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How many trans men are there in the world?

How I run “All transmen know each other” on Facebook: with transparency, liberally, and without pity for trolls of any gender identity.

How I run “All transmen know each other” on Facebook: with transparency, liberally, and without pity for trolls of any gender identity.

There may be as many as 35 million transmen in the world. I base this figure on the very rough estimates that, of all the people in the world:

  • One in two are assigned female at birth,
  • One in ten are somewhere on the LGBT spectrum, and,
  • Of those on the spectrum, one in ten are trans.
The Facebook group I created in 2011, “All transmen know each other,” has recently reached the ten thousand-member mark.

Figures for the transgender population vary: Gary Gates says that about 0.3% of the adult US population identifies as transgender, or three times as many as I’ve estimated. Extending Gates’ work to the current global population of over 7 billion, and presuming half of trans people are assigned female at birth, there are potentially over ten million trans men in the world.

The Facebook group I created in 2011, “All transmen know each other,” has recently reached the ten thousand-member mark. That’s nowhere near the millions or billions of trans men who might possibly be alive today, but still makes “All transmen” one of the largest FTM groups on Facebook. I have a theory on why my Facebook group is so popular: the administrative rules foster community, and are simple to enact and replicate.

I made some decisions when I created the group that I have held a firm position on, over the years. The group would be public. This makes it easier for Facebook users to find us, and it makes people accountable for what they do in the group. The membership would not be limited by personal identity. Trying to police the gender identities of people online goes against not only my ethics, but common sense. And since the premise was that we all know one another, or aren’t far removed, we might know one another through other people who aren’t trans men: via mutual friends, lovers, allies, trans and queer people. The group would be about trans men and our experiences, but we would not be the only ones allowed in.

My plan was to create a space that was mostly wild: just focused enough to be worth joining, and moderated enough to be worth participating in. I delete the spam, ban the trolls, defuse escalating tempers, and remind members of the rules of the group, but mostly, I let discussions run their course. I’m cautiously optimistic, based on this experiment, that public, identity-based groups with simple “don’t be a jerk” rules for participation have a future in social media.

The tweaks I made to the rules, early on, were intended to reduce negativity and increase clarity of the group’s vision. It was not a group that would become whatever the current vocal minority said they wanted, and up for debate each time a new vision became popular. It would not become closed (in the Facebook sense, of non-members being unable to see our discussions) or exclusive to trans men. Bullying people for using the “wrong” words or displaying the “wrong” feelings (having expressed, for instance, a sexual preference for trans men) would not be permitted. The limits of my power are as admin of this one Facebook group, so I don’t allow fights that begin elsewhere to erupt on the page. No screencaps of text or IM conversations that identify anyone other than the person posting are permitted in the group.

There are literally hundreds of groups on Facebook for trans men: stealth men and public speakers on the subject, breastfeeding men, newly transitioning men, senior men, men of color, gay and bisexual transmen, survivors of abuse, open groups, closed groups, you name it. If “All transmen” isn’t for you, and none of the other groups are, either, it takes about three and a half minutes to create your own group and find out whether your vision for the perfect trans group on FB works as well as you think it should.

The group is not staffed 24/7, no one has taken responsibility for members in crisis, and despite every member’s efforts, sometimes bad posts make it into the group and hang around for a while before they’re deleted. Despite the caveats that the group is not a support group, and not a “safe space,” “All transmen know each other” provides a reasonably secure online environment for trans men to come out and find community, support, and resources. The group is active enough that nearly any query gets not just one but several useful and timely responses. It’s full of engaged members who retain group memory: to refer new members to other resources, and demonstrate the kind of clear communication and healthy boundaries the group set out to embody.

There are certain questions that new members ask repeatedly. “How do I begin transition?” “How do I have the coming out talk with my parents?” “Who is a good surgeon in my area, and do they take my health insurance?” I answer when I’m qualified and have the time, encourage those I wish I could do more to help, if only to bump his post back up near the top so that someone else might see it and answer. The question that seems to elicit the most annoyance from other “All transmen”  members is, “Do I pass?” However, it’s not the kind of question that one n00b can ask for everyone else’s reference, so everyone that needs to ask it, will have to do so for himself.

There are several categories of posts that I don’t enjoy, but neither do I delete them. The “Do I pass?” posts are one. Another category that is unpopular, but permitted, is the “Go Fund Me” post. I’ve rarely seen a “contribute to my transition fund” request that courteously explained the exceptional reason why those of us already paying for our own transitions should pay for someone else’s, as well. The campaigns are often created by people so new to their own transitions that they’re asking for tens of thousands of dollars for procedures they haven’t researched, much less are ready to undergo. Some of them haven’t even come out to anyone, yet. There are no hard rules of transition, but moving out of your childhood bedroom and/or coming out to your parents typically precedes phalloplasty. I know, it’s not fair. It’s also not my fault.

Sociopaths are a vanishingly small minority—about two percent of the population—but they exist in my community like they do in everyone else’s, and it only takes one to ruin an experience for thousands of people. More than ten years ago, I saw the death of a beloved transgender conference, due to the antisocial behavior of a few troublesome members of my community. These privileged children felt entitled to stick it to our host because their weekend got extended by a snowstorm that trapped every out-of-towner at the conference venue for an extra day. While most of us made the appropriate arrangements for an act of nature, because sucking up inconveniences is one of the pitfalls of travel, these people played “dine and dash” in the hotel restaurant, slept on couches and stairs in the lobby, and just to make sure their aggrieved message was clear, destroyed the frames on the artwork displayed in the hotel where the conference was held. There’s a metaphor there, for people who are angry at situations that were created by no one on Earth, and who lash out at whoever inspires their jealousy. The actions of a few selfish members of my tiny community destroyed an institution, one that has not been replaced in the years since. So I’ll be damned if I’m going to let some little trolls come fuck up my Facebook group.

Not everyone is welcome in “All transmen.” Almost every day, I let at least twenty new members in, and ban at least one person for breaking the rules. Most of them, I won’t shed a tear over: the ones who post ads for handbags (and much, much worse) are some of my least favorite people on the internet. I feel a little bit bad when I ban a trans man from “All transmen” for being abusive to the other members. I also know that people have to be able to get along, not be vicious, destructive, attention seeking, or cruel, no matter how they identify, or how hard their lives have been. I’d rather the group were only three-fifths transmen, and capture only a tiny fraction of all of the transmen on Earth, as long as the majority of the participating members are courteous and fair with one another, and keep the discussion on topic.

“All transmen” continues to grow at a steady rate, and host varied and thoughtful discussion, daily, on a variety of aspects of our lives. I believe there’s a lesson here for anyone trying to create community online: on how many rules are optimal, and which ones are indispensable. All transmen don’t know each other yet, and probably never will, but with patience and management, I now know ten thousand people who are holding a space open, online, for that dream to be realized.

 

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Trans 101: What is the process to change one’s sex?

transgender surgery, Chaz Bono, Lana Wachowski, female transgender, male transgender, sex change, transgender surgery

What is the process of transition for a trans person? (Hint: there is no process)

“How does that work?” and, “how long does it take?” are just a couple of the questions that people who haven’t been through the sex change process ask. For those about to transition—new trans people—it’s natural to want to know what is in store for them. The people around them, the allies, families, and friends of new trans people, may never have considered what a transgender person has to go through to achieve body congruence. Most people don’t have to think about what it means to go through a sex change, yet they may hold unspoken assumptions about the process, such as that there is a single “transgender surgery.”

What is a gender transition? How does it happen?

In some people’s imaginations, it works like this: “Andy” wakes up one morning and decides to change his gender. He goes down to the Department of Transgender, talks to a social worker, fills out a lot of forms, and a few weeks later he’s packing his bags. Andy disappears from society for a few days or months, then returns, legally the same person, but transformed. A surgeon in Thailand “chops off her penis”—this is the medical terminology—and her body is magically feminized: leg hair falls out, and razor sharp cheekbones rise like the Andes on her now-beardless face. Where Andy stood is now the beautiful Andrella, remembering what Andy does, having all of his experience, yet without a trace of masculinity remaining from her years of Boy Scouts and “man up!” lessons and testosterone. She returns home as fresh as a brand new Barbie doll, complete with passport, wardrobe, and romcom movie deal about a plucky “new girl next door” in search of her Prince Charming.

For trans men in this fantasy, it works exactly the same but in reverse. “Chaz” wakes up one morning, flies to Thailand, and before he’s recovered from the jet lag, everyone is calling him “Mister” and asking him to dance lead on reality TV.

In the real world (not “MTV’s The Real World”), there is no single process for a trans person. Sometimes there is no process, or else it’s not what you’d consider a “process.” Sometimes—a lot of the time—it goes at the speed of money. Sometimes this isn’t such a good thing for Andrella/Chaz, but it’s also pretty rare, unless your name is Wachowski, to have the hundreds of thousands of dollars at one’s disposal for transition related surgery expenses. And then there’s just laws of physics/biology, what you can do with the hands that go with a 6’4” person who lived under the influence of testosterone for a decade before she could get those hands wrapped around her destiny. There’s the priorities of people who might not be entirely sane, but are at least as sane as you are: they won’t get their legs broken like a tragic sci fi hero to gain six inches of height.

And there’s the limits of science, too. We can break legs, but we can’t make big, sensitive, responsive penises, or everyone would have one. At least one. Why stop there? Have one made up for daytime and one for evening wear. One to take out on weekends, and another for weekdays. One that looks good in a swimsuit, and one that your lover has custom designed to fit. A penis for every occasion.

Thanks to a decades-long sci fi habit, I’m waiting for nanotechnology rather than surgery. Imagine: a soft hiss of yeasty steam and the softly whirring magic of millions of tiny, tiny machines, building upon my own genetics to deliver the perfect penis that will work exactly as Nature would have made for me, had she gotten slightly different assembly instructions. Until such time as a gray goo squirted from a tube and applied to my nether bits delivers, I’m living with imperfection, but when it does,  I’ll probably overdo it, ignore the warning on the label, fail to apply it to an unobtrusive test area first. It’ll give me rock hard abs, remove all my back hair, make me a super genius and perk up my sagging butt, while also giving me an incurable computer virus. Because it’s still science fiction and without conflict, it’s just science lies.

So how does it usually work?

There are steps that trans people often take. Here are a few changes that will generally happen sooner rather than later.

Column A: Sometimes a trans person does one or more of these things, in some order and possibly more than once, as part of a transition:

  • Asks friends to call them by a new name, and/or use different pronouns, etc.
  • Asks family members to do this.
  • Comes out as trans at work, in church, to their school friends but not their work friends or vice versa… in other words, selectively. Over time (because it’s exhausting… how many coming out talks can you give in a day?) and to some social circles but not others, for a variety of reasons including power relations and a trans person’s own fears and prejudices.
  • Removes or grows facial hair, changes hairstyle, manicure habits, starts or stops shaving other bodily hair, or otherwise alters grooming habits in a way some might read as “gendered.”
  • Starts dressing differently, possibly in a “very gendered” way (extremely masculine or feminine), or in a way that is notably androgynous.
  • Talks to a mental health professional about feelings of gender incongruity or a desire to live in the opposite gender.

Column B: Among those changes that a trans person might make that suggest that at least some of the new has worn off the situation, these are usually only undertaken once something from Column B has been ordered and digested. As before, these may take place over the course of months or years, and as previously noted, can be seriously delayed by finances.

  • Changes their name legally.
  • Starts taking hormones or hormone blockers.
  • Starts electrolysis (for male to female transition).
  • Has medical procedures to alter appearance or secondary sex characteristics.

There are no rules for what you have done, when, in what order, or anything. There are some guidelines that suggest seeing a mental health professional before having hormones or surgery. There’s certainly no Department of Transgender.

Changing your name, legally, is a different process in each locality. It’s often a family court matter, meaning a judge will want to know why you are requesting a name change: saying “because I’m transgender” is totally fine. You might have “the letter” from your MH professional saying yes, it’s true, this person is known to me as trans, and that satisfies many people: ignorant judges, bureaucrats of all kinds, and trans people themselves, who see themselves as protected from some of the consequences of appearing trans. The government just wants you not to be a crook, which is why this part of the process often requires publishing a notice in a newspaper, and is heavy on the “promise you’re not doing this to evade debt” language. You’ll have to swear, probably. Dress for court, say “Your Honor” when addressing a judge, step through the hoops as presented, and you’ll be fine, probably. It’s the least horrible part of the process for most people.

What is a sex change surgery?

The whole realm of medical procedures is likewise not regulated by any central transgender board. Each doctor decides who they’ll treat and under what conditions, governed by their own professional ethics. Have you ever had surgery of any kind? There’s a consultation. You schedule it with the doctor and the surgery center. Someone tells you what to buy for postoperative care and to make sure you have a ride home. If you’re lucky, you’ve got someone who’ll screen your calls for rabid, angry relatives, and if you’re even luckier, you have a supportive family who brings you fruit baskets and bad movies and fill your prescriptions, just like they would if you were having any other kind of surgery.

I’ve known people who’ve gone through treatment for cancer, chemo and radiation treatments as well as surgery. At first I think it would have been a shock to me, in their positions, that the world doesn’t stop for cancer patients. What do you mean I still have to go to work? But they do, many of them. Cancer patients schedule those treatments like any other medical appointments. You might be surprised how life goes on even as you’re fighting for it. It’s the same for us. For a lot of us, I think, this is a fight for our lives, and unlike cancer treatments, the expenses are usually not covered by health insurance.

The actual procedures that are considered “sex change surgery” are various and include:

  • Tracheal shaving (for male to female transition)
  • Facial cosmetic surgery (rhinoplasty, cheekbone sculpting, jaw and brow reshaping)
  • Phalloplasty
  • Vaginoplasty
  • Double mastectomy
  • Breast implants

And while not surgery, these procedures are often performed by cosmetic surgery centers, are comparably painful and expensive, but usually need multiple treatments to achieve satisfactory results:

  • Silicone injections
  • Electrolysis or laser hair removal

Column C: I can’t think of anything that goes here. Is there some kind of super transsexual act one can undergo? If you think of one, let me know in the comments. Or maybe after you get your card stamped so many times, you earn points… but what are they redeemable for? Again, if you can think of something… I know Transadvocate has been wondering what we get for being trans. It seems some of us are getting cake.

Maybe Column C is the list of those things that a trans person does (or has done to them) that signify a certain level of completion. Because most trans people eventually:

  • Make financial plans that don’t revolve around paying for items in Columns A and B.
  • Mentee trans people who come out after them, who are just as scared and uncertain as they were themselves, back when they first considered ordering something from Column A.
  • Meet people who didn’t know them before transition.
  • Go through whole days where they don’t think about one single transgender thing.
  • Figure themselves “done with transition,” even if it’s with a caveat (such as until nanotechnology is in beta.)

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Future Devices: The Google Organ

computer implant, microchip, GPS tracking, smartphones, cyborgs, Google OrganI predict that in the not too distant future, we will all have implanted computers that connect us with one another. Will you be an early adopter?

Please note: “Google” is the intellectual property of Google, Inc. Resemblance to the Google Organ of any product, real or imagined, is purely coincidental.

Michal Levin, a senior user experience designer at Google admits that wearing Google Glass “gets pretty tiring pretty fast,” in an article by Cameron Scott on Social Times. But once the bugs are worked out, we’re going to come another step closer to what I call the Google Organ.

I imagine a time in the future when we have implantable organs that can do everything that Google Glass can do, and so much more. As I’ve been telling my friends for at least a year, the Google Organ is our future. Will you be an early adopter?

The Google Organ, or Organs—many manufacturers will probably be making items like these—will have multiple functions from entertainment to saving lives, just like our smartphones do now. Imagine a computer the size of a grain of rice, under your skin, that delivers heads up displays, connects you to the internet, and with applications to monitor your bodily functions and even control the WiFi enabled machines around you.

We’ll all be GPS monitored, and everywhere we go, not only will we know exactly where we are, and have contextual information for our locations, but others can know where we are, too. We can click “OK” on the privacy agreements that give our credit card numbers to the agencies that collect highway tolls, to our gyms and workplaces, so that wherever we go, doors open to us, and our fees are paid. ATMs will recognize us. We’ll walk out of stores without even having to pause, because the items and we will all be tracked by RFID. Dynamic billboards will change their displays as we walk past, based on as much information as we elect to share.

If you’re ever in an accident, EMTs will know who you are, your insurance provider, primary care doctor, and full medical history, including allergies, conditions, and the medications you’re currently taking. Such a device could potentially sense everything from your blood alcohol level to your sodium levels, dynamically regulate your insulin pump, pacemaker, APAP machine, and any other device in your house to manage your health and well being. It could send emergency notifications to your doctor or summon an ambulance.

Being inside you, there would be no more track pads or thumbing keyboards. Instead, we’ll commune with our smart devices in some subtle way, such as a subvocalization, eye movement, thought, or even without your conscious direction. It will revolutionize how we live, and it’s all possible with current technology.

Not long ago I interviewed a panel of dads about technology. One of the questions I asked was, would you have your kids “radio chipped”? My dog and one of my cats (who came through a shelter, rather than informal adoption) have these chips implanted, so that if one of them wanders off, they can be identified with information stored on the microchip implanted under their skin, and we, their owners, contacted. You can see how small these things are. It’s only a matter of time before they contain not only information, but processing power. In 1951, the original UNIVAC filled a largish room, and had less processing power than my Android. These are bound to get smaller and more powerful, more quickly, until the Google Organ becomes possible, and then more essential to who you are than your pancreas. 

The biggest change is going to be one of social acceptance—of the loss of privacy that is inherent in using such a technology. Once it reaches a tipping point, use of any technology will become the norm, without any of us really noticing. When did it become unsafe to ride a horse on the road, because of the preponderance of automobiles? When did we all start peeing in cups to get employment? When did we all start shopping online with our credit cards, and stop worrying about sending our numbers off into the ether? Or waving a key fob at the gas pump to pay for our fuel? Few of us understand the technologies we live with and rely upon, including ones that didn’t exist twenty years ago, or ten. That isn’t even the issue. It’s simply one of adoption.

Someday soon, the question won’t be, “would you chip your kids?” but, “would you let your kids get the Google Organ?” The question won’t sound like that. They’ll call it something else. The first ones will be buggy and hard to live with, like the first Google Glass. But you can be sure that once they smooth out the rough edges, all the kids will be doing it. And so will you. Because like cell phones and GPS navigation systems in our cars, it’s darned handy to have the technology you need, “at hand,” so to speak, and getting smaller and more hands-free with every iteration.

Finally, like Facebook, these devices won’t be cool anymore, because everyone and their mom will have them. We’ll all be muttering or eye flickering away, only fully present online, directed by satellite not to trip over the cracks in the sidewalk: radio controlled zombies to the outside observer, easier to contact and learn about than strangers have ever been, but only to those who have adopted the technology. No one will ever be quite alone, or lost, like we can be now, they’ll say when they sell you this. With any luck for the inventor of the Google Organ, it’ll be a technology that nearly everyone will adopt.

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