Why Fragile Masculinity Is Killing Transgender Women

What Duval and countless men like him fear isn’t transgender women, gay men, or cis women, what they fear is themselves. That underneath all the “grab them by the pussy” and “I’d hit that” talk,” they are really fragile and terrified.

I remember my first bicycle. It was pink with purple pompons and had a basket with plastic flowers attached. I loved it. It was just like the one I wanted from the JCPenney Christmas catalog. My father didn’t believe in training wheels, so my brother and I had been practicing for months on a rusty old kid’s bike sans support (we had the scars and stories to prove it). But this was my first real bike. My own set of wheels. I felt grown.

My brothers didn’t seem to notice (or mind) that my bike was a ridiculously gendered hot-pink piece of metal. When I rode it, I felt like I was flying past them with my purple streamers flying in the wind. They may have been better at popping wheelies, but I was sure I was the fastest and most arrow-dynamic. Had Twitter been around, #BoyBye would’ve been my hashtag.

But me and my flying pompons came crashing down one sticky summer evening when the neighborhood boys came over to play as they often did. I didn’t have many friends who were girls. My brothers and I were homeschooled and most the kids we played with also came from large, homeschooler, predominantly male families. Three brothers, no sister, even our dog was male.

But I didn’t mind. As one of the older kids, I was rarely picked on and was often the leader. I usually felt like “one of the guys”—not so this particular night. The neighbor boys brought over their uninspired basic mountain bikes. I couldn’t wait to debut my shiny new one. I was fast. I was going to show them.

However, my arrogance quickly turned into anger when I realized I was the subject, not of their admiration, but of their laughter. There I sat, on my pink bike with my stupid girly pompons and my stupid girly basket, turning pink. I tried to chase them down, to show them how fast and tough I was, but their taunting persisted: “Here comes little pinky! Here comes little pinky!” I was seething.

I still remember how incredibly angry and hurt I was. I didn’t need them to point it out; I knew I was different. I knew that things designated “for boys” were cooler and tougher. I knew that I wouldn’t always be the fastest or able to hold my own in arm-wrestling. But goddammit I would try. I would be accepted by them.

Not that day. That day, I would be teased and heckled for being different. I knew It wasn’t really about the bicycle itself—it was about the bicycle’s color and what it represented. It was about the bells and whistles attached to it that screamed “GIRL”!

Girl: sugar and spice and everything nice. Weak and frail and too emotional. Shameful. I wanted to be a boy.

When I heard the comments made by Lil Duval about transgender women on The Breakfast Club, that same shitty feeling of being an embarrassment, something inherently shameful, came boiling up inside me: “If one did that to me and didn’t tell me, I’d probably be so mad I’d kill them,” Duval said. “I can’t deal with that … My mind, I’m gay now. I can’t live with that, bro.”

While Duval’s comments were first and foremost transphobic (and homophobic), they cut to and reveal the core of what it means to be a man in our culture. Duval was so upset by the thought of enjoying sex with a transgender woman that he couldn’t live with himself. Someone had to die.

The not-so-funny thing is, violence against transgender women is a persistent reality. A rather common occurrence played out by cis straight men in our society. Why? What is it about having sex with a transgender woman (and enjoying it) that drives fragile male egos to metaphorical and too often actual violence?

Because being attracted to/intimate with a transgender woman threatens the very foundations of what it means to be a MAN in a patriarchal culture such as ours: Because to have sex with a transgender woman is to be gay. And to be gay is to have sex with men. And to have sex with men is to be a woman. And to be a woman is the most shameful thing there is.

Author, social critic, and all-around American badass James Baldwin talked about this human tendency to other that which we fear in ourselves in the 1963 bio-doc, Take This Hammer:

“What you say about somebody else, reveals you,” Baldwin explained. What I think of you as being, it’s dictated by my own necessity, my own psychology, my own fears and desires. I’m not describing you when I talk about you. I am describing me.”

What Duval and countless men like him fear isn’t transgender women, gay men, or cis women, what they fear is themselves. That underneath all the “grab them by the pussy” and “I’d hit that” talk,” they are really fragile and terrified. They are weak like women. All the while their house-of-cards masculinity quivers and shakes in the wind. Even the slightest breeze—even that brought by, say, a passing pink bicycle—threatening to blow and tear their house down.

Obviously, being teased about riding a “girly bicycle” is kindergarten stuff compared to the very real threats that transgender women, specifically transgender women of color, face every day. But what both incidents underline is the deep-seated fear of weakness instilled in boys and men from an early age. In the end, their blustering betrays them—their very positioning and posturing showing them to be what they have feared all along.  

Jessica Schreindl is a community organizer and freelance writer in Seattle, Washington. She is a contributing writer for Mic.com and has been published on Feministing.com. She graduated with her M.A. from Syracuse University where she studied film history and documentary filmmaking.

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