So, I’m sitting there, minding my own business, casually watching yet another episode of The 100 between classes, when a friend shared a new BuzzFeed article on my Facebook page: “26 Trans Guys Who Will Make You Thirsty.” (The headline has since been changed to “26 Trans Guys Who Are Way Too Hot To Handle.") And somehow, I was No. 3 on that list. The photo that was used was one that I’d posted just a week earlier of myself in front of a mirror and in a towel with a caption about my personal journey of self-love and finding confidence in my body throughout my transition -- a caption that was left out.
At first, I was excited. Hell, I was even kind of giddy. I sat with my computer on my lap, chuckling at the caption that the author decided to use for my picture, as it was pretty suggestive. But there was something about the whole thing that didn’t sit well with me. And that caption was part of that. Now, I want to be clear: I appreciate the recognition, and it was an incredible feeling to be included in a type of list I never thought I could or would ever make. Guys like me -- trans men, especially trans men of color -- are only just starting to make waves in the media. Representation and visibility for trans people is stronger than it used to be but has not reached a finish line (mostly because it doesn’t exist).
A lot of really important points were brought up in the comments section of the article, and powerful conversations were started. Many folks said that this list was objectifying those of us included on it, fetishizing our identities and our humanity. Many of the captions for the pictures of other trans men included words that one would typically use to describe food, which I found kinda creepy. Yes, a lot of cisgender people are objectified and fetishized. But that does NOT make it acceptable. When it comes to trans people, there is an ever-present fascination with our bodies. Our medical transitions are highlighted and our bodies on display for everyone to analyze. And while I choose to post pictures of myself without a shirt on my own Instagram feed, I don’t do it to attract the types of responses seen in the article.
So, what does it mean to have your beauty appreciated? Where is the line between appreciating someone’s beauty and objectifying them -- illustrating them more as a commodity, as opposed to a multifaceted human? How can trans people be recognized as beautiful, regardless of where they are in their life or how they conform to cisgender standards of beauty?
One thing I hope that folks comes to understand and respect is this: My body is not for your visual or digital consumption. It is not to be taken and used out of context. My body is where I live. It is my home. It bears the many scars of my overly active childhood; the times I jumped from high above the playground and the times I tripped on the concrete basketball court. A plethora of colors and intricate designs of ink from my hopeful youth are forever stamped upon my body, reminders of moments of my life and memories that I’ve made. My body has grown over the last 19 years into what it is now. It is proof that I am human and that I am alive.
With all of these thoughts running through my head, with all of these questions I have, there was a lot that I couldn’t shake. Here are a few points I’d like folks to keep in mind when articles like these are released.
1. I did not formally give my consent to be a part of that list. And, as much as I would have liked to have been notified ahead of time, I hold no hard feelings. I realize that being so public about my transition on social media means that what I post is likely to be shared by others. In the future, though, I would appreciate a quick message asking permission to use my image, especially if a caption I wrote that explains the photo is going to be erased.
2. While that list was quite racially diverse, it's important to remember that transitions appear in many different forms. Most, though not all, of us on that list have undergone top surgery and hormones. Medically transitioning is a choice and it is not always an accessible one.
3. In terms of the comments on the fetishization, I only speak for myself when I say that I completely understand that criticism. There is a difference between appreciating a person's beauty and features and treating them as if they're nothing more than their bodies. Some of the captions on that list, including the one for my photo, can easily be seen as viewing us as objects rather than people.
4. Again: Trans people ARE beautiful. Surgeries and hormones don't make us beautiful-- WE make us beautiful.
If you're thinking of writing about trans people, especially if you're not trans, I personally appreciate the following:
1. Formal consent.
2. Explanation, intent, and goals for whatever article or project.
3. Understanding that I have a right to say no.
4. Awareness of your own privilege.
5. Respect if I don't wish to speak on a particular subject.
Trans lives and trans stories have never been so publicized. But with that publicity comes a LOT of learning and educating to be done. Know the difference between representation and exploitation. And most of all, remember that, just like you, I expect respect.
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