Mr. Gay crowns first trans winner in Philly
by Angela Thomas
Jun 26, 2014 | 1489 views | 6 6 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Last Saturday marked a first for the annual Mr. Gay competition.

Lou Cutler, 33, was crowned Mr. Gay Philadelphia out of 14 contestants — making him the first transgender winner in any city since the national competition began. Philadelphia’s competition began in 2007.

Cutler hails from Wayne, N.J., and currently lives in West Philadelphia. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University and a master’s from the Eastern School of Acupuncture and Traditional Medicine. He currently works as an acupuncturist.

This was Cutler’s first time participating in a competition like Mr. Gay Philadelphia.

“I’ve always wanted to be in some kind of event like this, and also to do some kind of modeling, but stage fright has always gotten the best of me. It was time,” he said.

Cutler came out as transgender at 23 but said he knew at the early age of 5 that his true gender didn’t match the one assigned to him.

“I had never met a trans person before to my knowledge. I simply told my parents it was life or death, without being able to tell them with specific trans-identified language,” he said. “I visibly transitioned on campus at Rutgers in 2004 as the only transman at the time, as far as I know. It certainly wasn’t one of the easier things I’ve done, but it literally saved my life.”

Cutler said initially, the transition was difficult for his family to accept but they went on to become very supportive. He said he has also been bolstered by support from friends, including his best friend, Tia.

Cutler took the stage June 21 at Field House with the 13 other contestants and competed in casual wear and swimswuit portions, as well as a question-and-answer session.

Cutler said he believes his ability to be true to himself helped him stand out.

“People pick up on this and my humility right away. I think they see my individuality, which is not only conveyed in my clothing, hair and tattoos, but also in my warm personality, demeanor and the way that I move through the world,” he said. “For the Q&A, I think people appreciated my genuineness and authenticity and can pick up on my sense of humor.”

Cutler said that his participation communicated a powerful message about visibility, both to the audience and to himself.

“By simply being me, I have the power to influence and can change the relationship that people have to LGBT folks, including the relationships between people already in the LGBT community. Visibility isn’t always easy, but it can be extremely powerful. And it reinforced something I already knew: Staying true to my authentic self is the best thing I can do for me,” he said. “People can be uncomfortable and even hateful towards what they are unfamiliar with. I believe that by being seen, people will become more accepting and aware of trans people, if they weren’t before. It’s also important for me to be a visible gay trans guy. We also exist. The ‘T’ is not silent.”

Since winning, Cutler’s story has made the rounds on social media and national LGBT sites like the Advocate.

Cutler said he’s grateful for the opportunity to represent his city and community. “I’ve been ecstatic — like the waking-up-at-5-a.m.-excited kind. I am so humbled by this experience. When the first article was released and said I ‘made history,’ I came close to tears. I am so moved by all of this. It’s so very special for me.”

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July 13, 2014

You didn't read carefully. Mr Cutler never claimed to be the first trans man at Rutgers. He specifically said he was "the only VISIBLY transitioning trans man ON CAMPUS AT THAT TIME as far as he knew" in 2004.

The only thing you have accomplished here is showing the world your own bias against body-positivity and a joyful reclamation of identity. Shame on your for trying to tear down someone you've "provided support to". I have to wonder what your stake is in this post, because what you've written here says more about you than Mr. Cutler.
July 14, 2014
Reply to CivixandLove.PhD:

I am not sure how to be any more clear about what historical erasure means. For one last time: Mr. Cutler stated he was "the only visibly transitioning trans man" on Rutger’s campus at the time. This is not true. I was there and transitioning too. We met when I spoke during his class and he was aware of my struggles transitioning on that campus. I was also fighting a difficult battle with the university administration that nearly lost me my TA-job and my hard-won graduate degree.

Mr. Cutler was and is well aware I was there too but for some reason chose to erase that fact when giving an interview to the PGN. I wrote to set the historical record right. Period. I did not write to trash Mr. Cutler's victory. I asked that Mr. Cutler and others begin to tell the TRUTH about our collective history and acknowledge those who came before.

I speak regularly with my activist friends who are getting older. We are all angry about the erasure of the work we have done that set a foundation for the current generation's victories.

We do not ask for credit in some simple sense. If you have not sacrificed your economic survival, career and physical health you simply cannot understand why our requests for historical accuracy is so important. Many of us talk among ourselves about the greater vision for social change that we worked toward and lament where have now arrived.

Read my post again and see that it was not an attempt to tear Mr. Cutler down. This issue is much larger than his personal victory. If you still can only see a “tear down” then read it again…and again.

I will call anyone out about telling the truth about a history I personally lived. And I would call anyone out if they erased similar historical events as it pertains to anyone else. My concern is about historical erasure and telling the truth. Is it too much to ask that people who claim to "represent" tell the truth?

I already admitted to being critical of contests that privilege body-normative ideals. I don't care if it's Mr. Cutler or anyone else who wins them; in general I do not believe they advance our movement in a collective progress toward social change. I am convinced that those who continue to write and call me names do not really understand what collective politics or social change actually mean.

Since it was Mr. Cutler's claim to "represent" that I responded to I will state again: Mr. Cutler does not represent anyone but himself. I speak with long-time activists daily who are concerned about a generation that appears to have no understanding that individual visibility is not what makes a social movement or politics. We never had these contests in my day and yet we were quite capable of "reclaiming" and "celebrating" our identities. (Ask me the story of the first FTM conference in 1995 if you'd like to know how this is possible.)

You are right about one thing: what I wrote does say more about myself than Mr. Cutler. Why should it not? I am concerned about historical erasure when others seem quite unconcerned. I am confident in speaking especially when so many of my peers are marginalized from the communities we collectively built; we are isolated, depressed and now sidelined by this new culture of fame and beauty. This is a much broader issue than that of the Mr. Gay Philadelphia contest. The politics of visibility these contests promote—and the winners who claim to represent us all—is not what we worked so hard to achieve.

Despite what you suggest I have no shame. I am proud of my work and the collective efforts of those I worked with and those who struggled before me. We had a bigger vision than what is emerging today. The activists of my generation carried a vision of a different world: not one simply built of the worst aspects of gay male (and straight male) cultures. Quite simply: we held a vision collective action that was not centered on the individual pursuit of fame and the claim to represent.

There are plenty of people who share my concerns. You can try and shame me all you like. You can question "my stake" in this as well. If you think there's hidden stake then name it. Otherwise you can take my words at face value because I am certain that after two decades of collective struggle my moral compass is accurately set.
July 07, 2014
I want to respond to the post above by TransActivistElder. For starters, I want to thank this person for including some important historical information about trans male communities, dating back to Lou Sullivan, the struggles he experienced as a trans gay man, living during a time when gay men, in general, were not embraced by society, much less trans gay men. Lou Sullivan, as this person points out, was and is a true "trailblazer." However, I also think it was completely inappropriate for TransActivistElder to talk about the way he met Lou Culter, or Lou's time at Rutgers, because this has nothing to do with his nomination as Mr. Gay Philadelphia. As a trans man myself, who has been actively involved in activism for 13 years, I find this persons criticism of Lou insulting, petty and--down right--antagonizing. What amazes me the most is how critical trans men are towards other trans men in community who are putting themselves out in the world as VISIBLE trans men. Trans men have and continue to struggle with VISIBILITY in both mainstream society and LGBTQ communities, and sadly, some of the worst criticism comes from our own trans brother and sisters. As trans men our narratives are still the "silent" ones, thus causing trans male communities to suffer on many levels: isolation, abuse, depression, silencing, etc., Personally, I do not see Lou Culter's VISIBILITY as Mr. Gay Philadelphia as an attempt towards personal "trailblazing" stardom, I see it as progress. Yes, trans people struggle to fit into (to quote TransActivistElder) "body-norm standards, and that is why Lou's VISIBILITY as a trans gay man is so important. While Lou may be buff, and able-bodied, he is also trans male bodied and representing in this way, in my opinion, pushes against those standards. Also, to assume Mr. Culter is merely marketing himself off of this "trailblazing" stardom is completely unfair. How do we know Lou is not using this VISIBILITY to inform movements and causes that benefit or help trans gay men? Individual visibility does make a difference, in a very big way, and Lou's courage to be VISIBLE, in gay male communities that are largely transphobic does help, because it might just give other trans gay men the courage and support needed to do the same, and make their stories VISIBLE too. My final point here is this. From one TransActivistElder to another, it does not serve us to tear one another down, or use our knowledge as elders to minimize and/or dismiss the efforts made by those who are younger, or less knowledgable about trans history. We all play an important role, and I cannot help but wonder if Lou Sullivan would have seen Lou Culter's "trailblazing" stardom differently. True leaders see the bigger picture and are able to rise above their own ego and envy for the greater good of the community and movement. Perhaps, you should try doing the same, because your commentary, as it is written here, is not helping our progress, it's just hurting it.
July 13, 2014
You didn't read carefully. Mr Cutler never claimed to be the first trans man at Rutgers. He specifically said he was "the only VISIBLY transitioning trans man ON CAMPUS AT THAT TIME as far as he knew" in 2004.

The only thing you have accomplished here is showing the world your own bias against body-positivity and a joyful reclamation of identity. Shame on your for trying to tear down someone you've "provided support to". I have to wonder what your stake is in this post, because what you've written here says more about you than Mr. Cutler.
July 02, 2014
Congratulations to Mr. Cutler on his personal victory as Mr. Gay Philadelphia. I write to add some historical context to this seemingly unprecedented account of "trailblazing" stardom.

I met Mr. Cutler in his Sociology class at Rutgers University in 2004. I was a graduate student on the same campus and the first openly transitioning trans man at Rutgers. Mr. Cutler was not the first as he claims. In addition to speaking on campus I was petitioning the University Senate to add transgender anti-discrimination clause in order to protect students like Mr. Cutler. After meeting Mr. Cutler in his class, I also provided him personal support in the early stages of his transition.

I frame my response as an issue of historical erasure. It means Mr. Cutler's "trailblazing" victory requires placement in a larger historical context. It is on the shoulders of those who came before him that Mr. Culter can stand so high in his new-found visibility. Yet visibility alone does not make social change happen. Particularly the kind of visibility that reinforces a cult-of-body-beautiful that such contests promote and that permeates gay culture. These contests privilege those who fit normative ideals of what is considered beautiful. Obviously Mr. Cutler measured up. But of all people Mr. Cutler should know, coming from the trans community where individuals struggle against impossible body-norm standards, that winning a contest such as this does not make for real social change. If anything, it will make it harder for those of us who cannot measure up to such impossible ideals.

If Mr. Cutler wishes to help "his community"--as of now, he represents only himself (not me or anyone else in trans communities)--then he will "humble" himself further and take on social issues in collective participation. Perhaps start an organization that educates gay men on the violence perpetuated against gay, queer and bi trans men in gay male communities. I was an activist in Philadelphia for 18 years and know many gay trans men who came before and feared for their lives such that they could not come out into the spotlight and gain media notoriety like Mr. Cutler. They would often experience violence from dates (and lovers) targeted against them for being trans--supposedly perpetrating "fraud" for being differently bodied. Violence against gay and queer trans men is real. Addressing it will not change just because one gay trans man gains media notoriety for conforming to stereotypical gay male standards of beauty. Perhaps if Mr. Cutler had used this platform to raise awareness of violence against gay trans men in non-trans gay communities his instant "fame" would be well utilized.

To end, I want to mention, for historical purposes, the real trailblazing gay trans man also named Lou. Lou Sullivan. He was an openly gay trans man in the 1980s in San Francisco. He fought the medical establishment to allow gay trans men the right to transition--up until that point anyone assigned female at birth who was attracted to men was denied the ability to access trans-affirming healthcare. Lou also founded the world's largest organization for trans men and gender nonconforming people assigned female at birth: FTM International. Lou Sullivan died of AIDS like so many other gay men of his era even though he was denied the right to live as a gay man during his lifetime. If Mr. Cutler is to be considered a "trailblazer" it should be done with the humility and political awareness that acknowledges those who came before him and made his meteoric media-driven rise to stardom possible. He might consider that instead of individual visibility being enough to change the world, that working collectively, thus exhibiting true humility, would go farther in changing the world.
July 08, 2014
Reply to Elder#2 (inevitable, no?):

To respond to your first accusation: yes, I mentioned meeting Mr. Cutler at Rutgers. This was necessary because he was quoted in the PGN as claiming to be the first openly transitioning trans man at Rutgers "to (his) knowledge." This is simply untrue. I provided context for our meeting (without giving too many details)--how else could I substantiate my point about historical erasure? My intent was to rectify the public erasure of a much larger struggle to create change at Rutgers on behalf of all students on campus. Part 2 was information about those (Lou Sullivan and others) who came before. That was to provide context for a victory that was being represented as unprecedented. I stand by this information as relevant and valid given what I read in the PGN.

I also stand by my position that those who came before, whether know or unknown, have played a role in victories such as Mr. Cutler's. Historical erasure is a problem in our communities and I will continue be outspoken as long as I see such elisions occur. I did engage in personal personal attack. I have been speaking these truths for years in countless contexts. I will continue to do so.

Speaking the truth in public in response to public statements has not made me popular. But I do not seek popularity or fame; I seek the truth. I see nothing wrong with asking that others speak the truth too, especially when they do not do so in public forums. It serves none of us to erase history in the process of claiming a personal victory.

At the same time you are entirely right. Only time will tell how Mr. Cutler uses his platform for social change. I come from the school of social change that understands collective action as most effective. People like Chaz Bono or Thomas Beatie have done little to make significant collective change happen, even as they have become media famous for a brief instant. I can only hope that this is the beginning of much larger plan on the part of Mr. Cutler. I wish him the best in this endeavor.

My concerns are simple: 1. To end widespread erasure of the struggles of others who came before; 2. To remind that a claim to "represent" comes with responsibility (e.g., to tell the truth if one knows it and to seek information and educate oneself about the larger context of one's achievements).

Much of my activities are not seen or heard about. I am fine with that. But if there is a public forum and someone makes false claims about history I will speak out about our shared histories. Honoring the work of those who came before us is part of the work we need to do. As an elder you should understand this not as it pertains to yourself but as a general principle. It does not diminish anyone's victory to ask that they tell the truth and educate themselves about ancestors. If anything, acknowledging those who came before, not just current supporters, is a way to use one's platform for social change. People not familiar with trans communities can see that we are not only exceptional individuals who have seemingly arisen from nowhere. We are people(s) with histories and collective movements. I see no harm in asking that much acknowledgement from someone who claims to "represent."

If you read my post again you will see I did not denigrate Mr. Cutler. I am and will remain quite critical of such body-beautiful contests in general. And yes, I did state a preference as to how I would like to see someone who claims to "represent" his community proceed. If you think that is also "inappropriate" then so be it. Mr. Cutler has every right to enter body-beautiful contests and win them. It's another thing to ignore historical facts he knows to be true and claim to represent an entire community when not all of us want to be represented by this approach to social change.

I respectfully disagree and can only hope that there is room for disagreements about our collective politics. We would be a very impoverished community if such dialogue is not even encouraged. Are we expected to simply celebrate every individual achievement without a critical eye toward the bigger picture of social change? If so, that's a movement in which I no longer wish to participate.

I am done with this conversation and on to the next; please carry on your own way with my best wishes for much success. With this sentiment I agree: we need all the change we can get!