A guest article by Jaime (he/they; @vigilantekinnie) that originally appeared in my short-lived yet dearly beloved Queersletter. James has also made it available to read here.
This remains my favorite piece produced for the publication. It also marks the first time I was able to commission writing from someone else. As I’ve stated in my author intro and in various places throughout the site, “queer” is a wide variety of experiences. There’s no one-size-fits-all pronouns, labels, genders, or platypuses.
I’d love to one day be able to regularly commission writing pieces from fellow queer people. I want all of you understand that I am not the poster boy for anything in the queer community. I am just one fish in the ocean. Aside from all the lesbian palettes I end up inadvertently using when coloring Mike Emerald, I don’t feel any particular affinity for lesbianism myself. However, some trans men do. I want to use my platform to help everyone learn more.
While transphobes call us “confused lesbians” as an excuse to deny us healthcare and other necessities, some of us remain within the lesbian community that welcomes and includes those of us who are so inclined to take part in it. Gender does not equal sexuality; I think most non-queer allies have grasped that at least. However, due to cisnormativity and heteronormativity in education and society at large, lesbian trans men becomes an advanced topic of a rarely studied curriculum. Hell, some people won’t even accept trans women in lesbian spaces! If you’re here, hopefully you’re ahead of that portion of the class. Otherwise, I don’t care. Trans women are women; trans men are men; and nonbinary cis and trans people are whatever gender(s) our hearts desire. And every time you complain, we invent 69 more!!!
So to further our understanding of our fellow planet earth inhabitants, Jamie gathered some research and some people with lived experience in the matter. And thus, I pass the mic.
The New York City Dyke March’s website states that “Any person who identifies as a dyke is welcome to march regardless of gender expression or identity, sex assigned at birth, sexual orientation, race, age, political affiliation, religious identity, ability, class, or immigration status” (2018). There is a history of trans men being a part of the lesbian community and today there are still trans men who identify as dykes, lesbians, and sapphics. This is because lesbianism and dyke culture allow for an exploration of lesbian sexuality in which there has always been the “link between gender and sexual transgression [which] opens up many possibilities for the expression of lesbian sexuality” (Alpert, 1997). Trans men are dykes and lesbians because they say they are, and they have always been a part of building lesbian community and exploring what it means to be a lesbian.
Despite being a part of lesbian history, many trans men lesbians are vilified by terfs, swerfs, and blerfs just as bisexual, pansexual, onmisexual, and many other mspec sexualities and romantic orientations are. I believe that trans men who identify as lesbians are vilified for the same reason that Sharon Stone explained in her essay: for being impure and bringing “male” energy to “lesbian spaces” (1996). I highly recommend this source for delving into lesbian seperation, which includes pushing out queer women who may or may not be attracted to men, as well as trans women, trans men, and many other trans folks from the lesbian community. This is a topic that could take up several articles of its own so I shall not endeavor to speak more on this subject for now as the focus is on trans men identifying as lesbians in general and not about addressing how to push back against this separation.
Specifically, this article’s goal is to learn from trans men about their lesbianism. In the past, trans men have been “deliberately excluded from certain gay and lesbian spaces based on some perceived biological and/or gendered and sexed ‘imperfections’…Lesbian events and places have been particularly vigilant in policing sexual and gender expressions” (Nash, 2016). “Queer explorations of lived experiences reveal ‘the indeterminacy, contingency, malleability, and often oppressive nature” of the binary systems of thinking which have led to trans men’s exclusion from queer spaces of all kinds (Nash, 2016). Thus, by listening to trans men dykes and lesbians we can learn from them about lesbian history that has been erased and ignored so that we can stop continuing the mistakes of the past and hurting our communities by trying to force people into boxes and binaries. From their life stories we can be inspired to break gender boundaries, find community, explore our identities and perceptions, and live queerly.
Interviews with Trans Men Lesbians
Below you will find four lesbians’ responses to interview questions that I asked them. I regret not being able to just hand you the entire transcripts and the words that inspired me deeply but that would be a book not an article for you to read with your iced coffee 🙂
First let me introduce you to our wonderful trans men who volunteered for the interview.
Rob is a 34 year old, she/her pronoun using Romany Gypsy with EDS and arthritis. She has contextual labels which come from identifying with the BDSM/leather community and growing up as a queer in dykespace which include: “genderqueer, genderfuck/fucker, Ursula, leatherdyke, steroid dyke, Butch, fag dyke.”
Rome is a white 15 year old, with adhd, anxiety, and ocd. They go by they/them, rey/rem/rys, and he/him pronouns. He is genderfluid, genderqueer, nonbinary and multigender. Rey also identifies as bi, aro, and abro.
Orion Ovaettr S is a 29 year old, white Hispanic/Italian Autistic with ADHD. Xe is a trigender trans man/maverique/gendervoid person and uses he/him/his and xe/xem/xyr. He is both bisexual and bi lesbian specifically and floats between them depending on xyr gender expression for the day, often overlapping.
Thomas is a 26 year old, white, trans man who has ADHD and depression. He identifies with both lesbian and bisexual.
- How long have you identified as a lesbian?
Rob: since 10 or 11
Rome: [when he was really young] the first act aspect of queerness I realized about myself was that I liked girls right?…I settled on lesbian. THEN i figured out i was nonbinary, and i thought that because i was nonbinary and NOT a girl or “fem aligned” (lol) i couldnt id as a lesbian any more! and that hurt but i just let the label go UNTIL i got on twitter and i saw a bunch of transmasc / trans men / nonbinary lesbians!so yeah then i started to id as a lesbian again. This was like a year ago…but I sorta always knew
Orion: I originally identified as a nonbinary lesbian when I was early in my transition and only was in touch with that part of my gender identity at the time. I shifted back to bisexual when I came out as a trans man too, but then found myself very comfortable with the bi lesbian label after about 2 years of being an out trans man too. I felt like I was coming home to my sexuality when I came to a comfortable spot as a bi lesbian where it felt like all my aspects were being respected by myself. About 23-24 [years old] I started Iding as a lesbian. Originally was bisexual from 12 years old to 24.
Thomas: on and off for about a decade. Most recently finding that it suits me & feels relevant to my experience
- How do you define your lesbianism? What does being a lesbian mean to you?
Rob: My own lesbianism is definitely related to having grown up in dykespace and dyke culture…my own lesbianism is absolutely part of that continuum of “Lesbians as ‘deviant women’ who strayed from the path of being feminine wives”, where our own little corner of dykespace was a home for anyone who was a “bad woman” – ie, trans women, women who had sex with other women, masculine/butch/tomboy people assigned female (regardless of their gender, if they wanted to belong, they did) etc…I suppose to me the core of my lesbianism is “Keep prioritising that world and that kind of person” – Against patriarchy, against complementarianism, and extremely-pro bodily autonomy, whether we’re talking about modification, reproduction, sexuality, work etc, it’s about being able to have a good, desirable life without needing to think in terms of being a complement to an idealised masculine-man
Rome: well it’s kinda a gender. It’s also an orientation for me but it’s more so like a community and a gender. Being a lesbian is idk about being loving and loyal and caring for your community. It’s also about loving women and other lesbians. I ID as it b/c it makes me happy.
Orion: Lesbianism to me is the celebration of women and nonbinary people in a way that touches a vibrant and loud inner core that beams brightly with love for people who resonate with lesbianism too. When I see events like The Dyke Marches happening in various cities, that’s where I see my lesbianism at home with. The loud and proud accepting of fluidity, authenticity of people and all their beauty. The resistance against a world trying to bend you around a certain way to be. What being a lesbian means to me is being authentic to myself and my inner child that has always wanted to be with women and lots of diff nonbinary people. To be in touch with that softness but also sharp nature of existing against everything the world sets up for you. I feel like I am connecting back to nature in my being a bi lesbian.
Thomas: What being lesbian means to me as a trans man is coming from the point of view of being made to live as a woman, or having others constantly question & doubt my identity as a trans man because I am attracted to women. This was all when i was more young & impressionable to comments such as “you’re not a man you’re just a lesbian/tomboy” from friends/family. I feel that in some way, eother forced upon me or because it’s what I knew, I have experienced life as a lesbian or sapphic person
- What do you love about the lesbian community?
Rob: I think that our tendency to want to help each other out, without necessarily being possessive, is the absolute heart of it. And knowing that in dyke spaces I won’t be seen as a strange outlier, as disgusting for (eg) taking testosterone, being someone with a history as a woman who is attracted to women, being a woman who is a man, doing all of these things that the patriarchy basically forbids to “women” – They’re all normal within this little parallel world that we’ve made.
Rome: I love my little inclusive bubble of lesbian community. They are loving and caring and gender and awesome. I love the transness and the playing with gender. I love how dedicated my group at least is to politics of liberation
Orion: I adore the radical acceptance of the lesbian community. You can be anyone you wanna be, look any which way, mess with gender or lack thereof, and still be accepted with a home in the lesbian community. These are the wisest people I know too. Every person in my life who is a fellow lesbian guide me to a better tomorrow, where we all will celebrate love, hard won victories, the continued fight for life, and tenacity of the community together.
Thomas: I have a high respect for the elder queers who paved the way for us to be here now, to have the freedom to do things such as this. I love learning about our history, and the trans women that started it. I also love that lesbians are more online than I have ever seen before
- What would you like other people to know about what it’s like being a trans man lesbian?
Rob: That outside of the internet, it’s not a big deal – Like, that the boundaries of “Dyke” and “Trans” in the physical world aren’t the cut-and-dried ones that the internet wants to pretend they are…I love having that ability to be both fully a man and fully a woman with my partners, and more to the point for them to have the space to be either or neither or both when they’re with me, without it being something that they have to think of as either “Just a meaningless kink” or “A deadly serious important part of my identity”
Rome: [That] it’s not really a big deal or anything. Like I’m just vibing
Orion: That you aren’t a contradiction to yourself, you’re not a predator in the community for identifying with masculinity and being a trans man. You’re still a man and you’re not antithetical to lesbianism. Lesbians love and accept all gender journeys and there will always be a home for you alongside other lesbians who are trans men, trans masculine, masculine nonbinary, or masculine women(trans or cis), etc. There is space for being who you are without having to “give up” or say goodbye to a part of yourself.
Thomas: It feels difficult to talk about in public spaces. I have a general level of fear of being out about this because of the way that lesbian is restricted & gatekeeped online. I see people say “only non-men can be lesbians” a lot, which not only endangers trans women, it makes me feel that there is no nuance allowed for experiences such as mine, where I identify with the lesbian experience.
Talking to different trans men means hearing lived queer experiences that will share similarities but also reflect on individual, varied experiences. Trans men are not a monolith and neither are trans men lesbians. Lesbian as a whole is also full of diversity, complications, and queer stories. Radical acceptance, playing with gender, liberation, fluidity, authenticity, inclusivity, these are the words these trans men used to describe being a lesbian in their lesbian community. These trans men identify as lesbians, dykes, bixexuals, nonbinary, and more to fully encompass who they are. From them we can learn to break free of our boxes and the expectation that others must fully understand us. We can always learn from each other and increase our understanding of one another but who we are can be determined by no one else but ourselves.
Jaime is an Autistic, nonbinary trans man dyke who enjoys writing, working on his art, and being an environmental educator.
Alpert, Rebecca. (1997). Like bread on the seder plate: Jewish lesbians and the transformation of tradition. Columbia University Press.
Nash, C. J. (2016). Queer conversations: Old-time lesbians, transmen and the politics of queer research. Queer Methods and Methodologies (p. 129-142). Routledge.
New York City Dyke March. (2018). The New York City Dyke March. https://www.nycdykemarch.com/
Stone, S. D. (1996). Bisexual Women and the” Threat” to Lesbian Space: Or What If All the Lesbians Leave?. Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, 16(1), 101-116.
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