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Inconvenient trans men

They will never understand the sense of grief I have for the body I should have been born with, the childhood I should have had, the adolescence I should have had. That life in my mid-20s that I’m doing over again in my mid-30s. That first operation that I needed because my body changed in puberty in ways it shouldn’t have.

by Thomas B 

Content warning: transphobia, surgery, trans men’s anatomy

It’s been hard to avoid mention of transphobia and transphobes on social media recently. And it started me thinking. I started thinking about the things that transphobes say about trans men and how ludicrous it all is. Late one night, I lay awake in bed working through the puzzle in my head and trying to find the missing piece. What is it that they don’t understand about our experiences, as trans men, that these transphobes could get us so wrong? That list is probably quite a long one. But one thing in particular struck me. It’s true for me, I’m not saying it’s true for everyone.

They will never understand the sense of grief I have for the body I should have been born with, the childhood I should have had, the adolescence I should have had. That life in my mid-20s that I’m doing over again in my mid-30s. That first operation that I shouldn’t have needed to spend my deposit for a house on, but I needed to because my body changed in puberty in ways it shouldn’t have. And with that one I was lucky, because I had money to spend on surgery and so many people don’t. Then the next surgery that I shouldn’t have needed, for the penis I should have been born with. An operation, quickly followed by a second because of a blood clot. Unable to move from my hospital bed for a week, unable to use one arm for a month, 3 months to recover in total. There was a month where I couldn’t sit. I could only stand or lie down, because the incisions along my backside had re-opened. Just a bit. Changing the dressings quickly became part of my routine. It’s all healed now, but I’m only half way there really. I’ve got at least two more operations to go before I finally get the body I should have been born with. With Covid lengthening my wait, I’ll be lucky to be finished before I’m 40.

A 40 year wait to have a body you should have been born with. 40 years because when I reached 11 or 12, I went into denial. A teenage life without role models I could relate to or share my experience. Confused about my sexuality because my attraction to men was a gay one, not a heterosexual one. Nearly, but nearly coming out of that dark cloud of denial in my early 20s only to go down the rabbit hole of needing to fit in, get a job, have that stable life. But never quite fitting in. And unravelling as the balls of wool in my head slowly became untangled and everything started to make sense. Finally seeing myself as a 31 year-old man. A 31 year-old man that was seen as a woman by every single person in his life. Coming out meant a beginning, but also an end. Aside from my family and a few close friends, there is literally nothing in my life now that is the same as it was before I came out as trans. I gained a lot, but I also lost a lot.

And the thing that transphobes will never understand, is that I don’t regret the change or the loss. I don’t regret a moment of that long process of recovering from surgery. Because it needed to happen. If it hadn’t happened, I would be dead now. If I needed to, I’d have 20, even 30 operations. If that’s what it took to make things right. Because the grief I feel for the body I should have had is profound. A transphobe sees my scars and says that I’m mutilated. Disfigured. Some guy on Grindr actually messaged me to tell me that when he looked at my shirtless photo, he saw a disfigured, disgusting body. I blocked him. A week later he found me again and told me again. Just in case I’d forgotten what he’d said to me last time. There’s scars on my chest, my forearm, my abdomen, across both ass cheeks, my groin. Also on my face and my head, but those aren’t transition related. But those scars don’t matter to me, because I’m closer to being whole. They’re part of the necessary journey.

The thing that transphobes don’t understand is the absolute necessity of it all.

Yes Sandra, you might have had short hair and liked football at school. You might have preferred climbing trees and hated dresses. And yes, that doesn’t make you a man. I know I’m a man. I can’t quantify what makes a man, I know I am one. I’m not a man because I played football at school or wanted my hair short (and by the way I loved playing with Barbies). But one thing that makes me a man, is the knowledge that I should have been born with a penis, I know that I’m a man and I know that I need others to see me as the man I am. I knew it when I was a 3 year-old boy, I know it now. There’s more to being a man than body parts, and some trans men don’t feel that same as me about penis related matters. And that’s cool, but this is what’s true for me as an individual.

I reflected on all of this. And I thought about the fact that there are probably a lot of people that don’t know that this is how a lot (not all, of course) of trans people feel. So, I decided to share my truth and my grief on social media. I missed out a lot of gory details, but I explained my profound sense of loss. Lots of people said it had taught them something. Then one, two, three more people appeared.

One woman, let’s call her Moira, was ever so worried about trans men’s cervices. Apparently a trans man died of cervical cancer. There’s a documentary about it. “Have you seen it?” she asked. “Have you seen it?” She asked 5 times. Each time my answer was no. But I reassured her that GPs keep something called medical records, and on a person’s medical record it says that a person is trans. Well, assuming the person is undergoing medical transition. Besides, I told her, I’m an adult and I can remember that I need to get checked for cancer – even without a doctor reminding me. In fact, I’ve had numerous reminders that it’s a thing I need to remember. From my GP, from the doctor at the GIC, from stuff all over social media. And now from Moira. The first time she expressed concern for my cervix (or Sir Vix) it was oddly touching. After 5 times, it was getting disturbing.

However, one thing we can say to Moira is that, cervical obsession aside, she at least stuck to the topic. Shelley, Deidre and Charlotte (or whatever their names actually are) read a post about a trans man’s experiences and, upon reflection, all decided what they really wanted to know about trans men’s experiences was … What toilets should trans women use? Should trans women compete in the Olympics? Can trans women be women if they haven’t experienced sexism as a child? Shelley was adamant that, for her, a woman is defined by the sexism she experiences as a child. I asked Shelley about hypothetical man free scenarios. Would the girls in those scenarios not be women when they grew older, if they hadn’t experienced sexism? Shelley didn’t want to answer. In fact, she ignored my question and instead carried on speculating about trans women’s childhoods. Except she didn’t call them women. She referred to them as transitioned men. I stopped her, explained that she’d misunderstood. I’m a transitioned man. Trans women are transitioned women. I didn’t go into the nuances, because I was still at the stage of trying to help Shelley to understand that a woman is a woman. I explained that trans women do experience sexism. I explained that not all women share experiences with each other. That’s how life is. And plenty of cis women explained that too. Shelley went quiet, and I’d like to think it’s because she was reflecting on what I’d told her.

I didn’t have long to dwell on that, because Deidre had questions. Questions about trans women in toilets. And penises. Charlotte wanted to know about boxing. Specifically, trans women boxing with other women. Had she wanted to ask about Patricio Manuel boxing with other men and winning, it would have at least been vaguely related to what I’d said in my original post. Related or unrelated, I was determined to defend my trans sisters (sorry non-binary siblings, but like I said, these people were struggling to understand the concept of a woman being a woman). I found myself wandering further and further away from the path I’d expected the conversation to follow. I allowed myself to be led on a total diversion. Then just as I approached the edge of the conversational map (I think we’d gone in quite a few circles by that point), I stopped myself and reflected.

I reflected on the fact that when I had spoken about my experiences as a trans man, there were people who could have listened but instead chose to ignore what I had to say. People who could have learnt something about dysphoria and something about so many (but not all) trans men’s experiences. These things that transphobes don’t seem to know or understand. But instead, they chose to ignore the inconvenient voice of a trans man. They chose instead to talk about trans women’s genitals. The obsession transphobes have with other people’s genitals (and cervices, it would seem) really quite disturbs me, but that’s a whole other blog. These people speak over trans men’s voices. They try and drown us out. And why? Because my truth, and the truth of so many other trans men, is an inconvenient truth. It’s inconvenient for those people to acknowledge trans men. Those people who want to talk about keeping my trans sisters out of their toilets. Those people who don’t want to acknowledge that the exclusion of trans women in those toilets means the inclusion of trans men in those very same cubicles. It doesn’t fit the narrative they want to push. It doesn’t fit the lies they’ve been told, they lies they tell themselves and the lies they tell other people. So  instead they speak over, they silence, they disregard the inconvenient trans men like me.