I’ve been involved in Philly’s queer and trans* communities for a long time, and over the years I have noticed there are particular needs that are very specific to people who were born female and later came into their masculinity. Transitioning into a more masculine identity and presentation forces us to look at dynamics of masculine privilege and how this shift can be disorienting, especially if someone chooses to begin medical transition and may begin to “pass” as male-born. While everyone across the trans* spectrum experiences similar shifts, I found that the struggles and opportunities that arise for transmasculine folks are distinctly different from those of our trans* sisters.
When I learned that WeXist (a longtime FTM group at William Way) was no longer meeting, I wanted to make sure there was still a space for the transmasculine community to come together and share the wealth of knowledge that comes from peer experiences. As a therapist working at Mazzoni Center, I am lucky to be in a position where I can help make that happen.
That’s how the idea for Mazzoni’s newest weekly support group, New Bois Club, came about. (I have to confess, I really struggled to come up with a name because I wanted it to reflect as much of the transmasculine spectrum as possible!) When I started to think about how cisgender men in Philadelphia connect, I often think of Philly as an “old boys club,” so I decided to play off that concept.
This group, which launched July 21, is a free drop-in group and is open to anyone who was assigned female at birth and identifies along the transmasculine spectrum. This also includes people who were born intersex and assigned female.
The transmasculine spectrum is incredibly diverse, ranging from those who identify as women and are exploring their masculinity to those who identify as FTM from a very binary perspective. I believe that we can all learn from each other’s experiences and explore what it means to be masculine as people born female and socialized to be heteronormative and sex/gender-conforming.
There are a whole host of questions, challenges, experiences and stories I can imagine the group addressing. One particular area I see the trans* community struggle with is race. It’s impossible for us to talk about gender and not recognize that gender identity, both in and out of the LGTBQ communities, varies greatly based on our experiences with race. Being a black man has very different social connotations than being a Latino or Asian man, while coming into masculinity as white brings up different issues around privilege.
Nowadays, we are fortunate to have access to various forms of community; through social media and other online forums, people who identify as trans* have new access to information, connections and conversations. This is a significant positive development, particularly for those who feel isolated due to geography or other circumstances. But having a facilitated, in-person support group gives us a safe space for everyone in which we have less risk of damaging our relationships when having these difficult conversations. A lot of times we don’t have difficult conversations with our friends, even those with shared experience, because we are invested in protecting that relationship.
On the flip side of that, there are lots of Internet groups in which the impersonal nature of that space makes a group perceptible to “flame wars” and heated emotional reactions that can cause splintering within that community. Moderators are often either not equipped to navigate these conversations or do not have the time and resources to keep up with the high frequency of posts and comments.
I think there’s a real value in having face-to-face conversations, which require us to be truly present and accountable for our words and expressions, in a way that can sometimes get lost online. In a facilitated group, we can have an intentional, neutral space with guidelines in place, as well as a trained professional to keep the space supportive and safe.
What I’ve learned through facilitating other support groups, including Mazzoni’s Living with HIV group, is there are certain discussions that just need a safe space to be shared. It is a truly humbling and rewarding experience to be part of that process. I have found that, when we are given the right space and supports, we can all learn from our different experiences and come together as a community.
I encourage people who might be interested to check out New Bois Club. Because this is a new group, there’s an opportunity to be part of defining it, to help shape the conversation and make sure we are addressing your needs. We are always open to suggestions.
You don’t have to be a Mazzoni client to attend, but I do suggest showing up a little early to get in and meet people before the group starts. I’m looking forward to seeing what develops from this idea — and most of all I look forward to meeting everyone!
New Bois Club meets from 6-7 p.m. Mondays at Mazzoni Center, 21 S. 12th Street, eighth floor. For more information, contact [email protected], call 215-563-0652 ext. 292 or visit www.mazzonicenter.org.
TMAN (meets 7 p.m. every other Monday at the Washington West Project, 1201 Locust St., and is not affiliated with Mazzoni Center) is another group specific to the transmasculine community.
Mazzoni’s weekly group Evolutions meets 6-7 p.m. Thursdays at 21 S. 12th St., eighth floor, and is open to anyone who identifies along the trans* spectrum.
Both groups are also free and drop-in.
Sisterly L.O.V.E. is a program developed for transwomen, by transwomen that meets monthly to offer support, resources and educational and leadership development opportunities. For more information, contact Laura Sorensen at 215-563-0652 ext. 232.
Jasper Liem, MSS, LSW, is a therapist at Mazzoni Center.