FTM inclusion in play spaces

14 10 2009

I”ve been wanting to write about this for a long time but hadn’t gotten around to it. Back when I was on Live Journal (I think my account is still open as Tboy Jacky. I started to blog there but quickly switched to WP where I have been happy ever since), I joined a few FTM groups. I got into some arguments about “women and trans” spaces such as parties and BDSM play parties. Some trans men, for various reasons, feel that having spaces for women and trans folk that inludes trans men while excluding cis men is unfair. I don’t have time to summarize those views here but below is my own views on it (in abridged form, believe it or not!) A recent “controversy” on a Fetlife discussion group led me to write what is below. I’m sure that someone will come along and express why they disagree and that’s ok, as long as the responses are respectful and not belligerent. I will delete those types of comments.

As an FTM who “grew up” in the dyke community and who was nurtured specifically by the leatherdyke community, I feel that inclusion in spaces that I used to be a part of before transition is a life saver. To be excluded would be devastating as I have developed many close ties there in the years leading up to transition and these ties have been maintained throughout transition. I understand that some transmen do not want to be in those spaces for their own reasons and that is fine. As far as I’m concerned, if a transman does not want to attend a woman and trans space, he is free to not do so. Back when I was on LJ FTM groups, some transmen were arguing that these spaces should not include FTMs while excluding cismen. I disagree. Those transmen may not want to be included but to argue that NO transmen should be included is unfair to those of us who need that space.

As for the exclusion of cis-men, this will sound cliché, I’m sorry, but they have lots of spaces. They really do. And many of us transguys don’t feel safe in spaces dominated by cismen. I generally don’t enjoy pansexual spaces with a hetero leaning (which qualifies most of the pan spaces I’ve been to in Montreal and even a couple in Toronto) because I know that the majority of the men there will think I’m a freak. I’m intimidated by gay male spaces because I have never, even seen a gay male space reach out to transmen to make us feel included. Maybe that happens in Toronto (?) but not in Montreal. Except for one local discussion group for gay and bisexual men which specifies that it is for all male-identified people, I’ve never seen any kind of FTM inclusion.

Now, in an ideal world, there would be a nice variety of spaces available to me. Some that were women and trans and some that included cismen that were open to trans people of all stripes. As soon as I find the latter, here or elsewhere, I will be sure to check it out because I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to have the opportunity to meet men (trans and cis) who would potentially be interested in a guy like me.

As for phrasing: NO PHRASING WILL PLEASE EVERYONE. There are various phrasings such as “women past, present and future”, “women and trans” etc. All of them have their problems. There is no easy way to phrase it. My suggestion to the organisers (because they did ask me personally) is to pick one, explain their choice in their mandate somewhere and acknowledge that it’s not perfect.

Finally, someone mentioned that including transmen in “women and trans” spaces has to do with exoticizing. It might be tempting to think so but I’ve been circulating in such spaces and never have I felt exoticized. On my way home from Ottawa on Monday after attending my second Unholy Harvest (for women and trans) I commented to my girlfriend that one of the reasons I love the vibe is that everyone there is sexy in their own way and everyone there acknowledges everyone else’s sexiness. Yes, I was made to feel sexy but no more or less sexy than anyone else there. It is one of the few spaces that I can walk around with breasts and my masculinity is not questioned. I know that I could even dress up in drag with women’s lingerie (because, yes, I kept all of mine) and still be seen as a guy. Very few people that I know outside of this space are able to look at me topless and refer to me as “he.” I feel respected and validated there. I wouldn’t give it up for anything and if organisers of such event threw up their hands and made it “women only” to please some transguys who feel insulted by this inclusion, I would be devastated.

Yes, all this enhances a difference between trans and cis men. Some trans men don’t like that. They don’t have to come. They can mingle and blend in with cis men. They can create spaces for all men. They can also create spaces for all men and women of all origins that like to play with men and women of all origins. That would be amazing and I would go. But this does not take away the need for spaces for women and trans. Incidentally, I do also understand that women (trans and cis) need their space too without any men. I respect that and would respect a women only space. I also respect women in women and trans spaces who don’t want to play with men. That’s OK. All these spaces can coexist and people should be free to circulate among them.

Finally, I know there are cis men out there who are allies and supporters and who might feel excluded by women only or women and trans spaces. They can participate in the creation of all-inclusive spaces, or spaces that are inclusive to ALL PEOPLE WHO ARE RESPECTFUL of all and perhaps where education can happen about how to respect not only gender difference but also cultural, linguistic, ability, age difference and so forth.




14 responses

14 10 2009
Shirley Anne

It’s all too confusing for me Jacky but I can see the dilemma, not just for FTM’s but across the total gender spectrum. Wouldn’t it be simple if everyone just got along with each other? Not going to happen is it? Start your own group and set out it’s rules at the beginning. Just remember to include everyone! LOL…….

Shirley Anne x

15 10 2009

This is a hard topic for me. I’m a dyke, have been out since grammar school, and have a transwoman girlfriend. We go to play parties a fair amount, but I’m not always comfortable playing. I want to get naked and play around women–and transmen aren’t in that universe for me. I don’t get why people who identify as women can’t have their own sex party space without being labeled transphobic. I understand that transmen probably can’t play in (how do I say “traditional” about these?!) male-identified sex parties safely, and therefore there should be spaces that are completely open to transpeople of all gender identities. But I feel like there is no woman-only space anymore that includes all women, cis and trans.

15 10 2009
Jacky V.

Mary, I understand your concern and if you re-read my second-to-last paragraph, you will see that this is a concern for me as well. I *do* think women should have their own space too. Also, if you read the post carefully (I’m not saying that you didn’t, I just want to make sure we are on the same page) I’m not saying that all women’s parties should include FTMs. I’m specifically referring to parties that already DO claim to be for women and trans and that exclude cis-men in response to FTMs who say that there should not be parties for women and trans because it is insulting to all FTMs.

In an ideal community, there is a mix of spaces: some women-only, some women and trans, some pansexual (but with a queer and transpositive vibe), some men only.

I’ve never heard of a women-identified only party being labelled transphobic, at least not in my area. That would make no sense if the event include trans women. It’s the “women-born women only” things that are transphobic as far as I’m concerned.

Unfortunately, what might happen in smaller cities is that there is women-only (including trans women) and men-only (excuding trans men) and this is where FTMs fall through the cracks. My suggestion to people is usually to alternate. If there are insufficient resources, why not have a women-identified only party one month, then a women and trans the next month?

15 10 2009
Jacky V.

Shirley Anne, I can see how it can be confusing to someone who may not be a part of the kink/BDSM/leather communities. But as I responded to Mary, I think that a variety of spaces an co-exist. Not everyone has to be included all the time.

16 10 2009

Nowadays, about the only one-gender-only space I go to is the bathroom. Maybe it’s because I’m in a not-so-large city in Texas, but I feel that whichever space I see, men’s or women’s, gay or straight, it translates to, “Not You.”

I would love to be accepted by a men’s space, but that ain’t going to happen in a couple billion years. People read me as a lesbian; they don’t read me as male. I just don’t pass, and I can’t afford to be called by my pronouns of choice in general society. Besides that, I feel like even though I am a man, I have been socialized as a girl; my experience probably wouldn’t fit in there.

Mac has volunteered in women’s-only spaces, but he kept his mouth shut; he figured if he disclosed, he’d get thrown out, and he just wanted to sweep some floors and change toilet paper or something. I figure, why would a women’s space let us in otherwise? We’re not women. (So yeah, we lied. I guess we violated the safe space, but we make our own safety nowadays.)

I have yet to see any space in Texas that specifies trans in their gender-acceptance-rules. I did go to a drag festival once, but the only conversations I ever had were along the lines of, “Is this seat taken?” I didn’t know the lingo back then, and I was terrified to ask for fear I’d end up being all “EDUCATE ME NOW PLZ” in this space just for them. Which of course, is how it’s supposed to be; they’re not obligated to educate me. But I felt like an anthropologist or a student taking notes, not part of the group. I left and pretty much said, “Well, that was informative, but it’s certainly not a place I belong.”

Nowadays, I just go to co-ed functions only. It’s easier that way. I’ll admit I’m a bit bitter about it, but one day, I will be able to afford an honest life. Until then, my safe space is online.


19 10 2009

Hi, I’m just wondering where transwomen come in? Can they go to the woman/trans space too? Many are woman with penis’s…so I have read that there are some women/lesbian spaces that exclude transwomen.

I see what your saying. I personally just want to be in space I feel comfortable in and a lot of that has to do with how others perceive and treat me. I can be me in gay male space but if I bring a gay man home then I have to “out myself” as a gay identified man with a “vagina.” It’s not like I get to be in that space as a gay man only. It’s like I have a secret. I can’t help but wonder if everyone knew I was born female if I would be as accepted.

It is tricky. It is all very tricky. Nothing is ever going to be fair or ideal. I have no solid opinions in this area. I simply see your point and think it is an interesting topic to ponder and discuss.

I guess cis-gendered men have never had to work for a safe place to be “men.” They just get it. That is not the case for women or trans people of any gender identity. Surprisingly though, many cis-men feel excluded from “men” space. I see it in the “different men” group all the time. The so called nerds, the effeminate men, gay, queer and bi men don’t all feel so comfortable is “men” space. Any man, cis- or not that does not live up to societies “ideal boxed man” is often excluded or left to felt less than and uncomfortable in just about any male space.

20 10 2009
Jacky V.

Rogan – I understand. It’s hard to find a space to feel at home sometimes. And I can understand the feelings of dishonesty that come with letting people think that you are what they think you are when you know you are something different inside. But, you’re right, you do what you have to do to survive.

Edward – my experience with women and trans spaces is that trans women are very accepted. The dilemma with that phrasing is that it takes trans women out of the women category, or seems to imply as such, which is why I sometimes suggest: women (cis and trans) and trans-identified folks. It’s a bit longer but it avoids denying trans women the identity of women.

As for having a penis, the women and trans crowd I circulate in tends to not really care what is between someone’s legs. I have heard that this is not the case in all dyke spaces though and that is a shame.

I see what you’re saying about some cis guys not fitting into the typical male dominated space. And a guy who is not gay, bi or queer but who is perceived as “effeminate” in any way will sure have a hard time finding any space at all.

In an ideal world, all spaces would be safe for everyone, wouldn’t they? I would love to have a safe space where I could mingle with all types of people. As a bi guy, I miss playing with males. Yeah, there are a few other trans guys in the spaces that I go to but there aren’t that many of us so not a large pool of people. The fewer the people, the less likely to find a match, right? But I certainly don’t feel comfortable in gay/bi male spaces. I’ve heard some trans guys claim they can fit in there but the ones I hear that from generally have at least had top surgery.

21 10 2009

Oh hey, thought this might be a story of interest to you, as a mom! http://www.bilerico.com/2009/05/genderqueer_mommy.php

26 10 2009
Mistress Maeve

Thanks for such a thought-provoking post and conversation. I’ve heard this topic discussed by various people at leather conferences, on blogs, etc — it’s just a very complicated and difficult issue.

I’m glad a couple people brought up transwomen. While I’ve seen many parties that try to be inclusive of FTMs (whether the language is comfortable or not), I feel transwomen get left out.

I have no solution to this quandary, but I can offer this: The most well-run party I’ve ever attended was SWITCH, a monthly party in NYC for “genderqueer/women/trans” held “behind closed doors” at PADDLES. I felt their language was all-inclusive, and I felt a wide spectrum of gender was represented at the party. They put a huge emphasis on safety and privacy, and I think that helped everyone feel comfortable.

The folks at SWITCH say gender policies make them “cringe”. They also say they trust participants to define their own gender and honestly assess for themselves whether SWITCH is the right space for them.

While their description doesn’t help people who want a “women only space,” I think it really reaches out to those of us who would rather break down the traditional gender walls and find safe space in a multi-gendered/genderqueer environment.

That said, allow me to say: I fully support women-only safe spaces (and male-only safe spaces, for that matter).

Again, such a complicated issue, but I wanted to offer something! Thanks again for a great post.

26 10 2009
Jacky V.

Rogan/Sneak/Mac/Gigi/Miranda: Thanks for the link!

Mistress Maeve: Thanks for dropping by and adding your 2 cents! It’s funny, I’ve heard a couple of times here that trans women get left out. Honestly, that’s not my experience with Montreal’s Unholy Army of the Night where all trans and genderqueer folk are welcome, or with the Unholy Harvest, a pan-Canadian gathering for leatherdykes and trans. But I haven’t played much outside of that circle so I believe you when you say that many places aren’t trans women inclusive.

Thanks for the tip about Switch. NYC isn’t that far away so I hope I can make it one of these days. Do you know how trans friendly Paddles is on other nights? I’ve heard of it before . . ..

Ultimately, I wish we could all have fun in multigendered environments too. But it’s like with any other forms of oppression: sometimes people need to regroup with people that have been oppressed in similar ways. That’s why I respect women-only spaces, spaces for People of Colour and so forth. As long as there is also space for people to mingle and that people don’t stay segregated all the time, I think devoted spaces can be a precious place for people to commune.

28 10 2009
Mistress Maeve


I’m not sure what Paddles is like on non-SWITCH nights. It’s a small space and the people seemed friendly enough, but I really don’t know. I can tell you that SWITCH, while small, was definitely worth the trip. The organizers were very cool.

Unholy Army of the Night? Sounds like my kinda party! 🙂


14 06 2011
Women and trans, spaces and concepts. | Dinosaurs in tutus:

[…] and community, I had developed these thoughts over a long time, speared on by writings such as T boy jacky’s about the importance of spaces like this for […]

2 12 2017
lou conrad

30yro FtM from Portland, OR, U.S.world’s-biggest-embarassmentA., here! I just wanted to say cheers to every word of this article! This was very well articulated, thank you for writing it. I wish there were more spaces with different varieties of “inclusiveness” as well. I used to go to a popular lesbian/dyke bar in Portland early in my transition but once I began to “pass full time” (for lack of a better term), for obvious reasons I became less and less welcomed there. I’ve gone to gay bars, the ones with drag shows seem to pull in the most open minded crowds regarding gender flexibility. I suppose that is redundant! But it can still be risky to make a pass at the wrong guy as a transgender person. Some of the most transphobic people I have met have been gay men. I once made the mistake of going to the trendy “STEAM” gay-men’s bath house without trying to hide my being FtM. I had been kind of spoiled with (clothing mandatory) inclusive queer hangouts and didn’t know to expect anything different at a clothing-optional one, so I just showered with the other guys. However, when I turned around, someone had knocked my towel to the floor. Later a guy in a jacuzzi invited me to “join the party”, but changed his tune as soon as my (new) towel dropped. He then blatantly told me girls aren’t allowed here, and when I didn’t leave he stormed off to complain to the staff (who im guessing did nothing so as to not discriminate–kudos to them). He came back and literally threw a tantrum, pacing and huffing, saying “OHMYGAWD!! Why is nobody doing anything!” like a bratty child not getting his way. I stubbornly waited him out. He left, and I covered up for the rest of the visit, then everything was hunky-dory. I would have left immediately but my ride was not ready to leave. Once I blended in again it was fine. I’ve had similar experiences when “coming out” to guys who were flirting with me the moment prior, so like you said, I don’t always feel that safe in gay-cis-male inclusive places either. I have felt more comfortable in women-only/predominantly cis-female groups, classes, and spaces as well for that very reason. I would also love to find a place where FtM and cis guys get to intermingle. But I don’t have time for “the night life” any more. 😛 I like that you just come out and say there is no phrasing that won’t be offensive to somebody given the sensitive nature of the subject, and admitting the flaw up front is the best solution to that. I don’t understand why different kinds of groups can’t exist without being boycotted and slandered as being unfair and insensitive to people of other genders and orientations. If there is enough variety allowed, everyone will have a place to go. I think there should be spaces specific to women, or to trans people, and FtM and cis males or females, mtf and cis females or males, or gay cis men only or gay cis women only, or gender fluid only, or whatever!! Because different people feel comfortable in different settings and amongst different groups of people for a reason, and trying to gender-neutralize absolutely everything is not an effective solution. It is not even realistic, it spits in the face of science to act like we are all the same. It’s like pretending to be “color blind” in response to rampant racism. We need to acknowledge and embrace that we have differences, lift each other up with our differences by allowing for them to exist, not tear each other down trying to act like there are no–and should never be–differences for the sake of being all-inclusive in every single social space everywhere. That’s nuts.

2 12 2017

Thanks for the comment! I wrote this a long time ago when I still identified as male. I ID as an androgyne now but I still feel the same way about there being a variety of spaces and levels of inclusion. Since I wrote this, I’ve seen different arguments about phrasing and the most popular one seems to be to list who is included: for example, women (trans and cis), trans men, non-binary folks of all genders.

I’ve actually drifted away from this particular crowd for a couple of reasons. One is that it’s become dominated by very young people. I’m happy for them that they found this community – I was nowhere near it at their age. But I don’t feel comfortable playing surrounded by people my students’ age. Second, I find the community has a lot of tension around accusation politics. It only takes one person to point a finger and accuse someone else of some kind of offence to brand someone as a predator and this person has no recourse to clear their name. Often these folks are on the “masculine” or masculine perceived side of things so I figure it’s just a matter of time before a finger gets pointed at me. Finally, I missed playing with cis guys. I’m dealing with burn out so I don’t go out at much anymore. So the few times I do go out, I go to queer and trans friendly mixed spaces.

Thanks for sharing your experiences in cis male gay spaces. You’re braver than I am! I’ve never risked it, especially since I haven’t had, and don’t want, top surgery. It would be very hard to blend in.

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