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‘Unbound’ Shows Transgender Men Ripping Up Old Scripts

Nor is there one script for life after testosterone and top surgery. Stein cites one study of the workplace experiences of transgender men in which two-thirds reported that they were perceived as more competent and were given more recognition, including higher salaries. These benefits are largely limited to white transgender men, she points out. “Choosing to become a black male isn’t exactly a wise career move right now,” one black transgender man, a minister, tells her, describing a post-transition surge in harassment. “If it wasn’t absolutely imperative, who the hell would make this choice?”

To be sure, any individual gains occur in the context of the great precariousness of transgender lives. More than 40 percent of transgender Americans have attempted suicide, compared to five percent of the general population. Following the election of Donald Trump, Obama-era protections for transgender students were rescinded, and several states have attempted to pass religious exemption laws “effectively allowing discrimination against LGBT people in relation to adoption, as well as to accessing health care and social services,” Stein writes.

Stein’s project was motivated by a desire to learn “how, collectively, transmasculine people are challenging popular understandings of gender.” As it happens, what she also ended up exploring — and what gives this book its real heat — is more personal; it’s the challenge posed to her own cherished beliefs.

Stein came of age in lesbian feminist spaces in 1980s San Francisco, a cozy gynocentric universe where the San Francisco Bay Area Women’s Pages could helpfully direct you to a female attorney, carpenter or dog groomer. “There were moments of goofiness, to be sure, but there was also a dreamy sense of possibility,” she recalls. “It was a world comprising women of all races, classes and sexual preferences, who were dedicated to the radical proposition that women were better than men: kinder, less violent, more empathetic.”

That someone would want to be a man was inconceivable to her.

In researching “Unbound,” she had to confront additional preconceptions. “I had to admit that I, too, found myself unnerved at times by the sight of handsome women transforming themselves into dudes with stubby beards, thick necks and deep voices, people who were passing out of the zone of my own attractions,” she writes. “Of course, I realize that it’s not about me — it’s about them. Still, at times it’s hard not to feel a sense of loss.”

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