What is a transtrender?
Among (binary) trans people on Youtube, you can find reaction videos exposing “transtrenders” or video opinions on “transtrending”. It has been a hot topic lately. If this is your first time hearing about this concept, transtrending is claiming a trans identity because of its supposed trendiness. In other words, someone may want to claim a trans-identity because it seems cool. That’s pretty much what this word means. And while this is not a new argument (cishet people have been using the trendiness argument for any LGBTIQ+ development), transtrending is particularly used by trans people to accuse other trans people of not being truly trans. This is an inner-community issue.
Why are people using transtrending?
On the surface, yes, claiming to be trans because you think it's cool is harmful to the community. Again, on the surface. In practice though, who is actually being accused of this transtrending? Well, several characteristics seem to qualify someone as a transtrender: A) Someone who doesn’t feel gender dysphoria; B) Someone whose gender expression does not fit their self-identified gender’s traditional expression; C) Someone who began a transition, but chose to detransition.
Let me start by saying: while I try my best to include quick definitions, if you are unclear with some mentioned terms, I highly recommend looking them up for your own understanding. These concepts are a bit technical. With that in mind, let’s break down those transtrender profiles:
A) Someone who doesn’t feel gender dysphoria (read: heavy disconnect between one’s identified gender and their body’s gender connotation). This is a long, long debate within the binary trans community (read: within the community of transgender people who wish to remain in the man/woman binary gender system, instead of identifying outside of it). The idea is that if someone does not feel gender dysphoria, they are disinterested in transitioning medically. If they don’t want to transition, how can they possibly feel like that gender, yet want none of the associated physical features? For example, for a transgender man, this would mean identifying as a man without any desire for hormone replacement therapy or surgeries.
For those who have felt at war with their bodies, due to their own and others’ perceptions of it, they expect medical transitioning to alleviate this intense discomfort. But, let’s clear something up: gender dysphoria is not caused by a body configuration; it is caused by others falsely qualifying types of bodies into societal standards. In essence, a body is just a body, hips are just hips, a voice is just a voice; it is only when others start categorizing those physical traits to fit under one label as opposed to another that dysphoria begins to grow. It is the fight of constantly feeling contradicted.
If that is the case, then a transgender person not feeling dysphoria may mean that the perception of others affects them a lot less, or that their vision of their body is not as incongruent with their identity than for others. In other words, they have simply had a different experience and relationship with their body.
Medically transitioning is an enormous step. Financially, it requires planning, both for the direct medical attention and the time off of work in the event of surgeries. Physically, it can have repercussions on health that an individual may not be able to handle due to other health issues. It also requires an enormous leap of trust with medical professionals, a traumatizing environment for some. There is fear around permanent body changes that may cause someone to stray away. And last, but not least, this person may just like their body as it is. They do not find it conflicting with their gender. Remember that dysphoria is about that conflict. Some choose to relieve it by taking on medical transitioning (which may still not relieve someone of dysphoria). Others may choose to accept their bodies as is, as their relationship with it is different.
The relationship with your body, one that is severely impacted by others’ perception of you, is personal. It does not factor into your trans-identity. Dysphoria may be a helpful indicator of being trans, but it is definitely and should not be the only factor. You should be trans because… you don’t feel cis. It really is that simple.
B) Among binary trans people, there is a detrimental mindset of fitting into cisgender norms so much, that rejecting all forms of nontraditional gender displays are banned. Thus, a feminine trans boy, who is attracted to men, could be qualified as a transtrender. Again, let’s break this down.
Cisgender people benefit from a wide array of gender expressions while still being recognized as their gender. Some are definitely more accepted than others, but a man is allowed to be feminine - let’s put sexual orientation labels aside. Or actually, bring it in. Is the stereotypical feminine gay man that we can all picture from corny media any less of man? the butch lesbian any less of a woman? - even if those profiles are criticized for not being the traditional man/woman standard, they are still recognized as their gender. The criticism lies on their gender expression. Why can’t we offer that same perspective to transgender people? Particularly binary transgender people? Why can’t we accept that they are men or women, regardless of their gender expression? It seems that there are extra steps to be a real binary transgender person, part of which is staying restricted to traditional gender norms. That open-mindedness deserves to be granted to binary trans people, the same way that we fight for cisgender people to do so.
C) Detransitioning is far more complicated - and again, far more personal - than a blanket statement explanation. Detransitioning (read: choosing to stop your transition and sometimes receive hormone replacement therapy/surgeries to undo your transition) medically can occur for many reasons: misunderstanding of the bodily changes, unready for drastic physical changes that may alter everyday habits, unhealthy body transformation due to medical transitioning, unhappy with the medical care and finally, dissatisfaction. Feeling overall dissatisfied. Realizing that these changes did not bring the gender euphoria (read: opposite of gender dysphoria, having positive feelings about gender and your expression of it) they hoped. This may be linked to mistakenly identifying in a certain label, thinking that trans-identity required transitioning when they truly did not want it, or any other reason. They may detransition and still be trans or they may detransition and not be trans. I think if people recognized the enormous steps involved in medically transitioning, they could also see how someone who is unprepared, misinformed and/or felt peer pressured may end up unhappy as a result.
What’s the harm in calling others transtrenders?
For the skeptics out there, I am a binary transman. I want to undertake hormone replacement therapy and surgeries of various kinds. I believe my dysphoria would decrease with these changes. My mental health would benefit from them as well. I have a traditionally masculine demeanor, one that I will most likely keep when I begin this transition medically. I will pass more and more as a traditional cisgender man.
But do I believe transtrending is an acceptable concept? No. Absolutely not. I think believing in transtrending uplifts very dangerous (mis)understandings of gender, such as excluding non-binary people, scaring questioning individuals, perpetuation the fears of not being trans enough/faking it. It revolves around an oppressive cis-heteronormative set of standards. The way I see it, binary transgender people judging others to be transtrenders are people who are furthering transphobia. It’s crying out “see? I’m the right kind of trans person, you should accept me because I’m actually trying to be cis. Don’t accept this other person, they aren’t even trying to be cis. You’re right to invalidate them”. You’re right to invalidate them. Transtrending is trans people’s way of saying, yes you are right to invalidate this person’s gender. It is trying to get gold stars from cisgender people to hope that they will one day accept you as their own. Actually, the way society works, cisgender people will never truly see you as their equal, but you have now managed to replicate their oppressive standards onto others.
Gender is complicated. The transgender experience is so vast and personal. We are still learning new complexities to this identity. Learning about new cultural definitions of gender. New expressions and expectations of gender. New interactions between gender and other parts of identity. Gender is not simple. And actually, identifying as a binary transgender person is on the easier side of the transgender experience. It is at least somewhat understood by cisgender people, because it works on their reference points.
What binary trans people need to understand about transtrending
Binary trans people need to understand that transtrending is gatekeeping (read: controlling the inclusion to an identity, but in an oppressive way). It is transphobia. It is deciding based on a set of criterion you have established whether someone is allowed to be transgender or not. Most importantly, it is a reflection of your conception of trans-identity and gender. On your fears of not being trans enough. If, for a transgender man, you find another transgender man who enjoys dresses and makeup to be less of a man, you are showing your own concept of manhood and it needing to be masculine. If it is someone who is not interested in transitioning, you are showing how much your dysphoria paralyzes you from seeing someone else’s reality, which may be a harmonious relationship with their body.
I had to learn this in my own journey as a binary transman. While I never fed into gatekeeping, I was uneasy at the thought of others not wanting to fit traditional standards of gender, because it seemed like it would be easier and more validating for them in the end. But, that is because I do fit traditional standards of gender (aka feeling masculine and a man). But suppose I didn’t feel that way. Should that influence if I could identify as a man? No, it shouldn’t.
I know these harmful mentalities that make people believe in transtrending originate from pain and misunderstanding. From others invalidating you, and having to fight their perceptions to be accepted as who you are. Of others doubting you, your motives, your reality. Of others’ rigid mindsets forcing you to comply, for safety and acceptance. Of trying to be normal, and doing your best to reach cisgender normalcy.
The things is, those “transtrenders” are doing the same thing. They are also trying to live and feel validated. But they have to combat extra fights to be deemed worthy of being heard.
Currently, trans-identity does not have universal understandings, and it sure does not benefit from media representation. Some of these accused transtrenders may just be misinformed, due to a lack of clear explanations on this complex topic. Others are non-binary (which binary trans people also need to start accepting more), or questioning, or just different.
I encourage people to stay open to gender, of its varying definitions. At the end of the day, the ultimate goal of complete inclusivity is to abolish gender altogether, not to constrict gender into such precise definitions that people feel suffocated in them. Engage with people, instead of criticizing. Ask respectfully to hear other points of view, their experience. Not with the intent to change their mind. Not with the intent to debate. But with the intent to understand.
Resources for further entertainment/information
- ContraPoints’ video tackling transtrending with humor
- Article by Let’s Queer Things Up on transtrending