Ezra Woodger’s novel is a refreshing exploration of trans men’s lives that asks, what is masculinity?
BY LUAN MORRIS
How do trans men and trans masculine people experience and express their masculinity?
In To Be A Trans Man, Ezra Woodger talks to eight trans contributors who share their views on masculinity and enter detailed discussion on a range of topics such as their experiences growing up.
One very important part of the book shares perspectives that individuals had of their younger selves. In the novel, Casper Baldwin says “your identity is not the thing that’s transitioning; it’s other people’s perceptions of it.” He goes on to say it “wasn’t a girl thing, it was a me thing.” This sentiment was healing. It gave me immediate comfort that my younger self was valid in how he lived and survived.
Additionally, Leo George talks about his experiences of being a disabled trans man and discussed the gender ambiguity that occurs when sat in a wheelchair. This was something I’d never thought about as a disabled trans man myself and it surprised me.
There were many themes spread throughout To Be A Trans Man – one of which was hyper-masculinity experienced early on in transition. This was important for me to read to understand that I wasn’t alone in this experience, and that I too could shift this expectation of myself in time. However, what struck me following my interview with Ezra was that expectations around expression as a gay trans man, could equally cause you to box in your gender expression.
Delve into my interview with Ezra below…
Luan: How would you describe the book and its importance?
Ezra: I think I’d describe it as a love letter to trans masculinity. When I set out writing the book, I wasn’t sure what it was going to be, but I knew I didn’t want it to be a self-help “How to be a man” type of thing. It became clearer as I was writing it that that was utterly impossible to do because we’re all so different. So really, I think it’s specifically a love letter to masculinity and trans masculinity, more so than anything else. It didn’t teach me how to be a better man, but it gave me an appreciation for how we exist as men.
In the book it talked a lot about pressure put on trans men compared to cis men in terms of masculinity. I don’t think I’ve seen that really talked about, so I wanted to bring it up and see whether you had any further thoughts on this following the book?
I think cis men are given the luxury of the process of experimentation – I think they are allowed more of it. If and when trans men start to experiment more with style or fashion or just the way we express ourselves, it’s almost like people are looking for proof that we’re being inauthentic or that we’re faking it. But the way we express ourselves – masculine or feminine – isn’t really any different to how cis people do it. But trans people are more likely to be scrutinised for the way we express our gender. I think it’s getting better but I do still feel the pressure to kind of “masc-it-up” in certain spaces to be taken seriously. Which creates a difficult and upsetting balance to try to strike between getting taken seriously and sacrificing something, or you risk people questioning you, and depending on how much energy you have, it can be difficult to deal with.
What was the most surprising thing you heard from the guests in your book?
That’s a really good question. I think I was surprised when Ezra Michel was talking a lot about his past and his journey to where he is now. He’s a super talented creator with this aura and charm, but he also talks very honestly in the book about how he used to struggle with addiction and was once married. The stark difference between that and the person he is now was surprising. It highlights this kind of capacity for growth which we all have.
In the book, guests talk a lot about representation – good, bad or the lack of it. Do you have a favourite piece of trans representation in the media?
I will always talk about Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas. I think it’s a fantastic book and you can really tell when it’s a trans person creating the art. His trans identity is important in the book but he doesn’t feel at war with himself and there’s no kind of internal struggle. It’s just the way it is like a catalyst for the plot of the book. Its brilliant, everyone should read it. His new book, The Sunbearer Trials, is coming out and I’m very excited.
I think it’s important to have representation that is a kind of catalyst for things to happen, but it isn’t all that happens, and I think that is an important distinction to make. For me, for representation to be meaningful, being trans needs to matter but it isn’t the driving force and it’s not the conflict or the struggle. It’s just an important facet of the story.
Coming away from the book I felt a sense of calm, peace, and joy. Why do you believe it’s important to centre joy in the trans experience?
That’s a really good question because I think that that’s something I didn’t expect to want to centre as much. I knew I didn’t want to focus on how sad we are a lot of the time, but I think that the “joy is the answer” message that I came to, came from talking to all the different people and realising that what helped our masculinity – and even helped figure out we were trans – was joy. A lot of us didn’t figure out we were trans from dysphoria because we all felt terrible as children – but we didn’t have the words to express why. In fact, it was through the process of being affirmed and seeing what life could be like that gave us that “ah this is it” moment.
So, I think joy and euphoria has always been the answer. I kind of roll my eyes at myself a couple of times in the book because I was being so sappy and sentimental, but I think it is that kind of joining together, finding each other and community, that means we are left with joy. Sometimes what else do we have other than that to hold on to.
What would you like people to take away from your book – and in particular young trans people?
You don’t have to put so much pressure on yourself because it can be really, really difficult. I mean it’s getting better, it’s a lot better than when I first realised, I was trans and was in the process of coming out. There are more resources and there’s more support available which comes with its own issues – which we are currently seeing. But I think it’s still difficult to navigate what it all means and “how to be trans” as it were. What does it mean to be a trans person? And a trans man specifically? I want to be clear that you don’t have to put so much pressure on yourself; the support is there, and in the community, we do have each other’s backs; the queer community exists for a reason. There’s no need to do all of this on your own.
When I read the book, I came away with goosebumps and near tears from the beauty and peace within the pages. Ezra concludes that joy has always been the answer and I think he’s right. There’s so much joy in being trans despite the hardships, living true to us and feeling euphoria has always been joyous, and it’s celebrated throughout the trans and queer community.
To Be A Trans Man is an essential read for all trans masculine people, but especially trans teens. Rico states in the book “we’re standing on the shoulders of giants” who have paved the way, fought for us, and rallied to uplift our voices.
You are safe and welcome in this book to live, express and thrive as men or non-binary people however you see fit.
To Be A Trans Man by Ezra Woodger is out now – please support his great work and grab a copy here!
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