminine clothing at night, I now have to develop a safety plan, such as texting friends and informing them of my whereabouts, and texting them when I arrive to my destination. I constantly have to be mindful that any second a cis male may cause a scene or verbally harass me on the street. We hear the stories of transwomen and gender nonconforming folks being victims of hate crimes. Upon coming out as a transfemme, I had to mentally prepare for these risks. Of course there is no real preparation for something like this, except recognizing that it could happen to me and finding creative ways to deal with it. Withstanding my vulnerability of being a gender-conforming femme, I still have to be honest with myself regarding my identity of being amab and socialized male.
More Radical Reads: Where Do I Fit In? On Being Nonbinary and Confused
Intersected with my transition into genderqueerness was how my masculinity, and former “manhood”, was greatly influenced by feminism. Before I socially transitioned, I self-identified as a male ally, but I now identify as non-binary. Being socialized as a “man” for most of my life is not erased from my consciousness simply because I do not identify as a cis man any more. I also must still hold myself accountable because I’m not “out”, and thus “male” by default, in a few contexts.
Upon coming out as non-binary trans to my closest friends, most of whom are assigned female at birth, cis-women and queer-identified, I set an expectation of accountability for myself. I explained to them that my now identifying as genderqueer and wearing feminine attire does not, and would not, exclude me from the privilege and socialization of being raised to be cis male for a majority of life. I still have to mindful of the patriarchal attitudes I am still accustomed to undertaking or how I am socialized privileged. This includes being mindful of how much space I take up when I speak, my paternalism towards or objectification and sexualization of cis women, transwomen, femmes, and people assigned-female-at-birth, or opportunities I am granted at the expense of my female-identified counterparts.
For me, non-binary feminism means incorporating all my life experiences into an integrated self, from being socialized and living as a “man” for most of my life to becoming a non-binary trans-femme. It means not forsaking any of my experiences or privileging one aspect of my life over the other. It means recognizing that patriarchy will still inform my being-in-the-world in some shape or form.
Non-binary feminism means embracing my masculinity and my femininity.