New York Times

Opinion | What I Saw in My First 10 Years on Testosterone

As the country roiled with pre-Trump rage, I had questions about the world I now inhabited, such as “Why won’t anyone touch me?” and “Am I sexist?” As a newcomer to this fraught landscape, I reckoned with my own masculinity in a very public experiment: I learned how to box, spending months grappling with other men in a Manhattan boxing gym, learning the rituals of the men’s locker room and asking sociologists and biologists and psychologists every “beginner’s mind” question I had about masculinity along the way. I became the first trans man to fight in Madison Square Garden. I wrote the story of my fight in 2016 and later wrote a book, “Amateur,” that expanded my examination of American masculinity.

By the time that book was published, in 2018, the #MeToo movement had toppled previously untouchable men, “toxic masculinity” had become part of our national lexicon, and trans and nonbinary artists, advocates and activists were leading powerful conversations about gender diversity, intersectionality and the limitations of the gender binary.

The entwined potential of the anti-racist, feminist, queer and trans rights movements gave rise to potent change and an equally potent backlash: Dangerous gender-reveal parties sought to reaffirm genitalia as the de facto definition of gender, no matter how many people got hurt or killed in the process; violence against trans people continues to hit record highs, with 2020 being the deadliest on record; and women of all gender backgrounds who went up against systemic injustices faced horrifying harassment.

Even as the TV show “Pose” elegantly engaged viewers with stories about Black and Latinx trans women, the (now legion) trans people in my life struggled. At a funeral for one of several trans friends who died by suicide, it was clear that the marginalized among us remained at the margins. As a white, trans man, I never forget that medical transition is — and should not be — a privilege. Trans people who either don’t want or can’t get medical interventions remain vulnerable to both the existential threat of erasure and the often-physical violence of gender policing.

Visibility, of course, is not the same as belonging. Language creates nuance, but not necessarily legislation. Stories save lives and also, paradoxically, endanger them. Seeing ourselves reflected in the broader culture may have given us more models of how to navigate the crushing weight of transphobia, but increased awareness of our existence also inflamed gender fundamentalists, who initiated a moral panic about trans kids duped into gender variance by predatory trans adults. Their rhetoric reminded me of the same sort of anxiety straight people had about gay kids like me in the late ’90s.

But, as with any civil rights movement in this country, what has been seen cannot be unseen, and in that sense, the tide really has finally turned. Even as bigots wage a near-constant legislative assault on our civil liberties via draconian “bathroom bills,” straw-man attacks on the supposed “competitive advantage” of trans athletes and medically unsound efforts to prevent trans kids from seeking lifesaving, gender-affirming care, our insistence that we be the architects of our own stories has only grown.

As a journalist, author and screenwriter, I’ve seen that firsthand. Over the past decade, I’ve found myself at what turned out to be epicenter of the movement for trans visibility — first in media, and then writing for film and television. As I filed stories and authored books and worked in writers’ rooms, I witnessed a sea change from the inside of our culture in the stories we tell about gender. Somewhere along the way I became the trans future I needed, embodied.

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