Define: Transmasculine

August 11, 2008  |  essays

I’ve been adopting the word “transmasculine” to use to describe, generally, folks who were assigned female at birth who are male-identified, masculine, and/or masculinely presenting, in some way. I tend to stumble over this in these writings here – “butches and other masculine-identified females” or “butches and trans guys and bois and other girls who are boyish,” et cetera – and ugh, it gets messy to describe it that way.

So let’s start using the term “transmasculine,” okay?

I’ve been hearing it knocked around in the gender/queer communities more and more lately, but it’s from the TransMasculine Community Network that I am adopting this definition:

Transmasculine refers to any person who was assigned female at birth but feels this is an incomplete or incorrect description of their gender.

That’s quite broad – considering the “masculine” element in the word, I would probably say it’s more used as in, “an incomplete or incorrect description of their gender and they have some leanings toward the masculinity areas of the gender galaxy,” but in some ways I do like how inclusive their definition is. Regardless, I tend to use it to mean those of us butches, bois, trans guys, faggy femmes, and all sorts of other genderqueers. I’ve found myself using it in a few different articles I’m working on, so I wanted to be sure to introduce a definition.

I imagine the idea of butch as a trans identity is not so hard to grasp, and I’ve written about femme as a trans identity. The inclusion of the word “trans” as part of it feels touchy to me, because while I do agree that “trans” could – and probably should – be used as a great umbrella term for many gender descriptions, it also calls to mind for many an adherence to a strict gender binary – that if you are masculine, and female bodied, that you must be “actually” trans, not butch or masculinely female, as those spaces sometimes feel discounted. But that’s not how I intend to use it here.

Actually, I think I used to use “butch” in this way – as a catch-all phrase for anyone born female who leans toward masculine performance. But as my gender studies have gone on, I’ve come to accept and use a concept like transmasculine (for which I hadn’t had a term until now) as much more accurate, as I see “butch” as actually a very specific sub-set of being transmasculine. For me, butch is very much tied together with chivalry, a classic style of masculinity, feminism, and a sort of romance.

I of course think people should define these terms for themselves, but the more I do get involved in the genderqueer/transmasculine discussions, the more I see commonalities in those of us who identify as butch, and I see why some bois or other transmasculine folks don’t necessarily see that as their identity. I think in the past I’ve been much more inclined to say things like, “there is room for you in ‘butch’!” And it’s not that I take that back – certainly, if your lips tingle a little at the idea of calling yourself butch and claiming a butch identity, there is room for you in that identity and I think you should go for it, try it on, see if you like it, if it fits – but I’m seeing the ways that butch is actually more specific than I used to think it was.

Fascinating, how these things evolve. There’s so much to still create and discover and uncover and remake and expose about how gender works, what it means, our relationship to it. Man, I love this work.

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15 Comments


  1. I have seen that term used, and I liked it. I feel like it works for me and that it is more specific than the term genderqueer which could also cover transfeminine folks.

    Gotta love the evolution of gender terms.

    I vote in favor of transmasculine. :) Nice post.

  2. When V and I first started dating we had a long discussion about the term "trans," because she tends to date people who identify on the transmasculine spectrum. What we discovered in discussion was one of the ways in which we thought about the word differently. I had always had a bit of an issue self-identifying as trans because I didn't feel that I fit the profile as I had experienced it, specifically within my social circle. My definition of it was an based on an understanding and experience of trans folks as TRANSitioning from one to the other. Trans was a journey from point A to point B.

    What V expressed as a long-time ally of the community was the idea of the trans identity as one who TRANScends the binary. So while there are people who chose to identify with the term in terms of a transition, as far as a more encompassing term for butches, genderqueers, bois, androgyns and other expressions within the spectrum, I've found the idea of trascending gender to be quite a helpful one.

  3. I love this term.

    It's shorter than "genderqueer butch-ish person", and it's actually more accurate: I see butch as a description of one kind of masculinity, while there are actually hundreds.

    Natt Nightly, I first saw "Trans" as trans-cending in this article from the Internation Journal of Transgenderism:
    http://www.symposion.com/ijt/gilbert/kessler.htm

    It mentions trans as in transform, as in across, and as in trascend. I like the "across" meaning too, because many transmasculine people stretch across traditional genders (female body, masculine presentation, male or female pronouns, etc).

  4. Binary Gender Transender

    (BGT).

  5. Great post. Having recently identified as butch I find any discussion around the terms we use to identify ourselves both enlightening and thought provoking. Your definitions of transmasculine and of butch both appeal to me on some level.

  6. I dig it. Much sleeker than the alternatives, and precise without sounding overly technical.

  7. Note: transeunt apparently being an alternative spelling of transient – no wonder my brain went weird. Australian spellcheck is a freak.

  8. Yeah, this trans- thing came up in a conversation the other day in terms of the stem, the possible suffixes and the suggestion of a binary that seems to be part of it. I like Natt Nightly’s transcending. Thoughts included transit/ion and transverse – which seem to imply moving from one place to another (defined, continuum – no galaxy) – which connotations may also be in transitive and transeunt. But less so in transeunt maybe.. trans- basically means ‘cross’ – yes? But I guess there are borders around defined gender roles which may be crossed out of – without necessarily crossing into any other defined set of behaviours. Or if it can be thought as ‘across’ then there are fewer restrictions and no need to ‘cross’ so absolutely – straddling seems appropriate. Hence transcend seems apt (and cool and best.)
    And that definition of transmasculine, it is lovely and broad – it’s the ‘incomplete’ that makes it so. Argh gender theory is awesome fun! Why more people aren’t fascinated, I don’t know.

  9. indeed. I also see 'butch' as a specific type of masculinity, one that has a strong historical connotation. this is something to be proud of, in my eyes, a connection to the history of our community as queer people–but it may not be a tradition that everyone wishes to embrace.

    so…although I am conflicted about the addition of yet another piece of terminology, I think that any step toward neutrality is good.

  10. I don’t think the word transmasculine is exclusive at all, but I have seen ways in which it was used that way. I think a lot of that has to do with confusion.

    I was just at the Gender Odyssey conference and some workshops were closed to “masculine” people, others were closed to “transmasculine” folks, still others were closed to “female assigned folks read as male.” All the distinctions were puzzling. It was as if they were all trying to get at the same thing, but what about folks who’s experiences overlap areas of that.

    Femme trans guys are trans men, but I’ve seen them ejected from transmasculine spaces for not being masculine. Oppositely, as a butch trans woman who identifies as transmasculine, I’ve been kept out of transmasculine spaces because I wasn’t a trans guy, even though cisgender butches were welcome.

    I’ve known other transfemale spectrum folks who identify as transmasculine and have been kept out of transmasculine spaces because they are “really just trans women” or because they were assigned male. Even your own definition specifies people assigned female. And the first commenter likes it specifically because it excludes transfeminine folks (presumably even if they identify as transmasculine as well)

    And so it’s from this background that transmasculine appears to be used as a term that can be used to selectively eject anyone who’s level of female-ness or femininity is perceived as a threat.

  11. I am a trans man who is against myself being lumped into "transmasculine". I am not "female bodied" and would prefer you not refer to trans men that way unless you know they refer to themselves as being female bodied. The only thing categorizing all "female-assigned, not female identifying" people together is to further reify and magnify that birth sex assignment, which for many trans men has little relevance and meaning to the lives we live. There is very little need to come up with one term that artificially spans many identities.

    And also, as Tobi points out, it marginalizes butch and andro trans women, and shoves femme and andro trans men between a rock and a hard place.

    I think "transmasculine" has gained currency because it is cutesy and sound edgy.

  12. Thought you might be interested in a recent discussion about the term “transmasculine” on butch-femme.co.uk. Nearly 700 people viewed the discussion and 16 people participated. Out of the 16, 9 liked the term and 7 didn’t – because they saw it as unnecessary and / or as poorly communicating the intended meaning. A couple of the women who disliked the term said that although they identified as butch they felt primarily feminine and not masculine and therefore would not like “transmasculine” applied to them.

    I’ve given it some thought and while I think it’s important that language around gender evolves I don’t think that this particular term is useful. I think there are several problems with it – it is easily misunderstood, but more than that, questionable in terms of inclusion, for example, MtF butch identified women, would be included under the transfeminine “umbrella”? And this is the bottom line for me: a (broad) term to describe gender based on sex at birth is problematic because it brings us right back to the binary.

    So – here are the votes from this very small UK based jury – 9 in favour and 8 against.

  13. I'm personally still a little unclear on what "transmasculine" means, and how many sorts of people it covers.

    I have some of the same trouble you have with the TransMasculine Network's definition. There are many, many people in the world who are assigned female at birth and don't feel like that's an adequate description of their gender, but who don't identify as masculine.

    Also, I'm still left wondering if trans masculine includes butch women. Some definitions of the word I've seen do include butch women; some don't, leaning more towards folks who are genderqueer, genderfuck, or genderfluid; or leaning towards trans men.

    I raise the butch question because if a definition of transmasculine includes butch women, then I would say butch trans women are also transmasculine — by virtue of being women and presenting as butch. Which makes that whole "assigned female at birth" qualifier problematic.

    Just food & questions for thought…

    –Gina

  14. I'm curious. Why do you use "female-assigned" and then switch to "female-bodied"? To me these are different things. I am a trans man – I was assigned female at birth, but I am not female-bodied. Also, how do you define "female-bodied"?

    • hi Kian,

      Thanks for the questions. That's an old post you commented on, posted in August 2008, and those words and terms are relatively recent—both the use of "transmasculine" and the removal of "female-bodied" from general gender vernacular these days.

      I don't think I would define "female-bodied," to answer your question, except to say that it's term that used to be used frequently in describing trans folks, but has since evolved. I don't use it anymore and I would tend to even correct people (if appropriate) when using it. I know what you mean about being assigned female at birth but not being female-bodied, and I think that's the general usage these days in terminology.

      I updated the post. Sorry about the confusion, or offense.

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