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.
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.