Ken’s Transition - ‘Barbie’ Through the Eyes of a Trans Man | Opinion

Photo courtesy of Mattel Inc.

When I walked into the theater, brushing shoulders with other strangers, I already felt like I was about to watch an entirely different movie than those next to me.

Living through both extremes of the gender binary gives you a look at a world that’s upside down and inverted. Here at the movie “Barbie”, the feminist masterpiece of 2023, I expected that feeling to be turned up to 11. (Spoilers incoming.)

I knew I would probably be the only one present who benefitted from male privilege, yet who also knew how it felt to have that privilege used against you. In other words, just my regular daily burden.

For that reason, I expected to spend most of the movie looking through feminist eyes. My expectations were pretty well met, at least until… well, Ken’s moment.

If you saw the movie, you know. It’s the moment that Ken realizes that masculinity reigns supreme: there are male celebrities and statues, and men rule entire countries. A subculture of rugged fitness and relentless power all suddenly belong to him.

This moment was presented as the comical birth of a new movie villain… and yet, it felt familiar.

Let’s go back in time to 2013: the year before I came out.

It’s hard to imagine now, but before my transition to male, I went through a hyper-feminine phase. You might say it was a cynical effort to live my life exactly the way that others told me to. 

In the process, I became the greatest misogynist of them all. I never spoke up, looked as pretty as possible, kept my knees together while sitting… if there was a checklist of stereotypes for the well-behaved conservative heterosexual woman, I was on a mad dash to cross off all of them.

After all, I wasn’t really a woman deep down. I was only trying to play the part, and I was using every stereotype in existence as my guide.

When I finally confronted myself and transitioned to male, I rid the world of one less hypocrite, and I was infinitely happier for it.

But how did that moment really look? 

To be honest, it was just like Ken’s moment.

The groups of men tackling each other in joy… The sweat and muscle hidden beneath the tie… The poorly-shaved facial hair, the deep commanding voice while speaking through a microphone… It all felt like where I belonged, and it was finally all about to become mine.

My transition was the most exciting time of my life, especially once starting testosterone. It was like being born again, except into the life of my own choosing.

Once I came out, I had to follow through, no matter what it would cost.

Yet, as I sat in the theater watching Ken’s slow decline into dudebro insanity, I continued to wonder… where do I actually fall on the spectrum of privilege? Did I really pay a price at all when transitioning? And if so, did the benefits of my new privilege outweigh that cost in the long run?

In our society, patriarchy and masculinity have become so intricately interwoven that, without one, the other would seemingly risk crumbling away overnight. It’s an abusive symbiotic relationship.

When transitioning to male, I had unwittingly embraced both.

It’s not that I previously denied this. In fact, the first few years of my transition were especially humble. I wrote as often as I could about what the world looked like to me from the eyes of someone who was able to blend in with the masculine crowd only months after I had stopped wearing skirts. 

Yet, for all that I wrote about how much different the world treated me, I rarely did anything to challenge the root cause. 

Just like Ken, I was too eager for my own place in the world to willingly confront just how deeply masculinity itself had been tied to so much cruelty within our society.

Should I have done more to challenge this? Was it my obligation to fight harder against that which I was also trying to become a part of?


In my obvious defense, I didn’t transition for the male privilege. Hell, I couldn’t have possibly even realized how much it would end up affecting my life.

And to be honest, I was also afraid. Trans men are still disproportionately discriminated against, and even today, there are still moments when I consider it a form of self-defense just to be able to blend in with cisgender males in public.

Ultimately, though, patriarchy is not the fault of a single person (whether or not they’re trans). We’re all collectively responsible. 

By allowing humanity to be guided without question by cisgender men who embrace their assigned personalities, or humiliate men who dare to show emotions beyond rage or arousal, we’re harming everyone – including men themselves.

Thanks to patriarchy, you cannot have strength without violence.

Thanks to patriarchy, if you have a deep voice, you must use it to speak over others.

Thanks to patriarchy, you must stop crying, put on your suit and tie, and take over the world.

As you can see, Ken’s story left me with some new thoughts, which is saying a lot, seeing as I transitioned around a decade ago. During that time, not a day has gone by where I’ve forgotten to look back and think about my own privilege… but until now, I might have physically cringed at the thought that I’ve inherently become a part of this system.

I guess if there’s a lesson, it’s that we have a long way to go. Not just for women, but for everyone. So, question everything. Never stop challenging yourself, be compassionate, and remember that unlike Barbie and Ken, we’re all on the same team.

Brendon Lies is a 33-year-old trans man originally from Fargo, North Dakota, and the former Art Director of South Florida Gay News. He began his transition in 2013, and uses art in every form to share his life with others. He now lives in Saarland, Germany, where all he cares about is his little dog.


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