When I first came out to my circle of friends as trans* (I think I said ‘gender-something’), I received a lot of questions about what I was going to ‘do’–as in, what kind of medical transition processes I was going to undertake. Some of these questions were coming from a place of my friends wanting to support my process; many more were just equating transmasculine identities with testosterone and top surgery. This is troubling.
I say all this with care and respect for transmasculine folks (like me) who choose to take T, for reasons that include dysphoria, safety, discrimination, and other concerns related to physical and mental well-being. On the other hand, as my friend Nick points out in a piece on ‘injected privilege’, most representation of transmasculine people on panels and other media exclusively includes folks who are on T. I’m not even dealing here with the fact that many trans spaces and media center white, able-bodied middle-class trans men, though these exclusions (of transfeminine people, of folks with disabilities, of POC, of poor folks, etc) are also consistent and disturbing. In many trans spaces, one also frequently hears terms like ‘no-ho’ or ‘pre-ho’ (and their equivalents for surgery: ‘non-op’ or ‘pre-op’), as if the transmasculine body exists only in relation to the medical-industrial complex.
Nick offers three explanations for this phenomenon:
1. The standard sexist way men are more believed than women.
2. The ‘they must really be trans because they can’t go back and be a woman now’ effect.
3. The ‘sideshow’ effect (straight people wanting to look at them because they are amazed by how amazing they look)
Overall, it points to the ways that our genders always become about sexism, cissexism, and capitalism. FAAB bodies (unlike MAAB bodies) are often lauded for medically transitioning, especially in queer spaces, rather than policed. Bodies that look more ‘male’ are accorded more privilege (including sexual/beauty privilege). The extent to which a body is ‘male’ is regulated by cissexism. The purchasing of visible masculinity or maleness—whether by having health insurance, sufficient income to purchase T directly, or black market purchasing—is an access barrier to this particular, clinical model of transmasculinity. The emphasis on visible, physical maleness is also deeply implicated in patriarchal hierarchies within trans communities. There’s a way in which the dialog about medical transition and time (‘I’ve been on T for 6 months’) mirrors phallic size comparison among cis men.
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So what do we do about all this? Having these conversations in the first place—about the systems of power that are shaping transmasculine communities, is a place to start. If we’re in a position to produce media or programming around transmasculinity, we can also be intentional about including genders and content that aren’t exclusively about medical transition processes, and showcase multiple ways of being and becoming trans—and multiple ways of inhabiting gender in general.
On a political and social movement level, this shift in consciousness (and self-critical examination of injectable privilege) does the work of situating transmasculinity more within existing frameworks for gender and economic liberation. Our asks start to look less at gender as a trans-only experience, and instead point to the way that gender has material consequences for everyone. We advocate for universal, gender-inclusive healthcare, for example, rather than trans-inclusion in existing healthcare plans. We look at gender-based violence with a more critical lens on male-passing privilege. And so on. We also do the work of creating much needed distance between the experience of transmasculinity and the medical-industrial complex, which has a deep history of pathologizing all kinds of trans bodies.
Again, I say this in solidarity with transmasculine folks in all sorts of positions with their genders: for those that can’t medically transition for reasons of cost, ability, geography, safety, family, etc, and those that do for many of the same reasons. But there is still something politically urgent and useful about having those conversations on the ways that structural oppression mediates access into our identities and communities—and the differential oppression that comes from ‘injectable privilege’.
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Janani is a South Asian electron spinning around the Bay Area making scholarship and art. They like thinking about the apocalypse, decolonizing the food system, and making space for quantum queers everywhere. They’re Assistant Editor at BGD, and one half of the spoken word duo DarkMatter (bit.ly/queerdarkmatter). You can read more of their work at queerdarkenergy.sqsp.com.
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