Max Appenroth: breaking transmasculine boundaries


Max Appenroth was the first transmasculine Mr Gay World finalist

Max Appenroth is the first gay transmasculine man to become a finalist in the Mr Gay World competition after he won the Mr Gay World Germany title at the Cologne Queer Christmas Market in 2021.

The 36-year-old crossfit enthusiast was recently crowned the second runner-up at the Mr Gay World 2022 contest in Cape Town, South Africa, where we spoke to him.

For Appenroth, competing in Mr Gay World Germany and Mr Gay World has been a personal success, not only for himself but also for the trans community. He believes that his participation alone was a powerful statement that helps bring visibility to transgender people.

“Winning Mr Gay World Germany for the first time as a trans person was incredible, looking at how many people it touched. Now we see that more people like me want to participate because they feel represented for once and that makes a difference,” Appenroth tells Mambaonline.

In previous years, the competition was limited to cisgender men who identified as gay. But after Chiyo Gomes from England became the first trans man to compete in Mr Gay World England in 2020, Mr Gay World changed its entry criteria. In 2021, it announced that it was opening the contest to gay-identifying transgender men.

As trans people continue to face discrimination and marginalisation across the globe, this policy change has allowed Mr Gay World to become a platform for the male-identifying spectrum of LGBTQIA+, and gay trans men in particular, to advance their visibility.

“Mr Gay World has changed from just targeting gay [cisgender] men to embracing the LGBTQIA+ and representing the entire rainbow community, especially for me, who identified as lesbian before I transitioned,” says Appenroth.

He explains that his journey to becoming his true transmasculine self was an evolving one that spanned both gender and sexuality.

“I came out as lesbian when I was 13 because I realised that being seen as a woman did not work for me with men. But then later, when I had access to the internet, I could not connect the dots; something was missing, a piece of the puzzle in-between,” he says.

“And then, when I was 23, I actually realised, ‘oh, hey, wait a minute, you are not a woman’. And then all of a sudden it made sense. And, I had my second coming out as a trans person. And then I had my third coming out, basically as a gay trans person.”

Appenroth was interested in the Mr Gay World competition because he believes it has a deeper purpose. “Something that I really value about Mr Gay World is that it’s not just a beauty pageant, it actually promotes and shows the beauty that lives within our community to the entire world.”

It’s also allowed him to be a transmasculine ambassador with an international platform through which he can represent the trans community worldwide.

“Through my transition, I became who or what I really am, and I am a gay trans person. I feel like the experience that I bring really represents a whole spectrum of our community. And that’s something that I think is nice to see reflected by Mr Gay World,” Appenroth adds.

He comments that trans people are not only generally invisible in broader society, especially trans male and non-binary identities, but also within the gay community. “My experience over the last few years clearly shows that as a trans person I am not welcome everywhere in gay places,” he says.

“One might think that gay cis men were exactly at this point once; they also had to fight for space, visibility and the life and experience of their sexuality. That is why these negative reactions that come from the gay community [cut] all the more deeply.”

Not only is he pageant winner, Appenroth is also a doctoral student at the Institute of Public Health at Charité-Universitaetsmedizin Berlin, an activist, a diversity consultant, and an author.

He recently co-wrote an illustrated children’s book titled Transition Means Your Heart Stays the Same. It’s a beautiful and touching tale about a parent who is transitioning, from their child’s perspective.

In the book, Appenroth describes how the conversation about gender transition can be facilitated to accommodate children of trans men. The book follows Noa’s mother, who became Noa’s father, and makes the point that despite a change in physical appearance his heart remained unchanged

Appenroth is involved in crisis support for LGBTQIA+ youth with suicidal thoughts. He aims to provide online counselling to this younger segment of the community and hopes to raise more funds for the project through the Mr Gay World platform, having already secured 50,000 euros (almost R1 million).

As he explained in his Mr Gay World video: “I want to show the next generation of our community that it’s not just about survival, but that we are meant to thrive. And I want to give them tools to actually live a fulfilling, happy and proud life as a member of the rainbow community.”

Follow Max Appenroth on Instagram.

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