You Need Help: As a Transmasc, Am I Welcome in Lesbian Spaces?

feature image photo by Kent Andreasen for For Them

Q:

So I started testosterone as part of gender affirming treatment back in January of this year. Over this time I’ve started to realise that I might identify as a man rather than as non binary and the physical changes from the T has meant that most people now read me as male and use he/him pronouns for me.

The issue is that this should be a really positive experience, and in a lot of ways it is, but I’m also feeling incredibly sad because it feels like I’m giving up a big part of my identity. It took me a long while to come out as a teenager and ever since then I’ve been really proud to identify as gay. It’s a label that’s informed the way I move through life and being part of the queer community is important to me. Now I’m being read as a straight man with a girlfriend, it just feels really incongruent with who I am and my life experiences have been up to this point.

For example, I’ve definitely noticed the way people respond to me is different. Male privilege means that people interrupt me less/tend to be more helpful generally but conversely, I can see that women/non binary/queer people are more guarded around me – which I 100% understand because as I would be as well, but being on the other side of it feels really strange.

So even though I feel much more at ease with myself, I still feel like I’m going through a bit of an identity crisis. My girlfriend joked that she’s now the only gay one in the relationship (she’s bisexual) and that I’ll have to make peace with being a straight man – which now I’ve thought about it is true. I’m only attracted to women so it feels wrong to co-opt a word that doesn’t really apply to me anymore but I’m also genuinely a bit heartbroken to give it up. Equally, I don’t really know what spaces I’d be welcomed in anymore. For example when I was thinking about who to reach out to for advice, I immediately went to autostraddle as I’ve loved and donated to this site for years. But even as I’m writing this, I’m realising that I should maybe no longer be included in this community.

So I guess my questions are, is it still ok for me to use the word gay to describe myself even as a transmasc who’s interested only in women? And do I have to just make my peace with leaving lesbian spaces even though I’ve spent the majority of my adult life as part of that community? And is it ok to grieve that part of my life despite the fact that I’m now benefiting from male privilege? Is it ok to even submit this question to your website?

I don’t know. I’m just feeling very mixed up about everything — do you have any advice?

A:

Hey friend! First things first, congratulations on starting testosterone. I know there’s a lot of thought and care that goes into making a decision like that, and it’s really cool to take that step towards feeling like your most authentic self. Congrats on one year. I’m in a very similar situation as you. I came out as non-binary in 2020, and it took me a long time to accept the “trans” label, mostly because I didn’t think I was deserving of it. Over the past three years, I’ve adopted the label “transmasc” and am slowly beginning to lean more binary as I prepare for top surgery and am considering starting testosterone, and I use they/he pronouns. I thought it might be helpful to know about my identity before I jump into advice.

You’re completely valid for feeling a loss of an identity that felt correct to you for so long. I still, to this day, cling onto my dyke identity despite also only dating women and presenting very masculine. You see, for me and you, dating women wasn’t the only thing that made us lesbians or gay. It’s an entire culture with a rich history of tradition, identity, protest, community, and so much more. Who we have sex with is just one piece of that puzzle, and maybe for you, it’s a small piece. It’s natural for us to want to hold onto that, and I don’t think anything we do with hormone replacement therapy or pronouns needs to take that away from us.

Where I do think we should be conscientious is why and how we experience privilege as masc-presenting folks in the world, and especially in the queer world. You’re already recognizing the ways in which you’re experiencing life as a passing trans guy, which is miles ahead of what most cis men are doing. It’s a tricky thing, because passing can be so affirming (while also recognizing it’s not a competition, it’s not the end-all-be-all, etc.) but can also mean we walk through life a little differently now. Perhaps there are ways you can signal your safety to folks without outing yourself or putting your mental or physical safety at risk. Maybe it’s a pin or a flag or just the way you handle the space you take up in lesbian spaces. You can even ask your lesbian friends about ways in which you can take up less space in those situations, and they may have helpful suggestions for you.

Because yes, sure, technically as a trans dude, a lesbian bar or event may not be the most accurate space for you. But…there are no trans guy bars. There are hardly any transmasc-specific spaces, and those become less and less abundant the further away you get from major cities. So we pivot, and we choose a space that is most comfortable or known to us, and that happens to be lesbian spaces. In my opinion, so long as you’re not hogging the pool table, mansplaining, or picking fights, you’re more than valid in being there. I live in New York City, where lesbian spaces are fading all around us, and me and my transmasc homies are always hanging at dyke bars. We patronize the business, we tip our bartenders well, we don’t get in the way, and we sing our hearts out to MUNA when it comes on.

On the other hand, there is something to be said about this limbo in community that you’re feeling. Why not lean a little bit the other way just to try it out? So, rather than bask in the comfort of the lesbian spaces you know and love, why not take a bit of a risk and try to make community with other trans guys? Again, there may not be physical spaces for us the way that there are for cis gay men and for lesbians, but there are online communities and other opportunities to engage with folks like me and you. I’ve made a ton of transmasc friends through social media, recreational sports teams, and hobbies like comedy! I know that making friends as an adult is already hard, but it can really make a difference to have folks in your corner who can relate to your day-to-day life.

Recently, and with the expansion of queer discourse online, there’s been a lot of conversations around the definition of lesbian, and more specifically, who is allowed to be one. Some transphobic folks, and more specifically, TERFs, believe you must be a cis woman, others argue it’s for any non-male to claim, and a lot of the younger generation couldn’t give a shit who uses a label as long as they do so with respect. At the end of the day, labels are up to the individual. And yes, they change! I went from being a cis-het woman to a bisexual woman to a lesbian woman to a nonbinary lesbian to a transmasc lesbian. I think the most important thing about that evolution is that we try our best to live in authenticity, contribute to our communities, protect our siblings, and create a better world for new generations of queer folks to come.

While I still use the terms lesbian and dyke to describe myself, I have also really enjoyed using queer as a descriptor. It’s such a great way to make an umbrella statement: I am not cis-het. And maybe it describes who I have sex with, maybe it’s about my gender, but mostly it’s about living a life that is outside of pretty much every binary. Have you experimented much with using this descriptor/label? How would you feel about spending a few days or weeks using it as a label to yourself and to trusted loved ones and see how it feels? It might help you still feel the familiarity and comfort of identifying as gay while also more accurately and really, vaguely, describing your identity.

I truly admire how thoughtful you are as you navigate this new part of your life, this new way you’re being perceived by the outside world. As trans folks, we are constantly juggling multiple avenues of oppression, countless opportunities to feel dehumanized throughout the day, and, as you said, identity crises. The fact that you are taking others’ feelings of safety and comfort into account as you go on this journey is so beautiful and so representative of what being a part of this community is. I think all of your questions and concerns are valid, and you shouldn’t feel bad for having doubts or apprehensions about any of this.

However, I think you should give yourself some grace. I think you should take as much time as you need and even if it’s little by little, chip away at the root of some of your questions. Internalized transphobia could be at the root of not wanting to give up the gay label. Wanting to remain in lesbian spaces might be a self-preservation technique, because maybe you’re not ready to hit Buffalo Wild Wings for the Bills game with the boys just yet. You are quite literally going through, and please forgive the pun, a transition. These things take time. Don’t let the male privilege get to your head, and continue to have open, honest conversations with the queer folks in your life, even if you conduct little check-ins like “Hey, I recognize I’m the only guy here tonight, is that cool with y’all?”

As for your concerns with your belonging within the Autostraddle community, you are welcome here. You are celebrated here. Your being here is crucial in expanding the queer community as a whole, rather than one specific label. I’m going to link some pieces we have put out recently that are written by and for transmasculine folks, but I also want you to know that we don’t only have to consume content that is by us and for us (but it’s pretty dope when it is). Autostraddle is historically and famously a lesbian publication, but lesbians date trans folks, sometimes they become trans, sometimes they are trans or they have a trans best friend or trans sibling, and so on and so forth. We can all learn from being in community with one another, and I would go as far as to argue that it makes us all better queers when we can understand experiences outside of our own.


You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.

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Motti

Motti (they/he) is a New York born and raised sorority girl turned writer, comedian, and content creator (whatever that means these days). Motti has been featured on We're Having Gay Sex Live, The Lesbian Agenda Show, Reductress Haha Wow! Live, the GayJoy Digest, and even played the role of "Real Life Lesbian" on Billy on the Street. In 2022, they wrote about how clit sucker toys are a scam, sweet gay revenge, chasing their dreams, and getting run over by a pick up truck in their now-abandoned newsletter Motti is An Attention Whore. Motti has a Masters in Public Administration and Local Government Management, you'd never know it from the shit they post online (see previous sentence), but occasionally he'll surprise you with his knowledge of civic engagement and electoral processes. They live in Brooklyn with their tuxedo cat, Bo, and their 20 houseplants.

Motti has written 14 articles for us.

8 Comments

  1. This is for the person asking the question:
    I don’t have any advice to give, but I only wanted to tell you that you are not alone. It seems that many if us (especially older people) who came of age in the lesbian culture of the last decades feel this way.
    I am yet to find people in real life (not online) who think the same though. The trans people I know look at me weirdly when I express similar feelings.
    I even joke to my partner that I am culturally lesbian (which is mostly true)!
    I guess we have to make peace with these feelings. Apart from that I don’t have any advice yet.

    You’re not alone !

  2. I occasionally use the Lex app and lately I’ve seen more than one post from trans masc people who are complaining about lesbians or women attempting to interact with them. They are openly annoyed and want their space to be more T4T but then I notice when I look at their profile or posts, there usually isn’t anywhere where they specify “do not interact if..” or “T4T only” or most of the other posts seem to be content-wise, aimed to a general audience when they actually have a specific audience in mind.

    I understand the frustration that they’re dealing with but it made me think though, how are people supposed to know when and when not to interact when it’s not really specified on someone’s profile and this app hosts a large varied online community?

    I think it’s a difficult thing to navigate how we can all share the same spaces and that there can be many frustrations and uncertainties that can arise in trying to balance what everyone wants out of an app. But it’s worth it overall to keep talking about it and figuring out what works.

  3. Oh baby baby baby it’s fine! Trans dude dykes are real and strong and they’re my friends! Read some Leslie Feinberg or Davey Davis’ newsletter or hell even Dykette, I promise you’re going to be okay, you don’t have to be a straight man unless you really want to be

  4. I’m a happy enby who leans a bit transmasc, and I continue to go to women’s events and women’s spaces of all sorts. The way I see it, most of the things that negatively affect women and lesbians also negatively affect me. Infantilization, lack of control over reproductive care, lack of control over the body in general, difficulty entering traditionally masculine areas (e.g. the hardware store) and more.
    I especially like that in lesbian spaces and women spaces I can use the things I learned when/because I was a woman, and not have that make me less of a man (I love sewing, and love talking about fashion, etc).

    The patriarchy may be throwing water balloons specifically at women, but their aim isn’t great and transman are usually spattered as well. So it makes sense for us to go behind the protective barriers women have built, we just need to make sure we don’t bring water balloons in with us.

  5. Over the years, I’ve had many friends and aquaintances in your situation, and i have a bunch of thoughts about this.
    I think what isnt discussed enough is that T is different from E in that you can’t really straddle that in between space very long. Usually within the first year or two there comes the moment when you completely flop to the other side.
    Especially if you have spent your whole life in female-only environments, this might be a bit much, and I’ve known several people who have even “detransitioned” because of this, to get more into that inbetween space again.
    Another thing that’s different is that lesbian spaces are traditionally more closed off, or even separatist, than gay male spaces, which makes everything more complicated for trans guys with your background. And because of the good passing, it also means outing yourself as trans every time, to avoid being treated like an intruding cis dude.
    When you don’t fully feel like a guy, and are not used to male environments, this can really suck. I believe because trans women with a gay background dont have these problems so much, they are traditionally rarely discussed.
    So i think there needs to a concerted efford to come up with novel solutions for this. Building communities with other trans men in the same boat is definitely part of it.
    I’m not affected by this problem because i have a different background, but i believe you should treat it less as an individual problem and more as a structural problem, tackling it heads on. What i mean is, not going into the defensive or staying at home. Also not behaving like or trying to be a “real cis guy”. Be exactly what you are, you are different from cis guys and other trans guys. You have a right to your history and culture.
    You are lucky in that lesbian communities have become a lot more open to trans people.The situation was a lot worse 15 years ago.
    We can’t know were all this will lead, because it’s a relatively new situation. So it’s your task and your opportunity to create your own future for yourself and others like you. But you don’t do it on your own. Go for it and stay strong!

  6. So want to give some advise, as somebody who is actually a decade on T and still very much identifies with lesbian culture. What the above commenter said is true – you can’t rely on being androgynous for a long time. However, while that means you can’t engage with lesbian/dyke spaces in the same way, it doesn’t mean you have to be totally closed off from them.

    I don’t go to women only or ‘women and non-binary’ spaces (unless the latter has explicitly said they are fine with non-binary people who look like me) spaces or groups. A good green flag is if an event says it’s for ‘dykes of all genders’. I make sure I know somebody else going to them who can vouch for me being there in good faith if needed (it’s never happened to my face, but I appreciate it can make others there feel more comfortable if somebody can address some of their anxieties).

    While I’m usually read as a cis guy on sight, I’m openly transmasc – I wouldn’t feel ok being in these spaces being stealth. I’ve been transitioned long enough this doesn’t make me feel anything in terms of validity etc, but YMMV.

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