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How people see me (or don’t) as a pansexual transman

September 28, 2018

It’s strange to walk through the world with invisible identities. Most of the time when strangers perceive me, they are only seeing a small piece of the story.

I recently wrote an article called "My Journey to Finding My Pansexuality" which chronicled my path to finding the word pansexual and how that orientation fits in with my gender identity. That piece focused on my inner exploration, and now I want to share what it looks like when I interact with others as a pansexual, transgender man.

Other peoples' perception of me changes based on many things, such as environment, who I am with, and how I am dressed. I recently went to a Pride event where I spent most of the day with someone who I met there. We spent that day talking about life, love, and we were really connecting. I could tell that they weren’t perceiving me as trans, though. So, because I felt safe with them, I decided to share share my gender history and tell them I’m trans.

“I never know what to do at Pride events,” I explained. “No one perceives me as trans, so I never know how to connect with my community. I don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable by approaching them and implying they are visibly trans, but it leaves me feeling isolated when I don’t reach out.”

The person I was with was shocked. They simply “couldn’t believe I was trans” because I "didn’t look trans!” This lead to a long conversation about my gender and invasive questioning. I left the event feeling really disheartened.

I’ve analyzed this moment over again and I’ve seen how drastically they altered their behavior based on their perception of me. When they perceived me as a cis gay man, they treated me one way, and that completely shifted once they found out about my other identities.

Shane and partner, Jess. Image credit: Kenneth Cole, 2016.

I have been with my partner Jess for 5 years now, who is also pansexual. She identifies as gender fluid, but has a more feminine presentation. Because I am dating a “feminine looking” person, people assume that I am straight. When we go out in the world, we are assumed to be a cis, straight couple, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m so proud to be pansexual and love that I am part of the LGBTQ community.

People also assume that I’m gay. When I was crafting my masculinity, I was very intentional to deviate from what we consider stereotypically masculine in society. I wanted a masculinity that was free from sexism, homophobia, and all toxic masculinity. Because of this, people perceive that I’m different from other men, which often leads them to believe I’m gay. I like being read as gay at times, because people that can’t tell I’m trans still read me as part of the queer community. Also, I am attracted to men. At the same time, it is important to me that people get my orientation right.

It’s always so fascinating to me that how I’m being read in terms of gender and sexual orientation is so conditional and changes constantly.

As a trans person who is seven years into my physical transition, I am almost never perceived as trans. I understand that this allows me a great amount of privilege in terms of safety. I am also constantly aware that the privilege is conditional and can end the moment someone discovers my gender history. But at times, it’s hard to feel like people aren’t seeing my whole self.

Being trans isn't all that I am, but it is a huge part of who I am. I lived with the world perceiving me as female for eighteen years of my life. When people don’t know I’m trans, that’s eighteen years of history that suddenly becomes erased. However, not all trans people feel this way. People have varying degrees of comfort with disclosure for many reasons. Some people may feel that their gender history isn’t relevant to who they are today, or they may choose not to disclose for safety reasons, among others. But for me, I prefer to be out as trans in most aspects of my life.

So this is my life and how I move through the world. Parts of me being seen, but never the whole picture. I am assumed to be cis and straight or cis and gay, but never trans and pansexual.

As humans we tend to think in binaries. Binary genders, binary sexual orientations, binary everything. As a pansexual trans person, I don’t fit into any of those. I suppose I’m still trying to find my place and a healthy balance of truth and perception. In a way, people who perceive me as being attracted to women aren’t wrong, in the same way that people who perceive me to be attracted to men aren’t wrong. But that also discounts the many, many other genders and experiences that I find attractive.

I love the word pansexual (the prefix “pan” meaning all) because it allows me to say that I am attracted to all genders - inherently implying that there are more than two. At this point in my journey, that is an important distinction. I suppose that’s why I feel invisible when people don’t perceive me as trans and pansexual; because they aren’t acknowledging the complexities and experiences of gender that I see.

I often wonder what the world would be like if we people didn’t assume the gender or sexual orientation of others. When we make these assumptions, we fail to see potential discrimination, rejection, or other struggles people may be facing. Not everyone talks about their identities all the time, and I don’t either, but at the same time I understand the importance of visibility. And I am a proud pansexual transgender man. We all deserve to be seen for who we truly are.

Shane Henise is a Campaigns Manager at GLAAD. He focuses on creating campaigns that highlight and support the trans community. Shane recently received his Ed.M from Teachers College, Columbia University.

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