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All Hail Justin Bieber, the Transmasc Icon

From androgynous tween to sexy dirtbag, the pop star’s evolving masculinity has held a mirror up to trans guys worldwide

Back in 2018, a Reddit user posted a tongue-in-cheek “transvestigation” of teen-heartthrob-turned-hot-dirtbag Justin Bieber in the trans-led parody subreddit r/TransgenderCircleJerk. The aim of the transvestigation? To argue, once and for all, that Justin Bieber is a trans guy. “He’s 1.75 meters, which makes him one of the taller FTMs (female-to-male), but still possible,” the user writes. As further “proof,” the post lists Bieber’s “beautiful long lashes,” “female index finger ratio” and “female indents above his belly button” as his other so-called transmasc qualities.

This may seem like an average Reddit shitpost, but it belies a deeper truth: Trans guys and transmasculine non-binary folks fucking love Justin Bieber. Where, though, did such a deep sense of kinship come from?

To unpack this tapestry, we must first transport ourselves back to 2014. Known as the “Transgender Tipping Point” thanks to Laverne Cox’s TIME magazine cover, it’s seen as a landmark year for trans representation. But in a lesser-known corner of the world — Wigan, England, to be exact — a young trans guy was making headlines of his own.

Seventeen-year-old Blake Kerwin was splashed across the Daily Mail in December 2014 as “the world’s first transgender Justin Bieber lookalike.” In a series of photos, he sags his sweatpants and rocks Bieber’s then-trademark backwards snapback, posing for the camera while brandishing an acoustic guitar. As a transitioning teen, Kerwin says bullies threw rocks and hurled slurs at him. To cope, he retreated into his room and listened endlessly to Bieber’s “Believe,” a saccharine pop song filled with metaphors about resilience. “It didn’t matter how many times I got knocked on the floor,” said Kerwin in the accompanying interview. “Justin’s words bring me back up again.”

His deep love for Bieber snowballed when Kerwin cut his hair short, and his mom said he looked like the Biebs himself. Kerwin wasn’t the only one either — it was around this time that Bieber’s short, blond locks became known as the “trans guy haircut.” Encouraged by his mom’s gender-affirming comparison, Kerwin began trawling the web for affordable versions of the pop star’s outfits and practicing his signature poses. Before long, he was a bona fide Bieber look-alike consistently being mistaken for the singer. “I went to Birmingham [England], and these girls on the escalators were going crazy because they thought I was him,” said Kerwin, likely with the glee of gender euphoria in his voice.

Bieber’s queer following skyrocketed in 2015 when he stripped down for Calvin Klein. The real headline, though? Biebs was seemingly packing to make his dick look bigger. Trans guys worldwide rejoiced — although articles about his dick size trickled out, his sexy ads were proof that packing, which trans guys often do with prosthetic dicks, can be hot as fuck. “Hey trans men,” wrote Twitter user @brettt0mlin in 2019. “If you ever feel like crap for packing, a friendly reminder that Justin Bieber packed for his Calvin Klein shoot, that or they photoshopped [it] so his dick looked bigger in undies. Even cis men do it.”

Next came the parodies. In January 2015, Kate McKinnon, a lesbian comic on Saturday Night Live, seized the opportunity to imitate Bieber in a three-minute sketch in which she dons fake tattoos and rolls around on the floor. “My Calvins, for my big wiener,” she says, as the camera pans down to her comically stuffed white boxer-briefs. Soon afterwards, a self-explanatory Tumblr named “Lesbians Who Look Like Justin Bieber” emerged.

It’s an obvious fact that not all lesbians become trans guys, but a vast majority of trans guys do experience adolescence presenting as masculine cis women, largely due to intense gatekeeping around trans teen health care. As he’s grown older, Bieber has fully embraced the sort of “hot dirtbag” aesthetic many young trans men turn to, rocking white tank tops, countless tattoos and a grown-out dirt ‘stache. Notably, many trans guys also love a dirtbag — plenty self-identify as “cowboys,” and trans artists like Sweet Cowboy Blues have tapped into this with “Gender Outlaw” artwork.

“Transmasc culture is big on dirtbags and fuckboy energy,” says Twitter user @darlenesunshine, who self-identifies as a “nonbinary transmasc trash goblin, so like dirtbag-adjacent.” They continue: “Cleanliness and personal tidiness is associated with femininity in our culture, so that kind of outdoor, filthy cowboy shit is so masc and hot.” 

When Bieber was compared to lesbians, the implication was often that he was somehow “doing” masculinity incorrectly, which lesbians embraced wholeheartedly. But his move to a grimy, hyper-masc energy that oozes sex appeal is something many trans guys can relate to, having followed a similar path from “failed” tween masculinity to scruffy, sexed-up man. “Long-hair butch-Biebs haircut-lesbian to transmasc dirtbag pipeline sounds both fake and maybe reflective of something to me,” says @darlenesunshine.

Plenty of the “Justin Bieber is a transmasc icon” discourse is tongue-in-cheek for sure, like the aforementioned “transvestigation” and memes that joke that he’s the embodiment of the “trans guys on T” aesthetic. But for many trans guys, the affiliation with Bieber is more meaningful. There’s still barely any well-known transmasc representation out there, so it’s not uncommon to seek out queer role models even when they aren’t obviously available (or even queer, in Bieber’s case). 

Last year, Melbourne-based writer AP Pobjoy — who’s transmasculine, non-binary and uses they/them pronouns — penned a heartfelt essay called “Justin Bieber and My Trans Masculinity.” “Justin Bieber became the first mirror I looked into and saw myself,” they wrote. “A type of attainable masculinity that had nothing to do with [soccer] bros or gaming nerds. One that seemed to stem from an anti-male ‘cisness.’” Since then, Pobjoy’s inbox sporadically pings with words of affirmation from other transmasc folks who also saw themselves in Bieber, whether Bieber intended it or not. “It felt amazing to find out I wasn’t alone,” they tell me.

There’s clearly a whole host of reasons Bieber has become a transmasc icon, and Pobjoy embraces this complexity in their article. As their classmates grew out of “Bieber fever,” Pobjoy said they clung tight to their idol. “Bieber has always been ‘put down’ for his femininity rather than promoted for his masculinity, which I think a lot of transmasculine people relate to,” Pobjoy continues. With his complicated, evolving relationship to masculinity, Bieber has passed through a tangled web of masculine archetypes — and what could be a more canonically trans narrative than that?