Sissyphobia and the FtM community

When I went to my first FtM meeting I expected to find out more about local doctors, how to tell my parents, what to do about dating…basic, “I just came out and I’m bloody terrified” stuff.  I figured there’d be guys in all stages of transition and a variety of different personalities and gender expressions.  I grew up with guys, I knew how varied they could be and I assumed that trans guys would be the same.

Oh how wrong I was.  I showed up in layered polos and jeans, standard college-age apparel for where I was living at the time.  Almost as soon as I walked in a random guy came up to me and said I couldn’t wear pink any more because it’s a “girl” colour.  Another guy told me I needed to stop using so much inflection when I spoke.  Yet another told me to start wearing relaxed fit jeans even lower on my hips and baggier shirts.

The meeting was an hour long.  During that time every single thing I did was ripped apart as “too girly” or “too gay”.  Nevermind that I had stated in my introduction that I am gay, none of the guys at the meeting seemed to understand that that meant I’m attracted to men.  They were all largely the same person, early T guys who considered themselves straight and masculine.  They wore the same clothes, had the same hair, and hung out in the same places.  After the meeting they all went out to lunch at a diner popular with a certain segment of the lesbian community.  I was invited, but left before the food came as I was getting sick of them making jokes about an effeminate gay man who was seated a few tables away.  (Yes honey, I’m sure you are more “manly” than he was.  Too bad that’s not the same as being more of a man.)

It’s been long enough now that FtM meetings have changed quite a bit.  At the very least, most guys now know that you can be gay and trans at the same time.  However, one thing that hasn’t changed is the subtle disdain for any man who is neither genderqueer nor masculine.  There is an obvious answer as to why trans men as a group tend to have an overblown fear of anything that might be perceived as feminine, but there’s no reason for why we continue to allow it.  Misogyny is a fairly common after effect of coming out, but we certainly don’t allow that (and rightly so).

This is a particularly large problem for guys who are just coming out.  There’s a tendency to shelter ourselves within the FtM community when we first come out, something that’s fully understandable (I tried), but also leads to certain issues.  How can you develop a realistic idea of what cis men are like if you’re never around any?  It seems that most ideas about men within the FtM community come from the community.  I’ve noticed that at most FtM meetings there will be a large portion of newly out guys and maybe one or two who’ve been out for years and are fully passing.  Generally the only one is the moderator.  Of course there’s a skewed view of what men are like, few of us have ever interacted with any.

So how can we stop portraying all men as caricatures from the 1950s without also losing the sense of solidarity that comes from associating with people like yourself?  I’d start off with not berating the guys who don’t fit a certain image.  Don’t assume that the guy in glittery red Converse wants to butch up.  Stop telling people that in order to pass they need to wear one specific uniform.  Not only does it not work for everyone (I always passed better in tighter clothes), it also may make us feel more uncomfortable than dresses and heels.  Let people decide what kind of man they want to be for themselves.

That would all be helped by checking out all the different types of guy there are.  Turn off your television, get away from the sporting goods store, and go to the gayborhood.  No, not the lesbian section.  Go to a bookstore or coffee shop frequented by gay men.  DON’T try to get laid, you’re just here to watch.  Notice how they’re all different.  Some guys swish, others are more subdued, most probably don’t look all that different from the guys on a local college campus.  Don’t have a gayborhood?  Go see whatever theatre production the high school is putting on.  Find the nearest environmental group.  Check out an artsy cafe. Just get away from the stereotypically male areas and see what else there is.  Not all men are sports watching, beer drinking, hygiene lacking beasts.  Actually, most men aren’t.  Just like most women aren’t fussy, cooking, cleaning, vapid bimbos.

Really, that’s a great way of looking at it.  Every time you start to think “oh, well, men do [stereotypical thing]” switch it around.  Instead of “men sit with their legs wide apart and scratch their balls” think “women sit with their ankles crossed and fuss with their aprons”.  Sounds a bit silly, doesn’t it?  I’m sure some women act like June Cleaver (a friend of mine actually loves to and gets all dressed up), but most don’t.  The same is true for men.  Some men act like Tarzan, but most don’t.  For one thing, loin cloths get rather cold in December.

22 Replies to “Sissyphobia and the FtM community”

  1. I’m going to a brand new support group for trans women and men and I’m mentally preparing myself to defend my gayness and sissyness. I actually can’t wait to see if people have a problem with my gender cause I like to argue and all, but it sucks for the newly out to deal with this bullshit. I had to deal with it too and its the reason I stayed away from trans men for far too long.

    • I actually still go to trans groups (in fact, that’s what the next scheduled post is about). It’s gotten a bit better, but I’m not sure how much of that has to do with my passing ability improving (thereby making it harder to say that I’m not “manly enough”) and how much has to do with people actually learning to not be jackasses.

      • I think passing ability has a big effect on how other trans men police other trans men. When I went to the group tonight, it was fascinating. I was the only trans man amongst a sea of trans women who were mostly in the early stages. The ones who “looked the part” better talked the most and when they spoke, the other women respected their opinions more than they ones who didn’t. This one woman who spoke up about her gender being more than just about being feminine was ignored and I couldn’t help but think that it was because she wasn’t very far along. I wanted to pipe up about being an effeminate gay trans man, but I didn’t.

        Some couldn’t even refer to themselves as women, though all expressed that they were transsexual. The whole meeting felt like a weird trip in which everyone talks about their passing ability and how it affects their life, all while enforcing the same bullshit that cis people do to trans people when they don’t pass well. I kind of wanted to yell, but I kept my mouth shut. I felt very outside of all of it, as I haven’t spend much time lately around other trans people.

        • Be happy they didn’t assume you were just coming out. I had that happen to me once and a few of the women seriously started telling me all the same crap I got from men, only in reverse. There’s something about trans groups that just fosters gender policing no matter who you are, it’s odd.

          • Actually one of them did, but I take it as a compliment, I suppose. The therapist noticed and then brought up my being a trans man, so it was alright. I think I was a curiosity to many of them.

          • I’ve never actually been to a group run by a therapist. All the ones I’ve gone to are run by a trans person or rotating panel of trans people. Usually either people who are the out and proud types (those are always hell for me) or people who are in the in between phase where you don’t really *need* a group anymore, but aren’t quite sure what else you’re going to do with that time. I wonder if there’s any difference in how things are run. I know the ones I’ve been to would NEVER allow a non-trans person to run things, it would be seen as inappropriate.

          • Me neither. She seems really knowledgeable and several of her patients are in the group, so they must like her. After going I don’t feel like I need to go, but I might try it again, just to see if any trans men show up. The therapist felt bad that I was the only trans man and took me aside after it was over to make sure I came back. I promised I would, but I didn’t get anything out of it.

          • Yeah, I still go to groups for similar reasons. Don’t really get anything out of it, but every so often a new guy will come in and have the same not fitting in issue I did. Also helps me keep up with RL terminology, it’s almost always different from what’s used online.

  2. My experience was a little different. I was the only out gay guy there, but I wasn’t so much an object of criticism as of disbelief – like they almost couldn’t wrap their heads around the fact that me being gay meant I actually slept with cis men, much less that I was married to one.

    Also, I was the only one in the room not on T, but since I’m fully passing (thanks to my properly-fitted wardrobe and good non-lesbian haircut) they wouldn’t believe I was as old as I am – they’d assumed I was about 18 and on T for a while, not late-20s and just coming out.

    I felt more like a curiosity than a member of a support group.

    • That’s a lot closer to the reaction I get now. Like I said to Kian, I don’t know if things really have gotten better or if I just pass well enough that they’re not going to give me trouble.

  3. I think this may be more of an issue in the US than the UK where gay-identified and/or effemminate FTMs are not considered particularly remarkable. At least not in the areas of the country I’m familiar with. Actually, it’s the ultra-macho segment of the community who sometimes complain of being marginalised.

    • Oh it definitely was not nearly as big of a deal when I lived in London. Never lived in other parts of the UK, but London was frickin’ awesome. One of the first places I didn’t get questioned every two seconds and the absolute first place no one cared. I’d have stayed forever, but there aren’t a whole lot of work visas being given out for hairdressers.

  4. Pingback: Why I still go to FtM groups | Not Another Aiden

  5. It used to be the same in the EU, but things are slowly getting better. I have experienced very similar things as you Not Aiden. I find that since I’m networking with other gay ftm who date cis guys, we are able to challenge the stereotyping. The most important thing is to never be the only one, because I have found that when there are at least two of us in the room, people stop bullying.

    • My problem is that I’ve found several local guys who date cis-guys…and they’re all just as butch as everyone else. Macho-chic is kind of horribly popular in the area I’m in now so there aren’t really even any emo or scene guys. A few emo/scene genderqueers, but that just gets into the whole “ZOMG you must be genderqueer!” problem. It’s frustrating.

      • Well, being effeminate is sort of out of fashion even for cis gay guys right now – the only guys you really see being flamboyant are the ones to whom it comes naturally, and even some of those are putting on a bit of a masculine front.

        It’s part of the normal ebb and flow of fashion, I think – it’s just unfamiliar to those of us in our 20/early 30s because we grew up almost entirely in a time where both genders and all sexualities sort of gravitated to a central androgyny (feminine and glam in the ’80s, grunge, goth, or punk in the ’90s, sort of in-between retro, metrosexual, or scene in the ’00s). But the pendulum is swinging in opposite directions toward the extreme for both genders now, with girls aiming for some sort of airbrushed cosmopolitan long-haired perfection while guys are reaching for “urban lumberjack.”

        It’ll pass. It sounds like your area’s ahead of the rest of the country (we still have scene kids here in Seattle) so it might even pass more quickly for you.

        • Actually, I’m fairly certain my area’s behind. It’s quite a bit less urban of a place than I normally agree to live in, old stereotypes are very much alive and well. Not just with gender, with everything. White people in one area, black in another. No Latino or Asian community to speak of. Emo and scene are *new*, to say nothing of hipster.

          It’s not even really to do with fashion, strict gender divides are just how people in the area were raised. Women are mothers and maybe secretaries or day care staff, men go work in factory jobs and watch football on Sunday. For me it’s like stepping into a time machine, but for them it’s normal. Sure, women may like sports and cars, but they still have long hair and jewellery. Guys…well, guys can’t be anything other than masculine without serious harassment. I’ve been finding myself trying to tone down my voice and mannerisms without thinking about it. It’s unpleasant.

          • I’m in a similar situation – I’m now very aware of who’s around so I don’t attract too much attention. Also, I now have two distinct wardrobes – one for myself and when I go out to do gay stuff and one for just being around town. If someone looked in my closet, they’d think two different people were using it. I’m not particularly excited by the prospect of living like this forever, but I really don’t know what else to do to blend in.

  6. “My problem is that I’ve found several local guys who date cis-guys…and they’re all just as butch as everyone else.” (did they date cis guys before they transitioned, NA?)
    “Well, being effeminate is sort of out of fashion even for cis gay guys right now –”
    I have been thinking about this lately. It’s certainly true that we live in a time when gender has become neo-1950s *yuck*
    I’m the 1980s/early 1990s generation, and in the EU that meant first complete androgyny, and then even a celebration of sissiness, at least in the big town communities. When I came out, the gay guys I hung out with were either part time drag queens or had a young-Rupert Everett style. That wasn’t the old steroetype “gay behaviour”, but rather young guys who rediscovered gay history and proudly claimed mannerisms and gay language like polari. Sounds like utopia today, right? *sad smile*
    In the late 1990s, some younger guys started the straight-looking fashion, and claimed to be “not gay”. At first we laughed about them. Then some of the flaming guys I knew went to the US and came back looking like Buck Angel. That was a bit disconcerting, though the old virtues were still important. I need to talk about this with some cis friends, I’m really not sure what’s going on with all this- Lately I’m remembering that an old gay friend used to say that the queeny guys always get shit and less sex, and that as a gay guy you can’t move to a province town, because it’s hell. I should have listened to him 😉

  7. afterthought- it’s no wonder that many gay men and trans men are sissyphobic because their maleness gets challenged all the time.

  8. Wow, this makes me think that my area is really progressive. Granted, I haven’t been to any trans support groups, but about half of the trans guys I know are homos. The rest are heteroflexible — they have at least fantasized about or experimented with other guys — and they’re not out to police anyone’s gender. I only know one trans guy who is exclusively straight (he’s also married with a kid). I’ve talked to more than one guy who exclusively dated women before transitioning, but became interested in dating men after transitioning. Feeling more male made it more possible for them to envision fucking men than when they were afraid of being perceived as women.

    I feel really lucky to have been welcomed among the trans men that I know, even though I came out rather late, am gay and effeminate, and have not spent my whole life identifying as or looking male.

    • Ok, I think I get it now. You’re in a progressive area in a social group that has “reclaimed” certain words, but you’re not yet well enough hooked in to mainstream gay culture to be aware that those words aren’t universally reclaimed. And you’re recently out and you’re excited to finally have a license to be transgressive.

      For reference: “Fag,” “faggot,” and “homo” are know-your-audience-type words. This site (and most publicly-accessible spaces on the Internet) are not good venues for them. It’s reasonable to assume that they’ll offend any gay man with whom you’re not intimately acquainted, especially cis gay men over 30.

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