A Love Letter to Girlfags

[this post assumes a modicum of familiarity with trans terminology – such as “assigned-male” and “assigned-female” as well as “nonbinary”]

[a girlfag is an assigned-female person who sees part of her sexuality as being similar to a gay man’s]

[this is a somewhat girlfag-focused post, but a majority of the advice should be useful for guydykes and gender-questioning people as well]

[obvious warning for homophobic slurs is obvious, but nonobvious warning for discussion of transmisandry and transmisogyny is nonobvious]

No one is really sure what to do with girlfags. Some people have (predictably) yelled at them for being straight girls appropriating male queerness. Other people have written strange yaoi-focused analysis posts on them. Still others have written long blog posts translated entirely from German or framed as “Girlfags: This is Some Weird Shit, Man” .

So, as a supporter or girlfags and a former girlfag myself, I thought that I might like to add to the discussion and to perhaps help along some girlfags desperately searching the interwebs for something to relate to. There is a certain dearth of helpful advice aimed at girlfags (though there is a girlfag group on LiveJournal that’s occasionally interesting!), and I’d like to fill the gap.

1. We should really change the fucking name. I have never read a single article where anyone, including girlfags, thought the name was a good idea, and by God I have read a lot of articles about girlfaggery. (I had to click to the second page of Google results. I was that desperate. It was tragic.) At this point, no one likes the name, it’s pointlessly inflammatory, and if I have to read one more article talking about the name’s origins I’m going to forcibly erase all mentions of “girlfag” from the Internet by means of Unfriendly AI.

One of the major reasons that “Girlfag” is a pretty terrible name is that it predisposes people to thinking we are a bunch of str8 white girl homophobes. I suggest that we change this to gaymale woman, as that mirrors the German schwul-woman appellation, and additionally it does not include a homophobic slur, which is always a plus.

“Guydyke” might be okay since dyke has been reclaimed to a larger extent, but it also seems to imply homophobia. I suggest we amend this to male lesbian or lesbian man. These will still be controversial – the major issue at stake here is sexist and transphobic ideas – but these words have the advantage of clarity and also of not being homophobic slurs.

Did I mention that the word “fag” is a homophobic slur?

(Because the word “fag” is a homophobic slur.)

2. It is not homophobic to be drawn to effeminate gaymale stereotypes.

The articles I read often tried to divide girlfags into ultra-feminine and masculine. The ultra-feminine girlfags often talked about feeling like extremely gay men.

And hearing them talk about that was one of the most validating things I’d ever felt in my life. There had been multiple times when I’d felt like an extremely effeminate gay man, and until these gaymale women shared their experiences no one had ever told me it was not only okay, but also real and legitimate to feel like an effeminate gay man.

For example, whenever I wore a blouse or a skirt, I felt like this absolutely fabulous man:

agador

…who is also the page image for the tvtropes article on Camp Gay stereotypes.

Everyone agrees that gay stereotypes are bad. Some gay people are camp. Some gay people are not. If you’re writing a book and your only gaymale character is camp, then maybe you should try to write a non-camp gaymale character in your next book or as an additional character as well. Or maybe you could flesh out his personality while still keeping him campy!

But having camp gaymale characters in media is not wrong, because camp gay men exist in real life too.

There’s something of a movement for fewer stereotypes in literature, and of course this is a good thing to support. But at times this movement implies that it’s not okay to be stereotypical in real life, or that people who fit stereotypes shouldn’t be represented in the media.

There exists a certain type of gay man who has declared, very firmly, that they are DEFINITELY NOT CAMPY and NOT THAT KIND OF GAY and JUST A NORMAL PERSON.

And, fine, it’s likely important for them and maybe it is necessary for them. And there is nothing wrong with existing and being vocal about it as a non-campy gay man, either!

But there is something deeply uncomfortable with purposefully distancing yourself from campy gay men and effeminate men.

There’s a phrase for this, and like many excellent concepts it comes from the black womanists. Respectability politics is where, in a quest for acceptance into “normal” society, a member of an ostracized group disowns and denounces less normal members. It’s the same type of dynamic that goes into “no homo” proclamations between ostensibly straight men- you don’t want to be a weirdo, and so you’ve got to distance yourself from the weirdness [1].

And maybe it’s necessary, maybe it’s politically the best thing. It’s not worse than a straight person distancing themselves from effeminate people, after all.

But playing respectability politics is a dirty tactic and a dirty game. It hurts people; and in this case it hurts effeminate people and often trans women particularly badly, because it denounces us and our identities. Especially for trans people, fear of becoming a stereotype can be particularly paralyzing- it’s an issue of wanting to be real, and a fear of failing to live up to a given gender through trying too hard -and the constant denunciations of stereotypes can sometimes hurt us. Stereotypes are sometimes the only thing you have to work from; stereotypes are sometimes what resonate with us; and stereotypes can be the ground beneath our feet [2]

So all this is to say that campy, effeminate gay men are not stereotypes of themselves, and gaymale women or questioning people of any assigned gender need not feel ashamed of wanting to be effeminate gay men.

3. There are infinite ways to be a gay man and you are allowed to be all of them.

Remember that division I mentioned earlier? The one between masculine gaymale women and ultra-feminine gaymale women?

That’s a binary– a division between masculine and feminine that doesn’t necessarily represent reality.

I don’t want to denounce it, since it is useful and it is validating and I am sure that it maps to some experiences quite well.

But it doesn’t represent the full degree of possibilities. Men, including gay men, come in more varieties than feminine and masculine, and if your experiences don’t fit neatly into this, then you’re no less valid for that.

4. Some gaymale-identified women feel less like gay men and more like something else.

I could propriocept my penis very clearly whenever I wore dresses, and after I realized this I took to sitting and standing such that my phantom penis would be in a comfortable position had it been real.

In these moments I felt less like a man and more like a woman with a penis.

This is part of the reason why I decided to call myself bigender- because I can feel both like a woman and like a man depending on the situation. You, the reader, might feel like a gay man sometimes, or you might feel like a woman with a penis, or you might feel like something completely different.

You’re allowed to have complicated experiences. You’re allowed to make up new genders for yourself or to identify as trigender or bigender or, hell, icosahedrogender; and you’re allowed to try shit on to see how it fits.

Also, the whole gay thing…

5. The whole “gay” part of gaymale didn’t really work out for me.

Okay, yes, I was attracted to men. I imagined myself having anal sex with men and having gay relationships with men.

But I also liked women and nonbinaries, and would have wanted to date them. I could only imagine relationships with women and nonbinaries as a man or as a woman with a penis.

If this is you, and you still want to identify partially or fully as a gaymale, then I applaud you. “Gay” is a label; it’s less about who you feel attraction to and far more about what you want to communicate and what you are comfortable and happy with.

But there are more options out there as well.

6. You are allowed to experiment with your identity.

a. You are allowed to ask for pronoun changes or name changes.

Again, this doesn’t apply to everyone, so please use discretion viz. outside circumstances.

But if you are in a trans-friendly environment, then you might be able to ask your friends, your close friends, if they will use a different pronoun for you sometimes, or a different name. If you’re not sure you can tell them that you’re experimenting, that you’re not sure, that you’re just trying it out – which you are!

(If someone tells you that you’re appropriating trans identities – and this goes for a lot of the other suggestions, tell them that I, the Reconstructionist, a Certified True Trans, have hereby approved of your actions for the sake of Science.

Also you can say that gender within cultures is not like interactions between different cultures, and it is impossible to “appropriate” someone’s gender if you are both from the same culture. [3])

And if you feel better when people call you by a different name or by a different pronoun, then that’s information about yourself. And if you don’t, that’s information too.

b. You can take bind, pack, take HRT and/or get surgeries for your physical feelings.

Binding and packing are both common things for trans men to do- binding involves making it so your breasts look flat, and packing is where you wear a penis under your clothing in a sort of harness. These are tried and true, and they are also completely reversible if you want to experiment.

(I haven’t tried either of the two due to financial issues, such as “saving for college” and “it would be very awkward to ask my parents”.)

And you are allowed to experiment! You are allowed to see what you like in a methodical, scientific manner; and if you end up as “cis, completely average ordinary cis person” at the end, then you are still lovely and I certainly consider you a part of my ingroup.

The other options have more lasting effects.

If most of your fantasies have been of looking like a “man in a dress”, if you have had sexual fantasies about having a penis, if you have ever wanted to become more man-like, then you are allowed to ask for testosterone treatment. You are allowed to ask for surgeries. You are allowed to do all of these things and still be treated as a woman.

It’s not plausible for everyone; there are numerous difficulties accessing good healthcare and numerous problems with social acceptance. And there are tradeoffs, both medical and physical, that must be weighed. Medical transition isn’t a step to take lightly or without care, and it’s not a step that everyone can afford, financially or physically or psychologically, to take. (See: Trans101 for Trans People.)

But it is an option.

7. The fact that this comes from your sexuality doesn’t make you illegitimate.

See, some of you (most of you? all of you?) probably experience sexual fantasies, with yourself as a gay man with a working penis. If this is the only “gender thing” you think you have, it makes sense to identify as a gaymale woman. And that’s completely valid!

But this could also be a manifestation of other gender things. This is fairly common in trans people; often, before physical and mental transition, some trans women in particular have sexual fantasies about being women or where they have vaginas and breasts. This is sometimes referred to as autogynephilia and viewed as a simple fetish, but trans women such as the esteemed activist and scientist Julia Serano conceptualize these fantasies as a valid expression of trans identity here:

…[W]e should replace the misleading and stigmatizing label “autogynephilia” with the more comprehensive (and less pathologizing) term Female/Feminine Embodiment Fantasies (FEFs).

Here is the rationale for this nomenclature: I refer to them as “fantasies,” because that is what they are: a type of sexual/erotic thought or fantasy. It is widely acknowledged (in both sexology and society) that sexual fantasies vary greatly in the population, and if two people just so happen to have a similar fantasy, it does not necessarily mean that they share the same underlying “condition” or are a similar “type” of person.[3] (In contrast, Blanchard argued that there are two distinct types or categories of trans female/feminine people—“autogynephilic” and “androphilic”—distinguished by the presence or absence of the paraphilic condition “autogynephilia.”)

The word “embodiment” references the well-accepted notion in philosophy and cognitive studies that our thoughts, perceptions, and desires do not happen in a vacuum—they occur within, and are shaped by, our bodies. As I pointed out in my book Whipping Girl (pp. 268-269), most of our sexual fantasies involve (at least) two bodies: our own body, and the body of the person we are attracted to (for a more rigorous exploration of this, see Talia Bettcher’s excellent article When Selves Have Sex). In fantasies centered on sexual attraction, most of the attention or emphasis may be placed on our imagined partner’s body and behaviors, but our own bodies and behaviors are nevertheless often present (e.g., we may imagine them doing something to our body, or our body doing something to theirs). In “embodiment fantasies,” more (or perhaps in some cases, all) of the attention and emphasis is instead shifted toward our own (real or imagined) bodies and behaviors.

Finally, the “female/feminine” in FEFs refers to the fact that aspects of our own (real or imagined) female body and/or feminine gender expression play a central erotic role in the fantasy (although other erotic components, such as our imagined partner, may also exist in the fantasy).


In the linked essay, Serano also links to articles about girlfags and to the yaoi essay I linked to before. (I intend no hostility towards Jack Molay, and I hope that it did not come off that way.) Not only this, but the theoretical argument for sexual fantasies as expressions of one’s idealized embodiment is quite strong.

(See also Serano’s essay on trans invalidations and sexuality here, her rather more political essay on autogynephilia here, and Andrea James’ directory regarding the autongynephilia theory here. Lynn Conway has also done extensive work on opposing autogynephilia, but unfortunately I haven’t read it.)

As of right now, there have been fewer essays and analyses focused on and by non-transfemale people of any assigned gender on autoandrophilia and autogynephilia. There are likely numerous factors that play into the lack of analyses on autoandrophilia [4], but I hope to aid in rectifying this dearth.

However, if you don’t see your fantasies as a manifestation of your gender identity, that is also valid.

If you want HRT or different pronouns for any reason, including a sexual fetish, and you think you might be better off with any of them than without, then I again encourage you to cautiously experiment while weighing the costs and benefits of transition. However, if outside of sexual fantasies you do not experience any gender feelings, then physical transition might not be the option for you.

(But see also here.)

8. You don’t need to do any of this.

There is more than one way to be real and more than one way to be happy. What works for me might not work for you.

Please pursue the path where your desires lie. While I no longer identify as a gaymale woman, I retain an affinity and affection for those who do.

Regardless of where this road leads you, I support anyone who is questioning and anyone who has ever questioned or felt insecure in their gender and in their label. There are hundreds of different genders out there, and if even then none of them fit the words are yours to shape to your will.

The world is your oyster.


Responses are welcome, as are questions.


Footnotes

(these are generally written more densely and less accessibly, but requests for clarification are welcome)

[1] – This dynamic has been extensively observed and categorized by sociologists and philosophers. The postmodernist philosopher Michel Foucault incorporates it into his theory of the creation of monsters outside of Derrida’s binary. Foucault’s theory is basically that when people don’t fit social norms, like binaries, they end up being seen as monsters. See also Julia Serano’s exploration of degrees of stigma here.

[2] – The fact that these respectability politics is centered around not being a sissy and not being effeminate is particularly telling as well. It’s an example of overvaluing masculinity and devaluing femininity, and here, in the case of girlfags and trans people, it combines with transphobia in a fairly complicated way to make us feel illegitimate. See Julia Serano’s post here for a more in-depth explanation of the way it relates to trans women, though some of the terminology at the link is, of course, outdated (and also not inclusive to nonbinary assigned-male people, as she acknowledges in her glossary released today). An appropriate moniker for the way this hatred for effeminate men manifests as it applies to girlfags, some nonbinaries, and transmasculine spectrum people might be misogynistic transmisandry (which differs from Serano’s usage of terms and which I will discuss in later posts).

[3] – Serano discusses extensively the way that “appropriation” has been used to harm trans women and bisexuals here. She also explores, in detail, the aspects that make appropriation harmful in some cases as well as the factors that lead to anti-appropriation communities. I encourage people to follow this link.

[4] – The following is not backed up in any way by data or empiricism. It is speculation based on my knowledge of society. Not all of these speculations are endorsed and I do not believe any of them particularly strongly.

I suspect that there are several factors leading to the emphasis on autogynephilia:

effemmemania and transmisogyny- transphobic critiques of sexuality have focused mostly on trans women, transfeminine people, and nonbinary people assigned male, due to society’s massive stigma on people perceived as men being feminine and therefore less-than. These also intersect with misogynistic slut-shaming to focus particularly on the sexualities of women.

a lack of a successful men’s rights movement– transfeminists have had to work tirelessly to establish a place for themselves within mainstream cis feminism, despite extremes of discrimination from cis feminists. However, the movement’s success made space in the Overton Window for women to discuss gender-based oppression. In the process of advancing its white cis focused goals, second-wave white cis feminism created vocabulary and academic spaces for all women’s issues to be explored. The Overton Window has not yet expanded to include a space for men to discuss gender-based oppression.

binaryism– nonbinary and transfemale/transfeminine autoandrophiles don’t make sense in a world of opposed binaries, so they have been ignored until quite recently.

internalized oppositional misandry in transmale/transmasculine and nonbinary people– the norm for men to not discuss feelings or non-normative sexuality may have been internalized by non-women identifying trans people.

[Note: I must credit Ozymandias Frantz at Thing of Things for their invaluable advice on transitioning and productive questioning of one’s own gender.]

3 thoughts on “A Love Letter to Girlfags

  1. the is bullshit. i am inclined to ddos this blog. using a term that objectifies the LGBT+ community to a value, an then in turn assigning that to a “girlfag” ideology. the concept of this article is frankly homophobic and dehumanizing.

    Like

    1. I’m not sure why you view this as dehumanizing or homophobic; the article itself is arguing against the term “girlfag”. As for objectifying the LGBT+ community- this allegation is unsupported, and you haven’t explained why it’s a bad thing for me to objectify the LGBT+ community.

      Your comment at present time includes very little argument; if you would like to expand upon your issue with the article I would be interested in hearing our criticisms.

      Also, if you were able to ddos blogs, it would not be moral to do this, because it works against freedom of speech and causes a chilling effect. Either you should attempt to counter this argument using arguments yourself, or you should avoid reading this blog. I am a part of the LGBT+/queer community myself and I do not appreciate you trying to shut down queer blogs.

      Thanks.

      Like

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