Why Trans Men Can't Grow Up

We are not victims, infants, or in danger

Z. P.Hopkins
Photo by Maksim Chernishev on Unsplash

Have you ever noticed that the media and the public conversation around trans rights rarely focuses on or even mentions older trans men? And no, I don't mean trans male pensioners, although they are also absent from discussion. I mean adult trans men, who are no longer teenagers, or who have been out as trans for several years at least. 

When did you last see an adult trans man on TV, read about us in a book, or hear one of us talk on a podcast? As a trans masculine person myself who is immersed in both the local and international trans community, it’s jarring to see the difference between the happily transitioned trans men I know living our best lives and a media environment which pretends we simply don't exist.

When I tell cisgender people I'm trans, it’s not uncommon for them to assume I’m a trans woman, because that is the only kind of trans adult they can imagine. For context, I visibly present as male, have a mustache and sideburns, pretty much the only times I have been misgendered in the last five years have been by well-meaning cis people who hear I'm trans and assume I must be a trans woman.

True - I'm not fourteen with colourful hair, the most common stereotypes of trans men. I just look like a guy, until I say I'm trans, that is. Then people make some very strange assumptions.

Not monsters, but victims

The current moral panic against transgender people has affected trans men and women in different ways.

Trans women - who had more visibility before the moral panic began are often portrayed as monsters: dangerous predators that the cis population should be afraid of. While making monsters of trans women, a marginalised group, is both disgusting and dangerous, it is also important to understand how trans men are being misrepresented and how this misrepresentation is being used to curtail our human rights.

Unlike making monsters of trans women, Gender Critical and other overtly anti-trans campaigners tend to portray trans men and assigned female at birth (AFAB) non-binary people as victims. It is claimed that we are: “confused teenagers, transitioning because of social contagion, and will surely regret it later”.

We are not allowed to be responsible for our choice to transition. Instead, we must have been tricked into it by some nefarious external force: doctors, teachers, the internet and our peers are often blamed. The conspiracy theory “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria” (ROGD) was first postulated by Dr. Lisa Littman in a 2018 study, and popularised in Abigail Shrier’s 2020 book Irreversible Damage.

Littman claims there is an epidemic of AFAB young people incorrectly identifying as transgender. That this rise of young AFAB people identifying as trans is proof of a “social contagion” making young people identify as trans, and that as these people are not truly transgender, so it is necessary to prevent them receiving gender affirming care.

Social contagion is a fallacy

This study had a serious methodological flaw: its data came from the observations of anonymous parents on anti-trans websites and has now been thoroughly academically debunked. But despite failing to meet basic academic standards, this “social contagion hypothesis” is still very popular in both anti-trans circles and the liberal media and therefore it is still incredibly dangerous.

As an argument, "social contagion" removes agency from young trans men and AFAB non-binary people who the anti-trans movement seek to classify as female, infantilising them and portraying them as easily suggestible and in need of protection. It falls neatly into classic misogynistic trope which portrays young women (or in this case people viewed as young women) as unable to know their own minds and make decisions in their own best interests.

While trans women are not allowed to be women, trans men are forced against our will to be women, specifically young women. The Gender Critical movement refuses to acknowledge the existence of older trans men as we simply do not fit their narrative.

If there are scores of adult trans men, happy in our transitions, who feel we definitely made the right choice, it becomes very hard to justify preventing young trans men from transitioning. Claims of preventing transition to “prevent future regret” fall flat when it’s pointed out that for most trans men and AFAB non-binary people this regret simply never materialises.

Detransition scare tactics

When slightly older trans men do gain visibility we are still infantilised and told we will regret our choice to transition later. Actor Elliot Page - who very publicly came out as trans in his 30s - is a perfect example of this. Though Page was clearly an adult when he made the choice to transition, anti-trans commenters were quick to emphasise Page’s youth as they speculated he will “soon regret his choice”.

To this day, every public appearance Page makes is analysed by anti-trans campaigners, hopefully searching his facial expressions and body language for signs that he secretly regrets transitioning. Fears of transition regret and eventual detransition are leveraged as weapons against trans men and AFAB non-binary people.

We are told we cannot be trusted to make choices in our own best interest so we cannot be allowed to transition. Stories of extremely rare detransitioners (people who regret transition and seek to return to their birth gender) are used as scare tactics to prevent all trans men transitioning. This is despite the proven rarity of detransition, with gender affirmation surgeries having far lower regret rates than routine operations such as knee surgery.

Yet these stories are routinely being used to take away our right to healthcare - and not just for minors under the age of 18. Bills have been introduced across the US attempting to ban gender-affirming care to anyone under 25 and even in some cases to ban this care entirely.  Meanwhile the NHS waiting list for trans healthcare in the UK is stretching beyond half a decade in length and the NHS clinic for trans youth has been shut down entirely. It is being made harder and harder to transition safely and legally.

The real danger

Recently, there have been several high budget documentaries telling the story of a couple of AFAB detransitioners while ignoring the tens of thousands of happily transitioned trans men. It’s easy to claim that transition is a social contagion affecting teenagers when that age group is all anyone sees of trans men.

Older - and happily transitioned - trans men are just hidden from the public. We are almost completely invisible outside of the trans community and that is a very scary prospect. After all, who will notice an invisible community having its rights taken away or when we are forced to disappear completely?

I wish I could say the solution is just being loud and proud, but it isn't as simple as that. Trans men and women have been screaming about trans erasure for years now, while the cis-liberal establishment covers their ears and hums. And with violent anti-LGBTQ+ hate crime on the rise, it's more dangerous to be openly trans than ever.

Trans people right now are being pushed to our very limit. Most of us are just struggling to get by; we need our communities to rally around us in support. We need cis allies to help. Please write about adult and happily transitioned trans men, publish our works, cast us in your plays and films, and - most important of all - talk about us.

Call out hate and remind people that we are very real, we have always been here and right now our community is in real danger.

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