Picture it: a bar. It could be any bar, or perhaps it is a cafe. Elegant, pale-skinned men recline against comfortable chairs amid decor that is at least avant garde, if not always impeccable. Cell phones glimmer wand-like, lips murmuring platitudes or denials, incantations that invoke the lucrative urban deities of status and prestige. Perhaps a man here or there allows his voice to hover at an octave just a few decibels above inaudibility as he discloses salary or sexual proclivities, a catechism equivalent to the soldier’s recitation of military rank and file among this set.

The casual observer will note almost immediately the subtle uniform required for entry to this social tier. Youth is everywhere, flaunting its smooth cheeks and bleach highlights, a few scattered and self-consciously exotic types positioning themselves at intervals across the room as if by assigned quota. There are no wheelchairs, almost never skin darker than the faintest olive, and few words of broken English other than those of wait staff frozen into their servile positions by barriers far more formidable than language. Posters on the walls may boast of liberation and diversity, but there is more variety among those two-dimensional paper men than in this place.

A man walks in wearing business slacks and a neatly pressed, blue shirt. He is shorter than these Mayflower heirs, his hair a darker brown than the creamy lattes poised like handguns near a dozen slim trigger fingers. He walks to a table with high-backed, red leather booths filled with what appear to be his friends. He orders a drink. It does not matter which drink. A dozen thirsty eyes glide like tongues from neck to crotch, sampling this new addition to the menu. The lattes foam, frothing and neglected as the man joins his apparent companions.

Let us imagine this man laughing at the jokes of his companions, taller men whose angular, pale faces assure onlookers of their membership in this curious cult of image. The men banter about life and politics, their eyes occasionally darting toward their newcomer friend, as if expecting him to shock them or object to one comment or another. Let us imagine that the conversation turns to sex as it invariably does.

One man insists that he will not do without leather harnesses and rope in his encounters. Not to be outdone, his neighbour to the left recounts a daring adventure with his married college professor while the professor’s unsuspecting wife played piano in the adjoining room. Another friend regales the group with the story of how he met his current boyfriend, a museum curator who plays baseball on the weekends. They know this game well, their lines flowing seamlessly in tendrils of witty banter that stoke the firelight of this fraternal hearth.

After revelling in the dish and braggadocio of these able-bodied men, the observer experiences an increasing sense of discomfort, the source of which is impossible to pinpoint. The unaffected gestures and genuine warmth reverberating between these men entices the observer with its stark contrast to the vapid stares and machinating smiles at other tables. As the observer glances back at this table to admire these carefree, honourable brethren, the locus of his discontent becomes apparent.

The newcomer is cautiously restrained. He laughs at the right moments with the others, leans in toward each respective speaker like the others. Yet the stiffness of his shoulders, the solid set of his jaw, defies the smiles that never reach his eyes. The observer realises at this point that the object of his scrutiny has barely contributed to the discussion at all. Where are *his* tales of passion and lascivious encounters, his romantic rebuttals and denouements?

As if by telepathy, plied by the illusory sweetness of his latte, the newcomer’s shoulders unfurl until his posture more closely resembles that of his fellows. The smile fans across his eyes as he begins to sing the peacock melodies of his flock.

The men turn quickly away and back as their cheeks blossom to rouge. They shuffle in their seats, embarrassed. How did this post-modern Caliban manage to penetrate their selective clique, they ask themselves? Their car keys jingle reassuringly in their pockets to remind them of their successes in achieving the capitalist wet dream of conspicuous consumption. One by one, they withdraw their attention and their hearts, even as their vacant gazes focus on the newcomer and they nod, mutter ‘uh-huh’, their surface masks tuned in as they begin to tune him out.

Eventually, indifference yields to insecurity, at which point the remarks that give those shoulders their perpetual stiffness will emerge. ‘I would never sleep with one of you, but of course I accept you,’ a voice asserts, the others nodding with evident relief at this feat of interpersonal acrobatics. ‘I mean, no offense, but I like… real men.’ Another man chants the chorus of disenfranchisers everywhere: ‘I am fine with it, but you should stick to (your own kind).’ Another is even less subtle. ‘What would I even do with you? If I wanted a (insert term for female genitalia) in my bed, I would be straight.’

It would be convenient to imagine that these men are fictional extrapolations, garish creatures that bear little resemblance to the men I claim as fellow travelers, my fellow gay men. After all, the acronym ‘GLBT’ is tossed around so casually that even I am tempted to forget it is a lie. Recently, a gay leather contest in San Francisco became the subject of controversy when some trans gay men and those who respected them criticised the contest’s refusal to admit contestants who were not ‘born male,’ or, more accurately, who were not designated male at birth. During this controversy, dozens of public commentaries and responses circulated in gay publications. Online and offline, dozens of gay men expressed their bigotry, ignorance, and viciousness toward trans men who dared to claim gay identity and belonging.

There was far less outcry against the blatantly hateful and biased comments in the nominally activist gay public realm than someone versed in gay liberation rhetoric might expect. Several highly respected gay publications printed letters to the editor that read like Nazi diatribes with the word ‘trans’ (or various synonymous epithets) substituted for ‘Jew’. Even some gay trans men posted on listservs alleging the fairness of excluding them from activities for which they lacked complete physical equipment. Apparently absent from this debate was any mention of the politics of ableism or the inherent link between gay transphobia and discrimination against people whose bodies are different enough to preclude them from obtaining able-bodied privilege.

Having been deaf for a brief but memorable part of my childhood, I have experience as an insider to a deaf community. (I lack the arrogance to describe any community as THE community, as if all gay or deaf people were a united and homogeneous group into which all who claimed membership were welcomed.) My exposure to deaf activists and to the disability rights movement imparted an acute awareness of the interpersonal incarcerations people impose on those whose bodies threaten their sense of security or uniformity. Ableists express their body imperialism by examining wheelchairs while overlooking the vibrant and alert gazes of their inhabitants. They shout at blind people who have perfect hearing because they have placed all of the body diverse into a greyscale box of Otherness that lacks room for distinction or nuance.

One ubiquitous complaint voiced by gay people in heterosexual environments is that they are viewed as sexualities first and as complex human beings second, if at all. A similar complaint is echoed in disability rights forums by people who are frustrated by being constantly treated like walking medical conditions instead of as potential friends or colleagues. Trans people have only recently begun to learn that it is acceptable to assert our right to exist at all, and so the corresponding complaint is uttered far less frequently than it is experienced.

When trans men talk to me about oppression, they often begin by questioning their right to be upset about transphobia at all. Like men in the disability rights community who challenge the social castration and psychic emasculation they experience as a result of ableist assumptions that they are asexual, gay trans men must contend with gay male communities that will accept their hours of labour for fundraisers and spout their tokenistic acceptance with hollow acronyms, while refusing to admit them as full equals by opening their hearts- and beds- to gay trans men.

How tragic and ironic that gay men, whose historic oppression should afford them a unique empathy for trans men seeking to belong among other gay men, have positioned themselves as oppressors now that they have finally discovered men whose masculine legitimacy is even more embattled than their own. Despite the staunch denial by many gay men that their sexual and romantic preferences have anything to do with transphobia, the personal is political, as gay men in the disability rights movement continue to assert. There is a significant conceptual difference between rejecting a potential lover based on known facts and doing so without knowing the relevant facts. Men who categorically reject the possibility of sleeping with- or, even riskier, of loving- a trans man are not expressing a sexual preference on a par with being into leather or liking older men. The sweeping generality of a blanket ban on trans men lovers implies fear, insecurity about their masculinity or orientation, fear of difference, fear of the Other: Transphobia.

I am not suggesting that gay men disregard their sexual or romantic attractions to force themselves into encounters with trans men. In particular, I am thinking of the many gay men who reluctantly admit to me and to others that they have been attracted to trans men before, but that of course they would never consider exploring that attraction once they discovered their estwhile paramour’s trans status. To these men I say, challenge your transphobia and your ableist privilege. Stop building barriers to keep your brothers- your gay trans brothers- out of your mysterious and wondrous male Jerusalems.

Gay Jewish men and the GLB’T’ Jewish community have not demonstrated any less transphobia than the ableist contingent of the San Francisco leather scene. After devoting over five years to gay and lesbian- nominally ‘GLBT’- Jewish community service, I have grown accustomed to the precarious paradoxes of my role. I have served as a board member, project coordinator, and committee chair for diverse endeavours designed to create inclusive and affirming environments for ‘GLBT’ Jews. After five years, I am still unable to join general flirtatious banter among my supposed brothers without blunt and stinging reminders that- at the core- I am not accepted as one of them.

It is not about my appearance. My full beardline and unmistakably male face are not the problem. None of these men has ever seen me disrobed, nor would any of them be able to correctly ascertain the current state of my anatomical attributes from our interactions to date.
Many have even expressed sexual and romantic interest in me before- until one of their companions smoothly ushers them away from whatever conversational interlude we were sharing, murmuring low into their ears until their eyes narrow into divining rods that prod along my clothed silhouette, revealing newborn questions that have killed desire.

In his frank examination of gay racism and Black gay male empowerment, Black gay activist and filmmaker Marlon Riggs asserts that “Black men loving Black men is a revolutionary act.” Trans gay men loving other trans gay men is also a revolutionary act. But it is not the act that completes my gay trans revolution. I refuse to be forced into a sexual ghetto, a separate but (un)equal status, by gay men whose stated tolerance of gay trans men is rendered suspect by their ableist notion that I should only be allowed to consider other gay trans men as potential partners. Some gay men have even blatantly said, to me and in print, that they ‘have no problem with transgenders (sic) as long as they join their own groups and they can date other transgenders.’ I refuse to be barred from an entire dating pool simply because I was born with an anatomy and designation that differ from how I choose to configure my body and soul.

For me, being a gay trans man and refusing to tolerate gay or lesbian transphobia is a revolutionary act. I accomplish this act every time I attend a community service meeting at which a non-trans gay man expresses his ableism by stating that he is the only ‘real’ man present, or a non-trans gay or lesbian leader informs me that I cannot count as a gay man for demographic purposes because I have not had ‘the lifetime experience of being raised male.’ I commit to this revolution by challenging the sheer audacity and presumptiveness of any non-trans gay or lesbian person who would dare to decide for me what my life experience has been and how it will be catalogued in their imperialist gallery of token Others. I build my revolution by calling gay men on the transphobia that allows them to dismiss me or tolerate me without genuine affirmation. I revolt by refusing to accept the ableist notion that I am ‘a flawed, disabled freak who should go away and mate with the other flawed, disabled freaks’ without disturbing the ableist landscape of youth-obsessed botox bunnies and steroid musclequeens.

I hold gay men accountable when they fail to speak out against trans oppression in gay environments, for laughing at trans jokes and for promoting stereotypes that all trans guys are just misguided lesbians who don’t belong in gay male space. I hold gay men accountable for creating an environment where most gay trans men are more stealth (the trans equivalent of closeted) among other gay men than around straight people. I challenge the ableist privilege that allows gay men to deny the beauty and legitimacy of the same gay trans men who fight for non-trans gay men’s rights to love and live as equals. What, exactly, are we fighting for if not freedom for ALL gay (and bi) men?

Being trans is not my disability. My disability is that I have allowed gay male transphobia to infiltrate my consciousness, to cast me as an unseemly Other even in my private erotic productions. My disability is that, when I sit among you- among gay men at a committee meeting- and listen to your transphobic comments, I feel like something is wrong with me instead of with you. My disability is that I have allowed your transphobia to convince me that I am incomplete, unworthy, dickless. I have allowed you to desexualise and objectify me as an emblem of your activist sincerity. I have permitted all of these travesties and more because I believed the lie that my trans experience made me lesser than you, less of a man, less human, even. You spread this lie every time you ridiculed trans men or tried to police my mannerisms to detect whether I walked, talked, ate, breathed to your specifications.

You, my brothers, I accuse you of the silence that you claim equals death for not welcoming me, defending me, affirming me and those like me. You who offered me the choice between the mask of invisibility and the mask of a grotesque circus performer that was no choice at all, I accuse you. I accuse you of denying my existence because to recognise me would be to recognise the inner fragments of your tortured masculinity, to open fresh scars of homophobia and misogyny that you dare not face.

What do you see when you catch my gaze, brother? Is it the slow and seething torment of imprisoned flesh, a hideous elephantine chimera that steals your thoughts and renders you impotent? Or do you see what I see, what I feel… the sensual limbs of a man who shares your hungers for intimacy with other men? Do you see that we are both beautiful, male, whole?

Trans men loving trans men is a revolutionary act.

But gay men loving other men- whether they are trans or not, whether they are gay or bi- is the act that will bring our revolution the unity we require for Victory.