Nothing to Hide: Selfies, Sex, and the Visibility Dilemma in Trans Male Online Cultures

Tobias Raun, Cael Keegan

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This chapter takes the juxtaposed images of Aydian Dowling/Adam Levine as its point of departure in order to address the dilemmas that trans men face in seeking to create images of themselves as male and as sexually desirable. While trans men must struggle to pass as “male enough” in order to be considered men by non-trans people, their success in this performance is often criticized for upholding oppressive gender norms attached to ideal masculinity. Acknowledging this paradoxical situation, we suggest that the image of Dowling offers a rare and wide exposure of a trans male body as worthy of sexualized consumption. We argue that in order to understand the gendered and sexual complexities of this image, it is necessary to contextualize it within Dowling’s comprehensive selfie-practice on YouTube and Instagram. Although this image is not a selfie per se, it is almost impossible to separate from Dowling’s exploration of his trans male self as an embodied image, as both a subject and object of representation. Hence, Dowling’s selfies—as well as the image comparison with Levine—can be seen as a persistent attempt to work with and through what Jameson Green labels “the visibility dilemma for transsexual men” (Green, 2006). As trans men (through medical transition) become more recognizable as men, they simultaneously become more invisible as trans. If trans men are open about being or visible as transgender, this potentially puts them in awkward if not harmful situations in which they risk being perceived as not men. Hence, “trans” and “man” seem to eradicate each other.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSex in the Digital Age
EditorsPaul G. Nixon , Isabel K. Dusterhoft
Place of PublicationNew York
Publication date2018
ISBN (Print)9781138214316
ISBN (Electronic)9781315446240
Publication statusPublished - 2018
SeriesSexualities in Society

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