Transgender men “invisible”

Use of bathrooms for transgender people in Australia is highly contested. Photo Carla Deale.
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Melbourne transgender men are calling out for more media representation. Carla Deale reports.

Sav Emmet Wolfe, an openly transgender man, 24, works as a games development office manager in Melbourne.

Through his social networks, he advocates for better representation of transgender men in the Australian media, who he says are lacking resources, safe spaces, and visibility.

One of the most difficult challenges for Sav, was moving from one community to another.

“I first came out when I was 19, and then went back when I was 20, because I was getting a lot of opposition from feminist spaces that I used to be in, questioning why I would make the choice to become a man and essentially betray them,” he said.

“The feminist community that I’d always had basically disappeared once I started medically transitioning. With the way things stand right now, I fit in neither community.”  

He said there are plenty of non-binary and female-friendly spaces, but transgender men aren’t afforded the same as commonly. “Non-binary” refers to a category of identities that are neither exclusively masculine nor feminine.

“There’s really not a lot of visibility or resources for trans men. There aren’t many places we can go within the realm of heterosexual, cisgender people, they don’t really get me,” he said.

The term “cisgender” refers to a person whose gender identity and expression matches the sex they were assigned at birth.

“There is a lot of talk in leftist and feminist circles that all masculinity is inherently toxic”, he said.

“A lot of people in those groups expected me not to change. But I did regardless.”  

Son Vivienne, post-doctoral researcher at Creative Agency at RMIT and curator of Rainbow Family Tree and Stories Beyond Gender, wants better representation for transgender men through storytelling, trans-friendly events and spaces.

Son uses gender-neutral pronouns through their community development space, Incite Stories, where they create media that challenges public perception of transgender people.

“I believe storytelling in all its forms is crucial to understanding difference of all kinds,” they said.

“Without knowledge of specific communities and spaces, both online and geographically accessible, trans and gender-diverse people can feel extremely alone and lonely.

“In online forums and social media there are also pockets of discussion and representation, curated by trans-masculine and non-binary people, although these are not always accessible to all.”

Son says sometimes being visible to the public can warrant dangerous outcomes, leading some to hide their trans-status out of safety concerns.

“While gender-diverse visibility can increase social acceptance it also comes with real risks of discrimination, exclusion and violence, therefore some people choose not to identify themselves as trans, in some spaces,” they said.

They said that code-switching, or the evasion of revealing one’s status as trans in accordance to environment, is just one of the many precautions transgender people take to secure their safety.

“All marginalised people use their capacity to ‘code-switch’ by adjusting their self-representations according to the safety of their environment.”

A large number of LGBTIQ+ people hide their sexuality or gender identity when accessing services (34 percent), at social and community events (42 percent) and at work (39 percent), according to the Australian Human Rights Commission.

The Commission found in 2014, that young people aged 16 to 24 years are most likely to hide their sexuality or gender.

Despite this, Son credits social media and the Internet as being a wealth of information for LGBTQI+ people who feel isolated.

Bastian Merson, a 20-year-old university student who lives on the Mornington Peninsula, is no stranger to sharing his transgender journey on social media albeit occasional safety concerns.

“I made my Instagram private when I realised that one Google search of my name could reveal my preoperative chest and other personal details, which might put me in danger” he said.

“Nobody wants their body to be policed, and I certainly wouldn’t want photos of me at various stages of my transition to be weaponized by random people on the Internet.

“Why do people take it upon themselves to tell you how you should be, based on their own assumptions about which binary category you fit into?”

Bastian has frequently documented stages of his transition, both pre and postoperative, on his Instagram, which he says receives mostly positive responses from both transgender and cisgender people.

“Trans and cisgender people alike tell me they appreciate how genuine I am, or I’ve taught them something they’d never thought about before,” he said.

“Social media is invaluable for promoting visibility and community interaction. It can be such a mobilising force working towards mainstream representation, by just being out and proud. For some, it’s the only safe space that they can access.”

Bastian said that now being a few years into transition, he finally feels more at ease going forward.

“I don’t think I’ll ever stop identifying as trans,” he said.

“But the hard part is over for me.”