I started to write a reply in this person’s “ask” box but it’s too lengthy. In the words of Inigo Montoya, “Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up” -
1. There is not one “right” way to be a certain gender. I do think that since gender is socially constructed, there are certain elements that tend to help us identify someone as the gender they perform/internalize. However, when you ask
But people who just bind or just wear baggy clothes or whatever… I don’t know, it just bothers me. Is that all you’re going to do? Not going to insist on male pronouns or a male name?
I wonder why that bothers you. Maybe some people are masculine identified, trans identified, but don’t want male pronouns or a male name? Very frequently, when things bother us, it’s about something inside of ourselves, not the other person. It’s worth examining that response. Am I afraid that my transition is incomplete in some way? That maybe I could have stayed in a different place but felt like I had to do more changes in order to do things “right”? Etc.
2. There are multiple narratives around being FTM. This is a really difficult issue and involves questions about medical/psychological gate-keeping, self-identification in the context of options available in society, and pathologizing transgender people in order to “treat them.” So, when someone says that “being trans is…” and then talks about a constancy of “conflicting emotions,” I worry that they are buying into the theory that being FTM requires treatment that always threatens our well-being. Many trans people get along just fine until they decide to transition. Many trans people become aware only later in life of how they feel about their gender.
And to be honest, it upsets me when people say ‘I just know I wasn’t suppose to be a girl.’ Well, yes, that’s the basic issue concerning FTM men, but it isn’t that simple. That cannot be your whole explanation. Being trans is filled with conflicting emotions from a very young age until present, and is much more deep than words like ‘girl’ and ‘boy’.
3. The relationship between societal misogyny and proscribed gender roles is also really complicated:
I also feel like some women feel that because they’re a tom boy or have masculine likes (sports, etc), they’re transmen. Being a woman is not about make up and cooking and dresses. Wear pants. Play football. Eat take out. Keep a messy house. Have short hair. Just because society says you’re suppose to do this or that because you’re this or that gender means nothing. Being an ‘unconventional’ female does not mean you’re trans. And to be honest, with the shit trans people go through… You’d be best not to think that. You can be “Ms. Jane Doe, that hot chick with the mohawk.”
On the one hand, it is true that simply because someone is tomboyish that does not mean they are transgender. And in general, part of the desire to medically transition is a desire to change one’s body. But how discomfort with one’s self is manifested varies from individual to individual. Do we require that all trans men want bottom surgery of a certain kind? What are the necessary conditions for being “FTM”? It’s a question I still struggle with, because no, I certainly don’t want internalized misogyny to push women to transition when that choice would be damaging to them. But on the other hand, gender is social and sometimes our transgressing gender norms can be a clue. (Equally, there are trans men - and cis men! - who had stereotypically feminine childhoods and yet identify as men.)
I think a book that is helpful in posing some of these questions carefully is FTM by Holly Devor (who has subsequently transitioned and is now Aaron H. Devor, but I think the book is still under his former name). It is a lengthy case study of many men with varying narratives. It investigates the history of medicalizing (and pathologizing) transsexuality and each trans man in the book is interviewed in depth about childhoods, family relationships, sexual histories, feelings around their bodies and puberties, etc. There is no one single shared narrative among them.
Personally, I would like to see some kind of way to split the difference between unhelpful medical gate-keeping which denies agency to individuals and makes gender essentialism normative and turning the label of “FTM” into a catch-all category which has lost its boundaries. Some self-reflection about transition is generally a good thing - informed consent shouldn’t have to entail pathologizing being transgender. I don’t know if that’s possible given our medical system, however.
In conclusion, categories like “FTM” are typically fuzzy in their boundaries, unless we’re talking about a very select set of terms which have been given precise delineation. That means our talk will always be somewhat loose and precise according to a given context, never independently. However, I think we need to be careful in our drawing of boundaries that we do so for good reasons, draw them tentatively and with readiness to revise if necessary, and not out of discomfort that someone’s experience threatens our own. So, when someone says “FTM” means… we should ask things like, why are we making this definition, pragmatically? Who benefits from being included in the boundaries of “FTM”, and why? There may not be minimal necessary conditions that everyone who is FTM shares (think of the word “game” - there is not a single element that all games share, but we can group lots of games under that category for different purposes).
I say this knowing that it is something I personally struggle with on a visceral level. I have a pretty traditional narrative around my transition and fall into a generally binary gender. I sometimes have to examine my reactions to genderqueer persons or trans guys who identify differently (femme or queer, etc.). And you know what? The more I reflect, the more I find those reactions are my own baggage.
You know, I’ve been paying close attention to the FTM community online (since I only know one other transguy in real life, it’s kind of hard to monitor that). It seems, though, that it is becoming a bit of a fad. I don’t say that because the numbers of transmen are growing, but because of what…