This term is increasingly being embraced and expressed.

By Claire Gillespie
July 23, 2020
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Whether you’re in the process of figuring out your own gender identity or want to better ally with someone who doesn’t identify with the gender they’ve been assigned at birth, it helps to familiarize yourself with different labels. "Transmasculine" is one term that's entering the mainstream as more people use and embrace it. 

What does transmasculine mean? If you identify as transmasculine (transmasc for short), you were assigned female at birth and your gender identity and/or expression is masculine—but not necessarily male. 

“This term includes non-binary people, gender fluid people, genderqueer people—anyone assigned female at birth whose gender falls in the more masculine range,” Jo Eckler, PsyD, licensed clinical psychologist based in Texas and author of I Can't Fix You—Because You're Not Broken, tells Health. Trans men, gender nonconforming individuals (GNC), and non-binary people may also identify as transmasculine. 

It’s important to note the distinction between a trans man and transmasculine. “The term transgender is often used as an umbrella term that encompasses anyone who does not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth,” Eckler says. “So trans men and transmasculine people are both transgender.” 

Transmasculinity is about an affiliation with the masculine side of the gender spectrum—in other words, you can be masculine but not binary male. Plus, you can physically transition to a more masculine state without identifying as binary male. However, there tends to be more of an adherence to the gender binary with a trans man (assigned female at birth).

“What matters is how that person identifies, whether or not they choose to express it outwardly,” Eckler explains. 

Transmasculine people are often overlooked in the discussion about the trans experience, says Kristen Martinez, an LGBTQ+ affirmative counselor at Pacific NorthWell in Seattle. “There may be many reasons for this, but some of them probably stem from the fact that our society tends to be more tolerant and less policing of masculine expression than of feminine expression,” Martinez tells Health. “Think about it: It is much more alarming and subversive when an assigned male at birth child plays with stereotypically feminine objects than when an assigned female at birth child plays with stereotypically masculine objects. The (albeit problematic) word ‘tomboy’ speaks to this.” 

Then there’s the fact that mainstream society in the US is set up with a binary view of gender: male or female. “It’s taken a lot of time and effort to get recognition even for binary trans men and trans women (i.e. transgender people whose gender is fully male or fully female),” Eckler says. “As humans, we tend to like simple categories, and it takes more energy to recognize all the many, many ways gender can be experienced and expressed. Thus, anything outside the binary often gets overlooked, and transmasculine people are outside that binary view of gender.” 

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Another problem is that our culture mixes up and conflates sexual orientation with gender identity and expression, meaning transmasculine people face erasure from the narrative of trans identities and liberation. 

“They can be harmfully ‘read’ as butch lesbian women, thus rendering their actual identities invisible,” Martinez says. “Transmasculine people may suffer emotional fallout from family, friends, and support systems who are not affirming and responsive to their needs.”

Health care access is just one of the minefields faced by transmasculine individuals. “People still don't understand that transmasculine people may menstruate, may have ovaries, need pap smears, ob-gyn visits, etc.,” Martinez says. “Gender affirming health care—including HRT (hormone replacement therapy), surgeries, and other treatments—are extremely expensive, are often not covered by insurance companies, and if they are, require a tremendous amount of structural gatekeeping by the medical and mental health communities.”

Transmasculine people face many of the same issues other transgender people do, such as discrimination, the risk of violence and hate crimes, and possible rejection by family. Individuals outside the gender binary also have to deal with the lack of third-gender or non-binary options for gender on documents like driver’s licenses. That means they frequently have to explain their pronouns or gender if they want to be viewed and addressed accurately, and their gender may not being seen as valid by others. 

“Some people have an incorrect belief that non-binary people are indecisive or are binary trans people who haven’t been brave enough to admit it yet—which is not true, of course,” Eckler says.  

Martinez and Eckler agree that the narratives of transmasculine people need to be front and center in order to validate the non-binary community and foster healing. Elevating these stories also helps those who are struggling to identify role models or find people like them to connect with. But we can all benefit from taking the time to listen, acknowledge, and understand. 

“The more we can celebrate the vast variety of gender expressions and identities that exist, the more interesting, diverse, and rich our culture becomes,” Eckler says.  

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