Transmasculine Individuals are Erased, Even in Death

Jules Bourbeau ’25

Managing Editor

Transgender teenager Nex Benedict was murdered over a month ago and he is still being misgendered. According to one of his friends, who spoke to NBC News in an interview, he preferred he/him pronouns. Despite this, even at a vigil for him at the Connecticut State Capital, I did not hear one person refer to him as anything other than “they” or “them”. Worse still, Alejandra Caraballo, a transgender activist and professor at Harvard Law School referred to him by she/her pronouns, and did not apologize for over three days. It took several more days for her to delete the original post – and the apology along with it. That Benedict was killed for his transmasculine identity only to be further disrespected by his supposed allies and members of his own community is utterly repugnant. 

My invocation of Caraballo is not intended to further divide the transgender community, nor is it even to indict her personally. I believe her when she said that it was an honest mistake. Nevertheless, this incident is indicative of a wider problem: the constant erasure and diminishing of transmasculine people.

Transgender men and transmasculine individuals are told to be grateful that we are “just” infantilized and erased as opposed to being hyper-visible and cast as predators. To be clear, hypervisibility begets immense violence and suffering and transmisogyny is an evil that transmasculine individuals are fortunate not to experience. I just as strongly condemn anyone who asserts that transgender women ought to be happy about their own oppression. Instead, what makes the biases enforced upon transgender people particularly hurtful is that they draw from stereotypes based in assigned sex at birth. “Females” are supposedly innocent weaklings lacking any agency, while “males” are sex-obsessed brutes. You can see how these tropes map onto prejudices about transmasculine and transfeminine people respectively. The damage comes not from the exact manifestation of these attitudes, but from the purposeful weaponization of one’s assigned sex at birth against them.

However, the fact that I even feel the need to provide seven layers of disclaimers just to speak about my own life is symptomatic of the problem as a whole. In order to illuminate some of our difficulties to those of you who for whom your gender has always been taken for granted, allow me to provide a survey of some of my experiences. Keep in mind that I am very privileged as far as transgender people go – I am white, I pass, I live in a mostly liberal area, and I was able to access hormone replacement therapy and top surgery as a teenager. 

My gender dysphoria, such as about my height or build, is often dismissed by others as mere “toxic masculinity” and is thus seen as an appropriate target for ridicule. In discussions of reproductive care, transgender men go forgotten. I either have to lump myself in with cisgender women, or leave out the ways in which I am also impacted by abortion bans and similar laws. Despite trying to go stealth, on my very first day at my all-boys’ Catholic high school, I overheard a student refer to me as “A girl pretending to be a boy to come here.” Less than a month later, another student outed me, referring to me as “it.” Last December, when I told a psychologist that I was a danger to myself in part due to being unable to access gender affirming care, she suggested that I join the outpatient “women’s cohort.” As for more public humiliations, I am sure I do not need to remind most readers of the infamous “flag incident.” These are only a small selection of a lifetime of such moments.

On top of this, when I relate these experiences to others, they often misguidedly try to comfort me by insisting that surely they did not mean to hurt me. But does the intent really matter? Whether the pain is borne of ignorance or hatred, the impact is identical either way. It is precisely the invisibility of transmasculine individuals that begets many of these moments, as well as the responses to them. To tell us that “They probably were not transphobic on purpose!” is almost as if to tell us that “They could not possibly have meant to insult you because that would require them to know that transgender men even exist in the first place!” 

I do not mean to make this issue about me. I cannot speak for Nex Benedict – he should be around today to speak for himself – but I can only offer my own life as an example. So long as this erasure continues, we will keep dying prematurely, whether by the hands of others or by our own. Every self-inflicted death, furthermore, is ultimately a murder as well, since the continued silencing, minimization, degradation, and prevention of access to gender affirming care is violence in its own right. As the treatment of Nex Benedict has shown, even death will not grant us the respect we deserve.

What is to be done? To start, listen to transgender men and transmasculine people. Stop saying “women” when you really mean “people who can get pregnant.” Think about what you are really saying when you make jokes about “men who sit to pee” or “pregnant men.” Shut down transphobia when you hear it. Learn about trans history. 

As I wrote this piece, the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office released the autopsy report for Nex Benedict, claiming that he died by suicide. I left my original words intact because I do not want to “back down” on defending him as many conservatives have urged transgender activists to do. This news has left me dismayed, and I find it difficult to trust. Regardless of the truth, I will reiterate: his death was a murder, whether by his fellow students or by the system that failed him. It should not take the death of a child to make us heard. Do not forget about us when you close this article. Do not forget about Nex Benedict.

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