Though accurate and respectful media coverage of the trans community has notably increased over the past decade, transmasculine people are too often excluded from broader cultural and journalistic narratives about the trans experience.
To close out the year, Media Matters is uplifting media stories that bucked this troubling pattern and reported on the power, success, and needs of the transmasculine community. From the first openly Black trans man elected to public office fighting for racial justice to a civil rights lawyer advocating at the Supreme Court, here are four stories from 2020 that featured remarkable transmasculine people:
1. Professional boxer Patricio Manuel and actor Chella Man on the importance of trans liberation beyond the binary
In the documentary The Future of Trans, actor Chella Man and professional boxer Patricio Manuel reflected on the importance of expanding people’s conception of gender beyond a binary in order to achieve trans liberation, as well as the importance of affirming trans youth. The documentary “explores trans futures with some of the brightest, sharpest, creative minds in trans and gender non-conforming communities” and was produced by TransLash Media.
Man and Manuel have both made groundbreaking accomplishments in their careers. Man was the first transmasculine actor cast in a DC superhero series, and Manuel was the first trans man to win a pro boxing match.
In the film, Manuel noted the power of embracing gender identities beyond a binary, saying, “When we limit people’s imagination, that ultimately kills any sort of liberation.” Man echoed this sentiment, emphasizing for trans youth in particular that “everything’s on a continuum. You don’t need a box. You don’t need to technically find a definition online that you connect with.”
PATRICIO MANUEL (PRO BOXER): When we limit people’s imagination, that ultimately kills any sort of liberation, and I refuse to allow anyone to stifle my creativity and my imagination. To me that is something that as a child was very important to me, and I think that's my ancestor whispering in my ear and saying, “They can’t get your mind.” Like no matter what, no one can get my mind. Binary wasn’t a thing. Like there were at least four genders in so many different cultures. Like, I think we need to have a full circle return to that and remember like, we’ve always been here. We’re part of humanity. We’re natural. I want to see a return to that.
IMARA JONES (HOST): If your present self could go back to yourself at 10, what do you think that you would tell them now?
CHELLA MAN (ACTOR): Man, I’d be like, I’d be like, I know you know who you are, and I know you’re terrified. But, number one, you’re going to figure it out. You’re going to be OK. And number two, just like I’m telling all the kids who show up to my talk, everything’s on a continuum. You don’t need a box. You don’t need to technically find a definition online that you connect with. It helps at the time being, but you don’t need it. You will be with family, a chosen family, and luckily enough a biological family that loves you, which is a privilege to have. But you’ll figure it out, and you’ll be OK.
2. Advocate Tiq Milan on the “invisibility” of trans men in the media and the significance of Elliot Page coming out as trans and nonbinary
After actor Elliot Page came out as trans and nonbinary, GLAAD national spokesperson Tiq Milan remarked on ABC’s Nightline, “There's definitely invisibility when we talk about trans people, particularly trans men, particularly when we're talking about representation in media.”
During the December 3 segment, Milan explained the importance of using a person’s correct pronouns and also explained, “So much of the violence that is happening in trans communities is happening to trans women, particularly trans women of color.” Milan’s commentary added to a broader trend among broadcast TV news outlets airing reports on anti-trans violence following Page’s announcement.
In a 2019 Vice op-ed, Milan also addressed visibility of transmasculine people in the media, saying, “How could I tell anyone when it felt like I was the only trans man to ever transition? I had no blueprint or role models; no transmasculine icons I could readily recall; no person to tell me how to become a man, what to do or expect.”
3. Attorney Chase Strangio on his groundbreaking legal battles and the need for trans representation in the courtroom
Chase Strangio, the deputy director for transgender justice at the American Civil Liberties Union, was part of the legal team behind the Supreme Court’s landmark June 15 ruling that LGBTQ employees are protected from discrimination by their employers under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Time Magazine recognized Strangio’s work and named him as one of the magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020.
In an accompanying video, Strangio reflected on his legal career and the trans community’s “process of transforming what it means to be alive as a trans person in the world right now.” He noted the need for trans legal representation, saying, “If there are no trans lawyers, there's oftentimes no trans people participating in a dialogue about whether and how trans people should exist.”
CHASE STRANGIO (ACLU): In a lot of ways, I never imagined becoming a lawyer. I didn’t know that I could chart a path that would have me surviving into adulthood. It's incredibly important to have trans lawyers litigating trans cases. If there are no trans lawyers, there's oftentimes no trans people participating in a dialogue about whether and how trans people should exist.
STRANGIO: Some of my most memorable experiences of being a trans lawyer are just sitting with our clients in moments of deep sadness or, you know, celebration, relishing the fact that no matter what happens in the court, we are still here and that we’re going to build power and solidarity and take care of each other. Ultimately, we are in the process of transforming what it means to be alive as a trans person in the world right now.
4. Minneapolis City Councilmember Phillipe Cunningham on his work to end police terror and protect his community
MSNBC featured Minneapolis City Council member Phillipe Cunningham in coverage of the uprising against racist police violence after George Floyd was killed in Cunningham’s community. During the segment, Cunningham contextualized protests as part of “the generations of trauma and rage at the violence bestowed on the Black community.”
Cunningham was the first openly trans man of color elected to public office in the U.S. He has fought to end racist police violence for years and championed the council’s recent decision to divert $8 million from the police budget toward mental health services.
During the June 3 segment of MTP Daily, he explained that “over-policing, criminalization, and mass incarceration have not kept our community safer” but have rather pushed communities of color “farther to the margins of society due to criminal history.”