Episode 3: The Soft Boi Problem

Hey everyone, I’m The Endy Enby, and today, I’m going to talk about soft, uwu, transmasculinity. This episode is going to be a bit more niche than my last few, and it’s going to be much more about gender than ADHD, just to give a heads up. Next month’s is going to probably be ADHD again, but I’m gonna put a Patreon poll up that’ll stay up for the first week of March to pick the topic, so go vote! But I’ve seen another wave of discussion about harm that “Tumblr enbies” are doing to trans men and the trans community as a whole, and I want to share my perspective on that.

I guess there isn’t much point in hiding my face now that I’m on TikTok, huh?

If you know me in person or have seen my TikToks, then you know I very much fit the stereotype of a non-binary person. I’m white, I have a side shave, colorful hair and makeup, I wear a lot of button ups, I am not currently planning to medically transition. I also consider myself to be what some people might call an “uwu smol bean” or a “soft boi.” I am the kind of non-binary person that people think are women with internalized misogyny or who want attention or to be special, and I really didn’t want to be that. In Episode 1, I talked about how finding my gender was like playing whack-a-mole. I stand by that. It’s not that I’m not proud of being non-binary, but being trans isn’t exactly easy, and it isn’t something I chose. 

Even when I did accept that I was non-binary, I tried to not be stereotypical. I knew I had “the haircut,” I knew I looked like what people expect of a non-binary person, and one, we shouldn’t be expecting non-binary people to look any time of way, but two, I didn’t want to feed into that stereotype. I didn’t want people to look at me, a fairly visible figure on my campus, and see me as confirmation bias for any negative thoughts they might have already had about non-binary people, to think “oh there’s another mildly androgynous AFAB white person with a side shave,” or for them to think I was just trying to be trendy or attention-seeking. Besides shaving my head and getting a binder, I didn’t do much to explore my gender presentation. I didn’t really know how to in a “socially acceptable” way. I didn’t want to dye my hair or wear anything more outrageous than plaid, I didn’t want to draw attention, or rather, I didn’t want it to seem like I was trying to draw attention. I saw myself as “not like other (Tumblr) enbies,” in a way. I had a lot of internalized transphobia, but to be honest, when it came to my presentation, it wasn’t cis people I was worried about judging me. 

Cis people have judged me from the start, and they always will (obligatory “not all cis” here). The people who see me as a freak for my gender identity are going to judge me whether I look “acceptable,” or if I have dyed hair and piercings. What I was worried about, and still am, are trans people who look down on uwu smol beans like me, see us as not trans enough, as giving trans people a bad name. People who see people like me as transtrenders. 

Relatively soon after accepting I was non-binary, I saw the Damien and Skye comic. If you haven’t seen it, I’ll post it on the website (it’s at the bottom), I don’t recommend looking at it if you’re trans, especially non-binary, soft, non-dysphoric, etc. Basically, it has two people who both identify as trans guys, one is Damien, who “just wants to live his life like everyone else,” and looks socially acceptable. On the other side is Skye, who the artist states isn’t a trans guy, but a cis girl who wants to feel special. Skye is saying things like “you don’t need to be dysphoria to be trans” and “being cisgender is so boring” and “I bought a binder so I’m a Real Boy now!” and “soft boy.” Skye has blue hair with the sides shaved, and is cutesy and excitable. To the artist, Skye isn’t trans, they are just attention seeking. Problem is, I saw myself in Skye, or at least, who I wanted to be.

Now don’t get be wrong. There is a real problem with the infantilization and feminisation of trans men and transmasculine people. There are gay men who expect all trans men to be sexually submissive bottoms, allies who become overprotective because they see trans men as “weak soft bois,” second-wave lesbians who see transmasc people as the harbingers of death for butches (shout out to my problematic sociology professor who wrote a book on trans-masc folks and talked about her attraction to one of them that disappeared when they got top surgery–what the fuck). These stereotypes of what a trans-masc person is, ones that align them with women, harm trans people, full stop. I am not a masculine trans-masc person, so I’m gonna link some posts from trans-masc people talking about their thoughts on this on the site who can speak to it better than I can.

Trans-masc people can look and act however they want. They should not be expected to be these soft uwu beans. The problem comes when we put down soft uwu beans just for being soft uwu beans. We’ve seen the argument for years about “respectable” gay people versus “flamboyant” gay people, how straight people respect gay people who don’t “make it their whole personality.” Some “respectable” gay people started to join in on piling on flamboyant gay people, saying they were the problem, the reason homophobia existed and if they would just calm down with their parades and rainbow flags and Pride then we could just all go on with their lives, rather than siding with their community members, regardless of their presentation. Note that the respectable people are the ones who are already more accepted by larger society.

This feels like a microcosm of that. I’ve seen so many trans people putting down colorful and/or soft non-binary people as the problem, as people who use neopronouns as the reason that their pronouns aren’t respected, as why all trans people aren’t taken seriously by larger society. That we are the reason some people infantilize and feminize trans men. First off, the infantilization and feminisation of trans men has existed far before the rise of “soft uwu Tumblr aesthetics.” Second, the same way that I would never expect another trans-masc person to change their expression to match a certain expectation, like if I told them “you need to be softer so cis people don’t lump us in with cis men,” I shouldn’t be told to change my gender expression, like “you need to stop being so soft so that cis people will take us seriously.” Cis people do not get to be the determinants of trans people’s gender expression, and any trans person does not get to determine anyone else’s gender expression.

I remember seeing a Facebook post of a Tweet or a Tumblr post or something, I’ve looked for it and can’t find it. It said, “I use he/him pronouns but not like in a man way, but in the way you’d see a dog and be like, wow look at him go!” or something along those lines. And one of the comments was talking about how the person in the tweet shouldn’t do that. I got into an argument with them, as all rational people do on Facebook, arguing that he is allowed to define himself in whatever way makes him most comfortable.  The other person said that by referring to himself in this way, he was harming trans men. Except, the original poster was a trans man, so wouldn’t forcing him to express himself in a way that makes him uncomfortable…also be harming trans men?

There is nothing inherently wrong with being a soft man, a feminine man, etc. Expecting all trans-masc people to avoid being soft, feminine, etc, to accommodate the comfort of cis people is reinforcing gender roles and binaries that many of us are trying to move away from. Plus, there’s a double-standard when it comes to trans men vs cis men. Not to say that feminine cis men don’t get shit, they do. But look at James Charles, Patrick Starr (not the Spongebob one) and Harry Styles. They might get called a woman as an insult (which is a whole problem inofitself) but no one is telling them to just accept that they are women and live as themselves. But when feminine trans-masc step on the scene, it’s “why did you bother transitioning?” “Aren’t you just a girl then?” “Shouldn’t you hate makeup and dresses?” The same way that cis men should be able to wear makeup and dresses, which aren’t inherently gendered, trans men and trans-masc folks should too. 

Then there’s the term “enby.” I like the term, obviously. But a lot of people don’t and that’s totally fine, no one has to use a label they aren’t comfortable with. But I can rarely see something talking about the word “enby” without someone saying “ugh I hate that word, it’s so infantilizing.” I’ve never seen as infantilizing personally, maybe some people do because it ends in a y, I’m not totally sure to be honest, but I’m going to respect the wishes of non-binary people who don’t wish to be called enbies; that’s why you won’t generally hear me say enbies. But, there are enbies. I’m an enby. And it feels really weird and uncomfortable to see people shutting down a term I identify with every time it’s brought up. Again, I wanna reiterate, non-binary people do not have to call themselves enbies. But don’t knock non-binary people who are ok with the term in the process.

Then there’s neopronouns. Neopronouns are pronouns that fall outside of the accepted “he/she/they.” It can be things “xie/xem/xer” or it can be things related to nouns like “bun/buns/bunself.” Most people who use the latter types of neopronouns often have a more “traditional” set people can use as well, I’ve noticed. I am unequivocally in support of neopronouns, I do not think that that make a mockery of the trans community, I think they’re reclaiming something that was used against us. Additionally, I’ve noticed the vast majority of neopronoun users are also neurodivergent, usually autistic. Same thing with xenogenders. I admittedly used to be on the side of disrespecting neopronouns and xenogenders, and thinking they were a cringery mockery of us. But cringe isn’t harmful. And I don’t even really see them as cringey anymore, not when I see how they’ve helped people find and understand themselves, and feel comfortable in their own skin. That’s more important than my potential momentary discomfort, that’s my own issue to work through, the same way that it’s a transphobe’s responsibility to work through their issues with me, not my responsibility to change for them. 

There is growing evidence that there is an overlap between neurodivergence and gender divergence, which is kind of the whole premise of this podcast, in a way. Most research has been done with autistic people though, not ADHD, but either way, a lot of neurodivergents can understand the feeling of not understanding yourself and the world around you, of feeling like your body doesn’t quite fit right sometimes, of looking in the mirror and not recognize the person looking back. Whether it’s an inherent difference due to brain structure, or because ND people tend to just give less of a damn about societal expectations and norms and therefore there are more openly trans autistic people than there are trans people who repress, I don’t know. But this connection is even used as a way to attack trans people and the trans community, saying we’re manipulating queer autistic girls with misogyny, which is a whole lot to unpack in of itself, regarding what these people think of autistic people and their ability to self-determine. For every trans person, binary or not, ND or NT, we’re all just trying to fit into our bodies and into this world in a way that feels right to us. And I’m not going to knock someone’s neopronouns and say they’re the problem if it’s what makes them comfortable and safe. Not when they’re already someone who has to face transphobia and hatred from outside our community, not to mention also often ableism. I want to uplift other trans people, not drag them down.

Whenever these types of things are brought up, it’s usually with the dismissal of the “Tumblr aesthetic,” the “dyed hair,” the “shaved head,” etc. Which. Sucks to see. I never was on Tumblr, but again. I fit the mold. I can’t speak for all soft non-binary people, but at least for me, it wasn’t a matter of seeing other non-binary people and wanting to be like them. It was a growing discomfort with my womanhood, even though I was a makeup-loving feminist who considered herself proud to be a woman. But now even as I type “herself” to refer to myself in the past, it feels wrong. Our identities can grow and change with us. I would’ve never thought I wouldn’t be a girl growing up, but now I can’t refer to myself as such without feeling ill. I did a skit the other day as a female character, which I used to have no problem with, because I didn’t question it, and I visibly cringed when one of the other actors called me his “little sister.” It didn’t make me cringe before because I didn’t know there was an alternative. I didn’t have the option to be someone that made me happy and comfortable, and since I have that option now, going back is like going back to a pair of jeans that used to fit perfectly, but now are way too small. 

A lot of us soft enbies are young. At the time of posting, I’m just under 22. And I’m kind of behind, quote/un-quote, because of my undiagnosed ADHD. I’m trying to catch up with my social development, and maybe that’s part of why I like being “soft” and “smol.” I’m not saying that all of us will grow out of it, or that it’s “just a phase.” But so many of us are just starting to get to explore who we are for the first time. Especially in the past year.

I’ve seen so many people come out as trans and queer in the past year, which really should debunk the whole “transes are influencing our kids” thing. In a year where we had way reduced levels of social contact, so many of us found ourselves. We got to look at ourselves through our own lens, without the pressure of what society wants. Some people used this freedom to wear suit tops and pajama pants on Zoom meetings, others started to think about themselves in new ways. I may have already been out pre-pandemic, but I definitely changed a lot during the pandemic. 

I dyed my hair at the beginning of quarantine; I had in fall 2019 but it was very subtle. This time, I went bright and bold, using it as a coping mechanism to get me through what we thought would be a rough couple months. We were so naive back then. But I told myself it would just be for quarantine, and then I would go back to being respectable. It’s been almost a year and I don’t want to go back. I love having colorful hair. It feels so much more me. And I started exploring other aspects of myself too. 

I moved in with my friend in August 2020, and suddenly, I had space and comfort to explore sides of myself that I never even knew I was suppressing before. I was unmasking, not just from hiding my neurodivergency, but from hiding aspects of my gender expression. I started binding more, I started to wear freckles and sparkles, I started to dress in ways that made me more comfortable, like big sweaters and button-ups. I started exploring names and pronouns, and I let myself act and look the way I wanted to without feeling like I had to perform, whether that was to break the mold of ADHD and keep acting like I was stronger than I was, or to dress and act “respectably,” either for the comfort of my peers, or to try to break non-binary stereotypes. 

I don’t look and act like this because of Tumblr. I look and act like because it’s what makes me happy. I don’t need cis people to approve of me, because I know so many of them still see me as a woman no matter what, and respect my pronouns out of decency rather than really seeing me as I see myself, and that’s assuming they give me that basic level of respect.. But it makes me feel really bad when I see other trans people saying that people like me aren’t trans enough, are attention seeking, are trenders and tucutes. God, I haven’t heard that term in a while, but I heard it this past week. I know the community will never fully agree on everything. The trans community is not a monolith. But we’re stronger with each other’s backs than turned on each other. 

It isn’t my responsibility to break the stereotypes of what a non-binary person is. Of what a trans-masc person is. I will continue to tell off people who treat all trans-masc people like soft beans who need to be protected But whether or not I act like I want to, there will be people who treat trans-masc people that way, even if none of us were actually soft bois. I feel like myself when I’m binding with a big sweater and wearing freckles and glitter and with dyed hair. I like printed button-ups and looking like if Vineyard Vines had an alt category. I still consider myself trans-masc because I honestly feel more masculine than feminine like this (plus, in my day-to-day life when I’m not looking as colorful, I do tend to go for neutral-to-male looks). I don’t really see glitter as feminine. Plus there’s the whole dysphoria thing, considering medical transition, blah blah blah.

I like feeling like a boy in a dress, which is something I’m tired of being ashamed of even in trans spaces. I know I’m going to get shit for being myself in respectable, cis society, whether I look like I’m copy-pasted from Tumblr or not. I don’t think I know any trans people who haven’t gotten shit for being trans. That’s why it’s so imperative that we have spaces where trans people can be ourselves, whatever that looks like, with each other. Exploration and experimentation and pushing the envelope are all healthy and normal. I promise y’all, the young, soft non-binary person on your For You page is already getting plenty of crap both from outside but even from their own self-doubt and worries like I have. You don’t need to pile onto that.

Men can be soft. Trans men can be soft. Trans-masc non-binary people can be soft. It’s up to society to accept that, it’s not up to soft boys and bois and men to change. I want to fight transphobia with more masculine folks, that’s our common enemy. And I don’t want to lose this sense of self and happiness that I’ve found either. I look in the mirror and recognize myself, I don’t just see someone who I was trying to make pretty like I did for so long. I’m not here seeking attention or trying to disrespect trans people. I am a trans people, whether you believe that or not. I’m not Tinker Bell, I don’t need you to believe in me to exist; it’d just be nice. I’m trying to figure out who I am. I’m just trying to fit in my own skin. 

This month was really busy for me, so I really appreciate y’all sticking around and listening to me vent about a little bit more of a less researched and more self-indulgent topic that I haven’t really been able to get off my mind. If you want to have influence over what next month’s topic is, go over to my Patreon and and vote on the poll that will be up very soon, also feel free to comment any ideas you have! I really wanna know what y’all wanna hear about as well.

If you can’t support on a monthly basis but still want to support, you can do that over at my Ko-Fi. I’m really hopeful that I’ll be able to get a better mic soon with less popping and less audio editing needed to make it sound less painful. Even if you can’t give, that’s totally fine! Listening/reading and sharing is all incredibly helpful. I’m really grateful for the support I’ve gotten at this point, and I can’t wait to keep creating more content for y’all.

With that, I’ve been The Endy Enby, and I’ll see y’all soon.

Here’s that Damian and Skye post

We support Skye in this household

Like this content? Share it!