How Me and Other Transgender Fans Love and Appreciate BTS
The public perception of fandoms is gendered based on who make up the majority of these spaces. Fandoms of different sports teams and players, be it cricket, football, or baseball — are primarily comprised of men and interests in these topics are seen as a lifelong endeavour. No one assumes that a kid will outgrow their interest in Manchester United. But fandoms for some musical artists, media, and actors, which are majority women — are assumed to be infantile or adolescent interests one will abandon in their adulthood. These fandoms are also often labelled as “group of rabid teen girls” by outsiders, mostly men, who sometimes also engage in fandoms and interests deemed 'manly'. But this binary of gendered interests leaves everyone who don't adhere to their gendered expectation of fixations, and anyone who does not belong in the gender binary. It should be noted that women are lauded by the patriarchal society when they have “masculine” interests, and men are derided for taking interest in the “feminine” fandoms.
When I first got into BTS during a tumultuous period of my life, I tried to stay away from the ARMY (the name for BTS fans) label. ARMYs, just like any “feminine” fandoms, were seen as a horde of teen girls by the outside world; and I, who was then trying to remove any speck of femininity from me as an attempt to quell my gender dysphoria, distanced myself to not be seen as a girl. During that time, it was helpful to see trans people like me proudly talk about their interest in BTS's music and the members. They helped me dispel the gendered stigma around the fandom I had ended up internalising. I have found my place in the BTS fan community among all these amazing trans people, who have a subcommunity in their own.
To better understand the transgender ARMY community and to compare everyone else's experience with mine, I asked members to tell me about the things BTS said in the music and done that resonated with and comforted them as well as their experience in the subcommunity compared to the general ARMY community. A majority of the respondents identified as nonbinary or transmasculine and everyone were under the age of 30. A lot of the answers I received resonated with me and it was interesting to see unique views of everyone with respect to BTS' discography and their words outside of music.
A theme among the responses when asked about BTS' music was an appreciation for the members not using gendered language in their songs, a small but nice step towards inclusivity. RM, the leader of BTS, acknowledged that “The lyrics were based on rare and special things in life. So, I thought, those feelings transcend genders, cultures and barriers between people.” while talking about the song Serendipity from the Love Yourself: Her album.
Another top response was their Wings album, which talks about the emotional journeys of the members (and their eponymous fictional selves in the HYYH universe) through a universal and mature lens. The themes discuss in the album have a lot of possible queer interpretation, making it a favourite among the queer and transgender fans. V's solo song, Stigma, a musical story of a secret and the guilt born from it, reminds a lot of queer and trans readers about being forced to stay in the closet and hide their reality from the world. This reading is enforced by the line “Are you calling me a sinner?”, alluding to how non-cisheteronormativity is branded a sin by major religions in the world. Jimin's solo song Lie was also featured in a lot of responses. A respondent answered,
Lie has really made me feel seen, as someone who has performed femininity for a long time. The story Jimin tells in that song felt very relatable to my experience with religious guilt due to my identity as well as well as how vicious lying about something that may seem so dark when you know the backlash you could receive when you tell the truth, can make you feel. The song itself, the emotions it transmits, really feel like the immense anguish of being trans in a non-accepting society.
Almost all of the transgender men who responded to my questionnaire added V's solo song Inner Child from BTS' 2020 album Map of the Soul: 7 as a song that spoke to them. The reason becomes obvious when looks the lyrics. In the song, V speaks to his younger self with comfort and compassion in his voice. He acknowledges the trials and tribulations his younger self passed through that grew into the person he is today. The song crescendos to V calling his younger self “my boy” and assuring him of the bright future that lies ahead. One respondent added,
I think inner child. Specifically the line about how hard it must’ve been for his/our younger selves plus the whole “you’re my boy” line. I think my soul left my body for a bit when I heard this song for the first time. I think that’s the only time I’ve ever heard those words in a way that felt like they were being spoken to me.The song is a personal source of comfort among a lot of transgender men, including myself.
Other than the songs mentioned above, people discussed other songs like Reflection, Filter, Persona, Epiphany, Answer: Love Myself. In Reflection, RM is introspective and lonely as he finds himself on a walk by the Han River. He talks about loneliness, self-loathing, and wishes to be able to love himself. In another solo track of his, Persona, RM ponders the differences between his real self and his public personas and wonders out loud, “Who the hell am I?”. The tone of self-love and appreciation of the self is continued in Jin's solo track Epiphany, where the epiphany in question is Jin declaring “I’m the one I should love in this world”; finding the beauty in his imperfect self. Answer: Love Myself is a song dedicated to ARMYs, and talks about how the members are learning to love themselves after receiving their fans' support. Finally, in Filter, Jimin talks about changing himself to woo the person he set his eyes on. In the performance of the song, Jimin plays with gender expression and freely expresses his playful and genderful self. Unlike previous songs where it's the lyrics and themes that leave a lasting impact on their trans and queer audiences; Filter is iconic to these audiences through the flirty performance which also plays with gendered expressions and expectations.
In the questionnaire, people have also detailed the words and actions of BTS that made them feel safe and euphoric. Many people mentioned the 2018 speech at the United Nations by RM, where he said “No matter who you are, where you're from, your skin colour, your gender identity, just speak yourself.” Transgender ARMYs pointed out his conscious use of the term gender identity instead of gender and acknowledged how this simple action was a meaningful one. It was also mentioned how their fashion sense and style often lies outside of the western masculine gender norms; and how they incorporate dresses, skirts, and other “feminine” clothes and accessories in their outfits. Among the transmasculine respondents, most of them agreed on how BTS were a good role model for masculinity in them, encouraging affectionate platonic bonds among men and emotional vulnerability and honesty. These unintentional actions from BTS' end helped the transmasculine fans by giving them an example of positive masculinity.
Some respondents mentioned an anecdote where BTS members were supportive and affirmative to a trans man during a fansign even though they weren't “passing”. The members are also appreciative of queer culture and art; from collaborating with queer musical artists to showcasing and owning queer art pieces. During the development of BT21, a group of animated characters designed by the members themselves in collaboration with LINE FRIENDS; the members, led by SUGA, insisted the characters weren't assigned a binary gender.
Finally, I asked the respondents how the trans ARMY subcommunity is different from the general ARMY spaces. The respondents unanimously agreed that the subcommunity, which mostly exists on Twitter; bonds over both everyone's unique perspective of BTS' artistry and their non-cisgender gender identities. Some respondents mentioned that some ARMYs are transphobic and queerphobic, which has soured their experience in general ARMY spaces. There were people who came to unconditionally accept their gender identity after joining the subcommunity, and express themselves freely. Some of the responses that reflected these sentiments are:
I think it can really depend. Overall, ARMY is very accepting but there are people who aren’t as accepting. Luckily, I haven’t come across many people in ARMY that are like that. Trans ARMY spaces are accepting, from what I have seen, and LGBTQ ones in general. I think in the subcommunities are different in the way we understand each other. Trans people can understand other trans people when it comes to experiences or finding comfort in BTS when it comes to gender and I think thats very beautiful.
The trans ARMY community is different in the way that we understand each other (for the most part) on how we feel towards bts and what they mean to us as transgender people. We can share our opinions and feelings without feeling like we will get hate or people who don't understand what we feel or think. Cisgender people cannot understand the things we do since they do not experience it. I will admit I try to stay in my little ARMY circles bc a lot of the community just isn't the same. I don't usually feel safe/welcome talking to random ARMYs because I know they do not think and feel the way I do. I much rather prefer talking to people that understand me and not have to worry about transphobia.
This can be said for the LGBTQ+ community as a whole, but I feel like trans ARMY look out for each other more. The trans community in the fandom seems to be more tight-knit. As far as feeling welcomed in general ARMY spaces, not so much. I feel more welcomed into BIPOC LGBTQ+ spaces.
I started the questionnaire and wrote this article as I wanted to tell queer and trans people who aren't ARMYs the impact BTS left on us as trans people and how they helped in accepting ourselves. A lot of people are wary of parasocial relationships and how unhealthy and unrealistic it can be, but there's almost no discussion about the positives of fan groups and communities, especially when they intersect with minority identities. There are some individual queer ARMY anecdotes and how BTS influenced their relationship with queerness, but almost none that considers the experiences of multiple individuals. This article was an attempt to document the experiences and the thoughts of transgender and nonbinary BTS fans like me, and using it as a vehicle to write about my own experiences.