A Trans Man of Color Navigates Masculinity with Cultural Factors
Toxic Masculinity and Racism Challenged by Men
Will’s Trans & Multi-Racial Identity
© 2018 Sherryl N Weston MA, MSW, LCSW (pending in CA)
Bicultural/Multiracial Identity Factors
Will holds many of the social struggles of his generation. He’s multiracial but was not raised around his “of color” culture. He’s trans, therefore, in some ways queer in a way that is “seen” in some ways and “hide-able” in others. In his words below, you find that he is wrestling with identity on multiple fronts: rural vs. urban (since he is from a small town and now lives in a big city-See Chapter 6 for more detail), female vs. male, and the ways he might be expected to present, given varied issues that are “up” in this time of social and racial unrest With more trans community visibility arising all the time, things seem quite overwhelming for many on all sides. The non-binary thinking that is gaining more traction all the time is challenging many sacred cows.
Will never got to know his Japanese grandmother and his father was raised without much cultural exposure to his mother’s culture. The reasons for this are not clear to Will, but as he evolved into a Left-leaning activist and multiple national and international crises rise in the news, he is left to wonder how to attach to issues in an “acceptable” way. The question remains, “Whose version of acceptable?”
Meet Will, in a Gendered Racial Struggle
WC: Being Asian, or really being anything that isn't white, really comes down to context for me. If I had been raised with more Japanese culture, or even in Japan, I wouldn't feel as lost with my identity, and maybe that's not even true. It's possible that being mixed is just hard no matter where you are. I think right now being Asian just means understanding that I'm not white. It means being aware that even though I may get away with not being treated differently based on skin tone, it doesn't mean that others like me live the same experiences. I think it means fighting for justice, educating myself on the issues POC experience in general and fighting with others. As well as exploring my own cultural background. But I find there is no way, on a day to day basis, to consciously "be Asian" other than just by being myself. But this also means I need to be aware that a lot of the ways I see the world are skewed because I've grown up believing I was white and being surrounded by white culture.
My dad did tell me though, and I am aware this is prejudice at the least, that Asians either believe they are superior or are actually superior. I'm not sure which one, only because at the time those conversations were a bit out of my reach intellectually. I think all I can do is learn more about Japan and see what I connect with. My only fear (and this comes from being told that i am also white and therefore cannot identify as Asian solely, that conversation has fucked me up for a lifetime) is that I'm connecting with Japanese culture because I feel I'm supposed to, or, if I do, it's inauthentic because, I wasn't raised that way. I hope that makes sense.
I think that the reason we see cross-dressers and trans women being flashy is because they are trying to achieve some idea of hyper-femininity. It's the same thing with hyper-masculinity, both are toxic. I usually call it over compensating. Trans men tend to be overly aggressive, trying to start fights, or actually demeaning women as a way to prove they are men. The same goes with trans women. They will dress in ways that they believe will make others think, "that's DEFINITELY a woman, look at her outfit." It all comes back to not feeling comfortable in your gender and using clothes or other things as a way to present a marker, it's a way to define your gender to other people, and most likely yourself, because you're insecure. And I'm not trying to be all "oh you're just insecure, sucks for you." It's the way I understand myself and the reasons why, for example, I don't act flamboyant around certain people, because although I'm four years into testosterone and 5 years into transition, I'm still insecure with myself and rely on the way I dress or act to define my gender to other people. I hope this helps.
SW: Will had the unfortunate experience of being told by a non-white (but non-Asian) peer that he had no right to claim Asian heritage because of his circumstances. In my personal and professional experience, his friend’s point of view is quite common, as what I’ll call “cultural legitimacy” becomes more of an issue. This is probably because of the increasing U.S. population that would identify as being a part of more than one race or ethnic group. Many are only intimately familiar with the standards set by the context they personally grew up in. This applies to people of color and white people, too. The misinformed position that “all Latin@s are __?__” or “ the whole black community is __?__” or “Asians only __?_” is held by individuals on all sides. Something between the classic “one drop rule” and “none of it matters, cuz we’re all human,“
is applicable, but is often seen as a cop-out, a cultural appropriation or a privilege of light-skin convenience.
There are complicated factors that relate to why multiracial people are “forced to choose.” Also, people of color who grew up outside of the cultural context of their of color, ethnicity or race have to learn how to—or to decide to—align with the social justice struggle and the types of social relationships that result. One is that some cultures or individuals of color/certain ethnicity worship the dominant culture, due to their having accepted the dominant narrative about the culture they come from. That person of color might intentionally choose a white partner and therefore not think it important to teach about the roots of the culture they come from.
It can also be that a person of color was raised by a white parent who holds the “people are people” world view and therefore did not know to find a way to teach the child (now a teen or adult) how to navigate racism, colorism and ethnic prejudice enjoined with racism. (i.e. This last might be the Mexican prejudice against certain Caribbean culture or vice versa. Just as likely is the person who grew up in a very dysfunctional community of color, left that culture due to a relatively late adoption, runaway or chosen exit from the culture as soon as high school graduation made it possible. The functional world they have been a part of is dominant culture oriented, and therefore the person holds little value and perhaps even despise of their culture of origin. In my professional experience, all these scenarios have shown themselves to create self-esteem issues, and therefore relationship conflicts that tend to make themselves most clear when a crisis of some sort arrives.
Sometimes it is something like the societal crisis of police misconduct toward those of the community they resemble or have connection to that brings up the painful angst, “Am I possibly a target?” It is a disturbing and sometimes unexpected realization. Sometimes it is a marriage that isn’t working and it is the white partner who correctly identifies the problem and not the parent of color who may have understandable, but misguided reasons for “choosing” the blinders that have now fallen away. It can show as a substance abuse or eating disorder problem that developed due to some version of the above-mentioned factors. Internalized racism and internalized sexism in the mix are dangerously toxic.
And it can be that a foreign-born person did not know how to insert their culture and still be seen as “American” if the family they married into didn’t get that they needed to pay attention to that part of the healthy “naturalization” process. Sometimes a foreign-born person holds the U.S. as a place where all are equal, a value we are supposed to have but have yet to make 100% true. A foreign-born adult may not know this painful fact until the right thing happens. Sometimes the “right circumstance” never arises, so they don’t learn this fact of our fairly standard American inequity.
There are MANY other applicable scenarios.
Each situation is different, but all leave many issues hiding under a rock or seeping out of an emotional wound. It is crucial for the personal and professional support system to be able to spot the places where no one else has yet recognized the true cause of the disconnect or emotional suffering. And until institutions of higher learning hold more consistently culturally astute standards for curriculums, professors and the entities in charge of healing the resulting wounds are better at facing these complex issues completely, fairly and without double standard, we will not find the resources sufficient to create the soft place to land that so many need.
I want the Will’s of the world to get what they need. Don’t you?