Navigating personal masculinities for trans men

Graphic by Carrie Clowers '18

Graphic by Carrie Clowers '18

BY LEO RACHMAN ’20

The definition of trans-ness — and the concept of transition — is different for each person. Some trans individuals need hormones to feel aligned with their body, some need surgeries, some need both and then there are some trans folks who don’t need either of those things to feel valid within their minds and bodies. 

I came to Mount Holyoke in the fall of 2016 with doubts about my gender identity and expression. I have always been masculine presenting, but my identity as a woman was never solid. There was always a certain level of cognitive dissonance that I experienced when I noticed changes in how boys around me were treated versus my female counterparts. I was always interested in these differences and how I could change my experiences to be more like those of my male associates. I grew up with a brother three years my senior, and I always wanted to emulate him. He strove to be his best, and I wanted to be my best as well. He was an amazing role model for me in more ways than one. His masculinity was one that wasn’t toxic, and he felt emotions deeply. When I was young I didn’t realize how far I wanted to go in emulating him.

My journey to becoming who I am today was rocky. I came out to my family multiple times, but all of the labels that I assigned myself didn’t seem to fit until I settled on my most authentic identity as a man. When I came to Mount Holyoke, I was excited to be seen differently than I had been at home. When you’re a child, you have almost no agency in how you live on a daily basis. You have to work on everybody else’s schedule. I was excited to start carving out time for myself and sit with my own thoughts to evaluate who I really am. 

I’m a sophomore, and last year was especially difficult because it was the first time I came out to myself as a trans man. I remember when I first had the thought. I had been spending time with my then girlfriend and our mutual friends before going back to my room and putting on a compression bra and loose fitting clothing. That week, I had especially been wrestling with thoughts of trans-ness and when I laid down, I thought to myself; “Oh! I’m a guy! Of course!” 

On one hand, I suddenly felt much more comfortable with myself, yet on the other hand, I was scared. My only experience with transitioning had been with trans guys on YouTube and their main experiences were going right on testosterone when they “figured it out,” getting top surgery and becoming big burly men like they “always wanted to be.” I felt I didn’t align with that same narrative; I hadn’t known that I was trans since I was a little kid. It was only at this moment that I really came out to myself. I decided I would have my own experience and create my own narrative.

I came out to my family yet again, and after some time, they began to understand me. I really would like to thank my mom for being as amazing as she has been throughout this whole process. As soon as I came out to her, she began reading about trans identities and educated herself about trans issues. As far as my role-model brother goes, he was amazing from the get-go. He even helped me have discussions with my father, who was not as accepting. I was very lucky to have that outcome, as that is not a privilege that most trans people experience. When I first came out, I decided to be as comfortable with my body as possible. I wouldn’t begin hormone replacement or get an expensive surgery unless I was completely sure that’s what I wanted. 

Now, I’m 19 years old going on 20 in June, and I finally feel like I’m ready to begin making changes to my body. I’m tired of waiting, and I’m about as comfortable as I’m going to get at this stage. I have fully made the mental transition, and I feel like I’ve made peace accepting myself as a trans person in the world. The only thing I’m scared about is when I start taking hormones and passing as male. I know that many trans individuals rejoice at that, but I know that I will have to really start paying attention to how I treat people and to stay authentic. 

Something happens to trans men when they take hormones. This isn’t a universal experience, but once they start passing they begin to overcompensate for their masculinity, often by embodying toxic masculine traits. Again, this isn’t always the case, but some men lose sight of their vulnerabilities and try to cover them up by being as masculine as possible to help them “pass” better. In my opinion, every guy should try to carve out their own definition of masculinity and not define themselves by mainstream representations of men. I feel like when I go on hormones I will need to pay special attention to my actions and still be the person I have always been. I want to remain kind and giving, and I want to be sure that I touch every person  I interact with. It’s so important for me to leave a mark with people so they know who I really am. 

I hope the Mount Holyoke community will accept me, and I will do everything in my power to stay true to myself and create my own definition of masculinity. It’s been a tough journey for me, but I have grown a lot. I have always been very self-aware, a beautiful trait that many trans people share. It takes a certain measure of self-awareness to be able to find yourself amongst a lifetime of cognitive dissonances. I hope that my story has struck a chord with at least someone. To all my trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people out there, stay true to you. Sorry for the clichés, but you define you. The world doesn’t get to decide who you will be. 

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