Transcending the binary? : gay men’s perspectives on transgender men

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Combs, Thatcher Phoenix

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With the burgeoning visibility of transgender rights in the United States, questions remain regarding how the mainstream LGBT movement will continue to integrate transgender people. In this thesis, I focus on the perspectives of cisgender gay men about transgender men within their communities to understand how divisions between these groups may stymie the LGBT movement going forward. Therefore, the guiding questions for this thesis are: 1) Do gay cisgender men view transgender men as friends and as potential sexual partners? 2) How do gay men manage their identity as gay men when they have been with transgender men in romantic relationships or in sexual encounters? To answer these general questions, I conducted a qualitative study using in-depth interviews with 15 men, in San Francisco, California, who self-identified as gay or queer. Focusing on masculinities theory, I uncovered three main barriers in these men’s lives that shape the possibility of integrating transgender men within their communities. First, I show that these men grappled with defining manhood, maleness, and gayness between biological or constructivist discourse which created tensions for being able to integrate transgender men within gay communities. Secondly, these men reshaped a sexual history that included people assigned female at birth as a mechanism for the creation of a gay identity. Lastly, the requirements of doing gender (West and Zimmerman 1987) facilitate the invisibility of transgender men in social spaces; for cisgender gay men, especially when faced with sexual desire for transgender men experienced a vagina panic. These men’s narratives, reflected in this thesis, highlight the restrictiveness of essentialist discourse, the LGBT movement’s discourse which upholds essentialism, and hegemonic masculinity. All three work in tandem to discount transgender men as a part of the gay male community and, in doing so, creates barriers for possible social and political connections.



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