My name is Ilya and I am a Black transmasculine entrepreneur, educator, writer, trans POC activist and economic strategist. I currently work as a physical therapist assistant and personal trainer in NC. I’m particularly here for Black transmasculine affirmation, reconciliation, empowerment and equity. I seek to create spaces for us to share our lived experiences (aside from mainstream media’s whitewashed, co-opted and easily digestible versions). I am now in a place to understand the importance of centering and re-writing our narratives in a world so deeply invested in destroying us. I wish to encourage strong dialogue which redefines Black trans masculinity in ways that are free of gender essentialism, gatekeeping and restrictive regulations…where masculinity and femininity flow together comfortably. I also wish to work with others in cultivating loving relationships while providing safe spaces for us to sit with and/or heal from our deeply engrained traumas. I firmly believe we can create the blueprints that allow for us to collectively engage in the action of ‘black queer love’, which is some of the most radical and revolutionarily love on this planet.
Our narratives are expanding, thankfully. Trans visibility has secured some space in mainstream media. The voices of a select few are amplified and for the most part these select few have utilized their platform to educate others, uplift our stories and bring awareness to broader audiences. Exposure to mainstream arenas also means that our narratives have been bought, sold and commodified for white/heterosexual/cis-gender consumption. Often our experiences have been whitewashed…pending aesthetic approval. Tall, beautiful and binary based identification has been the most common recipe for mainstream trans ‘success’ while all other identities are often ‘othered’…further adding to the oppression, marginalization and discrimination of many folks.
That’s why it’s so phenomenally important to share ALL of our experiences, to document ALL of our journeys, to spread ALL of our truths in ways that feel safe and most comfortable to us. We must center our communities/struggles/voices beyond providing stats for talking puppets in social justice movements to rattle off, beyond intellectualized rhetoric delivered by cis normative LGBT hipsters, who think they’re cool and progressive because they’re up on the latest trans terminology…no more.
As the brilliant indigenous author/activist Zainab Amadahy notes:
“You are the ancestors of the future.”
and you better believe your life story is important; no matter if you’re homeless and reading this on the computer in your local library just to escape the outside weather; no matter if you’re told by society that you’re “fat, ugly and socially awkward”; no matter if you’ve de-transitioned (for survival) and re-transitioned a thousand times over; no matter if your loved ones have yet to honor your pronouns after years on your journey…we got you and we will leave our legacies. I reflect just one of the many Black transmasculine experiences in the U.S, and our true representations are all but non-existent in mainstream media.
So here’s what I’ve observed thus far regarding mainstream transmasculine representation:
Passability: (My personal definition) is to be perceived at first glance as cis-gender. For me, passability often feels like the gateway to social acceptance and validation, the “standard” by which many transmasculine folks set their gender identifiable bench marks. Many of us have stalked the social media pages of the most handsome, hard body, cis-appearing trans men and attempted to emulate their outward presentation. We’ve studied their blue prints, yet many of us are unable to attain their image or status. This has set a bunch of us up for some pretty shitty self-hating internal dialogue. Mainstream media loves to highlight these specific representations of binary-based masculinity, which in turn perpetuates hetero/cis-normative ideals. Beauty politics is real and it is couched in passability.
Passability determines who gets the stamp of approval from the mainstream, whose life matters and whose life ain’t worth anything. Also, passability often determines who gets employed, who is granted protection from the law, adequate healthcare, education, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the ways in which passability is linked to survival (especially in rural settings with little-to-no trans/queer community and resources). I remember when I was placed on a 4-week work contract in Boone, NC…my passability kept me alive as it was a very hostile environment for openly trans/queer folks. So we must continue to push beyond viewing passability as the most socially accepted transmasculine narrative and continue to work on redefining and reclaiming our unique expressions of masculinity aside from androgyny and same gender loving classifications.
Platforms: Your level of “passibilty” will inevitably create a platform (especially if you are white, cis and heteronormative). I view a platform as a place of opportunity. It grants you the freedom of choice and garners you a certain amount of leverage while allowing for you to shine. Even the most random “average trans guy” can be granted a platform solely based on aesthetics. Now platforms can be a beneficial tool when you’re using it to uplift those who don’t have this access. However, platforms primarily funnel your voice, identity, thoughts, wants, needs, desires etc., and do little to promote those that don’t look like you. If you aren’t actively utilizing your platform to uplift others it probably isn’t going to happen naturally. Folks with platforms are especially visible in trans/queer communities because such a small amount of us are provided platforms and usually these folks are white, able-bodied and cis-appearing. It always takes those of us with the platform to bring it back to the folks that are shunned and silenced. We need to bring those stories to forefront whenever possible.
Perceived Threats: So with passability, platforms and the reinforcement of toxic masculine tropes, transmasculine folks are bound to be perceived as a threat to those that rest on the lower rungs of the social hierarchy (especially Black trans women). We inescapably reproduce patriarchy, perpetuate brutally oppressive systems all while remaining oblivious to our existing power and privilege. While our power (often newfound power) feels beautifully liberating to us, it comes at the expense to some of our most vulnerable members in society. Please pay attention to the ways your specific privilege is manifested. We all hold a certain amount of privilege, as it ebbs and flows amongst us throughout various situations in our lives.
Expressions of transmasculinity in mainstream is often rooted in patriarchy and for those of us that are present and understanding of this coercive domination we try so hard to separate ourselves from that affiliation. Oftentimes we stifle our truth for constant fear of reinforcing these damaging systems. Although I understand that there is ongoing work that must occur to dismantle these harmful institutions, I know that many of us are silenced and unjustifiably perceived as threats all while we are truly promoting equity, loving honestly and honoring individuals. We have spent so much time centering and making space for everyone else that we’ve often neglected our needs. It is time for us to truly evaluate those needs, uncover our layers and heal. This is vital in bringing liberation and tearing down those rigid systems many of us seek to free ourselves from.