Response to an Essay in “Beyond Masculinity”

I’ve refused to read the essays in this collection simply because I knew they’d all annoy the hell out of me. I loathe the current generation of queer feminism, I reject the idea that I need to apologise for being a guy, and I don’t believe it’s necessary to spend every waking minute of every damned day analyzing “what it means to be masculine”. First of all, I’m not. Second, even if you were to take the more “butch” aspects of me (read: I like martial arts and was in JROTC) I don’t think they’d be considered exclusively male. My partner’s mom is more masculine than I am and she’s a perfectly happy, straight, cisgendered woman who just happens to like camping and working on cars.

However, this essay was linked in one of the trans communities I read so I broke down and looked at it (I couldn’t help myself, there were a ton of comments and I’m a sucker for internet drama).

I do not identify as a male, but as simply, FTM

And here starts the insanity. FtM stands for “female to male“. If a person does not identify as male then they cannot be FtM. Why? Because they are not meeting the second requirement of the definition. If you identify as “not female” fine, but don’t call it FtM. Call it FtNF or genderqueer or non-binary or something. FtW (female to whatever or female to win) is my personal favourite, but I’m a bit of a snarky jackass like that.

My refusal to identify as male scares many transmen I‘ve met so much that they are pushed to going out of their way to take me down. My identity, they feel, somehow undermines their safety.

Not really, mate. You’re putting way too much thought into this, not to mention making yourself out to be far more important than you actually are. We’re not afraid of you, we don’t think you’re going to mess with our safety. We just want you out of our spaces because you don’t meet the basic definition of being a transguy. Again, it’s right there in the name.

Simply put (and it is very clear to them,) transman equals male. What seems to baffle and miff them is the idea that in a broader sense, transman can include masculinity that is not necessarily male. Okay, now, hold on right here. Am I crazy, or isn ‘t that what FTM transgender is? An FTM can be a man who is not male.

Yes. Transman does equal male. Why? Because transman = FtM and male is right there in the definition. You seem to have some serious issues with reading comprehension.

Now, I have no problems with the idea that masculinity does not necessarily equal man. I know more than a few masculine women, masculine genderqueers, etc. I also have no problems with men who are not masculine (hell, I’m one of them). However, you lost me at the last sentence. Male is a synonymn for man (and boy and guy and a bunch of other words). A person cannot be a man without also being male in some way, shape, or form.

For example, I am a transman. I consider my physical sex to be FtM because I have female genitalia with male secondary sex characteristics. My gender identity is 100% male. (Man who is male.) A cisgendered man would have a male physical sex and male gender identity. (Also, man who is male.) To go the other way, a transwoman would not be male (or a man, obviously) because they’d have MtF as their physical sex with a female gender identity. (Woman who is female.) “Boy shaped” genderqueers could have a male physical sex, but their gender identity is not that of man. (Genderqueer person who is physically male.) Nowhere in there do you get “man who is not male.”

Traditionally feminine characteristics, be they performed outwardly or in my case, lived in my emotional experience, particularly as a partner (boyfriend,) are highly looked down upon by much of the trans-masculine community.

This is true and it drives me batshit. That’s a rant for another day though, if I started now I’d never get back to the original point.

I was suddenly expected to wear big baggy pants (preferably cargo) to hide my hips, big square polo shirts to give me a rectangular torso shape and hide my chest, cut my hair short but add just a bit of gel, stand slouched, shoulders curved to further hide my chest, hands in pockets, to emphasize the squared off posture, and drop the ends of sentences instead of doing what women and gay men do, raise them.

Yes, you were expected to do all of those things. So was I. I followed the “rules” for all of a month before figuring out that I was trading one hated box for another and started discovering out my own style. Now I wear pink and purple fitted shirts with fitted jeans (“Jeans are like the UPS man, they should always give you a nice package.”), rainbow shoelaces, earrings, and occasionally something over the top camp like my pink, glittery collared muscle shirt. I stand how I like, sit how I like, speak how I like, and act how I like. Why? Because I see no point in transitioning if I’m not going to be who I am. That doesn’t make me “not male”, it makes you too stupid to figure out that you didn’t have to either conform or stop identifying as male.

When I look at pictures and videos of me and my friends from that time, I ‘m shocked to discover that we were clones. Literally, we wore the same shirt in different colors and we all had the exact same hair cut. (Image here)

Of course you were! Look at 99% of teenage boys, they all look the damned same (teenage girls too, but we’re focusing on guys here). In fact, that picture could be of any 4 of the guys I grew up with. Transmen go through the same awkward teen years as cismen, we just tend to do so several years later. If you think about it it makes sense, we have the same hormonal changes happening as 14-18 year old boys and we’re just starting to learn how to navigate the world as men. It’s a confusing, sometimes scary phase of life, but it’s not unique to transmen. If anything the extra couple of years make things easier for us.

My comfort level lies somewhere in between — 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, like in bathrooms, gas stations, or on busses or, for that matter, anytime when strangers are within earshot.

I understand the desire to be visibly queer. I grew up in San Francisco and I identify very strongly as a gay man. Long before I came out as trans (or even knew there was such a thing) I interacted with people online as a gay boy/man. It started when I was about 11 and continued up until I came out as trans (at which point it was no longer necessary). I never changed anything about myself other than my name so I’m not sure it would actually qualify as role playing, but that’s how I justified it.

Again, that does not mean I identify as something other than a man. I am a gay man the same way any other 23 year old gay male is. I see no reason to stop considering myself a man simply because I do things that cisgendered gay men do all the time, it’s ridiculous. It perpetuates this idea that transmen are fundamentally different from cismen in ways other than genitalia and I’m offended by that. Which is also why I hate people who want to be “visibly trans”. Be visibly “other” if you like, but transpeople are NOT “other”, we are the same with regards to everything except what may or may not be in our pants (and in some cases we’re the same there too!)

I just want to be treated with respect and dignity.  I want to be treated like a human; an adult not a child; responsible not immature; a person not a sinner. The “sore-thumb-sticker-outters” are often blatantly discriminated against and harassed. While I admire their bravery, 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, as some quite visibly queer folks I‘ve encountered have scoffed.

This is just plain contradictory. You want to be visibly queer, but at the same time you claim you don’t have the energy to deal with the consequences. No, that doesn’t make you weak, but it does make you a bit of a flake. If you want to be treated like an adult you’re going to have to learn that sometimes you do have to pick a side.

FTM, to many, means the transition from female to male, starting in one place and ending at another. It is not intended as a place to stay, but is only the transition, the midway. The idea here is that the point of being FTM is to become a male, eventually.

Again mate, that’s where the “TO MALE” part comes from. Seriously, why is that so hard to understand?

Much of the controversy surrounded the fact that I am exclusive to dating transmen, and I don‘t date non-trans men. This group of transmen found this offensive because they believe to be considered different than non-trans men emasculating and devaluing. What they don‘t understand is that I highly value and prefer the masculinity of transmen, mainly because it is chosen and continues to be chosen at each injection day

This entire paragraph is just patently offensive. I don’t care if you like transmen more or think we’re “better” than cismen for some ridiculous reason, it is still saying we are different and I am not ok with that. I did not choose to be a man any more than I chose to have brown hair or an allergy to grape juice. It is part of who I am, a biological aspect that was programmed into my brain without any input from me.

I did choose to transition. I did choose to stab myself with a needle every week for the rest of my life. However, that was a choice made out of necessity, it was either transition or be miserable until I finally broke down and killed myself. I’m not sure that can be considered much of a choice.

Experiencing the world as a woman, even if it was only for a matter of years, gives us transmen wholly different perspectives — not to mention different kinds of bodies. While non-trans men and transmen share secondary male characteristics, there are things that each of us knows that the other will not (and perhaps cannot) know. It‘s kind of like understanding the misery of menstrual cramps or knowing exactly how awful a kick in the balls feels, for example.

I think that this is true for *some* transmen in *some* areas, but certainly not all. I was raised to do whatever the hell I wanted and gender roles be damned. Now, I did do some pretty girly stuff for a while, but I was also a huge tomboy. I modelled and competed in beauty pageants until I was about 9 or 10 years old. I also was a competitive in-line skater and started taking martial arts classes when I was 6.

I was the first girl born to my father’s side of the family in two generations so I was surrounded by uncles and older male cousins who I was expected to keep up with. I played with boys almost exclusively and the two or three girl friends I did have were just as rough and tumble as me. I joined JROTC in high school and was well known for maxing out the male version of the fitness test when only two of the guys could. I can knit, crochet, sew, and I adore cooking, but those are all things my guy friends could do as well.

I have never understood or fit in with girls/women. They really are like a foreign species to me with their over analyzing of the simplest things (no, really, your boyfriend IS just tired) and inability to separate sex from love (he was horny, it doesn’t mean you should be picking out china). I tried, but being a girl is not something I will ever be able to do. For one thing, I can’t stand about 75% of the female population (to be fair, I can’t stand about 75% of the human population). In most ways I respond to things the exact same as my gay male friends, when I don’t I respond the same as my straight male friends. So how exactly have I navigated the world as a woman?

I‘ve even been told before that I was transphobic, that I was certainly not trans myself, and that I dangerously fetishize transmen because I prefer to date them over non-trans men. My preference for transmen has been the cause of tremendous offense on more than one occasion. I shouldn‘t have to really explain why I don‘t want to date non-trans men; I‘m simply not sexually attracted to them when it comes down to it. I‘ve tried. I just don‘t get hot.

Here’s my issue: I like my men to like dick. Why? Because I’m gay. One of the fundamental differences between a gay man and a straight man is a love of dick. Now, there are the gay men who prefer the secondary sex characteristics (hairy chests, beards, etc) to the primary (yay penis!), but for the most part gay men like cock. If you don’t like cock then I can’t be sure you’re seeing me as fully male and I can’t sleep with or date anyone who sees me as even remotely female or other.

I also do think liking transmen, but not cismen is fetishizing. Some guys are ok with that, but the vast majority aren’t. Why? Because it’s loving a part of ourselves that we wish wasn’t there. It’s being attracted to the one part of us that we don’t identify with, meaning you’re not actually attracted to us at all.

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 knew this would come up eventually. It is one of the parts of queer theory and women’s studies that drives me the most insane. Has anyone ever considered that men “take up more space” because they’re usually bigger? Why is it that I suddenly have to scurry around trying not to bother anyone simply because I’m a man? I always thought it was enough to be polite and well spoken.

It really is a reverse form of sex discrimination. First women were the ones expected to sit quietly in the background, not interfering with “men’s work”. Then the first wave of feminism hit and women were clamouring for equality (which I’m all for, btw). We could have (and should have) stayed there where all women were allowed to choose for themselves what they wanted to do with their lives whether it was becoming an engineer or staying home and watching the kids. Instead we moved on to third wave feminism (second wave got squashed pretty easily, no one likes man-hating lesbians) where everything is about the patriarchy and all men have privilege and need to account for it. Bullshit. I am living my life the exact same way as when I presented as female. If anything I have less privilege now because people assume I’m a snot-nosed little boy instead of a driven, responsible woman.

I’m not even going to get into how no one seems to understand that effeminate men (be they gay or not) are treated far worse than masculine women. That’s an entire essay all on its own.

Essentially, this guy has managed to sum up everything I have ever hated about “FtM, not man” types and queer theory. It is people like him that make me want to be completely stealth for fear that someone will think I’m just as crazy.

11 Replies to “Response to an Essay in “Beyond Masculinity””

  1. Pingback: FtM vs Genderqueer | Not Another Aiden

    • It’s a pretty common set of beliefs amongst third wave feminist transmen. I was raised by 70s feminists, they don’t hold with most of what third wave feminists believe. For one thing, it’s so disempowering. There are gender roles and expectations in society so you simply say anyone who falls outside those norms is neither male nor female? Damn, the suffragettes and bra burners must not have been women then.

  2. hi again,

    thank you for writing this.
    I believe that I read the original essay somewhere, and had similar feelings.
    First of all– the author has every right to live his type of ftm and have his type of sexual orientation. that’s fine with me.

    but when starting to mix with the ftm community (after hanging out with gay men most of my life), I have run into the exact same conflicts that you describe in your reply.
    I seem to have a similar history as you, Not Aiden, in that I have always identified with guys (even though I have a feminist upbringing) and like cock and boys who like cock. I have never seriously been attracted to women, or only if they passed as men, and I have been usually disappointed that they weren’t “really” guys 😉

    during thelast years, I have dated some gay ftm who have displayed the same orientation/identification as the author of the quoted text. As they discribed themselves as “gay ftm” and I describe myself as “gay ftm”, I was expecting someone similar to myself. That wasn’t the case. Actually, I have come to the (probably simplifying) conclusion that there are two different types of “gay ftm” around at the moment:
    Those like myself who are male identified,and those like the author who are not male identified. The latter group usually has a “lesbian” or butch/butch past and identifies within that parameters. and as I said before, that’s fine with me.

    but communication is almost impossible. I have found that I tick completely different from these guys- and they don’t get me either.
    With one date, I had the depressing experience that I felt taken aback when the guy told me that he dates only ftm and sometimes women, but not cismen. I felt that he didn’t see me as a man.
    He on the other hand knew that I usually date cis guys, and was equally taken aback when I told him that I wouldn’t date him if he didn’t date cis guys. he accused me of seeing him as less-than-man compared to cis guys (which was not the case. i have been in love with ftm before).
    so it was all a great big mess.

    I have found that when telling this story to gay ftm, they will immediately take my side or the guys side, depending on the type of ftm they are (male identified or otherwise).
    at first that pissed me off a lot, but now I have come to the conclusion that we are just two very different sets of people with very different backgrounds.
    I now try to find other male identified ftm with a non-lesbian past, and usually get along with them well. the only problem is that over here at most genderqueer places (parties and so on), the “other” type of ftm is dominant, and I feel like a outsider in my own sexual orientation, which is a bit absurd. that’s why I go less and less to transgender events, which is a shame in some ways.

  3. Lovely stuff, spot on; I particularly liked the bit on having to pick your side and sticking with it.

    Changing your id as you go/making it as fuzzy as possible is a very neat way of staying on the privileged side, too. Having your cake and eating it and so on – except for those pesky other people who won’t necessarily buy it and will id you as genderqueer, woman, man, or whatnot.

    You could, or course, give them a dissertation in latest queer studies, which is what awfully many people are prepared to do, but I suspect such explanations won’t cut much ice when dealing with your regular cis het people.

    Again, a splendid, and fun, post!

  4. Thank you very much for this posting.

    Long before transition, I was only a few times in the lesbian scene, it was about 10-15 years ago and always awful. They asked me if I was a lesbian, I said I am bisexual, and they shunned away before I even had the opportunity to come out as trans – if I had wanted to come out as trans. Plus there was still some of the anti-patriarchy separatism going on, also with “penetration is evil, dildos are evil” etc. and lots of other ideologically loaden stuff which I found silly if I understood it at all (sorry, no insider), and not appropriate as a topic for a Friday night at a disco. Finally, I ended up dating a femme lesbian who had hardly ever been in that scene, which saved me from having to deal with that bullsh*t.

    I was shocked. Usually, I hung around a lot in the gay and gay leather scene, my friends were gay etc. This suited me much better though that scene is not ideal either. Over time, I basically got a “gay socialisation” instead of a lesbian one. And I had expected the lesbian scene to be much more like the gay scene. Ouch.

    Many years later, I came back into contact with all that weird lesbian stuff. It was on a big FTM weekend with workshops etc. And you could really figure out who of the (elder) FTMs came from the lesbian scene. Like, mixing up politics with one’s own gender dysphoria (WTF???), some of what you have written about here and other clues. It’s still like a culture clash.

    • Y’know, I think you’d get along well with ShipofFools up there, you seem to have some things in common.

  5. Sorry for the seriously belated response, I only just discovered your blog yesterday (and I can’t believe I didn’t know about it until now, it’s so awesome!)

    Anyways, I just wanted to say that you really opened my eyes to the intricacies of FTM-ness that I hadn’t been aware of before. Or maybe, you brought up thoughts and ideas that I hadn’t considered before, is a better way of phrasing it. I identify right now as Just Something, or genderweird, it’s basically this long and complicated thing that has something to do with my sex and a lot to do with my gender. However, even through my own journey of self-discovery the responses you had to this essay are things I had rarely thought about. Or just didn’t understand well enough to think about.

    So I guess this is just a roundabout way of saying thanks for posting this, and that I’m very excited that I found your blog. I will be going through your posts as quickly as possible, finals allowing. 🙂

  6. I understand that you disagree with this guy, but attacking him like this is really unneeded and quite cruel. I really enjoy some posts on your blog, but this one was really not nice. Bullying is never ok, disagreement or not. There’s respectful ways of saying that you don’t like another person’s ideas.

    • If you think this is attacking/bullying this is probably not the place for you. I tend to get emphatic (…and snarky) when I think someone is being an idiot and I’m not going to change that for anyone.

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