I can only speak on the term trans masculine and how it erases CAF (coercively assigned female) trans people like myself. Thus, the majority of this piece will focus on those erasive and binary aspects of the general usage of the term trans masculine.
I do not feel safe in trans masculine/trans male spaces. Despite identifying in some ways as a trans guy (my identity is complicated), I know these spaces are not for me. I am not masculine. I am what I consider to be high femme. I prefer feminine clothing and dress. I embrace my feminine characteristics such as my speech patterns, movement, and hand gestures. I’d be considered camp and flamboyant by gay male standards of femininity. My personal style is more close to drag queens than it is to other trans men. I am not trans masculine.
Trans masculine spaces, in an attempt to be inclusive of people like me, have shut people like me and many others out. They tie the ideas that to be trans and have been CAF, one must also be masculine. These spaces are overwhelming dominated by masculinity, as the name implies, to the point that feminine people like me are pushed out. Our identities and ‘transness’ questioned not only by the terminology but by the members as a whole.
They continue the binary and cissexist notion that to be trans, if one is CAF, one must be masculine in some way. They tie maleness to masculinity, often in excess. Even the non-binary aspects, are tied to maleness as masculinity is tied to that idea in society. If we wish to escape the binaries of society, we need to unravel that connection. We need to remove masculinity from male, femininity from female. Another discussion for another time.
The terms tie the authenticity of one’s trans identity to certain presentations, expressions, and stereotypes. If you are CAF, you must be masculine to be considered trans. If not, you’re just a confused woman. For trans women, it creates the opposite. This is of course watering down the subject, as the cissexism, binarism, and femmephobia that go into this are much deeper (especially given the fact femininity, regardless of gender, is used as a falsehood).
Trans masculine/feminine were terms created to be inclusive of non-binary people. However, in the mix, they erased non-binary people. What about the CAF trans people who are feminine in presentation, identity, and everything else? Their transness is not any less valid, and they are definitely not trans masculine. What of the CAM trans people, who remain masculine in appearance, identity, and so forth? Their identity is not any less valid. What about those who are shifters in identity, fluid or queer?
That is not to say that trans masculine is not useful or necessary. There are some non-binary people who identify as trans masculine, as they feel it better fits their gender and its expression. They are more masculine people, but not necessarily men. That is fine. The problem comes to light when trans masculine is used as a catch-all replacement for non-binary CAF people. It implies we are all masculine. We are not.
Trans masculine, an attempt to mean non-binary people, is represented with ‘androgynous’ articles of clothing, such as bowties, that are only androgynous if worn by certain folks. Trans masculine, as an attempt to mean non-binary, does not really create a non-binary inclusion, but a new binary. A more rigid one. You are only truly non-binary if you are masculine or feminine, but only if you were ascribed a certain assumption at birth. Not very welcoming is it?
Trans masculine/feminine are not inclusive terms when used with a broad brush. Places that advertise as trans male/trans masculine are doing little to be inclusive. Instead of actively saying non-binary, it creates an environment of only certain non-binary people. While that may be true for certain spaces, to use it as a catch-all every time you wish to include CAF trans people is an issue. You must be ‘this trans’ to enter. It rings of the Grindr profile headers ‘no femmes’. We are not welcome, even if we identify as trans male. Masculine men only, and maybe masculine people too, but definitely not you.