“You are a butch woman, you dyke.”
“How dare you co-opt our male only space.”
“You came up in my search for females, you fag.”
The first is from when I attempted to join a trannyfags blog community.
The second is from when I requested to join a transfags online friends group.
The last came from a confused boy looking for girls online.
I have been on testosterone (T) now for 5 years. I pass full-time, without question or doubt. And yet, because I don’t self-identify as a male, I threaten many transmen and basically scare them so much that they are pushed over an edge where they have to go out of their way to take me down because they feel, somehow, their safety undermined (as though my identity has something to do with them.)
What makes me such a horror to them is that I look like them, and have experienced so much just like they have, but I am not like they are. If all that can be true, then maybe they can be like me, but who I am is not a person they can allow themselves to be.
It isn’t as if I fuck with gender on so much of a presentation level that they can separate from me. I don’t wear dresses or makeup or glitter. I wear men’s clothes and I wear them the way men wear them. I don’t bind, but I’m small enough to not need to. I pass exceedingly well, 100 percent, and I’m not trying. The testosterone did all society needed for it to read me the way it does.
So to many, I am a big scary monster. I look like them, but underneath lies the spawn of the devil - someone who appears male because of hormones, but doesn’t identify as a male and therefore, cannot actually be a transman. To those who believe this about me, I am not trans, but am actually a butch woman who has arrived to steal away the experience of transmen, invade their trans only space, and co-opt their language.
Without fail, the accusation is of being butch, which is something I have never been even when I did identify as a woman and as a queer woman. I am, actually, femme-identified, but that would just blow their minds if I even mentioned it, and then I’d be even more of a woman.
One of the transmen with this mentality told the genderqueer/trans group I belong to that he would like to educate me because apparently he knows how it all works, and I who have written, spoken, performed, filmed, photographed, and oh yeah, lived, obviously know nothing about being trans.
Okay enough bitching.
When I was first coming out, I very quickly accumulated a large network of FTMs and became close with a lot of them. I thought a whole world of friends was opening up. Everything was suddenly simple, where it was once complex. We were boys and that was all, nothing complicated there. Finally, I found a community that made sense. I would finally be happy and have friends who really understood me.
But even my newfound community had a set of rules. These constrictions related to hair, clothes, posture, vocal inflection, and general behavior (particularly in relation to interaction with people of fixed genders.) When I look at pictures and video from that time, it shocks me to discover that we were clones. We literally wore the same shirt in different colors and we all had the exact same hair cut. I found comfort in these things at the time. I felt like it was okay to be this way because others were now like me (or I was like others,) and I certainly wanted to remain accepted.
All these things, the clothes, the hair, the voice, helped me to start passing when I was pre-testosterone. Passing and testosterone were both things I wanted. But years later, when I was on T, and I was able to pass without forcing all these presentational concepts, I became much more comfortable in my femme identity and I didn’t worry about doing all the masculine things, like speaking in a monotone and standing, shoulders hunched, with my hands in my pockets, because nobody questioned my masculinity anymore. Without a doubt, from then on, I was perceived to be a man, completely. The major difference now, though, was that when I dropped the macho routine, people just thought I was a fag, whereas before, if I ever slipped, I stopped passing and people thought I was a dyke because I was perceived to be female wearing boys’ clothes and hair.
I do feel like I had to exaggerate some things to get my point across, initially, but I was able to relax a bit after the physical part was over and done with. Many transmen, though, never relax, and they never drop all of that presentation. Of course, it comes natural to many, but it is a conscious choice to many others, a survival method. And my decision to let go of that, threatens them. I can survive without it, but they can’t, and it seems scary to them. But because it scares them, it angers them. They become disgusted and are publicly rude to me.
I’m not exactly a raging queen or anything. I don’t prance around tossing glitter out of a basket, but I’m very comfortable being out as trans and I don’t hide the fact that I don’t bind. This concept can get sticky, though. I am too out for the stealth transmen, but I’m not out enough for the genderqueers. My comfort level is in a place midway. I like passing, but I also like remaining visibly queer. I would like to be read as a transman most of the time, but there are exceptions, such as: bathrooms, gas stations, and random locations like walking down the street or on a bus or anywhere strangers are withing hearing. A visible transsexual is more likely to disgust someone than to get a nod of approval from them.
Also, it’s not always appropriate to discuss body parts in the general public. Saying very loudly “I’m a transsexual” in the wide open isn’t exactly socially acceptable. It is also potentially dangerous. At the very least, it is asking for odd stares.
At the same time, if I were to exclaim this, my body would become immediately cross-examined. “Ah yeah! Small hands! There’s the proof.” Or “I can see your boobs today.”
It’s one thing to be checked out by an admirer and another thing to be ogled as a freak. Many people don’t mind being stared at, the whole “subvert the dominant paradigm” thing. I consider myself far from the heteronormative culture, but it’s a conundrum really. I don’t want to be invisible, but I do want to pass. I guess there’s a line between visibility and sticking out like a sore thumb. I just want to be treated like a human. The sore-thumb-sticker-outters are often blatantly discriminated against and harassed. I don’t have the energy for dealing with constant harassment (especially when I get so much of it from my fellow transmen.) This doesn’t make me weak.
I have experienced negativity, from some of the radical punk community, to my medical transition and inevitable passability. Interestingly, I got the same response from lesbians, butch women in particular. There was an accusation of selling out for white male privilege because I’m no longer harassed for sticking out. I don’t look “different” anymore. Some people think it’s the sticking out that is the activism itself. Personally, I think I’m pretty damned radical. I’ve lived two genders, and I talk about it. That’s radical if you ask me.
Oddly, my transition received flack from my father and male (gay and straight) friends for the complete reverse idea. They accused me of doing it for attention. I found this ridiculous, as I wasn’t sporting guaged body jewelry or a 3-foot pink mohawk, so there really wasn’t anything visually spectacular about me (except for my rakish good looks, of course.) I looked pretty “normal.” I looked like a regular boy. I was someone who rather suddenly didn’t draw much attention to himself.
My mom, at first, was very uncomfortable when I passed, because it was foreign. She was even more uncomfortable when I didn’t pass because I was obviously trying to and so I looked like a really queer boy/girl.
As if my world wasn’t small and lonely enough, some of my worst assaults have come not from the trans-masculine community at large, but from amidst the sub-culture of gay transmen. I boldly took on the self-identity of transfag for a brief time before I was told I was co-opting gay transmen space because I don’t also identify as a male. I identify as FTM, but apparently this did not appease them. I was completely excluded from the space after brutal verbal abuse.
Much of the controversy surrounded the fact that I am exclusive to transmen.
There are differing schools of thought on being trans. To me, they are as different as creationism and Darwinism. Some believe transmen are exactly the same as non-transmen in every way, except for the surgery part. The concept is that we have always been males born into the wrong bodies, and after a few snips here and there, we’re back to normal. In this concept, we have the minds of men, the thoughts, feelings, desires, emotions, and therefore the experiences of men. There is no difference, we are equal in every way: psychologically, sexually, emotionally, socially, and physiologically.
Another school of thought, the one I partake in, respects the masculinities of all those who identify as men, male-assigned at birth or not, but also considers the social experience of those raised as boys different from those of us who were not. The knowledge of society from the experience of a woman, even if it was only for a matter of years, gives a man a whole different perspective. There is also the simple fact that the bodies of transmen are not the same as non-transmen. We share secondary male characteristics, but there are things each of us knows that the other will not, menstrual cramps versus a kick in the balls for example.
This also leads into the experience of sex. We may all have dicks of differing varieties, but a transman’s biological equipment can have limitations in terms of penetration and ejaculation, but we are more likely to be multi-orgasmic than a non-trans man.
But truly, besides all of the physical stuff, there’s a bond I can achieve with transmen because of our shared experience. They just “get it” without any explanations. I know some really cool, respectful, validating non-trans men, but for me it’s just not the same. I just feel really comfortable with transmen. I do know some transmen who feel more trans with other transmen and it makes them uncomfortable. They prefer non-trans men because with them, they feel more male, more “real.” I feel that way with other transmen. With a non-trans man, I would be constantly aware of my physiological difference from him, and it wold make me feel inadequate and insecure.
The point is people see masculinity in different ways, but because I consider the trans-masculine experience unique and remove it, if only slightly, from the non-trans experience, I’ve been harassed by fellow transmen. I’ve been told I’m transphobic, that I am certainly not trans myself, and that I fetishize transmen because I prefer to date them over non-trans men. The fact that I segregate and would date a transman but not a non-trans man has been the cause of tremendous offense. I shouldn’t have to really explain why I don’t want to date non-trans men other than that I’m simply not sexually attracted to them when it comes down to it. People throw fits over this. It’s not my fault. I’ve tried. I just do not get aroused.
I was told by this group that I can’t be a transfag because, even though I pass full-time and live as a man, I don’t identify as a male (FTM isn’t male enough to this group of transsexuals.) Also because I don’t date non-trans men, I’m not really gay. They graciously allowed me to retain the use of the label “trannyfag.” Apparently, this term includes genderqueers and transmen who date transmen, so I already felt more comfortable affiliating with it.
More recently, a similar group of transmen treated me much the same. These guys aren’t gay, but are of the same generation and hold the same belief of being born in the wrong body (a concept I completely respect, by the way. I never quite understood the level of anger that came my way when I really never put anything out there except my existence.)
This time, the argument wasn’t about who I date, but how I present my body. I pass full-time as male, without question, but because I don’t bind or want top surgery, another uproar ensued. Again, I was accused of not being trans. It didn’t really occur to this group that I don’t need to bind because I’m very small-chested. It didn’t really matter, though, because these guys flew into fury before I could mention that part. In their world, one must get top surgery or plan to get top surgery to truly become a “real man.” To them, a man simply does not have breasts.
However, no one asked me how I see my chest. No one cared to listen to me say that I don’t consider my chest female at all, and that I’ve never met any problems with partners or strangers. The only people who’ve had problems with my chest were a handful of loud transmen who tried to make me feel ashamed for not binding because they were insecure with their own bodies and projected it to me.
What all of these people, groups and individuals, failed to consider was that my identity, my masculinity, my presentation, my transition, was all just that: MINE. I transitioned for no other reason than because I wanted to and have always wanted to. I wasn’t really considering the social ramifications, which are of course, important, but the most important thing was my own personal mental health and emotional well-being. Perception by others is a big part of it, but secondary to self-image.
After the fact of passing, I was more able to concentrate on my slide through social structures. I observe my position as a white man (perceived as gay and straight in different arenas) carefully, and am fully aware of it in every space I enter.
I make conscious decisions about things like how much space I take up, how loud I speak and how often. Personally, I believe this is how I can be a responsible man, accountable for the privilege handed to me. I try often to turn it away, but many times, it’s just there, and it is, to be honest, easy.
But I remember not having it.
And I won’t forget.
The trans-masculine community will continue to have great divides as long as there are those who only accept trans people who transition (or don’t) in exactly the same way as their own sub-culture does (or doesn’t.) As any marginalized group, we all look for comfort, safety, and support, but my experiences with many transsexuals and genderqueers have been, for the most part, anything but comfortable, safe, or supportive simply because I do not label myself a male and I currently don’t desperately want top surgery, but I am on testosterone. Regardless of all of my similarities, my differences (which I consider comparably minor,) excludes and shuns me.