Notes towards transmasculine camp
3 min read

Notes towards transmasculine camp

Last night I dreamed that my friend Calvin was on Jeopardy!, and that he was just two-fisted killing it — he had figured out how to exploit the rules of Jeopardy! by buzzing in before he knew the answer and thinking it through aloud, and he was also reading the clues himself, which is known to be power move. At one point, he unlocked a secret board. This should all tell you something about my esteem for the man, so when I tell you that we’ve had an ongoing conversation about what camp looks like for trans men, you can bet that I take it seriously. This post isn’t my opinion alone; it is an amalgamation of what we have said to each other, and what I have said to myself in response.

  1. Transmasculine camp nods to both gay camp and dyke camp. (Calvin calls it “the access road between them.”) Unlike either, however, it can’t conceive of either masculinity or femininity as a joke.
  2. It partakes of the camp you left behind you: dyke camp, straight-woman camp, “you know, I’ve always felt like a gay man” camp. Before realizing we were trans mascs, we all tried on various identities that didn’t fit — but it’s possible to make something that doesn’t fit look good, with careful layering or a safety pin or a ballsy styling of something dramatically too big or small. Camp inheres in these subversive uses, and trans men have usually mastered several of them by the time we throw up our hands and transition instead. Camp is all about making it work, about clowning your way into a functional life, and so were we, for a while. So, in a way, we always will be.
  3. Because transmasculine camp often involves play with tropes that we’ve abandoned, I think it’s more muted than cis camp. A Glen plaid, say.
  4. As I said, the masculinity in transmasculine camp is not a joke. Everything else can be, and certainly there’s a lot of freedom here to define what masculinity means — most trans mascs I know are skeptical of the most stereotypical, clenched, po-faced vision of masculinity. We have been masculine all our lives, after all, without feeling obligated to do that dance. But the core of it needs to be serious, because we were also never allowed to say “I’m masculine” without  laughing, and we simply can’t do that anymore; that’s why we had to transition.
  5. Some things, then, that are transmasculine camp:
  6. The animal-print shirt and, obviously, the floral shirt.
  7. Acrylic nails, if you’re that guy.
  8. Long hair is not transmasculine camp. It’s a great look, though.
  9. Claiming the queer EGOT (having identifed as every letter in LGBT). This is a trans thing more broadly, but outright saying you’ve identified as both lesbian and gay is pure camp. It expresses the glitch at the heart of many trans lives, a long process of sorting out what makes you feel obscurely validated vs. what makes other people understand you vs. what you might want, and it turns it into a joke. Camp at its best is a joke that tells a complex truth, just as camp at its worst deflects the truth. The camp we used before we transitioned was often camp at its worst.
  10. By the same token, waxing nostalgic about your lesbian years is transmasculine camp, if that’s how things shook out.
  11. Daniel Lavery on Gomez Adams.
  12. Being a pen guy.
  13. Calling other trans men “buddy,” “pal,” “chief,” “my guy,” or even “sport.”
  14. Wincing off the little hit of dysphoria you will always get from buying women’s shoes, because although your feet have grown a full size on T, they’ll still always be too small for the smallest men’s size (and why does Palladium’s site insist on tagging everything WOMEN’S GIRL FEMME LADY PALLABROUSE or whatever, anyway — their shoes are unisex sneakers, it’s not like they make them in a platform).
  15. Certain kinds of facial hair may be transmasculine camp, but I’m not there, buddy. Not yet, chief. Not today, my brother, my captain, my king.
  16. Transmasculine camp is an interplay of what’s secret and what’s open, what’s private and what we’re not allowed to keep private. It’s a joke with twenty years of history behind it that your interlocutor can’t see. It’s often the only way that our very public transitions can afford us any privacy. Transmasculine camp is a way of supporting each other, and it’s a pleasure for ourselves alone.