From its start, the gay liberation movement was also a youth movement, the two can not be separated; one of the primary places from which the movement spread was high school. In the early 1970’s students at the George Washington School in New York City formed the Gay International Youth Society, with three goals and a first point of action: to have a school dance in which they felt free, safe, and celebrated. The first of these goals being able to form gay groups, 2nd fair representation in courses, and 3rd being to be treated as an equal human being (Ventura 2022). In order to achieve these rights the students wanted to get all the educational material that treated homosexuality as something bad to be removed from the curriculum. These demands were not only for their school but for schools all over New York City. The group’s ultimate goal was to create a network of gay student groups across the city. These students were motivated by youth activists that came before them one of these being Sylvia Rivera who was just 17 years old during the Stonewall Riots.
Now these students are the ones who inspire future generations. These organizers are often not given the attribution of being considered the first GSA rather that distinction gets given to Concord Academy in Massachusetts yet these organizers preceded them by 17 years, but the NYC group was predominantly mixed race and with a diverse gender and sexuality population. The George Washington School organization rooted its access to rights in the Student Bill of Rights that New York instituted in 1970 which gave students the right to assemble and form political groups. By the late 80’s the strength of the group was barely known but a movement arose that teachers, faculty, and parents should be helping youth advocate rather than doing it independently which is what we saw at the George Washington School, and this adult protection is largely still the mentality today.
Students at the George Washington school created a model for youth and student organizing. There are now around 1,100 GSA clubs in California and the organization spans at least 40 states. Just like the original club worked to make change students today are also using their organizations for change, an example of one of these clubs taking action is the students of Palm Bay Magnet High School who led and organized a walkout of over 200 students in response to anti LGBTQ legislation being passed in Florida. This walkout was part of a greater statewide movement which drew attention to the legislation and government. This September we saw another example to students organizing and using their voice to make change when students at Great Oak High School in Temecula walked out in protest of district policy requiring parent to be notified if their child identifies as transgender, this is just one of multiple walkouts that has happened in this district since the policy was passed.
GSA is not the only student organization working for queer and trans rights, there are now countless different organizations in schools created by students to support students. Not only do we see youth activism in school today but there are numerous other organizations outside of school clubs that work to unite youth to fight against injustices they are facing. One of these groups is Queer Youth Assemble, their mission “to bring joy and autonomy to queer youth under 25 in the US and its territories”. This organization both creates spaces of queer joy, through seasonal gathering events but also participates and organizes various protests to ensure protection, equity, and justice to queer and trans youth across the country. Queer youth assemble also uses their platform to discuss issues that affect all but disproportionately queer and trans youth. Queer Youth Assemble and the dozens of other queer youth organizations work on highlighting the intersecting identities that put queer youth more at risk. We are not able to talk about activism without talking about students who are fighting for students.
“Assembling a World by Queer Youth, for Queer Youth.” Queer Youth Assemble, queeryouthassemble.org/. Accessed 27 Sept. 2023.
Horseman, Jeff. “Temecula Students Walk out of Class to Protest Transgender Policy.” Press Enterprise, Press Enterprise, 23 Sept. 2023, www.pressenterprise.com/2023/09/22/temecula-students-walk-out-of-class-to-protest-transgender-policy/.
Ventura, Anya. “The Radical History of the First Gay-Straight Alliance.” The Nation, 24 June 2022, www.thenation.com/article/society/gay-liberation-high-school/.Walker, Finch. “Palm Bay Students Protest Laws Restricting Education, LGBTQ Rights and Abortion.” Florida Today, Florida Today, 21 Apr. 2023, www.floridatoday.com/story/news/2023/04/21/palm-bay-students-join-statewide-walkout-over-bills-targeting-lgbtq-community/70139083007/.
When you hear the word nonbinary, what comes to mind? Perhaps you think of a third gender category or an X gender marker on official documents. Maybe you think of a recent rise in the popularity of they/them pronouns. Do you picture a white, thin, and androgynous person? Or all of the above? In reality, these are all misconceptions, stereotypes, and generalizations. Nonbinary as an identity category is expansive and not new; in fact, gender expansiveness has a rich history. Moreover, nonbinary individuals today are as diverse as those whose identities align with a binary gender. Today, approximately 11% of LGBTQ adults in the U.S., about 1.2 million people, identify as nonbinary. As nonbinary identities receive greater recognition—positive or negative—it is crucial to dismantle these misconceptions and validate and celebrate those beyond the binary.
Nonbinary is Expansive
Nonbinary is an expansive category; someone who is nonbinary does not fit neatly into the gender binary of man and woman. They may exist somewhere in between binary genders or beyond the binary completely. Their gender identity may be fluid or fluctuate. They may be genderless. Nonbinary is not a third gender, though nonbinary individuals are often subsumed into one monolithic category. Myriad identities lie beneath the umbrella category of nonbinary, such as genderfluid, genderqueer, agender, and bigender, just to name a few. Nonbinary identities also fall under the trans umbrella, since nonbinary folks do not align with the sex they were designated at birth. There are as many ways to be nonbinary as there are ways to be a man or a woman, and there are as many nonbinary identities as there are nonbinary people. The beauty of nonbinaryness lies in its unlimited potential; one is not restricted to binary gender ideals, norms, and roles.
Nonbinary folks exist beyond limiting stereotypes. Despite media portrayals and the select few individuals uplifted by social media algorithms, nonbinary people are not solely white, thin, and androgynous. Sure, these nonbinary folks do exist; however, nonbinary individuals can have an intersection of (often marginalized) identities. Nonbinary folks can be BIPOC, femme, masc, disabled, fat, and of any age. One’s gender expression does not define their gender identity, nor do their pronouns. Everyone’s nonbinaryness is valid no matter how they present, express themselves, or exist in the world. You cannot tell someone’s gender simply by looking at them. There are no rules to being nonbinary.
On They/Them Pronouns
They/them pronouns are not a recent addition to the English language. In fact, the use of they/them as a singular pronoun dates back to the 14th century. The earliest recorded use of “they” as a gender-neutral pronoun was in 1386 in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. Shakespeare also used the singular “they” in works such as Hamlet in 1599. Further, the use of neopronouns—pronouns other than he, she, or they—are not new, despite the prefix; the first documented use of neopronouns was in 1789. While they/them pronouns are widely considered to be gender neutral, and many nonbinary folks do use them, nonbinary individuals may also use gendered pronouns, neopronouns, a mix of pronouns, or no pronouns at all. The adoption and widespread usage of they/them pronouns is just the tip of the iceberg in the fight for trans rights.
Intersectionality & Identity
Nonbinary individuals with an intersection of identities, especially BIPOC nonbinary folks, face multiple forms of overlapping oppression. Race and gender are inextricable from one another; someone’s race shapes their gender, and vice versa. Historically, and still today, racism and queer- and transphobia work to erase and invalidate nonbinary and gender expansive BIPOC. Defining trans and nonbinary history is a tricky task as well, as nonbinary is a Western and relatively recent term employed to describe gender nonconformity and expansiveness. We cannot impose modern identity categories like nonbinary onto people of the past since conceptions of gender continuously change across time, place, and culture. However, we can observe histories as trans—without labeling the person themself—in cases where individuals transgress gender.
Indigenous Gender Expansiveness
Gender expansive* identities are not a recent development; gender expansiveness has existed across time among Indigenous cultures around the globe—and still today. Over 150 Indigenous tribes in what is now known as North America recognize some form of gender expansiveness, often referred to as the Indigenous umbrella term Two-Spirit. Two-Spirit was coined by an intertribal council in Winnipeg, Canada in 1990 to distance queer and gender expansive Natives from (discriminatory and/or inaccurate) Western identity categories and to unite the Native LGBTQ+ community. Two-Spirit reflects the spiritual connection an Indigenous person has to their gender, as well as the specific roles they may fulfill in their community. Many individual Native tribes in North America have distinct and culturally specific terms to describe gender expansiveness in their cultures, such as Needleh in the Navajo tribe and Lhamana in the Zuni tribe. Further, Indigenous gender expansive categories exist worldwide. Hijras in India, legally recognized as a third gender in 2014, have a recorded history of over 4,000 years of fulfilling specific spiritual cultural roles. Some other Indigenous gender expansive identities include Muxé in Oaxaca, Mexico; Māhū in Hawai’i and Tahiti; Waria in Indonesia; and Kathoey in Thailand.
It is important to emphasize that nonbinary is a Western identity category that rejects the gender binary, a colonial ideal that was violently imposed upon Indigenous peoples by European colonizers. Colonizers suppressed and even eradicated Indigenous gender expansive peoples, both because of their gender nonconformity and their spiritual nature and involvement in religious practices. While this recognition of Indigenous gender expansiveness is an important part of the conversation around nonbinary people and identities, it is not meant to conflate nonbinary identities with Indigenous gender expansive ones, to assert nonbinary as a “third” gender category, or to romanticize Indigenous gender expansiveness. These Indigenous gender expansive identities have specific cultural contexts that cannot be removed. Their inclusion in this discussion is intended to demonstrate that people historically, and still today, exist beyond the gender binary.
Further, the English language is limited in its ability to articulate ideas of gender beyond the binary. Western understandings of gender are rooted in the duality of the gender binary. The label itself of nonbinary describes what someone is not, as opposed to what someone is. Indigenous understandings of gender expansiveness can teach us to create space for nonbinary and gender expansive identities and individuals in our communities. Nonbinary people should be celebrated for their expansiveness and rejection of a set of gendered rules we’re socialized to believe. Being nonbinary is so much more than the lack of a binary gender; it is an act of defiance and reclaiming space. It is fully embracing your authentic self in spite of societal rules and norms. It is a freedom of expression and embodiment.
*I use gender expansive as a broader term than nonbinary in discussing Indigenous genders. Nonbinary is a Western identity category, while gender expansive is a more general and inclusive word to describe an experience of gender that extends beyond the gender binary.
There have also been historical iterations of gender expansiveness in Western culture. One such individual, the Public Universal Friend, christened Jemima Wilkinson, was a Quaker in colonial New England in the 18th century. At 23 years old, Jemima nearly died from typhus. They believed that from their body arose a genderless spirit named the Public Universal Friend. The Friend preached their remarkable near-death experience throughout New England, grew a community of followers, and became somewhat of a religious celebrity. They dressed androgynously in both male- and female-coded clothing and rejected gendered pronouns. The Friend’s well-known life story shows that gender expansiveness existed in Western settler colonial societies—where the gender binary was rigid—long before nonbinary arose as a recognized identity category.
Crossing Gendered Lines
Much of history regarding gender nonconformity involves cross-dressing. Cross-dressing is one form of expression that transgresses gender, no matter the impetus behind it. Cross-dressing has been documented globally since ancient times. People of the past cross-dressed to achieve economic or social mobility, to obtain jobs, to enter marriages, or simply to express themselves authentically. Those who cross-dressed may not have had a complex relationship with their gender, though this is possible for individuals who cross-dressed for long periods of time (or even their whole lives). We do not see many histories of people of color who cross-dressed, as their stories are often suppressed or erased. Nzinga, Queen/King of Ndongo (present-day Angola), cross-dressed and ruled as a king from 1624 to 1653 and defeated the Portuguese army in a number of battles. Ch’iu Chin (1875-1907), a Chinese revolutionary, was a cross-dressing feminist who organized an uprising against the Manchu Dynasty. These are only two of countless BIPOC in history who upset the gender binary.
Anti-cross-dressing laws outlawed the practice of appearing in “dress not belonging to his or her sex” in 45 cities in the U.S. and myriad other countries between the mid-19th century and World War I. These laws remained in effect for decades; in San Francisco, it was illegal to cross-dress in public for more than 100 years, the law only ending in 1974. People faced harassment, violence, and criminalization for cross-dressing—and still do today. Those who cross-dressed may not be nonbinary or gender expansive according to our modern Western understandings, yet they demonstrated the malleability of gender and a transgression of the binary. Their stories are important in recognizing nonbinary identities today, as gender nonconformity is not a recent phenomenon.
The history of cross-dressing speaks to contemporary notions of nonbinaryness by demonstrating the power of expression through dress. People who cross-dressed embodied nonbinaryness as we understand it today through challenging norms and roles attached to clothing. Clothes themselves hold gender expectations, not gender. Simply being nonbinary and dressing according to one’s authentic expression is an act of resistance against these expectations. “Gender-neutral” clothing, as we see rising in popularity today, is frequently “masculine” leaning, neutral clothing—simple achromatic and boxy t-shirts, pants, and sweatshirts. There are often no bright colors or different cuts of clothing. Nonbinary expression is not limited to this so-called neutral dress. Nonbinary modes of expression and dress can vary across the clothing spectrum and are as wide-ranging and unique as each individual nonbinary person. They combat the rigidity of binary-gendered clothing. Individuals who cross-dressed illustrated that expression, specifically through dress, does not define one’s gender; though clothing is simultaneously a powerful mode of self-expression and authenticity.
Visible Nonbinary BIPOC Today
The struggle for visibility continues today, especially for nonbinary BIPOC. The fight stretches beyond X gender markers and widespread usage of they/them pronouns. A greater shift in societal consciousness is required for nonbinary folks, particularly those with intersecting marginalized identities, to receive the validation, respect, and celebration they deserve. Myriad nonbinary BIPOC are spearheading this movement today. Below is a list of some notable folks whose visibility, dedication, and activism support this ongoing struggle.
Alok Vaid-Menon(they/them) is a nonbinary American author, poet, comedian, and public speaker. They have authored three books: Femme in Public (2017), Beyond the Gender Binary (2020), and Your Wound, My Garden (2021). They are the creator of the hashtag #DeGenderFasion: “an initiative to degender fashion and beauty industries.”
Mauree Turner (they/them) is a Queer, nonbinary, Okie Muslim and the current Representative for Oklahoma’s 88th House District. They are the first Muslim elected in Oklahoma and the first nonbinary state-elected official in U.S. history. Their life’s work is dedicated to fighting for civil rights and community liberation.
Sasha Alexander (she/they/he) is a nonbinary trans and Black/South Asian artist, educator, and healer. They founded Black Trans Media, an organization that addresses issues of racism and transphobia through community organizing, art, media, and political education. Sasha’s work sits at the intersections of LGBTQ folks, youth, media, and gender and racial justice.
Janelle Monáe (they/them/she/her) is a Black nonbinary American singer, songwriter, rapper, and actress. They have received eight Grammy Award nominations, along with a number of other awards.
Layshia Clarendon (he/they/she) is a Black nonbinary American professional basketball player for the Los Angeles Sparks of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). They are the first openly nonbinary person to play in the WNBA.
Travis Alabanza (they/them) is a Black nonbinary British award-winning writer, performer, and theater-maker. Their writing has been featured in numerous anthologies; their work centers on gender, trans identity, and race.
“1.2 Million LGBTQ Adults in the US Identify as Nonbinary.” Williams Institute, UCLA, 22 June 2021, williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/press/lgbtq-nonbinary-press-release/.
BBC News. “A Brief History of Gender Neutral Pronouns.” BBC News, 22 Sept. 2019, www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-49754930.
“Black History Month Means Black Trans and Nonbinary History.” MTPC, 11 Feb. 2021, www.masstpc.org/black-history-month-means-black-trans-and-nonbinary-history/.
Bortolot, Alexander Ives . “Women Leaders in African History: Ana Nzinga, Queen of Ndongo.” Metmuseum.org, 2019, www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/pwmn_2/hd_pwmn_2.htm.
Brown, Skyler. “A Brief History of Nonbinary Gender: From Ancient Times to the Early Modern Period – Cloud Dancers Foundation.” Cloud Dancers, 8 July 2021, clouddancers.org/a-brief-history-of-nonbinary-gender-from-ancient-times-to-the-early-modern-period/.
Feinberg, Leslie. Transgender Warriors : Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman. Boston, Mass. Beacon Press, 1996.
Heckel, Jodi. “Tracing the History of Gender-Neutral Pronouns.” College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at Illinois, 29 Jan. 2020, las.illinois.edu/news/2020-01-29/tracing-history-gender-neutral-pronouns.
Parsons, Vic. “28 Non-Binary Activists, Politicians and Stars Who Are Proud, Visible and Making the World a Better Place.” PinkNews, 12 July 2021, www.thepinknews.com/2021/07/12/non-binary-awareness-week/.
Tagawa, Beth. “When Cross-Dressing Was Criminal: Book Documents History of Longtime San Francisco Law | SF State News.” News.sfsu.edu, Feb. 2015, news.sfsu.edu/archive/when-cross-dressing-was-criminal-book-documents-history-longtime-san-francisco-law.html.
When looking at present-day media and past historical records, transmasculine* people appear to be disproportionately underrepresented. Transmasculine individuals have struggled for visibility and recognition, as demonstrated by the lack of representation in the media and popular culture today. Most trans characters on TV and in movies are women, and the attention toward trans issues has primarily centered on transfeminine people and experiences. A glimpse into trans history reveals a scarcity of documented lives of transmasculine individuals, their stories contested, erased, ignored, or still waiting to be uncovered. The reasons behind this phenomenon are nuanced and complex and continue to be theorized today. This piece will attempt to illuminate explanations behind transmasculine invisibility and shed light on the lives and experiences of transmasculine folks, both in the past and present.
*I use the umbrella term “transmasculine” to refer to individuals assigned female at birth who lean toward or identify with masculinity. This encompasses both trans men and nonbinary people and is a more inclusive term than just “trans men.”
Note to readers: This article focuses on Western experiences and understandings of gender and sexuality, as the most accessible scholarship on historical transmasculine experiences is U.S.- and Eurocentric. This article does not cover the breadth of diversity of gender-nonconformity and expansiveness for individuals and experiences in non-Western societies and cultures.
Transmasc BIPOC in History Fig. 1:
Amelio Robles Ávila (1889-1984) was a Mexican transmasculine person and decorated colonel during the Mexican Revolution. He has since been recognized as a male hero of the Mexican Revolution. Ávila lived openly as a man from age 24 until his passing at 95.
The Complexity of Trans History
When looking at the past, labeling historical figures as “trans” can be complicated. Gender as a social category is unstable and has shifted over time across cultures and geographies. Our definitions of “sex” and “gender” are also socially constructed; even “cis man” and “cis woman” are modern categories (Heyam). While the contemporary terminology for transness is relatively new, trans experiences are not. We can conceptualize trans experiences of the past not by their modern definition—an individual aligning with a different gender than their birth assignment—but as a transgression, a movement, or a malleability of gender. Even the modern definition of “trans” as a category cannot be applied universally in history. In England and Wales, for example, birth records did not widely include a gender marker before the nineteenth century (Heyam). Further, in the mid-20th century, “gender” and “sex” were interchangeable terms; we cannot even accurately apply our contemporary categories of “man” and “woman” to describe people of the past (Heyam). Our understanding of gender is dependent on personal, cultural, and historical factors, demonstrating the fact that every individual’s experience with gender is unique (Heyam). Even though we cannot impose modern identity categories onto people of the past, individuals’ experiences can still be considered trans and as part of trans history, as they embodied a movement across or beyond gender.
Transmasculine BIPOC in History Fig. 2:
Wilmer “Little Axe” Broadnax (1916-1992) was a Black transmasculine person and American gospel quartet singer during the golden age of traditional Black gospel in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. He lived as a man and remained stealth throughout his life; his assigned sex was only discovered after his death.
Race, Gender, and Masculinity
Moreover, the most mainstream, well-known, and accessible trans histories are the seemingly simple ones—individuals who lived consistently as a different gender, who lived relatively recently, who pursued medical transition, and who have provided first-hand testimony of their gender identity (Heyam). Our understandings of gender are inextricable from race as well. Trans people able to perform white femininity or masculinity are taken most seriously, while trans people of color continue to be marginalized (Heyam). This leads to the point that our trans histories are predominantly white. Colonial ideals of binary gender influence historians telling history, and racism impacts whose stories are uplifted and centered. In addition, trans individuals who can conform to white femininity or masculinity have effectively influenced contemporary notions of transness (Heyam). Resultantly, whiteness is also privileged as the primary identity category for transgressing gender, further marginalizing people of color who have transed gender (Manion).
For transmasculine individuals, this connects gender transgression to the aspiration for white manhood. Like the wider category of gender, the idea of “manhood” has been defined differently in different times, places, and cultures (Bedermen). The noun “masculinity” only became popular by 1890 and had distinct and since forgotten connotations (Bedermen). In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the reifying of male power was closely linked to whiteness, as male power stemmed from white supremacy (Bedermen). This proves the inseparability of race and gender as identity categories, as well as the invisibilization of narratives and histories of trans BIPOC.
Transmasculine BIPOC in History Fig. 3:
Ralph Kerwineo (1876-1932) was a Black and Indigenous transmasculine person and nurse who became known after his ex-wife, Mamie White, revealed his “true sex” to the local police. Kerwineo was arrested for disorderly conduct, harassed while in custody, and forced to live as a “woman” thereafter. Kerwineo’s story of police violence is one of many instances of racialized gender deviance. His intersectional identity made him more vulnerable to hatred, harassment, and brutality. This legacy of racism, transphobia, and violence extends to today.
Gender, Sexuality, and Transgression
Some of the more accessible transmasculine histories are documented in Jen Manion’s book Female Husbands—the term encompassingindividuals assigned female at birth who lived full-time as men and entered what appeared to be (legal) heterosexual marriages with women. This term was prevalent in the U.S. and U.K. from 1746 to the mid-20th century. This phenomenon was relatively easily digestible by wider society, as most people assigned female at birth lacked access to economic mobility, education, or legal autonomy (Manion). In other words, no one was surprised when “women” desired to access the privileges granted to men, especially those of white men. In early modern Europe, narratives of people assigned female at birth who wore men’s clothes and joined the military were common (Manion). Charles Williams of New England is one of the few documented African Americans assigned female at birth to live and work as a seaman. In juxtaposition to white transmasculine individuals attaining white male privilege, Black people assigned female at birth commonly transgressed gender to escape the violent system of enslavement (Manion). This demonstrates the deep-seated connection of gender and race, both social constructions shaped by one another, as well as the distinct experiences of gendered and racialized bodies.
Moreover, these stories of female husbands are contested as lesbian rather than trans history. Scholar Jack Halberstam states, “While it is true that transgender and transsexual men have been wrongly folded into lesbian history, it is also true that the distinctions between some transsexuals and lesbians may at times become quite blurry” (Manion). Parsing the distinctions between lesbian and trans history can be tricky, contributing to the obscuring of transmasculine stories. We cannot know how these individuals would identify today according to modern categories; however, female husbands paved the way for future disputes and rejections of the category of woman, its associated norms and roles, and expected relationships with men. Describing an experience as “trans” is not analogous to labeling a historical figure as “trans.” The latter imposes a contemporary identity category, while the former allows for observation, exploration, and analysis of lived experiences relatable across time and place.
Transmasculine BIPOC in History Fig. 4:
Alexander John Goodrum (1960-2002) was a Black, bisexual, and disabled trans man, as well as a civil rights activist, writer, and educator. His involvement in LGBTQ organizing and advocacy work spanned decades, including founding TGNet Arizona, a Tuscon-based transgender advocacy organization. He unfortunately died by suicide in 2002 and was awarded the Godat Award after his passing.
The Privilege of “Passing”
So where are all of the transmasculine people? One possible explanation lies in the privilege of “passing” for many transmasculine individuals. “Passing” is a colloquial term used to describe the experience of being perceived as cisgender (non-trans). Transitioning for transmasculine folks—which can often include taking testosterone, a form of Gender-Affirming Hormone Therapy (GAHT)—can result in transmasculine individuals being societally perceived as non-trans, or more specifically, as cis men. With this different perception comes male privilege, providing access to advantages granted to men based on their sex. This experience can be easier than that of transfeminine individuals (particularly for white, nondisabled, and non-Queer transmasculine folks). As transmasculine folks gain access to male privilege, transfeminine people become targets of transmisogyny—a term coined by scholar Julia Serano that pinpoints the intersection of transphobia and misogyny that transfeminine individuals experience. Resultantly, transmasculine people often can “disappear” into mainstream society, situating them as less vulnerable to overt transphobia. Thus, there is sometimes not as much of a need or desire for trans community.
The concept of “passing” is prevalent in history as well. According to Emily Skidmore in their book True Sex, transmasculine people in history frequently passed as “conventional men” and often desired to conform to normative community values. In the 20th century, transmasculine individuals tended to live in small towns instead of big cities. White privilege and white-passing privilege provided the ability to blend in more easily. Despite their ability to “pass” as conventional men, many transmasculine individuals’ “true sex,” as termed by Skidmore, were revealed following their deaths. Skidmore states that “At least 65 cases of reported stories of individuals assigned female at birth but chose to live as male appeared in U.S. newspapers between the 1870s and 1930s” (2). While these records of transmasculine individuals in history exist, they are predominantly white and within the last two centuries.
Another potential reason for transmasculine invisibility is that transmasculine people are harder to sensationalize than transfeminine people. Individuals and wider society have trouble understanding why someone would give up their male privilege; conversely, it is easier to comprehend why someone would “want” to be a man. Along the same lines, Western society is more likely to accept “masculine” women than “feminine” men. Masculinity is a privileged and desirable attribute in our Western cis-heteropatriarchy; femininity is predominantly viewed as weak and subordinate. With greater visibility, like that ascribed to transfeminine individuals, comes a greater risk of facing harmful stereotypes, ridicule, and violence. This is evident because most trans homicide victims are transfeminine people and trans women, most notably BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) trans women. While the invisibility of transmasculine people grants them myriad protections, it also damagingly obscures transmasculine experiences, past and present.
Transmasculine Folks Today
Transmasculine histories continue to be obscured and invisibilized today. This phenomenon can be attributed to the privilege of “passing,” especially for white individuals; ever-changing definitions and understandings of gender and masculinity; the complexities of telling trans history; the inextricability of gender from race; and the ongoing marginalization of BIPOC narratives. Trans history as a subject area is unstable, though observing past experiences as trans can be powerful; people who came before us demonstrated the possibilities and expansiveness of gender. Transmasculine individuals today continue to break boundaries and push forward our ongoing movement for liberation. Below are a few notable contemporary transmasculine BIPOC.
Schuyler Bailar is a Korean-American trans man, author, educator, and activist. He is the first openly trans athlete to compete in any sport on an NCAA Division 1 men’s team.
Kylar W. Broadus is a Black trans man, attorney, long-time activist, author, and professor. He founded the Trans People of Color Coalition, the sole national organization dedicated to advancing the civil rights of BIPOC trans people. He was also the first trans American to testify in front of the U.S. Senate in favor of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act.
Laith Ashley is an openly trans man of Dominican descent and a model, actor, and activist who has made waves in the modeling industry.
Patricio “Pat” Manuel, also known as “Cacahuate,” is a Black trans man and the first trans male boxer to fight professionally in the U.S. In 2016, he became the first trans man to defeat a cis man in the amateur male division.
Myriad others are working to increase visibility and fight for trans rights. Our trans ancestors paved the way for us to live authentic lives. It is our responsibility to honor them. They are not lost, erased, or forgotten; they are still here, standing with us in the battle for our lives.
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“Alexander John Goodrum.” Wikipedia, 21 July 2023, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_John_Goodrum. Accessed 24 Aug. 2023.
Bederman, Gail. Manliness and Civilization. University of Chicago Press, 7 Apr. 2008.
“Celebrating Black TGNC History | SAGA.” Sagatucson.org, 1 Feb. 2021, sagatucson.org/news/celebrating-black-tgnc-history.
Cvetnic, Nicole L. “9 Transgender Men of Color You Should Know.” The Root, www.theroot.com/9-transgender-men-of-color-you-should-know-1790860386.
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Heyam, Kit. Before We Were Trans. Seal Press, 13 Sept. 2022.
Manion, Jen. Female Husbands: A Trans History. Cambridge, United Kingdom; New York, NY, Cambridge University Press, 2020.