When I say I identify as a “man of trans experience” during one of my trainings, I can feel the questions from my attendees before they get a chance to ask them aloud: Is he dating a transgender person? Does he think he’s a woman? Is he considering the surgery?
There is a reason I cling to this way of describing my experience of gender rather than claiming any other terms, such as transgender man, trans man (or my most objectionable: transman, all one word). Why do I choose the longest, most complicated phrase to say I was assigned female at birth and today identify as a man?
It’s quite simple. I don’t identify as or resonate with being a trans man. Or a transgender man. And definitely not a transman, which seems to imply we’re a whole other subspecies of human that requires its own new word. To me, those phrases prioritize an adjective (transgender) that must qualify my being a man. This feels not only uncomfortable, but inaccurate. I’m not ashamed of being transgender nor of my previous experiences as a girl, gender nonconforming person, or a woman. But today, those experiences are a part of my history, or my lived experience, and do not play a major role in most interactions I have with people. For this reason, I consider myself a man first. This history of my gender impacts my life, and thus, particularly when educating others, stating I am a man of trans experience is one way I acknowledge that history within my present reality.
Someone recently introduced me to a friend via email referring to me as a “trans man.” This strange term, placed randomly and awkwardly in a short intro message and assigned to me without my consent, felt out of place and inappropriate. While not exactly the same, it’s felt akin to introducing two people at a party by referring to one of them as a a lesbian or a person who just got a divorce, or some other irrelveant piece of personal information that no one asked to be shared. I’d rather he just said my name. I can fill in the blanks with those details if I want.
All of this negotiation around disclosure of being trans is largely due to my privilege of being able to “pass” as a cisgender man. I know I navigate the world with this privilege (among many others) and I know it starkly because I remember when I didn’t have it. I remember being laughed out in public because of my gender expression. I remember strangers staring at my body, even taking their cell phones out to photograph my absurdity in subway stations. I remember being misgendered constantly, always feeling like I was making everyone around me uncomfortable. I also remember being a girl and a woman. I remember being talked over, ignored, perceived as hysterical, emotional, and incompetent. Does this history disappear because I transitioned? Absolutely not. It’s with me everyday and everywhere I go. In fact, I believe these experiences allowed me to become a more compassionate man, a kind man, a man who believes deeply in ending misogyny and gendered violence.
Simply throwing the word “trans” before the word man could never sum up all of the nuanced and complicated encounters I’ve had with gender. (Which, by the way, cisgender people have as well.) So, if you want to refer to me, just call me a man. And if you really want to qualify it, you can call me a kind man, a compassionate man. A thoughtful man. But, I’ll leave that part up to you.