What does it mean when we make spaces for everybody but cis men? Let’s talk about gender separatism.
Whether or not we use longer descriptions aimed at framing the message in positive terms: “This is a space for cis women and transgender people” or “All lesbians, transpeople, bi- and heterosexual women are welcome” the intent is to create spaces where everybody but cis men can feel welcome.
There was a time when I loved this idea and these spaces. Cis men take up way too much space in the world. It’s a damn relief to know I’m going to a space where I will not have to deal with that particular type of bullshit. I’d hate to see this type of separatism disappear altogether. Still, this approach certainly doesn’t preclude other varieties of bullshit – and that’s the stuff I’d like to interrogate.
Increasingly, I have come to view ‘no cis men’ separatism as the following: spaces for anyone assigned female at birth and extremely self-assured and/or well-(queer)networked trans feminine people.
Who actually comes to spaces with this type of separatist policy? Who is technically included and not showing up?
There are many queer communities in Copenhagen. I’m talking about the one that populates Queer Festival and Queer Sauna… *** This one is extremely dominated by cis women and trans-masculine people. All transgender people are welcome in theory but the only a handful of brave trans women actually show up in these spaces with any regularity.
As a person assigned female at birth I will always be welcome in no-cis-man-separatist spaces regardless of my gender identity. I am a cis woman. I enjoy playing with my masculinity, femininity, androgyny, and understandings of my body while living in the gender category I was assigned at birth. Transgender people who were assigned female are welcome in this type of separatist space at any point before, during or after any type of gender transition they choose to have - public or private.
This opportunity isn’t afforded to most transgender people who were assigned male at birth. For them, joining no-cis-men-separatist spaces entails crossing a boundary and make a public declaration. This queer space is not open to people assigned male who are uncertain about their gender identity.
It’s no wonder that I know many more non-binary people who were assigned female at birth than non-binary people who were assigned male at birth in our queer community. It’s just not a very friendly gender playground for assigned male people. The gender you were assigned doesn’t make you more or less non-binary… I thought that was the point.
Fear of penises and masculinity
It feels fucked up to be talking about people in groupings of what gender they were assigned at birth. I’m doing it because that’s how I see the community operating. If we all agree that your genitals don’t determine your gender or queerness why do I see so few penises at the queer sauna?
If you were born with genitals that doctors deemed penis and testicals, you are guilty until proven queer. If you were born with a vulva you are a potential queer community member until proven guilty. A sense of danger, brutishness, and violence is ascribed to the penis. We attach masculinity to penises even as we preach a norm critical philosophy of ‘genitals ≠ gender’.
Another message sent by no cis-men separatism is that masculinity is bad.. What about transgender people who love and embrace their masculinity? Are they welcome in our queer spaces? Transgender men and transmasculine people are welcome - on the basis of their assigned gender. Nowhere is this more explicit than when invitations state that ‘anyone with experience living as women or being socialized as a woman’ is welcome. Again, we preach that your assigned gender doesn’t determine who one is and then use it as grounds to include people in a separatist space.
Transmasculinity is welcomed as a challenge to gender but transgender people who are actually men? All that masculinity is a bit threatening, isn’t it? Transpolitisk Forum will be taking on the issue of masculinity in queer and feminist spaces on 18 May at ‘Talk Town: Transfeminism and masculinity’. I’m excited to see a transfeminist perspective demand space in Danish feminist debate.
I want to hang out with queer men and queer trans women.
There are explicitly no-cis-men spaces and then there’s everywhere else in queer Copenhagen that is pretty much devoid of assigned male people anyway. I’ve chosen to talk about the separatism because it’s somehow an institutionalization of what’s happening everywhere else anyway.
Let’s be honest. It’s not like EVERYONE is clamouring to get into our little queer party. I’m not suggesting that we should try to make straight cis men feel comfortable in our queer spaces. No, not at all. If they’re not queer, queer spaces should make them uncomfortable. It’s not supposed to be home-turf for everyone.
Let’s collectively imagine something better. I want a queer space that is playful and welcoming for radical, political trans women and trans feminine people and all non-binary and genderqueer people. I also want a queer space that isn’t afraid to look masculinity in the eye and interrogate it - not as a negative thing out there in the world but as something integral to many of us, and very precious to some of us.
And yes, I want to welcome queer cis men. Not only because I’m sure there are male assigned people out there who could be radically queer trans people if they were embraced. That too. But also because being cis doesn’t mean you can’t be queer.
What if queer spaces were for queer people. You don’t no need to check your gender ID at the door - bring it on in.