At a pivotal moment in the fight for transgender rights, Morven Loh asks: why people aren’t talking more about transgender men?
At the moment it feels like we’re at the tip of a (hopefully) massive shift in attitudes towards gender and sexuality. We’re seeing more people talking about gender equality, different gender identities and lots of activists challenging homophobia and transphobia.
Today, I want to turn the conversation towards trans men or FTM (Female To Male). *I’ll use the term ‘trans men’ throughout, but I’m aware not all transgender men identify by this term, and that it does not encompass all identities either.
Recently we’ve seen a rise in transgender awareness, yet the majority of campaigns have mainly focused on trans women.
Now I can’t say this enough… I am NOT saying we need to see less from trans women.
Transgender women are the most highly targeted demographic for discrimination and abuse, especially trans women of colour. Transphobia is persistent and it is deadly, and trans women are the ones who pay the price. But, as with any social movement, progress is tricky.
There are some really dangerous myths surrounding trans men, and this can lead to erasure within both the queer communities and mainstream society. The queer community regularly gets reduced down to gay men, lesbians, trans women and drag queens. It’s important to remember trans men need to be recognised too.
Now before we untangle these issues, we have to understand the enemy we’re fighting against. In the West, gender is understood as a binary and we’re all expected to fit neatly into two boxes, either man or woman, based on the sex we’re assigned at birth.
We’re also raised in a society that privileges men and certain forms of masculinity, over women and certain forms of femininity. This means whenever women act out of their stereotype they stick out (eg. A woman who doesn’t want to have children is still frowned upon). It’s the same when men adopt forms of femininity, they stick out too (eg. A man who is emotional and sensitive is seen as a weak).
When this comes to understanding transidentities no wonder its complicated. We’re fighting the patriarchy with one hand, and misogyny with the other!
It usually takes less time for trans men to transition. After a few years of testosterone treatment most strangers perceive their gender correctly. Because we have been trained to see men as neutral, most people don’t question their gender identity – unlike trans women, who constantly have to battle strangers trying to work out their ‘real’ gender.
Of course it isn’t that easy. A lot of trans men, especially pre-transition and during transition are sometimes read as ‘butch lesbians’ or ‘teenage boys’, which can lead to more misgendering or mis-recognition. This is both tedious and painful because many people don’t even consider than trans men exist.
Another massive misconception is that trans men only transition so they can benefit from male privilege.
Let’s call BS on that right now. Trans men are men. They just so happened to be born into a female body.
Male privilege works because of patriarchy and misogyny. This means male privilege actually works AGAINST trans men, not for them, because transgender identities are still so socially stigmatised.
Trans men can still be sexually attracted to cisgendered gay men. Gender and sexuality are NOT the same thing. I’ll say it again. Trans men are men. They can be gay, straight, bi, pan, a-sexual etc.
Whilst we’ve made huge strides, we still have a long way to go. The transgender community are still disproportionally targeted and discriminated against, and suffer from high suicide and homicide rates. Trans men are being continuously erased whilst violence towards trans women is increasing.
So, here are some small things trans allies can do:
- Educate yourself on trans issues – don’t rely on trans people to constantly educate you, it’s unnecessary emotional labour and there are so many wonderful websites out there
- Use correct pronouns – it’s easy to forget and trip up, the important thing is to ask, apologise when you make a mistake and put in the effort to remembering
- Call people out when they’re using transphobic language – sometimes people don’t even realise when they’ve said something transphobic, so just gently telling people why the language they’ve used is triggering can often be enough
- Talk to friends and family about trans issues – again, it’s not up to trans people to educate everyone, so opening up conversations will give people space to talk about issues they might not have been aware of
- Help raise trans voices – as allies we can share the workload but never steal their platform, this is so important. We have to help get trans voices out there, not erase them
- Treat people as people – sometimes it can be that simple