Diane DiMassa’s work, especially her comic “Hothead Paisan- Lesbian Homicidal Terrorist,” has served as a positive media representation for a lot of queer folks. Marginalized folks can still cause hurt to others who experience oppression, though. Following our publication of an interview with DiMassa about her paintings, I feel I have to address the pain she’s caused me and other members of the transgender community.
In 2004 DiMassa became involved in the controversy surrounding Michigan Womyn’s Festival, which has a policy of excluding trans women, when a musical based on “Hothead Paisan” was scheduled to be performed there (the comic contains a character, Daphne, whose gender history is left ambiguous but who many assumed was a trans woman). DiMassa was pressured to denounce the festival’s exclusionary policy. Instead, she wrote a letter in support of MichFest’s discrimination. In the letter, DiMassa is dismissive of trans women’s experience of oppression:
[Michigan Womyn's Festival] is for women who have been at the ass-end of life here on The Planet of the Apes their whole life. This usually does not apply to MTF’s.
The notion that cis women have a longer, and the implication is greater, experience of gender-based oppression shows a deep ignorance of trans women’s experiences. Many of us have been harassed our whole lives because we failed to fit into the compulsory gender binary. Not to mention the deep psychic pain of having to present and live a gender that is at odds with our internal reality, a truth often hidden even from ourselves. Using the term “MTF’s” serves as a reminder of our past public male identity, which the term legitimizes over our actual female identity.
DiMassa’s ignorance around trans women’s experience of oppression was more starkly revealed in an interview with Bitch Magazine</em in which she also defended MichFest:
It’s just fucking typical that a
man-born lesbian can’t get the concept of not being allowed somewhere.
DiMassa unfortunately fails to recognize the privilege that comes with fitting (broadly, no one really fits) into the gender category one is assigned at birth. At the same time, she suggests that trans women have male privilege, a notion that de-legitimizes our female identities and forces us back into the male box.
DiMassa’s work may do a lot of good for cis lesbians, but this does not negate the hurt her public, forceful, and repeated expression of transmisogyny has done to trans women.