Justin Bieber and my trans masculinity
By: AP Pobjoy
I grew up as two things: a closeted queer and a closeted Justin Bieber fan.
Just like any other girl in my year seven English class, I was writing ‘JB’ over and over again in my notebooks with big love hearts.
I couldn’t care less if Justin Bieber had a girlfriend, or if the paparazzi caught him holding the hand of some stranger. I didn’t even care about the leaked nude.
My obsession was not easily placed or easily liked. Being far from femme, my growing masculinity seemed to put me at odds with being a ‘true fan’ in the eyes of the majority of JB’s fanbase: screaming young girls.
I didn’t know it at the time, but Justin Bieber had set off a long-winded identity crisis I’d eventually be grateful for.
When gender became something that seemed to slip through the traps of logic, I found solace in catchy lyrics like: “If I was your boyfriend”, or wishing our “hearts could come together as one”.
I had no idea why the music had any meaning for me. I would go down several YouTube holes of concerts, interviews and investigations into how Justin styled his hair.
My laptop glowed with a feminine rockstar pop boy who was becoming a pillar of celebration all around the world.
His effortless swagger and bright colour clothes began to shine light on pieces floating around in the dark pit of my stomach.
Together, they spelt out the truth: my gender was more than just female.
I didn’t think romantically about Justin. I don’t think it was as simple as wanting to be him either.
Justin Bieber became the first mirror I looked into and saw myself; a type of attainable masculinity that had nothing to do with footy bros or gaming nerds. One that seemed to stem from an anti-male ‘cisness’.
Something that thrived off the soft. Something that looked like it could have been born and moulded from my left rib.
It was a masculinity that was not trying to rise above me, but happy to be equal.
And although I had gained access to myself like never before, out of fear, it stayed in my laptop history.
The same shame I was holding in about being trans was the same shame I had as a 23-year-old Justin Bieber fan.
All the screaming girls in English class outgrew the Bieber fever, but I couldn’t shake it off. To the rest of the queer community, it was expiring hard.
Every time I squeezed into a packed lesbian club, the intense stares at my Bieber haircut were starting to drag me down.
Why do you care about him so much? Why do you even want to look like him?
There was a lot of transphobia in the lesbian community. I was dealing with it by crying to ‘U Smile’ in the car. For many women, boy pop stars were still trapped inside the zeitgeist. The women who loved women also hated him.
I pushed my gender further into secrecy and pulled my mask further up until it touched my shell. The masculine lesbians pushed him out of the discourse for being too feminine.
I couldn’t understand why Justin Bieber’s gender expression was always coined as unbearable half-assed femininity; never a romantically full masculinity.
And I felt the exact same way.
The butches with mullets and stubble were still mocking the girlishness of Justin Bieber. It made me think that my own masculinity was suffocated in feminine traits I could never escape.
Can I not paint my nails? Does my cursive handwriting make me girly? Can I not have a crush on Selena? Anytime I put a playlist on at a party I got the same reaction: “Justin Bieber sounds like a girl”.
With inner rage and trying to pay homage to my hidden identity, I’d bite back.
“Maybe he just sounds like a boy you’ve never heard before.”
I tended to get on with life. I graduated high school, finished university, was a lesbian then totally wasn’t a lesbian.
Walking around as a genderless pit of despair was heavy, like a sack of potatoes. And then I decided to transition.
Although it was something that had been haunting me for years, I was sick of the denial and became myself. I am the happiest I have ever been because of it.
Unleashing my true self has made me realise that as a queer trans person, historically, no zeitgeist has ever been made for me. Justin Bieber was never marketed or put on a stage to appease my gender identity.
But as a queer person walking around a world that isn’t necessarily built with my identity in mind, I have the agency and the power to see myself in things that resonate with a deeper meaning. I can choose what connects with my soul.
And although the boy popstar fandoms have their societal boundaries, the boundaries do not apply to me.
Since the birth of Justin Bieber’s My World 2.0, boy pop stars have asked a loaded question: do you want to date me or do you want to be me?
And since the birth of who I really am, I can say that the answer to that is way more complicated than we all think.
AP Pobjoy (they/them) is a trans masculine non-binary writer, director and documentary-maker from Melbourne. Their work has been recognised by The Age, Stronger Than Fiction, RUUSH Magazine and Global Citizen and was recently nominated for BBFF’s ‘Young Australian Filmmaker of the Year.’ They are the writer/director behind the documentary ‘Why Did She Have To Tell The World?’ which opened for the ABCTV Compass season for 2021. AP’s voice champions a trans-masculine lens whilst paying homage to their ever growing queer identity where change is the only constant.