Trans masc writers: Looking for stories like mine
By: Sam Elkin
I’ve always loved to read. So after making the long laboured over decision to medically transition, I began to seek out the stories of other people like me, those assigned female at birth who had decided to live in a more masculine form.
I was hungry to know if they initially felt ambivalence like I did, grief for the end of my life as a ‘lesbian’, and if they had endlessly worried and fretted as I had about the way others perceived me. I wanted to know if they still felt the same inside after transitioning, or whether their feelings ended up locked away deep within.
First I read The Making of a Man: Notes on Transsexuality by Maxim Februari, a Dutch philosopher who transitioned to male in his late forties after a life as a prominent feminist academic.
Februari’s no nonsense, matter of fact approach to the topic of his life change was enjoyable. But I found some of his remarks baffling, such as, “for the transsexual man it can come as a shock to discover that he can no longer take on the role of victim; the assumed dominance of men makes him, too, an acceptable target of aggression and ridicule.”
For me this wasn’t the case, as I had found that since I had transitioned, the minor acts of aggression that occurred to me on a daily basis as a very butch-looking woman had ceased entirely. Instead I felt as though the world was rolling out the red carpet for me – living for all intents and purposes as a white, heterosexual, middle class male – vaulting me right up to the top of the social hierarchy in this colonial settlement.
So I searched out more books to read. I picked up a copy of the The Testosterone Files: My Hormonal and Social Transformation from Female to Male by Max Wolf Valerio, a trans man of Native American and Spanish ancestry who grew up in Germany and North America.
Valerio’s explanations of the changes to his body were helpful indicators of what I could expect. But I was extremely wary of his musings about the nature of men and women, which include pondering why men don’t rape women more often, given their powerful, testosterone-fuelled sexual urges.
He concludes that “There can certainly be no hope for understanding as long as society pretends that men and women are really the same, that the culture of male sexuality is simply a conflation of misogyny and dysfunction. That the male libido is shaped and driven primarily by socialization, that it can be legislated or ‘psychobabbled’ away out of existence.”
I dearly hoped that transitioning would not result in me reverting to this kind of thinking. Despite never really feeling female, I certainly knew the shame of being objectified, used and then discarded by the men who’d gotten what they wanted from me. I didn’t want to be like them, and was disappointed to read that Valerio, who, like me, used to identify as a lesbian feminist, ended up acting like such a deplorable old sexist.
When I picked up We Both Laughed in Pleasure: The Selected Diaries of Lou Sullivan 1961-1991, edited by Ellis Martin and Zach Ozma, my main hope was that the author would not end up sounding like an incel activist.
In 1961, living as a teenage girl in Milwaukee, Sullivan writes, “I wanna look like what I am but don’t know what someone like me looks like…I mean, when people look at me I want them to think—there’s one of those people that reasons, that is a philosopher, that has their own interpretation of happiness. That’s what I am.”
The beauty of this book lies in Sullivan’s shifting takes on his own identity and desires with hardly another soul to model himself on. I was shocked by the battles he went through in the medical system to be accepted as a trans male in the 1970s while identifying as gay, and his hard work setting up some of the first FTM support groups and publications in the world.
Sullivan conveys the internal tug of war that most of us will go through while labouring over a monumental personal decision, and offers a refreshing lack of clarity about his own identity and the implications for those around him.
We have so few trans male elders to look up to, and I felt I’d found a kindred spirit here in these pages.
I guess that’s why I’ve always loved to read; for those moments when you feel like you’ve finally found someone who really gets what you’re going through. I cherish each and every book in my small collection of trans masculine writers, and look forward to seeing it grow.