Thoughts on Transmasculinity

Over the years I have come to view transmasculinity as something I always fell short of, and that’s not a bad thing. I passed as a man for several years. I intentionally use this phrasing because it’s both what I was trying to be perceived as, and also what I was not. At this point, transmasculinity is something that I only relate to in a categorical sense, in a way of this-explains-which-ugh-fine-‘direction’-I’m trans in-and-also-I’m transmisogyny-exempt. Fem(me) and trans, yes, but not transfeminine. Others have spoken to the issues in the new transfeminine/transmasculine binary better than I have, and have advocated for a future that allows better descriptive language, but until that cultural shift occurs, I’m going to resignedly identify myself as transmasc when necessary. ‘Transmasc’ gestures vaguely to certain non-universal medical assumptions that providers make about my body which could be circumvented by a more inclusive, more specific framework.

Those “any obvious signs you were trans?” posts always make me feel a little guilty. Not even not trans enough, not anymore. Just a wee bit guilty, because I was extremely feminine as a kid, something that I denied as best as I could in order to get a letter for top surgery. as if continuous masculinity should be a condition for saying “I want these off.” (Disclaimer: it often is and I knew this, which is why I told the social worker writing my letter the story of the little sky blue sweater vest I wanted, instead of describing all the dresses I had loved over the years). My breasts had little to do with the way I expressed my femininity, and weren’t present for more than a decade. Instead of recounting a history of ‘consistent dysphoria’, maybe I should have been taught how to remove bust darts from garments, something I now find myself wanting to do regularly.

In college, I spent so much time comparing myself to other trans people, and so did the other trans people around me. So many of us felt insufficiently trans, and at my (historically, and presently in official mission) women’s college, there was an inevitable conflation of transness and masculinity in a way that fit much better for some than others. I will never forget sitting at breakfast one day shortly after returning to campus post-top-surgery, and having a trans guy come up to me and congratulate me, saying “welcome to the club” — an elite club for those who had completed stereotypical medical transmasculinization — usually, testosterone followed by top surgery. That sentence felt at once like the granting of everything I had wanted before, but also deeply wrong.

Last week, I wore a tie-dyed shirt emblazoned with the word “femme” in a bold script when I went into the doctor’s office, one more confusing message to throw into the mix of gender signals. Something I realized recently is that I wasn’t very aware of queer femininity growing up, not even from men. Or I suppose I knew a handful of feminine queer women but didn’t recognize that there was a visible way for me to be queer, even within the communinity, without the frame of masculinity. I love butches with my entire heart but didn’t make a very good butch, although I gave it my best shot. At any rate, it felt that in order to be visibly, legibly, legitimately queer, and later, trans, I needed to first shed my my femininity, and shred every scrap of evidence along the way. Looking back at pictures of my childhood that my dad and I rescued from his phone — yes, my femininity was absolutely a performance, but one I found to be largely comfortable and affirming. Scrolling through college photos, I see how much of the time my masculinity was an active performance as well, one which felt better at some points than others.

This essay doesn’t have a neat conclusion, it’s more of a collection of personal musings on transmasculinity that have a fifty-fifty chance of inspiring thoughts or feelings in others. I was on testosterone for nearly three years, and have now been off of testosterone for almost a year, and all of that feels like part of my transition to get to where I am now in terms of gender expression. So go do what feels right for you for now, and it’s okay if that changes in the future.

left, the author wears a striped sweater, baggy jeans. right, the author wears a teal corduroy skirt and black turtleneck.
pre-T to post-T