The Little Transmasculine Identity, THAT COULD

This post is my response to a group of folks I was working with on a conference. We got into a heated email discussion about the target audience, which for some should be exclusive to female born, woman identified, masculine persons only; rather than all those who fit under a transmaculine umbrella.

Once again I find myself disappointed by the way uncritical analysis rears it's ugly head in tough situations. And more encouraged to make my effort to affirm no only trans identities, but also to advocate for the space for us to critically assess how how we essentialize ALL identities, and perhaps do so along the very binary we wish to escape. THIS IS NOT PROGRESSIVE.

My email begins here:

Note: Since writing this many more have replied, but I spent my commute addressing this because I feel like I needed to clarify a few things).

Thank you much for your thoughts here. I believe we are in agreement on several things as well:

- "male is sex, man is gender"

- "many queer communities have shunned and shamed the woman-identified butches-by forcing male pronouns on us [...] by questioning our masculinity because we still like our female bodies and don't want to change them

- "female masculinity is far more transgressive in our culture than [m]any other variet[ies] of masculinity"

Where possible I try to avoid quantifying oppression, as it leads nowhere fast. So I have to disagree w/ this statement more generally: "I don't think transmasculine or FTM identities are as marginalized as woman-identified butches." - even if I perhaps sort of agree w/ the premise of it within the confines of the particular group you later specify.

Masculine women that we are, while marginalized by society, we exist in a place of privilege when it comes to transmen- in that we still identify with our female born bodies. And though suffering from discrimination, we still can counter charges of "wanting to be men" (because of how we are perceived) with "No, I'm very clear & comfortable with my masculine woman self." FTMS do not have that same ability.

I don't think it fair or considerate to disregard what is their understanding of themselves, even as womanists/feminists - even if we can see places where it may not be what we think it should. Because while we may affirm our womanhood and equal right to many things afforded men, that is not in a vacuum. Womanism/feminism shouldn't be a blind lobby for women but a critical one.

Further, I believe it is through those critical perspectives womanism/feminism (I am a womanist) that we might be able to liberate transmasculine identities (stud, butch, ag, ftm, dom, daddi, top etc), transgender, transsexual and other identities from the snaky claws of essentialism that proliferate. This is perhaps especially important if we want to combat the shaming and pronoun forcing you mention.

So in saying that, I too know what you mean about being shamed for embracing what has become a somehow "inauthentic" version of stud-ness or boi-ishness, and in some trans affirming spaces for being "she" instead of "he." That is very real and need be addressed.

But I don't think that precludes us from being able to think, process or exist outside or beyond how others may self identify or devalue how we identify. That's their issue, not yours or mine.

We also may differ in how we use transmasculine. For me it is not interchangeable with FTM or transman. It is instead an umbrella term for all masculine identified people. Perhaps I should consider panmasculine, but I only do this because I grow tired of:

1. Feeling somewhat left out because I am not fond of terms like butch or aggressive that carry on connotations that, while meant to describe my appearance, poorly encapsulate my person.

And 2. Feeling like I have to write a list of names to describe the ppl I mean while not wanting to make them feel the same way that I do as mentioned above.

It goes farther in terms of wanting dialogue around "transgender" to broaden because if "male is sex," most people misunderstand the differences between transgender and transsexual. But thats a larger conversation.

When it comes to gender, Joe and I are of the same mind that gender can be anything you make it. Sex is mush less varied, you are born male, female or intersex.

So perhaps we also disagree there too Cristy, but I do so respectfully and in hopes that we might through this exchange develop a better understanding of one another. I have no investment in antagonism with anyone.

Going forward I hope that the same enthusiasm btwn the few of us on this email thread will transfer into the energy to help Joe get this thing going.

Wishing Ya'll The Best,



Needless to say, more emails have been exchanged, and none of them really address the questions I raise, except ofcourse from the person who is spearheading the event.

Just more of the same
"This is my opinion."
As if your opinion meant you were absolved of critique?

"There are conferences for trans people."
So WHAT?! Let us not forget that conferences like these exist to help build community sometimes where it seems NON exists.

"This is a space for us."
Who is us, and why is it important to continue on a trajectory of drawing needless lines in the sand, when we can evolve instead?

I feel like we have to know ourselves to grow, and I only think there are opportunities for learning and growth that come from looking at masculine identity acroos a WIDE spectrum.

Here are a few CHOICE quotes:
"By tacking on all of these various male identities you are erasing female and woman-identified butches. I am completely fed up with female and woman butch identities being minimized"

"If they don't like or get it.......it's not my problem. I don't want inclusive language for every spectrum of the masculine/male. I want inclusive language for every spectrum that is of female/woman. "

"I thought this was about butch female/woman identity. We are a dying breed. I thought this Conference was about showing those coming up about other ways to be butch than on a scale of male pronuns, chopping tits, growing a beard and muscles due to hormone replacement."

As if it werent' enough that many in the hetero-normative world didn't already stigmatize trans as well as gay or lesbian people, here we are stigmatizing each other. My heart HURTS.


  1. My heart hurts too...we've got work to do.


  2. i'm on the front line, linked with you seestah/patna :). i identify as a wombynist myself. there needs to be a greater understanding of what it means to be a wombynist among men and women.
    like you said, its not just a woman-only ideology/practice/care/etc.
    its all marginalized, oppressed...and liberation of being. for all.
    i appreciate you. continue soul rebel! i hope to see you soon

    and i love reading your writing.

  3. What conference was this for? ...That is if you dont mind me asking? I've heard discussions like this go round and round in gender activism surrounding trans*masculine folks, but does this:

    "I thought this was about butch female/woman identity. We are a dying breed."

    Really reflect reality and the everyday? I feel by focusing on those who do feel the desire to transition, they are only re-enforcing what they are feeling in their minds...that they are "dying" when that is NOT the case.

    I hope that made sense.

  4. Lately I've been thinking that this in-fighting/stigmatizing each other is a result of the way our culture defines everything in contrast to something else - you can't be a man or masculine unless you're not-woman, etc. I think we've really internalized this from childhood more than we realize.

    And the fact that feminists/womanists share a common cause with anyone on the trans-genderqueer spectrum seems self-evident to me. The only way to end the essentialism that undergirds all of this is to drive a wedge between sex and gender, which would benefit all of us and give everyone more freedom to navigate their identity. But instead so many of us still insist on some kind of one-to-one correspondance, or approximation to it, and this is astounding to me. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.

  5. "The only way to end the essentialism that undergirds all of this is to drive a wedge between sex and gender"

    Rachel, I think you hit the nail on the head. I think then we have to ponder the question "How?" The gender vs. sex question sometimes comes off to non-academics as more jargony, academic-y nonsense, no matter how compelling it could be once you REALLY pay attention.

    I don't hear this kinda of analysis outside of those groups. I think that it is, however, important that we broach the subject and encourage all, youth especially, to explore whatever fits into their idea of what their identity is.

    Thanks for weighing in.

  6. LaurynX,

    I think I get what your saying and yea I think that putting a particular emphasis on people you believe to be a problem, only makes your belief real - to you.

    But I think there are points to be made about this concept of a dying breed.

    1. It shouldnt even BE about a breed. Why are we trying to BREED a type of PERSON?

    2. I think there are finer points about how masculine females feel about trans identity. In that because we often confuse gender and sex, there is a misconception that being a masculine female isn't "transgender." Uh... reality check, in this society female does NOT equal masculine, and in some way we are all transcending gender roles. This is proliferated in all kinds of queer circles, trans and not.

    3. I think that it's just a serious blind spot to be masculine female and NOT see your privilege vis-a-vis trans folk. Being trans is still not even talked about in a LOT of social spaces, even LGBT friendly ones. The T is silent and it makes no sense because we talk around it when we talk about STUDs, AGs, DOMs, TOPs, Butches etc.

    I'll holla atcha via twitter re: the other questions.

    Thanks for reading!

  7. my beloved_patna :)

    Thank you for always being so supportive. I know u'll call me on my ish when I start taking the attention to my head and talkin' crazy.

    And then there was this lovely gem:

    "its all marginalized, oppressed...and liberation of being. for all."

    That there summarized what it means for me to be a bLaKtivist <--- purposeful spelling.

    Not to be confused with perhaps a perspective that only privileges a more "traditional" (read: dated, archaic, inflexible) idea of blackness, but rather bLaKness as an ideology of resistance. Where does all this come from? None other then the prolific Glenn A. Elmer Griffin. In "blackness", we talked about the creation of a black identity that had room for non-so-called-black folks...

    And I think the consensus was (or at least I remember in my head thinking) that black folks wouldn't go for it because it would be like usurping black identity, as is often the case, for the redemption of perhaps this nation and all of babylon ;)

    When thinking about how I see myself moving through the world and Griffin's influence, I think bLaKtivist best represented that.

    All ^^^ that was, TMI LOL. Perhaps better suited to the post I have as yet written about what this blog means to me. But er' uh thanks for the inspiration!

    Love You MA!

  8. tter for me, as it provoked my self to question whether I truly was indeed a masculine woman. This point brings me to the focus of this blog: addressing the sex vs. gender distinction in debates about the authenticity of the gendered sex of transgendered persons, particularly FTMs.

    The sex/gender distinction is parallel to the biology/identity distinction. For me, the search for truth has always been along the identity dimension, not the biology dimension, and thus raises the issue of how I gender identify rather than whether I wanted to become male or not.

    I believe when people say that "butch" is a dying breed they are lamenting the death of the butch gender identity, not the death of females who embody physiologically male traits (e.g., aggression, muscular physiques, angular facial features, hairiness, deep voices). This is an important point to delineate, as the term "butch" is a sociohistorical construction while females who embody physiologically male traits have existed since the beginnings of time. According to Judith Halberstam, "masculinity" is taken to be "a naturalized relation between maleness and power." As such, butchness is just another social form of masculinity, one that identifies women who may embody natural male traits and assert power in certain relations.

    So, should the death of the butch be lamented? Might the term "butch" be a socio-historical construction that captured the realities of masculine-identified women who were openly gay in the 50s/60s/70s (and maybe even 80s)? Might, with the success of the gay identity/gay rights movement (despite the struggles still ahead of us), this reality have changed, such that highly-visible masculine-identified women need not take on a hard, stone mentality to survive the aggression/oppressions of a heteronormative, sexually-repressed Western society?

    I think not (to the first question), and I think so (to the second and third questions). Society has changed, due to strategic action on the part of gays and their allies, to allow the open expression of a wider continuum of masculine identities. Thus, the factors that connote the degree of maleness we embody biologically are molded during our lifetime under a particular set of social arrangements regarding sexuality (think the 70s sexual revolution condoning the free expression of sexuality).

    To the extent that the "butch" identity was available to persons born in the 70s/80s/90s as a model for enacting maleness and power, this gender identity has been expanded because of both the more relaxed social environment we now live in and the unique interpretation of masculinity comprised by men and women of the 70s/80s/90s cohorts. The resultant identity set is what bLaKtivist refers to as "transmasculinities".

    The problem arises not in the relative authenticity of the identities within the transmasculine identity set (which includes "butch"), but rather in the Western world's obsession with (presumed) biological binaries. Frankly, the tomboi, AG, dom, etc. has always existed (although without an articulated identity) as has the continuum upon which persons embody male and female traits.

    If the biological differentiation of male and female at birth is taken as fact, then even transgendered men (FTM) are still female, even post-op. Thus, any effort to exclude them from participation in female-centered circles is betraying the very set of assumptions upon which the exclusionary decision was built.

    On the other hand, if we embrace the idea that identities, particularly gendered ones, exist upon a multi-dimensional continuum, then the MTF and FTM can be welcomed into sex- or gendered-centered spaces without problem. For instance, the masculine-identified lesbian and FTM can occupy the same space as representatives of a particular point within the sex continuum, although along different gendered dimensions of sex.

    I am not a gender/sexuality scholar, but it would seem to me that recognizing sex/gender as both CONTINUUMS (not binaries) and DIMENSIONS of a larger social system of domination built upon genitalia differentiations and gendered roles would go a long way into building a community of non-normative sexualized bodies and gendered identities that we all so badly need.

  9. your entry and all these comments are amazing!

  10. Hey there!

    I absolutely HAVE TO link to your blog forum in my side bar!!

    Your trumpet must be heard!

    Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!


    I absolutely appreciate it!

    Peace, blessnig and DUNAMIS (I just looked that up too, thank you for teaching me another way to say POWER!)


  12. Hey Krystal, that was very well-argued. This person seems closed to the possibilities for, as you said, evolving and becoming different from this situation, and community is all about openness. If people are afraid, then it never becomes a community because afraid people just exclude and marginalize. So I think you have argued this admirably. And the sex-gender distinction is problematic for me because it tends to attach all the essentialism to one term (sex), which still retains those assumptions, but it is helpful to explain it in simple terms. It is important for people to know that identity is expressive and changing.


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