Cup of Squid
~musings and folly~

We Need to Talk About Transmasculinity

This is a word vomit after finishing Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues. My hope is that it opens a discussion around transmasculinity in general.

Yes, I know. I’m late to the game. It surprised me how many of my queer friends have read Stone Butch Blues, knew of its existence, and yet until I came across it in someone’s bookshelf, it was never talked about. As if the presence and influence of this book, especially in a transmasc’s life, was assumed.

Because it damn well captures the essence of a transmasc experience, without pulling a punch in the process, especially about the pain that goes into being transmasculine. And further, it drives home how few stories there are about transmasculinity.

This has struck me multiple times, especially when reading books in the leftist radical space that often center the stories of women and femmes when confronted with behaviors like sexual violence, unwanted attention, and even gaslighting. I’m currently reading Turn This World Inside Out by Nora Samaran which talks about how nuturance culture is the inverse of rape culture.

Which is awesome - I highly recommend this book.

However, I have a huge critique on the first half of the book, which directs its discussion of rape culture towards men and “masculine people” - in one of the footnotes, this includes trans men and transmasculine people.

It’s as if, because of the sheer nature of us taking testosterone, we’ve somehow gone beyond the veil and have absorbed all the privileges of cis-manhood, including the toxic traits.

…and suddenly forgot all of the horrorshow traumas of being socialized as women, being subject to the same exact behaviors (often for decades, depending on when you transition) as those talked about in the book.

Don’t get me wrong, transmasculine people can absolutely absorb these behaviors, but so can… queer people in general. Just read Carmen Maria Machado’s In The Dream House and you’ll see what I mean.

This dismissal, though, is outlined well in Feinberg’s book:

The way that Jess, the main character was suddenly ejected from lesbian culture because she decided to transition had faint echoes of this exact behavior. Her butch counterparts experienced similar responses too as they either transitioned or started dating other lesbians who were in the university-forward queer spaces. These spaces, which reflect the culture of lesbianism at the time in parallel rise with women’s rights generally, emphasized that a lesbian was a very specific kind of woman (i.e., no masculine traits whatsoever) and dated other women without said masculine traits. Butches were frowned upon, almost as being sellouts for being more masculine. Again, doubly worse (even in butch community) if you took testosterone to medically transition.

When transmasc people transition, they still carry the well of trauma that goes into (a) being fucking trans at all and (b) being treated in a shitty manner by cis-men (and those who align themselves with patriarchal beliefs).

Suddenly, transmasc people have no place in any conversation: not in spaces labeled for women, femmes, and nonbinary people; not in conversations about how to address the privilege of cis-men (because we’re now lumped into their category a lot of the time…even if we barely pass)…the question of transmasculinity is left hanging like a loose thread.

The conversation of gender in Samaran’s book is centered on transfeminity. And rightfully so in a lot of respects - there’s a lot of violence towards transfeminine people that needs urgent discussion. However, to dismiss and downplay the very real trauma and exclusion that transmasculine people feel only emphasizes the work we have to do around understanding what masculinity actually is.

Sophie Strand’s The Flowering Wand helped me process a lot of the stuff I’d been feeling around my own masculinity: the desire to embrace my “softness” and not turn to stone, the desire to be nurturing, to love openly, etc. I can still do that because no one turned to me (apart from the dominant culture) and told me I couldn’t. I’m very lucky.

However, the question still remains about where transmasculine people fit in. Part of me feels that, because we were often socialized as women first (for varying degrees of our lives, and traumatically so), we don’t know how (or are afraid) to use our voice; we were taught to sit down and be quiet. We feel like we shouldn’t speak up because then we are just “acting like a dude” or “mansplaining.”

So we remain quiet to not have the tables turned on us for being too much like a cis guy, who was socialized to think the world wants to hear is every little thought about things he’s not even an expert in. You know the type I’m talking about. (It’s my worst fear to be labeled like that, anyway.)

Generally, though, people just assume we have it easy because the hair and deep voice automatically gives us privilege, but the reality is much more complex than that.

Cis men usually smell it on me right away. I’m too short and petite, my voice isn’t pitched in the way they’d expect (I still emphasize a lot of words in the way I was taught when socialized as a woman), and I don’t fit in most men’s clothing. Thus, even though I’ve had top surgery and have been on testosterone for well over a year, I’m still regularly misgendered, but even more dangerously so now because it’s clear I’m also not a cis-woman either.

I know that I am not alone in this. Some trans guys work out aggressively and get “swole” to fill out the expected physique, which leads to the question of our physical bodies (something that a majority of trans people struggle with to some degree):

The number of times I’ve gone on dates with cis-women who realize they are “too straight” to date a transmasculine person is staggering. Usually it revolves around the plumbing. Feinberg does an excellent job of highlighting this in a particularly erotic scene where Jess goes stealth while on a date and has really good sex with a cis-woman. Jess can’t be open about their transness so has to pretend to ejaculate with their strap-on outside of their date’s body, because they couldn’t reveal that their dick wasn’t “real.”

I’ve had dates tell me directly that they don’t think strap-ons feel “as good as the real thing” - and this includes other trans people too. It’s as if being told no matter what we do, we will not be good enough.

And yet, this kind of discussion rarely gets attention. Transmasculine people rarely have space to explain and feel out these complex emotions: that of simultaneously being assumed to have privilege (and thus not needing support) and that of regularly not being enough.

We’re basically reproducing patriarchal society and instead of telling cis-men they have to be silent and strong (which is how we’re in this mess), we are telling transmasculine people that they’ve betrayed everyone who wants to escape patriarchal society and that they (still) need to sit down and shut up.

It’s extremely worrying to me. I understand why it’s happening - it’s because our dominant society still has the same patriarchal roles, and we live in it. But come on, folks, we really gotta do better. The diversity of trans voices needs to be heard otherwise we really are just making Capitalist White-Supremacist Patriarchy 2.0. And I don’t think anyone will survive that, since we’re barely surviving the first version.

There’s a free version of Stone Butch Blues on Feinberg’s website as well as a link to the print copy that’s sold at cost. Highly recommend to start there and to think about what other transmasculine stories need to be told.