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Toxicity Within LGBTQIAP Spaces

To what extent does the "bullied" become the "bully?" How do community members engage in this behavior without maybe even realizing it?

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When I came out, I felt alone. To put it in metaphorical terms, I felt like people abducted me in my sleep one day and put me alone in a sail boat and pushed me from the shore. But instead of providing me with a current, they just watched me sit in the still water and analyzed my every move.

I got asked many questions by my parents, friends, classmates, and professors about my body, identity, and even my future body and identity. As much I wanted to be just "a normal boy", that wasn't possible.

The moment I entered college, a woman who I never even knew, turned to my soon-to-be-friend and told her I was "really a girl".

I tell you this because I have been conditioned in many queer and trans "empowering" spaces to share my trauma as some sort of social cue that I somehow get the complexity of gender as other people. I have several more stories about the trauma I faced for specifically being a transgender man in Northwest. Louisiana. Even though I am past that stage of my life, I still get defined by that experience by having to share it as to show somehow--I know what I am talking about.

But all it really proves is that I was a southern queer who faced a lot of violence from all sorts of levels and people. It says nothing about how well I build spaces or empower people.

Luckily, in college I was surrounded by loving transgender people who built space with me. We did intergenerational work. We didn't shame other transgender people for using the word "transgendered". We discussed accessing bus stops so that our spaces could be better suited to "po' folks". We did ride shares. We helped people find clean needles. We fed each other, we clothed each other--and we even bathed others after surgery.

I thought that sort of community building was just necessary work. I never sat and evaluated it until I started to travel. As I climbed the social ladder from white trailer trash to more affluent white gentleman (but honestly, still trash in a lot of ways), I got exposed to different sorts of community building in LGBTQ+ spaces and I met some really, really toxic people.

I still encounter those people. And I continue to encounter people who have awful experiences with those people. I have outlined here types of people I have encountered and heard from others, who are poisoning our community in ways straight and cis people couldn't even begin to do harm. Honestly, it has to stop.

1. The Overzealous Ally

My most recent experience with this was at the Philly Trans Health Conference. I gave a research talk based in a colleague's project, but half of it was a workshop of my design. I broke people up into groups and got them to really think about research questions that could really benefit trans people, instead of just seeing them through a cisgender microscope (meaning just poking and proding them for questions that cisgender people think are important).

A cisgender lesbian took up way too much space. She spoke over the transgender people in the room who wanted to speak. She took a space meant for transgender people to really grow and empower each other, and wanted to ask inappropriate questions. She dominated the space.

(This is by no means to degrade people who legit want to learn, but there is a time and a place for everything).

It ended up making the transgender people in that group feel isolated. Instead of just listening, that woman chose to share her sob story of how "hard" it is to be an ally to trans people.

But I have seen this stereotype play out. The mother of a gay boy who speaks more than the gay boy himself. The ally who just really, really wants to learn about trans people so comes to our board game night. We just want to eat pizza with friends but they want to put us under the microscope to answer their questions.

This person is toxic: plain and simple. Not because they are uneducated, but because they do not know how to read a room or a space. If they want to make it about themselves, there are spaces for that, and they should not seek out spaces meant for trans or queer people only.

2. The Feminist Who Uses You as Her Argumentative Point

I wish I could articulate in each and every way my body is politicized. I often think that is the beauty of gender studies, it gives you the tools to understand this.

When I was in high school, and I looked up a book about feminism that included transgender men, it painted us "women who just hate their bodies and femininity".

Although I put that book down, others pick it up the moment I enter a room. Ciswomen will feel comfortable enough to talk with me about how problematic other transmen can be, how sexist they can be, without any recognition of their own privilege. They won't know anything about transmale culture, but they know to go for that argument.

And it really isn't about the argument--because transmen do engage in toxic masculinity very similar to cisgender men but it's about being used an object in that moment.

You become a political pawn for this person. I myself identify as a feminist, but I have been in spaces where toxic feminists want to use my identity and body as an example of their own argument about gender--even though we come from very different understandings of sex and gender.

3. The Sexist

I really shouldn't put "the" in front of this. There is a lot of femmephobia in LGBTQ+ spaces. Gay men who grab femmes without permission saying jokingly "oh it's okay, I'm gay".

Transmasculine people throwing transfemmes under the bus.

Cis queer women who think reproductive justice is something just for them, and if a woman doesn't have the same reproductive capacity as them--that woman is less of a woman.

Or even just the culture of throwing out the violence rates against Black transwomen as a tagline in an argument that doesn't actually benefit them?

There are several layers of this form of sexism, that both has to deal with sex but mostly gender and gender presentation.

4. The Over-Performer

As one of my friends so eloquently put it, the "queerier than thou". They think they define queerness and transness.

And if anyone represents any binary, they will laugh at you, not invite you to parties, and make gross assumptions about your politics.

Perhaps this comes from severe hurt from their past that they are projecting into their future. Maybe they were bullied for being to out-there so now they feel like others need to prove their "otherness" to prove they need access to space.

For example, recently I have found myself as somewhat of a "role model" for other transmasculine folks. I was helping a binary transman, who hadn't started hormones but wanted to, find spaces that could help him overcome his anxiety and depression. He lost his family of origin and was in severe need of community.

This isn't out of the ordinary, several people approach me with questions and I try to take time out of my schedule to help each person as best as I can. I will never feel as much brotherhood as I do for my fellow transmen as I do any other category of people.

But what once came up is that this particularly one, while reaching out for help, came across people who thought they defined transgender identity. Their definition was transfemmes only, who only represented themselves in a non-binary way. As a result, the person went to a meeting to talk about how he lost his family and instead walked into a space where transfemmes wanted to vent about how boys don't just get girls and how masculine identifying folks shouldn't ever come to trans spaces because they can't be "real" feminists (mind you, making assumptions about the socialization of boys).

And I felt really guilty. The boy went into severe depression and hasn't trusted other transpeople since. He became resentful towards "social justice warriors" and turned his back on feminism. It put a bad taste in his mouth and has ever since felt left out of spaces that should've really helped him.

But he isn't the only person that has expressed this to me. Several people, regardless of gender identity, have expressed the same frustration to over-performers within LGBTQ+ spaces.

There are many more tropes I could add to this list of toxic people within LGBTQ+ spaces. But this is a start in a hopefully longer and more multicultural dialogue.

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