For trans masculine individuals, finding resources specifically tailored to their needs and experiences can be tough. It's "an underserved community," said Lee Dewey, a local trans masculine organizer. "We have really good access to hormones and things like that through Howard Brown. But it's sort of touch-and-go with the community spaces at large."
"In [LGBT] settings, for the most part ... you have [LGBT] so it's, like, gay and maybe, like, lesbian and then there's, like, trans, which is usually very focused on trans women. That's just kind of inherent with being invisible as a trans man," Nikk Selik, another local trans masculine organizer, said.
The need for a community space is what led Selik to create ManCave, a group dedicated to building community among trans men and trans masculine individuals based on their shared experiences. ManCave began meeting five years ago at the Center on Halsted.
It "started as a space for trans-masculine or trans-men identified individuals to have a space to just come talk about things that relate to gender identity or otherwise, and have comradery and talk about transition or just like a social network and kind of have a trans male only space," Selik said. Shortly thereafter, he left to head back to his native Michigan, and Dewey took over the responsibility of facilitating the group.
Membership is open to anyone who was assigned or designated female at birth and identifies with any demographic other than cisgender. "Even if you're just questioning, or you're genderqueer, you can find a home in that space and feel comfortable in it," Dewey said. In the beginning they "were just like 5 guys meeting in a room every other week," they added.
That format didn't seem to be working, as membership was low and fleeting. Deciding to recalibrate, Dewey looked to other groups for inspiration, including GenderQueer Chicago. Since then, ManCave has been averaging a turnout of about 15 people a week. It has become "a topic-driven sort of format meetings. We do introductions with our name, our pronoun preference, and a silly question. And we have a safer-space working agreement that we all agree to each meeting," they said. This safer-space agreement helps ensure members are comfortable and guaranteed a sense of confidentiality, enabling them to more frankly share their experiences.
Most weeks have a specific topic, on which members are invited to share their "highs and lows." One recent topic Dewey came up with was "unique and beautiful snowflakes," which Selik said was "about how everybody's got their own story" and how "there's no typical trans narrative." It allowed participants to freely discuss their transition and what their trans identity meant to them.
Other meetings are less structured. On the second Friday of every month, ManCave has an activity-based meeting in which members can participate in a less formal setting. "On fourth Fridays we have ManCave Plus, and that's where you can bring your family, friends, significant others, allies, and whatnot," Dewey added. On those nights, "you get people that are at least a little bit supportive" since they've come in the first place, they said, "but we've had some people that were pretty sceptical" including family members who might not be comfortable with their child's trans identity but who want to learn, something Dewey said is "a really nice sort of dichotomy" that parents, family, and friends can "get a lot out of."
The participants get a lot out of it too, not least because it's a space that speaks to their own unique experiences as trans men. "I think it's great to have a space that's transgender generally," Selik said, "but there tends to be … a divide in the group. And that's just because the experience can be different between being trans-masculine or trans-feminine." It's nice, he said, to come to a place where people understand exactly what you're going through.
Dewey agreed. "I know that a lot of the new people especially find it so much safer when they can look and they can see either what they want to become or something of themselves reflected back in every space. And they can ask the most awkward questions that you wouldn't ask in a more mixed company."
Having a community space dedicated to trans men and trans masculine individuals has been "really great," Dewey added, noting that though many people are afraid to show up for the first time, they find a welcoming environment once they do.
ManCave meets Fridays at 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted St. Visit ManCaveChicago.org for more information .