Building Bridges Between Masculine of Center Women & Transmen

Krys Freeman - 2011 BUTCH Voices Board President - Chief Strategist - Conference Co-Chair

This article was written by Tehea Robie and appeared originally on OaklandLocal.com

A socio-political conversation with Krys Freeman feels exactly right.

It’s a journey to eternity at the speed of light. In fact, s/he has a timeless, elaborate comprehension of power relations and multiple systems of domination. On blaKtivist, her blog, Freeman writes about everything from solar planes and civil rights, to health reform and HIV. “On Haiti: Dear Journalists, Looting Doesn’t Exist in a Disaster Area” succinctly puts reporters on blast for being “contextually inappropriate.”

Freeman earned a degree in Urban and Environmental Policy at Occidental College. S/he was born and raised in Flushing, Queens, in a three-parent (grandparents and mother) household. Her grandfather and mother passed down an interest in computers. Freeman works her/his tech-savy swag as a web project manager. S/he serves as [Board President and Chief Strategist] for BUTCH Voices and has been published on AOL.com, wiretapmag.com and Sustainable Life Media.

In 2008, Freeman was a media fellow for communities of African descent at GLAAD – Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. Currently, s/he has started developing a social network – The Definition – for masculine of center women, trans men and their allies. The site has links for testosterone self care, how to get compression vests and links that teach people transgender terminology.

“When I was working for GLAAD, I needed an outlet for being able to speak my opinion,” Freeman said. “I didn’t see a lot of masculine of center (MOC) women, women of color or trans people of color there. A fellow at GLAAD was my first trans friend. I learned a lot about my own lack of knowledge around trans identity.

“I wanted to build a bridge between MOC women and trans men. There’s so much that is similar about our identity, but I was hearing a lot of negativity between the two groups,” s/he continued. “That troubles me, because in the outside world … people don’t see any difference between butch women and trans men (if they can tell). We need to know more about each other. We need to know how to engage each other, in a way that’s not confrontational. I started The Definition and very timidly opened it up to people. I set it up in February and didn’t open it until August.”

Freeman giggled and shrugged her/his shoulders.

“I’m too shy! It was funny, because I was like … wait, is it done yet? Do I need to do something different? Is this going to work? Are people going to like it? I held on to it and only showed it to a couple people. Do you want to join my website? Will you tell me what you like and don’t like about it? I was really shy.

“Then I went to the National Black Lesbian Conference. They had a butch session. It was the best session I’d ever been to because for a long time, I’d been feeling like I didn’t have masculine women friends or trans friends at all, and now I was surrounded by butch women! I and another person were the youngest people in the room. There were all these elders there. They asked us ‘What do the youngins need from the elders?’ It was hecka cute. They were holding us. They started an email group. I asked them all to join the Definition so that we’d have a way to talk to each other. They were my beta testers.”

Freeman remembers having crushes on women as a wee thing. Her/his kindergarten teacher was the first. Her/his masculine of center tendency showed itself early on. At seven, her/his grandparents divorced.

“Suffice it to say that it was a hard period in my life. I sort of became the “man” of the house. I would fix things, make my mom and grandma breakfast for Valentine’s Day and their birthdays and want to fight folks who made them cry.”

Freeman still carries a bit of this essence … that of the loyal offspring, the good kid, the gentle, young protector.

If s/he were my child, I would say: You are less of what you fear and you are more than you know. You are a parent’s greatest expectation delivered – dutiful, respectful and fully present, with your priorities in the right place. You sustain yourself securely; you give openly of your talents to the community. You were raised right. And here’s the proof – you are moved to move in the truth.

The people I value most in this world are the ones who can see outside their own identity. Freeman, being fluid, feels beyond her/his own pain.

“Who’s more masculine, who’s more feminine? These are static ways of looking at people,” S/he said with a sigh. “Many women have this idea, ‘because I’m a feminist and I’m butch, a trans man’s choice to modify how he walks in the world is wrong.’ I know a lot of trans men who are feminist. I think that feminism is about affirming our right to hold space in the way that we see fit. It seems counter to that motif … for feminists to critique a trans man, for how he walks in the world.”

Freeman also has encountered MOC women who get flustered and offended by being called “he,” and who blame the mis-perception on transgendered people.

“If you understand it better, maybe that will make you less adverse. Maybe you’ll be able to take it from a space of conflict, to a teaching. ‘No, that’s not my identity, but here’s what you might want to know about it.’ Or, ‘No, I’m not trans, but these are my brothers. I’m not trans, but there’s nothing wrong with being trans.’ That’s what I want … dialogue.

“The other day I was sitting at a table working. A guy said, ‘Hey brother, can I take that chair?’ I don’t flinch, when people use a certain pronoun to refer to me. I don’t challenge it. I’m interested in how people conceptualize me in the world, in terms of gender. Where I ‘pass’ and where I don’t.

“But then he looked me in the face. He flinched and froze, for a second. Was kinda like, ‘shit!’ Then he paused. He might have paused because we’re in the Bay Area, where people are a little more conscientious. I wanted to say, ‘It’s okay boo boo … woo woo woo!’

“We’re kind of conditioned to look at clothes and clothes make the man. My clothes make me a man. Until they look me in the face. Sometimes I pass. Then I’m just a pretty man.”

S/he is a pretty man. Freeman’s reasoning process is like the queer rainbow watching itself reflect and refract from multiple angles.

“I’m not tied to any label. I’ve never been. I’ve picked a couple along the way. I do it for the comfort of other people. I do it for the comfort of being in community. I identify as gender queer. If I said that in New York, people would look at me like, huh? If I was in New York, I could be AG.

“When I’m in L.A., I’m not a AG. In LA., I’m a stud. In the Bay, I’m still a stud, sorta. In circles where there are elders, it’s butch. If it’s primarily a white circle, it’s butch. I don’t even like to call myself a lesbian because I feel like it’s politicized. Well, I could be. Some people think I’m a lesbian. It’s a fair assumption. I like women.

“I do this work as a way of rebuilding myself. Because I have the access, the privilege and the brain space to try and manage it. I float. I float. And I’m sort of a chameleon so I tend to use the language of the people that I’m speaking with. Code switching is what they call it.”

Listening to Freeman bounce around her own mind, I remember. This is what a rainbow is: it’s an array of rays glowing down from our nearest star. It’s water getting in the way. It’s an optical phenomenon without an exact location. It’s what happens when meanings intersect.

It’s not a commodity, or a ring, or a flag, or a marketing tool.

It’s water getting solar-drenched. The rainbow, in all its contradictions, is one hundred percent … natural.