I recently posted a version of the transgender Pride flag on my Facebook page that represents how trans people are represented in media: The pink stripes — representing trans women — dominated the flag, and the blue — representing trans men — was a small sliver, and the white stripe — representing intersex people were barely perceptible.
This flag illustrates that trans women dominate the media conversation. Even at events where both trans men and trans women are in attendance, the cameras inevitably search out the trans women.
This is damaging on several levels. For one, it serves to delegitimize the existence of trans men. It silences their stories, and it removes an essential part of our argument for equality.
In an effort to sort out why, I reached out to my friend Finn Jones, the executive director of Transcendence International, for his thoughts on the matter. Here’s what he had to say:
Leslie McMurray: Finn, how aware are trans guys of the disparity in the representation of trans women versus trans men? Finn Jones: I obviously cannot speak for all trans men, but the ones that I have had this conversation with are very aware of the disparities. Particularly when it comes to the media and health care.
LM: Your stories and experiences being silenced means the stories of trans existence is being only partially told. FJ: Absolutely. Ask people outside of the trans community what they think of when they hear the word transgender, they will almost always speak about Caitlyn Jenner or Laverne Cox. Some will tell you that they did not realize transmen existed.
LM: Help us understand what it’s like to live life as a trans guy with advantages and challenges. FJ: This country is very male-centric and values men above women, unfortunately. So being perceived as the man I am, and white to boot, is a huge advantage. I am able to have conversations with cisgender folks who would have never given me the time of day as a woman and a lesbian.
But one of the largest disadvantages is in the medical community. Medical science in terms of gender care for trans folks is mainly centered around trans women. While I applaud this and know that it is desperately needed, the trans male community is struggling to find solutions for their medical dilemmas, specifically related to gynecology care.
I am a disabled veteran, so I am able to access the VA medical system, but when I tried to make an appointment for a checkup of my female anatomy, it was as if I was trying to infiltrate some secret society. They were not sure how to deal with it. They did not want me in the women’s clinic as they were concerned it would “trigger” other women for me to be there and make them feel uncomfortable. So where am I supposed to go?
My comfort and mental wellbeing never even came into question with them. I finally gave up and attempted to pay for these services out of my own pocket rather than going through the humiliation of dealing with such an antiquated system.
LM: The media will cover what the media covers, but how can trans women help in shining some light on this issue? FJ: Trans women can point out the fact that transgender men have just as important a role in this movement as women do. But that also speaks to the misogyny in this country.
It is big news when a celebrity decides to transition from male to female because as we hear quite often, “Why would a man want to be a woman in the USA?” On the other hand when asked about trans men in women’s bathrooms, said, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said, “Trans men can take care of themselves.” Both sides of the trans community bring important and impactful narratives and lived experiences, and it is important that we as a community continue to bring those stories to light.
LM: I’ve noticed that trans guys assimilate seemingly so easily that living stealth is safer and is often the choice made. But this limits opportunities to help change people’s minds, because to them you are just another guy. FJ: I think that fear plays a big role in the reason trans men go stealth. The fear of cisgender men not perceiving us as “real men” in certain situations can put us in danger of real physical harm. And of course, there are other fears that we all face, mainly losing your job or family. We do have an advantage in that HRT medications work differently for us than they do with trans women.
LM: There also seems to be little coherence to the trans community. We are divided by sex, by race and so on. Even with a unified voice, we are a very small minority. But fractured, it’s a voice that has mixed messages, and not all of them are being heard. What’s the solution? FJ: I see many different personalities and life experiences pouring into this community very quickly. We all come from different social structures, political spectrums, life experiences, and we bring those things with us. It can be almost like two cats fighting to decide who is alpha.
We see male privilege, feminism, racism, bigotry and xenophobia. And yet somehow, we have to put that aside and work towards the greater good for the community. Standardizing certain things would be a great start — such as health care.
In high school, one of my band directors said something that has stayed with me all these years, and it is something we use for our support group meetings. Picture a box at the door. As you go in that door put all of your biases and prejudices that have no relevance to the issue at hand in that box. That is the way we need to come together to sincerely help our community. Put opinions and judgement in that box. It is up to you if you choose to pull them out and take them with you when you leave.