Introduction: Gender is a Social Construct

Image of ANFJace flexing his new muscle! As we all know, gender is a social construct. While the body is involved to some extent in the performance of gender, it is still largely a performance. Gender as performance has been well discussed and documented by such scholars as Judith Butler, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and Marjorie Garber. However, while I maintain this is so in my own critical work on gender, matters are complicated by the ways in which gender performance—while still mainly a construction—can be enhanced in male to female transgendered individuals who use so-called top and/or bottom surgery (removal of the breasts and testosterone therapy). Because of the ubiquity of both the Web and of digital tools such as laptop cameras, the men and boys who have opted for such surgery have often been able to document their own progress as they begin testosterone therapy (aka t-therapy) and find ways to access surgery.

Nancy Duncan has argued for the way in which various spaces can become places for change (or, of course, sites for oppression):

Space is thus subject to various territorializing and deerritorializing processes whereby local control is fixed, claimed, challenged, forfeited and privatized. In some cases this may have socially progressive results in terms of providing a safe base (site of resistance) from which previously disempowered groups may become empowered. (129)

The changes documented in these spaces are striking, so much so that the common understanding of gender as performance may need some modification. While I would still argue that gender is a construction, the range of tools and techniques available for this particular gender performance increases the efficiacy of one goal of female to male transgendered individuals: passing.

That is not to say that all FTMs wish to pass; some do, some don't. And that is not to say that all FTMs think bottom and top surgery necessary or needful. Indeed, some have argued against physical modifications quite cogently and even passionately, sometimes at the cost of conflict with other transmen and with their doctors and insurance representatives.

I am thinking here of Teresa de Lauretis' early Technologies of Gender and especially her third proposition:

The construction of gender goes on today through the various technologies of gender (e.g., the cinema and institutional discourses (e.g., theory) with power to control the field of social meaning (18).
As she notes, it is easy to see how this power can be used to create positive images; the stories these transmen tell, however, include accounts of butting their heads against the institutional practices of medicine and of insurance companies that are sometimes highly oppressive. Remember—here we have the success stories. For every transmen represented in this essay through video, I am sure there are ten times that who were unable to afford T.

Nonetheless, those individuals who have documented their progress through both surgery and t-therapy as documented in so-called t-diaries (often if not always on YouTube) report their success as they show off their bodies, often showing off their new chests or showing post-surgery video made by friends.

As Tobias Raun has noted,

Besides serving as an autobiography and diary, the vlogs also engender (trans)national communities by the conversational character of engagement. The YouTuber persistently hails interested parties with a 'Hi guys' and invites feedback and discussion, either as text comments below the video or as video responses. Thereby the camera is a vehicle of communication and social connection used to merit attention in a way that resembles face-to-face interaction. The titles of the vlogs ('Just to update you guys' etc.) also sometimes frame them as oriented toward human connections. (124)

Though I would not argue that physical modification is more successful than is use of gender-determined clothing (for instance) or modification of the pitch of the speaking voice, the video materials I have collected are a striking testament to the need of these men to perform their trans identity in very specific ways.