By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
A digital call to action spread on friendster.com last month, and a crowd of tranny boys descended on the East Village gay dive the Boiler Room. It was the very first Manhunt, a party for transmen and their admirers.
When several dozen genderqueers crashed the place, a few of the bar's gay patrons threw a tantrum. They tried desperately to sort out who was a dyke and who was a dude by rating the tranny boyswith their flat chests, short hair, and male posturingaccording to who still "looked like girls." But eventually, these hecklers were outnumbered by some of New York's au courant gender outlaws, a mix of young masculine-identified dykes, bois, and trans guys clamoring for a space of their own. By the end of the night, the trans folks and the gay guys had made peace, and Riley MacLeod, a 22-year-old, gay-identified tranny boy, even stole a kiss from the bartender.
Just a few years ago, the transmale community was still underground, connecting with each other in group therapy and chat rooms. How things have changed. Some of the city's hottest queer parties are fundraisers for chest-reconstruction surgery, tagged with names like "Take My Breasts Away." Ethan Carter's Trans*Am party has gotten so popular it has outgrown its digs at the lesbian watering hole Meow Mix, and Manhunt plans to carry on through the summer.
By now, there are hundreds of personal Web pages, chat groups, and surgery-comparison sites by and for transmen. (Check out ftmi.org, transster.com, t-boyz.com, or the more than 200 Yahoo groups that pop up under a search for FTM, meaning female-to-male transgender.) Brown University, Sarah Lawrence, and Wesleyan have gender-neutral dorms, bathrooms, and sports teams. New York's LGBT Community Center has expanded its Gender Identity Project to include eight groups for the gender questioning.
Five years ago, if you were a transmale, you were FTM (or female-to-male) and you would probably change your name, go on testosterone, move to a new city, and perhaps consider sex reassignment surgery. Most of those FTMs wanted the world to know them and see them as real men. But there's a new trans generation. They're college-educated, raised on gender deconstruction, and not so interested in realness.
Today, most transmales don't plan to have "bottom surgery," which constructs male genitalia out of the labia and clitoris. For some, it's a matter of cost (ranging from $10,000 to $100,000, which still doesn't buy you a fully functioning, realistic penis). But a lot of trans guys say they're doing just fine without one.
"I do not want a cock," says K.J. Pallegedara, an 18-year-old tranny boy who hides his breasts by binding them with Ace bandages. "I know a couple of transmen who see their masculinity in their dick. But my masculinity is in my head." K.J. does plan to take testosterone, and he's saving up the outrageous $8,000 for "top surgery," which removes the breasts and constructs a male-appearing chest. Dr. James Reardon, one of the nation's best-known chest reconstruction surgeons, says he performs at least one such procedure a weekup from one a year in 1974, when Reardon saw his first patient.
From left top: Rowan Foley, Stephen Alexander, Evan Schwartz, Tom Leger, Riley MacLeod, Patric Peter, Ian Lundy, K.J. Pallegedara, Eli Greene, and Ethan Masella
In this brave new world, you can be a transmale who goes "no-ho" (meaning no hormones) or "low-ho," and "no-op" (no surgery)or you can be a genderqueer who has top surgery, identifies as a woman, and goes by the pronoun he. The possibilities are endless.
America has always been the land of self-invention, but lately that concept has been applied to the body in unprecedented ways. Thanks to technology, transmales can now invent the body they feel comfortable with. In the new thinking, gender and orientation are a highly personal creation, and while some transmales still strive for "realness," the new generation is heading far beyond the appurtenances of masculinity. This isn't about having a beard or chest hair. These guys look boyish, yet butch.
But in the end, the transmale identity can't be described within the binaries of man/boy, butch/femme, or gay/straight. Says transman and performance artist Imani Henry, "It's all about self-identity."
As Manhunt and Trans*Am (meaning amorous) imply, transmales are on the prowl for folks who are willing to break the mold of gender and sexual orientationor at least go out with someone who does. Along with this evolution has come a new breed of queer women who like dating trannies and who gag on the word lesbian. "I don't give a shit if people read me as lesbian or straight," says Alana Chazan, 24, a femme queer woman who has dated both dykes and transmen. "For me, it's about respecting my partner's gender identity."