@transmascstudies is creating an accessible online archive documenting one of the most marginalised LGBTQIA+ identities
“Before I started this research, I could barely think of any historic or pop cultural trans masculine figures,” admits artist and bookmaker Izzy Kroese, who initially started work on what would become @transmascstudies whilst studying Fine Art at Goldsmiths University. While individuals like spoken word poet Kai Isaiah Jamal, artist Chella Man, and upcoming model Krow are paving the way for greater visibility, the trans masculine experience and its history are still largely absent from the media.
After a process of self-educating on trans masc history through their artistic practice, Kroese felt a responsibility to share this information with a wider circle of people. “I was digging up all of these stories that I’d never heard before but I wanted a way to share the context and background of them too. Instagram felt like a good way to hold onto this research – a place for me to keep the information in one place, while allowing me to share it with other people.”
In contrast to the pervasive silence on trans masc lives elsewhere, the account spotlights the group’s profound cultural impact and rich past, with the account’s mandate stretching as far back as Ancient Egypt to discuss historical figure Queen Hatshepsut of Egypt, who identified as “her majesty, the king”.
More recent figures include trans rights activists like Victor Mukasa, the founder of Sexual Minorities Uganda, and Lou Sullivan, responsible for the removal of heterosexuality as a requirement for medical transition. In addition to these profiles, even a casual scroll yields up a wealth of content: a powerful portrait from artist Gabrielle Le Roux’s “Proudly Transgender and African” series, political pin badges in a rainbow of colours, and a snapshot of Asia Kate Dillon’s turn as Taylor on Billions, one of the few instances of non-binary representation in mainstream TV.
As Kroese explains, the visibility which the digital archive helps to create is intended to validate and affirm the trans masc experience in a world where their identity is routinely dismissed. “Knowing that you are not the first of your kind is so reassuring, and seeing people like you flourish and do different things readies you to do the same. While trans masculine identity can be (and is) written off in a new way every day – a phase, a fad, peer pressure, tomboyishness, internalised misogyny, internalised lesbophobia – it is so important to connect to our long and rich history and remind ourselves that we’ve been around a while. Despite its apparent invisibility, it is there if you know where to look!”
“What I’ve loved most about @transmascstudies is getting to know more people and starting this community. There’s so few spaces that are for trans masc people to share themselves and I really cherish being part of that” – Izzy Kroese
But while LGBTQIA+ activism is growing online, even in queer digital spaces there are issues of trans masc erasure and @transmascstudies is intended to bridge that gap. “There are tonnes of LGBT history Instagram accounts, but so few posts are actually dedicated to trans men and masculine non binary people. The same goes for digital and physical archives. I have the time to research these things, trudge through all of the material to find ours, but lots of people don’t. I wanted to find an easy way to connect trans masc people to their history.”
Importantly, the account has been able to foster a sense of digital community in a safe space, all whilst encouraging trans masc followers to take pride in their experience. “What I’ve loved most about @transmascstudies is getting to know more people and starting this community. There’s so few spaces that are for trans masc people to share themselves and I really cherish being part of that.” However, they emphasise the fact that trans history is not just for the trans community, and cis people should also be able to see the value in educating themselves on trans issues and culture. “Trans history is such an important thing to learn about, whether you’re trans or not. Scotland has made a great step forward by adding LGBT education to the syllabus, I’m hoping the rest of the UK catches up soon.”
However, Kroese is not only engaged in a process of documenting the past, they also use the account to engage with more current events, for example posting in response to cis female actress Scarlett Johansson’s (thankfully short-lived) decision to accept a role as trans man Dante “Tex” Gill in film Rub & Tug. Additionally, they schedule content to coincide with important dates for the wider community as a means of situating the trans masc experience in a broader context. “When I can I try to respond to current events I just did a few posts for Holocaust Remembrance Day, the anniversary of Leslie Feinberg’s death, World AIDs day… It’s good to find our community’s place in larger events.”
So what are Kroese’s recommendations of where to start with trans masc history and culture? Looking towards notable figures of yesteryear, they highlight the likes of: “Lou Sullivan, a brilliant activist who got heterosexuality removed as a requirement for medical transition, and Marie Høeg, a cross dressing Suffragette photographer”. When it comes to more contemporary sources, the list is plentiful. “I’m an artist and curator so lots of my references are in contemporary art – Evan Ifekoya, Sadé Mica, Flo Brooks, Jesse Darling, and poet Kai Isaiah-Jamal are my favourites at the moment. For music, Mal Blum and Girlpool are brilliant.”
It’s clear that working on @transmascstudies has expanded Kroese's knowledge and awareness of their community, and it’s a development which they will always take delight in sharing with others – even if the format changes to something a bit more analogue in future. “I’d love to turn all the research into a book – get the work off the screen and into people’s hands. I’m a bookmaker at heart so all of this digital work is a bit foreign to me. I’m now waiting until I have the time and the funding! In the meantime, I just want it to reach as many people as possible. Learning all this history has been so transformative for me, I hope it does the same for other people.”