by Nicolás Cortez
Disclaimer: This is my experiences and every trans person has different experiences. I also don’t speak for all trans people and I do not share the same mentality as all trans people.
photographed by Elizabeth Sanchez
For as long as I could remember, all my friends have been girls. I’ve always had a hard time relating to guys, ironically for a trans guy. I’ve always been surrounded by traditional femininity, as my mother mostly raised me and I had more aunts than uncles. Many times when I recount the lack of masculinity in my life, I wonder why I ended up transitioning. I tend to question this idea a lot and even find myself questioning my sexuality and gender identity. Did I transition because I lacked masculinity in my life? Or did not having masculinity cause me to be gay? Sometimes I think that being raised and mostly associate with cis women has made me feel less masculine because my only real source to learn about it is teenage cis men.
Like I said before, my transition is my own journey. I actually started to fully realize my gender identity when I joined Sadie Nash Leadership Project, a program for young women (it has now become even more open for trans people). I knew that I was different from other people in my cohort, and I was uncomfortable with some things that people would talk about. I couldn’t fully relate with some of the workshops I would go to as it was targeted to womanhood. I felt like I was a drop of ink in a bucket of water as if I was an intrusion. I didn’t feel like I belonged there at all. I barely understood myself and it felt like everyone else knew exactly where they were and who they were. Every time I would introduce myself, I felt like I was lying. As if I was introducing someone who didn’t exist. But it wasn’t until I went to a class on Gender and Sexuality that helped me finally realize my identity. When I came to terms with my gender, I started slowly socially transitioning and I knew that if I started in this program that I would be safe, and I was.
I didn’t really ‘officially’ come out. I told everyone to call me Nicolas and no one really questioned it. If anything, they found whatever nicknames they could call me to make me feel better. Not having to explain myself was a privilege. At that point, I was allowed to just exist. But when I got back to school, I had a hard time getting everyone on the same page. It was difficult to say the least. I had people who would tell their friends to not use my name, people who became even more hostile towards me, and those who really just tried to avoid me. I was lucky that I wasn’t really bullied. I was just surrounded by extreme confusion and criticism. I couldn’t find the courage to ever speak up for myself until I had one of my friends correct someone who was clearly using my birth name to make me uncomfortable. I couldn’t be anything but grateful to my friend and how she defended my right to use my own name. I believe that hearing my name and my pronouns was an essential part to my identity and being validated not only by others but for myself. If I couldn’t hear my name out in the world, then it meant I didn’t exist. I needed to hear someone else correct others to know that I had somewhat of an ability to even stand up for myself. I learned from my friends to love who I am.
I feel that as a trans man, I thought I needed to fully blend in with other guys. That I needed to think like them, act like them, speak like them, and want the same things they wanted. But I learned through my friend’s that I didn’t need to assimilate to traditional masculinity to be validated. That if I wanted people to fully accept me for who I am, they didn’t need me to be another boy, I needed to be myself.
But even with being in these extremely accepting and radical places, I still felt uncomfortable when someone would say “I hate all men” and” all men are trash”. Then hearing “but Nico, you’re different.” Because I’m not fully a man to some people, and to others I’m just more aware of ‘how much of a man I am’. Many times I hear these kinds of sentiments in spaces where I’m having conversations about oppression and prejudice. This is not me saying that we must defend every action a man does, but realize what these words actually do to people. Being someone who identifies as a man, I share spaces with individuals who see masculinity as this extremely toxic and destructive thing then preach to this idea of equality, acceptance, understanding, and compassion. I, as a trans person, don’t feel welcomed or accepted when this distaste for masculinity is normalized and me being the “other” causing me to question how I am truly seen in certain spaces.
I’ve always been the person that felt that when it comes to dismantling toxic masculinity, the first step is to allow young men to know that they are not inherently evil beings. By creating hostility and fear of young men, specifically young men of color, a sort of complex is created where young men are told they are scary and intimidating and that those feelings are normal. I remember once during an advisory meeting when they put me in a girls advisory and we were discussing sexual assault. I remember my teacher clearly stating “be weary of every man you interact with at a party.” I didn’t know how to react, and I expressed my own self confusion that if I am a man who is not to be trusted by any woman around me.
I continue with my belief that to begin to break down everyday sexist acts, we have to allow feminine presenting folks live safely and freely but also create space for masculine presenting people to be held accountable, to receive support to reconstruct their mentalities, and dismantle this idea of all men being the scum of the earth. While we understand the privilege we will hold when shifting towards a masculine space, allow us trans men to transition without shame.
Another thing to consider is how these kinds of thoughts translate to how certain spaces treat trans people. As a transgender man, I could feel isolated or almost festishized when I’m treated nicely because of the way I look. Most of the time people think I’m some butch lesbian or dyke since some cis folks doesn’t view me as wholly being a man, even while respecting my pronouns. So while I’m being praised for bravery and being authentic, I’m also being told that masculinity is a terrible thing.
This also affects the way some people view trans women. I have to use Caitlyn Jenner as an example (trust me I don’t like her either but she’s still a woman of trans experience). When Caitlyn Jenner won the “Woman of the Year” award, one of the first things I heard is “she hasn’t been a woman long enough.” That’s straight up freaking invalidation! Trust me, and I thought the same thing till someone said that about me. You cannot measure how much of a “man” or “woman” a trans person is by the amount of time we’ve socialized ourselves (by force or by choice) as our assigned gender. So by having this mentality that someone like Caitlyn Jenner who didn’t transition till much later in life, is enough to be transphobic in a feminist space. Then shit, how do I know those same individuals don’t think the same way about me?
I’ve been extremely privileged to be in a space that accepts everyone and is working to expand that acceptance further in their policies, but if the individuals who are part of those movements don’t pull themselves to break down certain transphobic and close-minded ideas of what masculinity (both in presentation and experience) means in different contexts.
Since there’s always multiple to the same story, and need to be addressed equally and to largest extent needed to resolve the issue. Again, I’m not trying to be apologetic towards toxic masculinity or any other negative things that men have done or have been doing. Of course, masculinity throughout history has oppressed others and formed a system of patriarchy. However, as a person who is essentially learning how to be myself, I cannot love and embrace my masculinity when the spaces I’m growing in do not accept masculinity as a whole.
Not everything is rainbow flags, binders, and tucks when it comes to transitioning. It can sometimes be a shit show. Not everyone can be as loved as Gigi Gorgeous or Laverne Cox. Not everyone has an easy time just existing— trans or cis, and sometimes you even feel left out from your own community. So sometimes you need to hold on to small moments where you’ve felt loved and accepted where nothing negative even mattered. We have so much work to do and we have to continue to question ideas that we thought in the past and currently in order to begin to formulate new ones for the future. If you’re a cis woman whose part of the performative activism when it comes to the trans community, remember to include my masculine existence in your girls night when talking about men, aight?