Malcolm Ribot is a transgender man from Illinois who’s been traveling around the U.S. for the past nine months helping trans men connect with one another. When his journey started, he just wanted to meet some of his many social media followers. He soon realized his network could support people as they go through gender transition and increase the visibility of the trans community. Now he’s in Alaska — his 49th state. Ribot said on one of his first meetings with an Instragram follower, he found out something unexpected.
RIBOT: I met someone who, I’d found, had never met another trans guy. And that was crazy to me because my reality back in Chicago was that I hung out with guys all the time. Like every weekend, I would go to the city and just hang out with people and be able to have that comradery, that support. And during the week, I didn’t have other guys that I’d hang out with cause I didn’t live in the city. So I felt really isolated and alone during the week, so the thought of this guy who never had even met a trans guy — and he’s just started his medical transition a week prior — made me feel like he must feel the same way I felt or even just a whole ‘nother degree of isolation all the time. And I met another guy the next day who was only half an hour away, and neither of them knew each other.
And it just kinda started to click that, “Hey. These guys have similarities with one another. They don’t know the other guys.” I started posting pictures of them online. And with my following, people were seeing them and it was starting to spread visibility for our community — in and out of our community. And people were starting to comment on the pictures and say, “Hey. I didn’t know you lived here.” Gradually over time, I started realizing it was a way to connect people. So I started bringing groups of guys together and then seeing them connect in person. And that was what really clicked and I thought, this is what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m supposed to be connecting these guys with one another and helping show we’re all over the place.
TOWNSEND: Why is it important to build connections between people going through transition?
RIBOT: Some of the experiences that we go through as just so specific to being transmasculine and they’re things you can’t just talk about with anybody and have them understand. So having that support of somebody who really understands and is going through the same thing is just huge.
TOWNSEND: Malcolm, how do you thnk your efforts have changed the larger community’s thoughts and ideas about being transgender? What kind of effects are you seeing from your travels?
RIBOT: I think it’s helping to “normalize” what transgender really is. I think a lot of people don’t know what it is and they have this fear of the unknown. So I feel like it’s helping people realize that we’re human. we’re just other people. We’re just people.
TOWNSEND: In Anchorage, the city is reviewing a ballot measure that would require people to only use the bathroom that corresponds with the biological sex that’s on their birth certificate. You’ve traveled through states that have proposed similar laws. In you opinion, what would the effect of such a law be?
RIBOT: It’s dangerous, especially for trans women. For them to be in a restroom with it’s a lot of violence that can happen in that situation. And for trans men to be in the women’s room, that could cause fear in women. It’s dangerous.
TOWNSEND: Malcolm, what advice would you give to other people who are going through a gender transition? What do you say to them?
RIBOT: My biggest piece of advice has always been to be patient — patient with yourself and others. When you’re coming out to others, try to be patient with their level of understanding and try to be open with how you feel and your feelings about it. Give them time to come to understand it. And patient with yourself as well, with all the different steps that you may plan to go through. Not everybody goes through all different types of steps that people think. Not everybody has surgery. Not everybody goes on hormones. Some people may socially transition. Be patient too with the steps that it can take to get your name changed and to get on hormones and to have surgeries. There’s a lot of hoops that we have to jump through. And that can be really difficult and trying, but in the long run it’s gonna be worth it.