Real Trans (In)Visibility by Joshua Cole

There was a time when I spent a lot of energy fighting to prove my masculine identity despite my female appearance. Now, I exert energy on reminding the world of my transness, because it often goes unnoticed or forgotten. Only five years ago, I was stared at every day for presenting as a boy who was obviously female. Now, I look and sound like a boy, so I’m assumed to be one. Most of the time, I am completely invisible. Sometimes, I’m only partially invisible, because I am more often than not, read as a gay man. Although it is not entirely accurate because I don’t date non-trans men, being read as such is somewhat validating because it is still a visible queer identity. More than that, it’s a queer masculine identity, and that’s me. I don’t identify as gay, but I’m definitely a queer guy, so "gay guy" is closer than just "guy" because "gay" is part of the queer community to which I belong.

I try to be visible as a transman, but that is basically impossible even though I don’t bind (chest binding is something pre-op or non-op FTMs sometimes do in order to create the appearance of either a male chest or a non-female chest.) I’m very small-chested, so people never notice that I do actually have breasts, because people who don’t know me usually stop at the sight of my facial hair and the sound of my baritone voice. Before I could grow the hair, the combination of the voice (which came much sooner than the facial hair,) and my visible Adam’s apple was more than enough. Eyes don’t wander further down unless the boy audio clues aren’t there. The most I can do to be visible is talk about it, and I do that a lot. It is important to me because it is an uncommon experience, and my identity doesn’t fit the norm. There are a lot of trans people who don’t fit the typical classifications of a binary gender system, and many of us still transition physically anyway. Though you can’t see us as easily maybe, we’re still gender variant. However, not all of the trans people who medically transition, hold onto the trans/queer identity once a level of passability is reached. For some, it is a matter of personal safety, and for others it’s just a comfort factor. For some when transition is completed, that’s it. Not all trans people are activists and not all of us are queer just because of our atypical physical experience. Some transguys are just guys, but I am not just a guy.

I consider myself different than people who were assigned male at birth because well, I wasn’t. That is based solely on primary male physical traits, and I don’t have those. Many find offense to classifying the difference between transmen and male-assigned, male-identified men as "bio men," meaning "biological men," as some consider themselves equally biologically male. It could also lead to dimensions of power and "realness."

However, while my secondary masculine physical traits now create an illusion of complete maleness, I consider my difference constantly as a source of strength and a gift of wisdom many will never know. I am that guy who knows what menstrual cramps really feel like. How many guys do you know who even want to talk about menstruation? But in lacking those primary male traits, I also lack the socialization of that assignment and of course the physical experience. For many trans people, body image is incredibly painful, and I certainly have had my share of discomfort, but not all trans people hate our bodies, as might be a common misunderstanding. Discomfort yes, hate, not necessarily.

To many FTMs, it is incredibly disrespectful to their male identities to think of them in any way different than other men. I cherish my trans identity, consider myself differnent than a male, and wish to be visible as a transman while at the same time receive the due respect of my queer masculine identity that lives inside a person who was assigned female at birth. I transitioned medically because I am not a woman, and now, no one assumes that I am.
All images and content copyright © Joshua Cole 2007. All Rights Reserved.

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