Connecting with others through a unique experience is vital for those seeking support, guidance, and friendship The Transmasculine Alliance Houston (TMAH) is providing a safe space specifically for people who are assigned female at birth, but do not identify as female. George Zemanek, who works as a special education teacher and occupational therapist, is the group’s president. As a trans man, Zemanek is on a mission to foster an environment for good conversation, community building, and gender-affirming financial support.
“I knew I was going to transition from female to male, but I put it off until after I graduated college in 2003,” says Zemanek. “In 1999, I joined a co-ed group made up of trans men and predominantly trans women. It was me and three other trans guys, and the meeting topics all were about issues specific to trans women that had nothing to do with us.”
Zemanek says that it was a fellow group member who decided to form a group specifically for trans men. “The group was called STAG, which stood for Some Transgenders Are Guys,” he explains. At the height of STAG, active membership was roughly 40 men in total. “We had monthly meetings, outings, and socials. When we had a party, it would be a huge group of trans guys. Around 2014, the group was renamed Be Free.”
Ultimately, the group experienced some attrition, prompting Zemanek to pivot in an effort to continue offering the group’s life-affirming services. “It was really important to me that this group continue. No matter if it was just five guys or ten at our monthly meeting, we were going to keep having these meetings,” he recalls. “In 2018, I ran into Kennedy Loftin at the Montrose Center. We went to college together and he knew me pre-transition. It was a fun reunion,and he offered to let the group start meeting at the Montrose Center. That’s when the group really started to grow again, because we had a central location to have our meetings.”
“I made sure we kept meeting when the pandemic hit. We went virtual, because trans people need community. we need each other.” —George Zemanek
When the COVID-19 pandemic threatened the survival of support groups like Be Free, Zemanek pivoted to virtual meetings, which he credits for preserving the group. “I made sure we kept meeting when the pandemic hit. We went virtual, because trans people need community, we need each other,” he says. “It was really important to me that this group survive and be accessible and available to the people in our community. Our virtual meetings would sometimes have upwards of 15 to 20 people.”
As COVID restrictions lifted, Zemanek considered the direction the group would go moving forward. “A guy named Nexus had moved to Houston from Chicago, where he was involved in Transmasculine Alliance Chicago. We decided that it was time to rebrand Be Free to the Transmasculine Alliance Houston.” Zemanek credits the Chicago chapter for offering support and resources while his group got off the ground. “Today, members meet, free of charge, on the first Thursday of the month from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in Room 111 at the Montrose Center.
“We follow the traditional model of a support group,” Zemanek explains, “with a facilitator and a topic that is about our experience as transmasculine individuals.” Discussion points include masculine presentation, intimate physical intimacy with a partner, and more. “We might have a meeting on dating and disclosing that you’re a transgender person to a potential partner,” Zemanek says. “We choose sensitive subjects that, especially in a co-ed group with trans women, might not be comfortable to discuss.”
Quarterly presentations on STIs, self-defense, reproductive health, and other topics round out the calendar for TMAH, along with social events that are open to members, their friends, and family. “TMAH provides a safe environment for people to be open about very sensitive issues that we deal with regarding sexuality, reproductive issues, and how we interact with our families,” Zemanek says. “Those can be very sensitive topics that can’t be adequately discussed in other circles. When you’re with a group of people that knows what you’re going through, you can support each other, because you know what that person’s going through because you’ve been there.”
The group has big plans for the near future, expanding to become their own nonprofit entity and providing even more life-saving services to their growing family. “Currently we are starting the process to become an independent nonprofit organization. We want to be able to provide funding for people who want to get top surgery, and we have to have our nonprofit status in order to do so,” Zemanek explains. “This step will ensure that we will be able to provide top surgery financial assistance, continue to meet regularly, have workshops, and build upon what we’re already doing now.”
For more information about how to get involved, visit transmasculinehouston.com.