New Research Summary: How do trans masculine identified individuals experience male privilege?
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We sat down with Zakary Clements (University of Kentucky) to talk about his new study published in our flagship journal, The Psychology of Men and Masculinities. Clements and colleagues explored the lived experiences of male privilege as described by trans masculine individuals. This important work illustrates the diversity and complexity of male privilege and masculine social construction while further disentangling these concepts from gender essentialist assumptions. We encourage you all to check it out!
Clements, Z. A., Derr, B. N., & Rostosky, S. S. (2022). “Male privilege doesn’t lift the social status of all men in the same way”: Trans masculine individuals’ lived experiences of male privilege in the United States. Psychology of Men & Masculinities, 23(1), 123–132. https://doi.org/10.1037/men0000371
What were the research questions you were answering with this study?
A lot has been written about “male privilege,” and this concept seems to show up in a wide range of media and in everyday conversations. But what is male privilege? How does it show up in everyday experiences? Well, it depends on who you ask! Much of existing masculinities research focuses on the experiences of cisgender men. Some research explores the various ways men experience this privilege as shaped by intersections with their social identities and cultural backgrounds. We were curious about male privilege as experienced in the lives of trans masculine identified individuals (including binary, nonbinary, gender expansive folx). From a feminist standpoint perspective, these expert informants of male privilege could offer, we reasoned, a unique vantage point or “standpoint” based on their lived experience of gender and masculinity. We wanted to ask these expert informants, “What experiences of male privilege (i.e., receiving advantages in society based on being perceived as a male) have you had?”
What are some of the key findings of this study?
We identified five themes that captured the perceptions and experiences our sample of trans masculine individuals: 1. I feel safer, 2. I am assumed to be competent, 3. I am free of traditional female gender role expectations, 4. I am “one of the boys”, and 5. I don’t experience male privilege. Many participants described benefits and costs of male privilege. In terms of costs, they described feelings of loss or disconnection from women and communities of support that were important to them. BIPOC individuals, nonbinary folx, and those with marginalized sexualities commonly noted that they did not experience male privilege because of the other marginalized identities they held.
What are some key implications of your findings for research or practice?
Trans masculine individuals are diverse in their expression, experiences, and perceptions of male privilege. Male privilege affects trans masculine individuals in everyday life, and it is difficult to escape its effects. Their intersecting identities (especially race, gender, sexuality) affect these experiences and perceptions. Descriptions of the loss of community support is especially concerning, because of its importance to positive trans identity development.
Our findings challenge essentialist assumptions of the gender binary and illustrate some ways male privilege is socially constructed in everyday interactions. These findings are important because they highlight the diversity and complexity of masculinity and experiences of male privilege. They support the precarious and performative nature of masculinity and illustrate that male privilege is acquired mainly through adherence to gendered norms. This research also highlights how the effects of other privileged identities (especially whiteness and being binary) blunts awareness of male privilege. Thus, it’s important to promote gender liberation, and to critically examine and resist male privilege.
Where do you see this line of research heading in the future (i.e., what's next)?
Many of our participants who identified as trans masculine and also held other marginalized identities reported that they did experience male privilege. Further examining trans masculine individuals’ experiences of gendered racism, male privilege across time, and interactions between gender identity (trans, nonbinary, gender expansive) could help identify risks and resiliencies that could support health and well-being.
How did you become interested in this line of inquiry?
As a trans masculine identified person, I originally became interested because of my own experiences and those of other trans masculine identified individuals. I noticed that I received personal benefits of male privilege over time, and that privilege fluctuated based on others’ perceptions of me. I also realized that whiteness and queerness shaped my experiences of male privilege. My evolving awareness of the fluidity of gender identity, and my interest in moving away from gender essentialism has shaped my curiosity about trans masculine experiences of male privilege. My mentor, Dr. Sherry Rostosky, introduced me to feminist standpoint theory, so that, combined with my curiosity and personal experience, led us to developing and exploring this research question about male privilege.
Zakary Clements, M.S.
Doctoral Candidate, Counseling Psychology
University of Kentucky