This international Transgender Day of Visibility, one of our staff members Tristan has written a blog exploring the erasure of trans men.
I’m a transgender man.
Would you know, looking at me? To see me for the first time?
Because I haven’t been on Testosterone long enough for people to always ‘tell’ when they first look at me.
But what has changed?
A lot. My voice is lower, I am growing enough facial hair that I need to shave it to help it grow out. Body hair has grown elsewhere. My friends say my face is beginning to change shape. But if it’s the first time that you’ve met me, you wouldn’t know that, and I wouldn’t expect you to. But it’s draining. Draining having to come out every single day. Draining when you feel so confident in yourself that day only to speak to someone and you hear them calling you a ‘she’ or a ‘lady’. They just assume you’re a woman presenting in a masculine way.
Because many people don’t know or recognise that trans men exist.
Once you’ve been on hormones long enough, you may begin to ‘pass’. ‘Passing’ is important for a lot of trans people because it means they are recognised as their gender, and they don’t have to ‘come out’ every day. And once you reach that point, there’s an assumption that it’s great: you don’t need to come out anymore and all problems of misgendering are solved.
Except then, recognised as a man, the opposite can happen. People will say things to you that are really toxic, even transphobic, assuming that you’re ‘one of them’, one of the ‘guys’. But you’re a trans man and being included in transphobic conversations hurts. It’s damaging. People will also make comments about body parts that you don’t have and expect you to know what they’re talking about, but you don’t. And that triggers the dysphoria again. But you can’t tell them you’re trans because they have already told you what they think of trans people, and it’s not safe to come out to them.
Many people around you continue to assume you’re a cisgender man, because they don’t know or recognise that trans men exist.
In preparation for this blog, I reached out to a group of transmasculine people that I am a member of, and asked them to tell me their experiences of erasure as a transmasculine person. This is what they said:
“If you ask someone to think of a trans person, a lot of the time they will automatically call to mind a trans woman. So many times, people assume they know our gender, our pronouns, our gender expression, and they’re fine with it… Until you tell them you’re trans, and they straight away switch to using she/her pronouns, calling you a ‘woman’. They think they’re being so validating because “you just told me you’re trans so I’m totally validating your identity and switching the terms that I use!” Except they’re not. They’re misgendering you now, when they weren’t before, because they don’t understand that trans men exist.”
“When you go into the clothes section in a shop, as a transmasculine person, often you’ll go over to the men’s section. You’ll pick out the clothes which give you euphoria, which make you feel good about yourself and your identity. You avoid the women’s section because you’re not a woman. You pick out your boxers and shirts and trousers and whatever else makes you feel good, and you go to ask whether they have this shirt in your size. And the member of staff walks off and calls to their colleague, “that lady wants to know if we have this shirt in her size”. Except you’re a man. In the men’s section. Shopping for men’s clothes.”
These experiences echo and add to the widespread erasure of trans men and the belief that trans men don’t exist.
When I changed my name to Tristan Michael, I thought that I had picked a fairly masculine name. I didn’t want something neutral, or something which could be misunderstood as a feminine name. Yet despite knowing my name, people still misgender me. My email signatures contain my name and my pronouns, and people respond well to this. Until they meet me, when they often revert to ‘she’ and ‘her’. Why? I have a badge on my lanyard, which says he/him on it. My work ID has my name on it. But people still get it wrong. I once said to someone, “my middle name is the same as your name.” He responded “what, Michael? I thought you meant it was Michelle”. People still get it wrong. Why? Because they think that trans men don’t exist.
But what can we do about this?
Don’t assume. Trans people come in all shapes and sizes. Trans women aren’t the only trans people out there. Trans men exist, as do non-binary and genderqueer people and people of other genders who identify within the trans umbrella.
If you’re out and about, consider asking someone their pronouns before assuming their gender. If someone is using a masculine name and pronouns, respect that, regardless of what your unconscious bias is telling you.
Really, please, just remember that trans men exist. Trans men are men, not just ‘confused girls’. Treat us as such.