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Shamelessly Unapologetic Interview: Femme-Presenting Trans Guys, Writing as Escapism, and Influencer Satire

Shamelessly Unapologetic Interview: Femme-Presenting Trans Guys, Writing as Escapism, and Influencer Satire

Man with dark hair in a blue dress lounging in a pink bedroom while speaking on the phone

This is a transcript of an interview I did with Ilana Pinsky for the Shamelessly Unapologetic podcast in December 2020. We talk about gender expression as a trans person, writing, family acceptance, and satirical Instagram accounts.

ILANA

Hi, Marty, I’m so happy to have you on Shamelessly Unapologetic. How are you doing today?

MARTY

Hey, Ilana. I’m doing well. How are you?

ILANA

I’ve been good. I’ve been good. It’s just been a very busy day, but I’m so excited to have you on. Definitely happy to learn more about your story being transgender, because I know you got a really cool story that I want other people to know about, because I think it’s really important. But I wanted to give you a chance to kind of introduce yourself and what you are about.

MARTY

Yeah, for sure! I’m a writer and conceptual photographer, and I do a lot of writing about gender identity, going against social norms, and … I guess, a lot of contrarian shit. Lately I’ve become interested in stories about public figures who lead intriguing private lives. Speaking of both public and private lives, I came out as a transgender man about a year ago and am documenting the transition process through a few series of online essays. I do intend to physically transition, but I have a very feminine gender presentation and I’m not going to change anything about that. So I’m keeping my long hair, my high heels, my closet full of dresses. Femme-presenting trans guys aren’t something I see a lot of on the Internet, so I really want to shed more light on the fact that we do exist and that we’re just as trans as anyone else. Like I said, contrarian shit.

ILANA

Great, thank you so much for sharing that. So, let’s talk about the transition and the backstory behind that. Can you tell me a little bit more about the moment that led to your transition from female to male? Because I remember when I first met you, you went by a female name. You had identified as non-binary, gender nonconforming, and you were still okay with female pronouns. And then, you know, I think maybe it was like I guess a year and a half later is when you came out as trans and I started calling you by different pronouns and by a different name. So could you tell us a little bit more about that? And yeah, I guess how you got started with your transition.

MARTY

When we first met, I called myself a quote-unquote “masculine-of-center femme,” which, as oxymoronic as it sounds, was the only label I thought accurately described me at the time. And because it sounded so weird, I would also use the term “gender-nonconforming” or “gender-nonconforming femme.” I used she/her pronouns — or, I guess should say, I was okay with she/her pronouns — because I was afraid of what the reaction might be if I asked people to call me by anything else. I look really girly in real life, but I’ve never felt like a woman, and I would get dysphoric whenever someone called me a “woman” or “female” or whatever.

ILANA

Could you — could you define what that means for those who are listening?

MARTY

Yeah, sure. Gender dysphoria is the negative feeling that comes from the disconnect between the gender you see yourself as and the gender others perceive you to be. It can be physical — for example, if you’re assigned female at birth like me, and you catch a glimpse of your chest in the mirror, and you see that it isn’t flat, and you feel like shit — or it can be social, like if you identify as a woman and someone calls you “sir” in the checkout line.

ILANA

Yeah. And that’s really unfortunate. I mean, so how have you kind of been coping with it now? Have you felt a little bit more confident and been able to take back the power since you came out? Because I know, yeah. It sounds like you felt bad about it at first. Do you still feel bad about it now, or have you been able to feel better about it and be more confident about who you are?

MARTY

I definitely feel better about it now. So a few months after we met — I had already been living in San Francisco for a while — I just got really sick of pretending to be female. That’s honestly just it. It was like … there was this annoying little voice in the back of my head, and it had been there all of my life, kind of going, like, “you know there’s something wrong here! I don’t think that you’re a girl!” You know? And, you know, I was always a little bit afraid that … well, if I wasn’t a girl, and I thought I couldn’t be a guy because of the way that I dressed, then, you know, maybe, I was a freak. And I definitely didn’t want to be a freak. But, I mean, I was living in San Francisco, and I began to learn more about trans people and the different narratives they all had, and I began to realize that gender had nothing to do with presentation, or how you looked like. And so I came out. When I first came out, my social dysphoria actually got way worse, because it was like, well, for the first time I wasn’t denying anything about myself, and I started to really notice how wrong I felt whenever someone called me “she” or “her” or “ma’am” … you know. But yeah, since then, it’s gotten a lot better. Now, I pretty much just see myself as a guy in drag, and if people call me “she,” it just feels the same as if I were a cis guy getting called “she.” Seeing a gender therapist definitely helped me put things into perspective. It really helped me to just talk it all out.

ILANA

Yeah. And how has that been going for you? I mean, obviously share what you’re comfortable with. I guess … what led up to seeing a gender therapist? Could you kind of explain what a gender therapist does, too?

MARTY

It’s been amazing. A gender therapist is basically just a therapist who has experience with LGBT individuals. My therapist does sessions with me like any other therapist would, but he’s also qualified to write me letters for hormones and surgery related to physical transition. And he … I mean, he’s helped me out of a lot of dark places just with talk therapy. There are some things with transition that aren’t very pretty or politically correct, some things that I think are too weird or embarrassing to put in a piece of writing or talk about with friends. He helps me with that sort of stuff, and usually I see that it’s not so bad after all, and I then get comfortable discussing it with the general public.

ILANA

Okay, gotcha. So you’ve also talked a lot about your writing. For those of you who are listening, Marty has a blog called Fake and Basic. And I was wondering if you could kind of share a little bit more about your blog. Is that kind of where you put all your writing too, or is some of that writing private as well? I would love to learn a little bit more about that.

MARTY

For sure! I think of Fake and Basic as a website more than a blog, though, because I write stories and essays on it. All of my current public writing is on there, but I also write a lot of stuff that I don’t publish, or stuff that I plan on publishing later. I’m trying to be as prolific as possible and not, like, sit on things or wait for them to be perfect. I want both quantity and quality, you know? Life is so short, and I want to get all of my ideas out there.

ILANA

So what are some of the topics that you usually write about on your website?

MARTY

People fucking with society. Um, there’s a bunch of essays about gender identity on there right now — I was writing a lot to deal with all of the gender dysphoria, and also to sort out my thoughts on these topics. There’s also a novel about a social media influencer who tries to get rid of her loneliness by racking up as much online love as possible, and a few stories about, like, the coronavirus and stuff. I was just fucking around writing. I’m mostly just experimenting right now, trying to figure out what I like writing about. 

ILANA

Okay, awesome, awesome. So my next thing that I wanted to ask you, which I feel like you probably kind of already answered, but unless you have something different that you want to share, that’s fine. I guess, what would you say has been the biggest challenge you have faced while transitioning? And have you overcome it, or how did you overcome it?

MARTY

Oh, God. The biggest challenge I’ve faced while transitioning was actually other trans people — specifically, other trans guys — telling me that I wasn’t “trans enough,” that I was somehow pretending to be transgender because I didn’t want to change my gender presentation, despite the fact that I had a gender therapist, that I was getting top surgery, that I was actively thinking about hormone replacement therapy. I use the past tense here, but I continue to get the occasional flop account re-posting my pictures and going, like, wow, look at this person. They’re — or she’s — obviously a woman. Look at this woman, not even trying to look masculine. She’s fake. She just wants clout. And these are literally other trans people! Other trans guys, who know how shitty it feels to be called “she” and “her,” who do it to me on purpose. It’s made me kind of afraid to go into certain trans spaces, to be honest, and that sucks. That’s really bad. That’s the most taxing part of transitioning, for sure.

ILANA

Yeah, and that’s a shame that people feel the need to gatekeep other transgender people, because that’s not fair, because there are people of all different forms within the transgender community. And I think that’s really shitty. It sounds like there’s still a lot of internal transphobia in that community. Would you say so?

MARTY

Oh, definitely. One hundred thousand percent. I think that there’s this misconception among cis people that all trans people automatically like or agree with one another. That’s a total lie. It’s a beautiful lie, don’t get me wrong — but it’s a lie. I’ve seen so many trans people shitting on other trans people.

ILANA

Yeah, what do you think? What other things do you think cis people are not aware of that you would want cis people to be more aware of?

MARTY

You know, I’ve literally written two entire essay collections trying to answer this exact question, and I think that I could never run out of topics. But the one thing that I keep coming back to, and the one thing that, I guess, never fails to kind of fascinate and annoy and horrify me at the same time, is how gendered the world is, and how most cis people think absolutely nothing of it. Like how everyone just casually assumes that someone who looks like a “man” is a “he,” or how things like reproductive justice and physical safety are framed as “women’s issues,” or even just casual phrases such as “pregnant women” or “expectant mothers.” Like, damn, dude! You know?

ILANA

Yeah.

MARTY

Trans guys often have uteruses and periods, too. Even my most aware or “woke” cis friends tend to not notice these things or to think that they’re not a big deal, but trans people notice it all the time.

ILANA

Yeah, I agree. Because I know you and I have definitely had a lot of conversations — obviously, off this podcast — because I’ve always wanted to learn more things. Because I remember when you were making some posts for Fake and Basic, you were showing comments from people who are transgender. And there were these terms that I remember that I wasn’t aware of. I think one was called trans … transcute — am I pronouncing that right?

MARTY

Oh, you mean … tucute? Like a trans person who doesn’t think that someone needs dysphoria to be trans?

ILANA

Tucute, thank you, thank you. This is exactly why we’re having this conversation. It’s so new to me. And I know it was new to you, too. How did you learn about different things in the trans community as you’re exploring your identity and navigating this?

MARTY

I learn about these things mostly from going on Reddit or reading other trans people’s writing — you know, connecting with other trans people online. That’s pretty much what I mean when I say the “trans community.” I found my way into these spaces when I first came out by Googling stuff like “what to do when a coworker misgenders you,” or “trans guy in a dress.” And then I’d obviously fall right down the rabbit hole, and once I saw these terms being used over and over again, I just sort of naturally picked them up. That being said, there are a lot of super nuanced things discussed in these forums that I could understand better myself. And the vocab is always changing. 

ILANA

Okay, fair enough. So I wanted to kind of move into a very different topic. This is kind of actually about dating as someone who is transgender. And I know … Marty and I have actually talked a little bit about this, so I know previous partners of Marty. But I wanted to know a little bit more about what dating has been like for you from when you were identified — when you identified as nonconforming, and then … You have transitioned, and you came out as trans. I’d love to know a bit more about that. And were there any differences in people being accepting or not accepting of you when you tell them how you identify yourself?

MARTY

It’s hard to say, because I’ve had a long-term partner for the entirety of my transition. We met on Hinge back when I identified as a masculine-of-center femme. I was still a so-called “woman” on dating apps back then. When we met up I just told him that I was gender-nonconforming but still used she/her pronouns. Then, when we’d been seeing each other for a few months, I came out as a trans guy to him and everybody else. He was the first person to use he/him with me, and he has never misgendered me. I’m really grateful for that.

ILANA

I definitely appreciate your honesty with that. So let’s talk about the long term partner that you brought up. Could you share a little bit more about that experience and how they’ve been accepting of you? Did you first come out and immediately tell them that you were trans, or do you, like, wait to build a connection, and then you tell them? I guess for people who are listening, who are, let’s say, they’re cis, and maybe they start going on a date with someone who’s transgender. What do you think are also really important things that they should be mindful of? I mean, obviously they should not be rude and hostile, but I guess what should be something for people to know? Because the last thing we want to do is be transphobic.

MARTY

I told him as soon as I came out, and he’s been one of my biggest advocates since then. He’s from Russia, so his friends and relatives tend to be on the conservative side, but he never hesitates to explain things to them or try and get them to see things from my side. Like I said, I’m lucky to have him in my life. We had some issues early on about whether he’d still be attracted to me if I physically transitioned, but we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

If you’re cis and going on a date with a trans person, I think the thing you should be mindful of first and foremost is that they may not be comfortable with others knowing that they’re trans, even if they are out to you. It’s a good idea to have a conversation about what they would like you to do if, for example, someone misgenders them when you two are out. You can say “do you want me to correct people if they misgender you?” and stuff like that. Some people may not want you to, and that’s totally okay. I also think that you should be mindful of the little things that you may not be used to noticing because you’re cis — things like assuming others’ genders based on their appearances, or going to places that may be cis- and hetero-normative. One little thing that always makes me smile, personally, is when my friends use they/them pronouns for everyone they meet until they know that person’s pronouns for sure.

ILANA

So, the other day, I was reading something about … so, if you’re going to date somebody transgender, and it had a lot of topics about dating and sex. And I think the sex part was something that I was very interested about because … let’s say someone is cis and they are straight, and there’s always that question of genitals. It was really eye-opening for me, because you basically just address sex the same way that you would with any other person, which I think was a big key takeaway. And it’s about wondering how that person wants to be sexually pleased, because not everybody wants their genitals touched, especially if they are transgender, where … and let’s say they don’t even want to have the sex reassignment surgery. And I think it’s really interesting to think about because, yeah, that’s a good point. Just because somebody has a different body part than their gender, that doesn’t mean that they want it to be used the way people would, I guess generally sexually please them. If … they’re … sorry, I’m trying to say I’m trying to think like how to word this properly. If their genitals were matching their birth … their birth sex.

MARTY

… If they identify as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth. I mean, sex is different for everyone, no matter their gender identity. It’s a good idea to have a conversation about preferences with every new partner, period.

ILANA

Yeah. Yeah. And that’s basically what the book said, because it’s something that I never really thought about. But I was glad I stumbled upon this read a couple of days ago. And it’s just … I’m just thinking, you know, okay, yeah, this, this makes sense. And this is something that I want to work on because I am cis, and let’s say I do match with somebody on a dating app and they are transgender. It’s like, I’m not going to turn them away because they’re trans. It’s like, I want to see if there’s actually a connection with this person. And then, you know, if it comes to the point where I would want to be physically intimate with them, then, yeah, that’s an open conversation that definitely needs to be had. I think that’s really important, because I think a lot of people do question like what sex is like between someone who is cis and and someone who is trans. ‘Cause I just feel like it’s really not talked about. Would you — do you think …

MARTY

I think that different people like to have sex in different ways.

ILANA

I agree. So, I wanted to move on to, now, a different subject. So, this is with your family. So, I know your mom has had a lot of difficulties in the past accepting your transition. I remember she would say, well, you’re always going to be — do you want me to say what your old name was or no?

MARTY

I don’t mind. My name used to be “Mimi.” I don’t consider it my deadname because I still use it in certain contexts — like with my Mandarin-speaking relatives, because there’s no translation of “Marty” that I like.

As for my mom, well, she’s definitely said that I was always going to be her daughter in the past, but the last time I saw her, she acknowledged me as her son. Overall, she acknowledges that it’s, you know, my body, my choice. But I can’t say that she agrees with or likes what I’m doing in regards to transition.

ILANA

How long did it take for you and your mom to be cool about it? Was there anything that you had to do to reach that point to where it was very harmonious?

MARTY

I feel like I’ve been coming out to my mom all my life. When I was younger, it was a lot of “I don’t feel like a girl,” or “I want to be a boy,” or “I think I’m a tomboy.” So she was kind of primed for my coming-out, but at the same time she liked to deny it, or pretend that I wasn’t this way. 

ILANA

Yeah.

MARTY

There was a time, after I came out, when she would misgender me and get upset at me when I corrected her, which would immediately set me off, and we’d both end up upset at one another. “Harmonious” is a generous word to use here — it’s more like we’ve accepted each other’s positions while also accepting that we won’t see eye-to-eye on them.

The last time my mom and I explicitly talked about my transition, I asked her if she would like to be kept in the loop about things such as top surgery and hormones, and she told me no, because it would hurt her too much to think of it. And honestly, I respect that. I think it takes a lot of courage to assert boundaries around these really delicate topics. Practically speaking, we just don’t talk about trans-related topics, and she uses gender-neutral terms like “my child” when speaking about me to others.

ILANA

So what do you think will happen once you undergo the top surgery? And I don’t know if you’re taking hormones now, but I know that will change your appearance. How are you going to approach her once the transition that you want is complete?

MARTY

For both of those things, I’m going to stick to the agreement that we had and not bring them up unless she says something.

ILANA

Okay.

MARTY

We’ve had the conversation. I know where she stands. If she wants to change something, she can talk to me.

ILANA

How is the rest of your family been other than your mom, your sister, your dad? And then it sounds like some relatives may not necessarily know that you’re trans, because you’re still letting them call you Mimi.

MARTY

I’ve only explicitly said “hey, I’m trans” to my mom and sister. As for the rest of my family, including my dad, I just don’t really mention the fact that I’m trans. It’s all over the Internet, though, so I’m sure that they know. If they ask me, I’m happy to disclose.

ILANA

That’s good.

MARTY

Yeah.

ILANA

I’m glad it has not gotten to that point, because that would just make me so sad for you if that were to ever happen. I just … I also hate it when parents do things like that. Even if their child comes out as gay, or lesbian, and their parents are like “oop, I’m kicking you out of the house! Unacceptable!” It’s like … then why are you a parent?

MARTY

Exactly. It blows my mind as well.

ILANA

Cool, cool. So one of the things that I wanted to know, moving on from family — what would you say is the biggest piece of advice you could give to someone who may be struggling with gender identity? Maybe they want to transition, or maybe they may not want to physically transition, but they want to at least come out and be accepted. What would you say you would want them to know?

MARTY

Find something that takes those shitty feelings away. You can’t control how others react to you, but you can definitely escape into your own inner world. My thing is writing. Whenever I feel really dysphoric, or targeted, I literally just open up my Notes app and start typing. It’s really therapeutic, and it saves others from having to listen to me rant.

ILANA

So it sounds like you found a way to have some or some form of self care. And it seems like writing and creating art was your way of dealing with sometimes not being accepted and just helping you get a better peace of mind. Is that correct?

MARTY

For sure. I know other trans people who have found that same solace in sports, or exotic dancing, or video games.

ILANA

Thank you for sharing that. So now, I wanted to kind of talk more about a big thing that you’re doing right now. And you’re writing a book called Scammer.

MARTY

Yes! One of my favorite escapism devices.

ILANA

This is hilarious. So, Marty has created a separate Instagram account for this project, Scammer. You wear a bunny mask in all your pictures. And it’s really funny, but it’s very unique at the same time. So I was wondering if you could start off by telling us: what is the inspiration behind Scammer? Why did you start writing this online book, and what is it even about?

MARTY

Scammer is the satirical memoir of a girl named Helena who is obsessed with fame. That’s literally all she wants: to be a household name, to be analyzed and discussed and relevant. So she gets into Stanford, and then she finangles her way to fame as one of the first Instagram influencers online, and as a co-founder for a disappearing-picture startup in real life. But she eventually realizes that, you know, reality as a famous person isn’t what she’s dreamt about. She’s still super lonely, for one, and now she has to deal with all of these critical eyeballs on her every move.

I was inspired to write Scammer because of an influencer I follow. So there’s this, ahem, American Instagram personality — her name is Caroline Calloway — who has recently gotten a lot of shit for not following through on a series of workshops she was supposed to host, and for an essay that her ex-best friend wrote about her and the dark reality behind her online facade. There’s obviously been a lot of media attention on Caroline, and she promised that she would tell her side of the story in her new book, which she called Scammer. She was supposed to have shipped this book in early 2019, but kept delaying and delaying it. It’s currently December 2020 and Scammer still hasn’t come out — or, her version of Scammer hasn’t come out.

Back in August 2019, I was telling my partner about Caroline and her failure to ship Scammer, and he was just, like, “you’re a writer. You could probably write the entire thing before she comes out with her version.” And I was like, “you know what? I probably could.” And I started writing and planning it out, and got one of my fellow writer friends to come on as a paid copyeditor — and all of a sudden I was doing this thing.

ILANA

That’s really funny that you took that project over for her. I think I saw that she actually found out about this, didn’t she?

MARTY

She did! I have an Instagram account dedicated to this project, and she blocked everyone who was following it. I think that there were, like, four hundred people following at the time, and she literally went through and blocked every. Single. One.

ILANA

What the fuck! Who has time for that?

MARTY

My partner and my best friends were both, like, “yeah, I can’t view her content anymore,” and then this person I didn’t know — who was apparently one of her fans or something — sent me a screenshot of a message that Caroline had sent them, talking about how she was blocking them for following this account and that she felt like it was “the end of an era.” 

ILANA

That’s absolutely insane. And I’m guessing she blocked you, too?

MARTY

She has yet to block my main account, even though it’s listed right in the bio of my Scammer account. It really makes me wonder about what her blocking criteria even is.

ILANA

It sounds like she knew who you were. And she, I guess — I’m wondering, that she admired that you were a fan for a long time? Do you think that has to do with anything?

MARTY

I don’t know. I wasn’t even a fan for that long, and she blocked that other person, even though they seemed like they still supported her.

ILANA

What would you say, I guess, is your favorite thing about starting this project? Or, I mean, you already started. But, I guess, as you’re writing it … how many more chapters do you have left to go?

MARTY

My favorite thing about starting this project is that sense of community I feel around it now. I pepper in some little references to Caroline here and there, and I love hearing the reactions that people have about it, even if they’re critical. I’m also enjoying how, in a way, the story extends beyond Caroline now. It’s also a loose commentary about tech founders behaving badly. I’m fascinated by this super-online world of influencers and founders — you know, these young, glamorous, and solipsistic people who somehow capture the eyeballs and wallets of millions. I’ve spent my entire adult life reading thinkpieces about their stories. Now I finally get to channel that knowledge into something creative. Also, coincidentally, Caroline is living in a waterfront condo in Florida and so am I, so there’s that extra layer of satire I can do with my photos and such.

As for the chapters … I had a complete outline but I kind of ditched it a few chapters back and I re-did the whole thing, like the whole outline. I’m a little less than halfway through the book. I publish every Sunday, so let’s see how many Sundays it takes until the whole thing is done.

ILANA

That’s really awesome. And then, it’s … so it’s all online right now. Are you going to try to get it published into a book, too, or are you just going to leave it how it is?

MARTY

I’m definitely going to get it published into a physical book, but it needs a lot of editing first.

ILANA

That’s awesome. Yeah, I really admire that. I think I’ve read the first chapter of it, so I have a lot of catching up to do with reading Scammer, because it is such a genius idea. And I love the Instagram account because that’s also … so unique and creative, and I love your twist on it. Really quick — I am curious to know what made you decide to do the rabbit mask stuff?

MARTY

So, the Instagram account is basically the sequel of Scammer, only it’s happening in real-time. The premise is that Helena’s had to basically face the music for whatever she’s done in the past. Now, she’s alone in a fancy beachfront condo, writing her story, but also at the same time getting sucked back into Instagram, because maybe she hasn’t learned her lesson as well as she thought she has. So the reader gets to follow Helena real-time while slowly finding out what kinds of choices she’s made, and they get to kind of, like, see for themselves why her relationships and life is the way it is now because of them.

As to why I decided to do the rabbit mask stuff — so I shoot a picture for all of the stories I write, and for the most part, those are pictures of myself kind of acting as a character in the story. A while back, I decided that I wanted most of my fictional stories to feature people in animal masks, because it would, first, really anonymize them and second, give the pictures a fable-esque vibe, which I’m really into. If you look at her earlier content, Caroline Calloway was going for a kind of flower-fairy, pretty princess kind of aesthetic, and I immediately thought of Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail from Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit books. I already had the brown rabbit mask in my apartment, and I was like … why the fuck not?

ILANA

Okay, gotcha. So that makes sense. That makes sense. So we’re pretty much kind of running out of time, and I definitely wanted to know — if people are interested in wanting to follow your content, your website, learning more about the book or your Instagram accounts or any other social media, where can they find you?

MARTY

You can find me, Marty, the real person, on Instagram at @fake.and.basic, or Helena at @helena.holloway. Helena is also on Twitter at @helenaholoway. All of my stories are on my website, fakeandbasic.com.

ILANA

So, Marty, I want to thank you once again for sharing your story, and also sharing a bit more about Scammer. It’s a very, very awesome project that I really want more people to know about.

MARTY

It was a pleasure to come on and talk to you about gender and art and chaotic influencers. I could talk about these topics forever, so thank you so much for having me. ✦

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