I googled the word “transgender.” No "man" or "woman" after that -- simply “transgender.” Google Images pulled up 402 images on the first page of my search. I was scrolling, and scrolling, and scrolling until I realized something: All of the photos were transgender women.
So where are all the transgender men? That is when I started counting. I first counted all the men in the pictures. There were 20 pictures with men in them. After subtracting all the cisgender men (celebrities mostly), that brought my number down to 16. We subtract any repeated images of transmen, we get down to about 12 images. That’s 12 images out of 402 images, which could make a transgender man, like myself, feel a bit like the invisible man.
In a time when the identity transgender is at the very beginning stages of recognition and understanding in the larger culture, we are still missing something. It seems the only household names in the transgender community are all transwomen. This is part of our mainstream media in 2016 and has been around since the famous 2014 TIME magazine cover with Laverne Cox -- one that everyone in the transgender community is proud of.
But there is still something missing, and I couldn't really figure out why for the longest time. I get this question a lot in interviews: "We hear a lot about transgender lives these days, but where are all the transgender men?" My answer is always something along the lines of "We are out there, and I believe as time goes by and more people come out and share their stories, you will hear more about us!" I always answered this question with clear affirmation and hope. I thought by sharing my story and sharing the stories of other transmen, we would surely have a few household names of transmen. But other than Chaz Bono, the general public barely knows we exist.
It has been over a year that I have been asking myself the same question, and now my answer has slowly started to change. Why? Why do we not have more of a focus on transmen? Why are the majority of people being discussed in any story about the transgender experience transwomen?
To me, this seems like a new twist on a very old tradition: sexism. While this may seem complex, at the end of the day I believe it is really quite simple: Many people still see transgender women as men and transgender men as women -- from the time they are born until after they transition.
Growing up as a girl or woman you are taught that you shouldn’t take up space. To let the "men" handle the situation. I do know that being born a female you are seen as smaller, less capable of taking care of yourself, you are told to sit down and shut up. And if you aren’t taught this, and you had an awesome parent who taught you to be radical and fight the system, you may well be labeled as an emotional or aggressive woman with too much to say and who no one wants to deal with anyway. Traits seen as attributes in men are liabilities for women. Look no further than the current presidential campaign to see that playing out on a large scale.
Most transmen I know were raised as little girls in our sexist culture, and that has an impact. Maybe those transmen are scared, having let the years of their past and the restraints and messages society gave them in their youth hinder them. Maybe even as they grew up to be men, they STILL wouldn’t feel like they have a voice.
There are many transmen today all around the world whose stories are not being told. Not being seen. That needs to change. As we have seen in North Carolina and across the country, brave transmen continue to take a stand on the ridiculous “bathroom bills” by putting themselves out there, like Michael Hughes, who began the #wejustneedtopee social media phenomena.
The reasons for this may well have its roots in a new kind of sexism, one where some (read: gender-conforming) transwomen are held up with a combination of awe and sensationalism (depending on the media outlet or coverage), and transmen bear a double-edged sword of newfound privilege that makes us somehow less “interesting” as individuals or maybe less able to be exploited. In a world where transwomen -- especially transwomen of color -- are the most targeted part of our LGBTQ population, and we really have no idea how many transmen are targeted for violence are discrimination, this is an important knot to unravel. I don’t pretend to have all the answers but the conversation needs to happen.
Finally -- and maybe most importantly -- there's a need to truthfully address the notion of binary gender. Getting beyond that binary is surely one way we will overcome this, but that is new, uncharted water we as a community will be struggling with for a long time. And it will be worth the wait if, in the end, everyone can express their unique gender identity in an authentic way and have that identity acknowledged and respected by all.
Aydian Dowling is an FTM transgender activist, motivational speaker and entrepreneur. He is best known for his commitment to the community through his clothing company, Point5cc.com, and nonprofit, PointofPride.org.