I know there are positive aspirational models of masculinity out there. But trans men in particular may feel shut out of the positive aspects of masculinity that many cis men expound as the virtues of being a man. I find the general air of bioessentialism, and justification for the continuation of the racist historical patriarchy found in the approach that certain cis men have towards thinking deeply about masculinity to be a huge turnoff to the whole idea of interrogating my own masculine identity.
All of the people that have been responsible for some of the most heinous acts of cruelty against me and the people around me have been men, and my mother was raised by a woman who genuinely hated men. This unfortunately common combination lead to my mother picking up some aggressively “anti-man” stances. One of which was the idea that if she just brought her dildo into work her staff would respect her more. This idea was seen as a way of dealing with the patriarchy under which she was forced to work, and this idea that if she only had a penis she would “get the respect she deserved” struck her young trans son (me) as being pretty damn simplistic and decidedly anti-masculine. It reeked of her mother’s idea that if only there weren’t men, women would be fine, and free from oppression. Anyone who has observed groups of humans for any length of time knows that inequity, oppression, and manipulation are not the exclusive domain of cis/het/white masculinity, and cis/het/white women are not the worst targets of this inequity, oppression, and abuse. This is not meant to denigrate my mother’s experience of chafing against the effects of the patriarchy, but she still held down a job that put her in the top 1% of earners for our area. And she did struggle to gain respect at work because she was woman, but she also held the same well-paid job at the same company for over a decade and only left at her own choice. This is not the worst way her life could have shaken out, not by far. In fact, it is because of the above that I felt fairly privileged during that time in my childhood. Stability, however excruciating it may be, is a privilege.
I feel the above may be able to be misunderstood as me saying my mother should be grateful for her position in the patriarchy. Please do not take my criticism of my mother’s lack of awareness of her privilege as an endorsement of the structure in which she found herself. I only take umbrage with the manner in which she chose to express her discontent. I found it only led to further mental anguish on her part because focusing your criticism of the patriarchy solely on the basis of biology leads to thinking that one has no means of action against the structure. She felt that because she was born a woman, she only need mimic the “biology of a man” to improve her comfort within the existing structure. Transgender and nonbinary people didn’t seem to factor into my mother’s understanding of the world, despite the fact that she was very much aware of the existence of trans people.
She never challenged the structure itself. She never felt that she was in a position where she could. All of this, while others out here approach the structure, and (unlike my mother) are actively refused the opportunity to thrive within in it. Thusly, they are forced by society to actively work to change the structure. Not because they are in any particularly special position to effect this change, but they are simply left with no choice other than to lie down and die, by their own hand or someone else’s. When your life is on the line, it can be a much harder spur to effective action.
I struggled to accept my own masculinity because I lived in fear of the understanding of masculine identity that I was force fed as a child. My father still looms large in my mind when I think about my childhood, even though I last laid eyes on him in person about 15 years ago. I don’t feel the need to get into the more prurient or heinous details of the abuse my family suffered. I don’t think that’s necessary. Pretty much everyone I know has deeply seeded issues like this with at least one man in their life. This doesn’t bode well for those of us who know themselves to be men.
I think one place to start when thinking about masculinity in general, is to question masculinity as it exists in my life today, rather than reject it on it’s face. I prefer to understand the racist motivations, bourgeois origins, and ableist sentiments of the version of masculinity that is currently accepted as this truly non-existent “norm”. I want to explore how masculine energy can show up in my life in service to my mental health, and development as a person, rather than as a set of standards of appearance and behavior to which I must adhere.
This is vital work in which I encourage everyone to engage. Below is just a sample of some of the questions that you could think over to start off your journey into thinking deeply, and critically about your masculinity and relationship to it.
What are your current ideas of what constitutes “masculinity” and “femininity”?
How do you fit into those ideas right now?
Do you feel a relation to the commonly held ideas of what constitutes “masculinity”? (Meaning do you feel you should be called he/him? Are you sexually attracted to people whom greater society considers to be masculine? Do you want masculinity to show up in your life at all?)
Are the ideas of masculinity and femininity useful to you, and your life?
Ask yourself how have men and masculinity shown up in your life up to this point?
How do you relate to the people that make up that representation?
Is your relationship to them rooted in abuse, fear, and/or manipulation?
Do you currently have any healthy, substantive relations with men/masculine people?
Do you have healthy relationships with masculine people of different generations?
How has religion influenced your view of masculinity?
How has your country or society’s history with racism, and colonialism affected your ideas around masculinity? (i.e. venerating one type of skin color, or body shape over another; promoting conceptualizations of people of color as a set of stereotypes instead of encouraging seeing everyone as humans deserving of understanding, and respect)
Do you feel like your current relationship to masculinity supports your efforts to live your personally held values and beliefs?
What can you change to ensure that your ideas around men and masculine people do not continue to enforce the current status quo? (This could be as simple as consciously being more inclusive in your use of language i.e. using the phrasing “pregnant people”, or as involved as deconstructing the manner in which you argue with your partner and realizing that many of your responses are rooted in the enforced sublimation of all emotion to anger because that’s the only way you have seen men approach intense emotions.)
How can your masculinity be used to better serve those around you and your greater community?
Complement your exploration of masculinity with a better understanding of the effects of the desire to “pass” as cisgender.