What makes a man? Who is defined as a man? Often those who are assumed to be men are masculine. What does masculinity entail? Brave, bold, courageous, aggressive, dominating. Masculinity is powerful. It’s at the helm. Femininity is rooted in the opposite. Soft, dainty, delicate, passive, submissive. Femininity is seen as inferior. It is seen as weak, especially in comparison to masculinity. So who is told to Man Up? Those who are seen as inferior. Those who are weak. Those who are delicate.
Thus terms like Manning Up are rooted in removing the feminine. They are rooted in these sexist ideas that femininity and thus, being a woman (as the two are connected in our society) are seen as inferior. We cannot be men if we do not ‘man up’ or, in the real meaning, become more masculine. These terms are directed at men or those perceived as men (regardless of actual gender) who are often seen as feminine and thus, seen as lesser to those who are not. It is a way of eradicating gender variance, and thus, eradicating femininity among men because it is seen as weak. The ideas of Manning Up are rooted in gender policing, femmephobia, sexism, transmisogyny, and anything remotely anti-woman. Manning Up means removing anything remotely woman-like. I often see trans men, in particular, trying to reclaim this phrase and other similar phrases as a turn of phrase, a reclamation of their identities, but at what cost?
Manning Up is often connected with phrases such as Be A Man. On the opposite end, they are often surrounded by the use of words such as Stop Being Such A Girl, Stop Acting Like A Girl, and so forth. These phrases are meant to not only attack the lack of masculinity of a person, but also shame them into being child-like. To be feminine is not only to be inferior, but childish, especially in men. It is to be abandoned in favor of masculinity and thus, superiority over the frivolous nature of femininity. You cannot be a man and be feminine.
These very ideas connect man with masculinity. This idea that in order to be a man one must be masculine is toxic. Not only due to hyper masculinity, but also due to the fact it erases gender variance. When trans men are told to man up, they are being told to embody the very idea of what it means to be a man, and that means to be masculine and definitely not feminine. These terms and phrases create a narrative that feminine trans men do not exist. It creates an idea that feminine men, trans or cis, do not exist. It creates a false dichotomy; to be a man, you must be masculine.
So what does it mean to be masculine? Masculinity, as it stands, is not problematic. However, the masculinity that is implied with these phrases is not just your basic masculinity, but hyper masculinity. Hyper masculinity is toxic. It ties being a man with misogyny. To be a man, one must not only be masculine, but see femininity and women as inferior. The hyper masculine man is one of power, dominance, and authority, in excess. He gets what he wants at the expense of others. His existence is rooted in rape culture. Women are to be used and dominated. Women are objects.
When someone proclaims that someone needs to Man Up, they are telling them they need to embody what society tells us is necessary to not only be a man, but to be a masculine man. Being a man in our society is tied hand-in-hand with being misogynistic. To be a man, one must violently erase all femininity from oneself or else be seen as weak. What we are telling our young (not in age, but in identity) and impressionable trans men when we say these things? That you must embody everything that society tells you in order to be a man. You must be masculine, and frightfully so, in order to be recognized at the man you are.
When I see trans men using terms like Manning Up, I see people upholding the ideals that are created and upheld by patriarchy. I see men living up to the idea that men must be hyper masculine and restrictive in their presentation, no femininity, or their masculinity would come into question. When I see people using terms like this, even in a reclaiming way, I see the idea that we must live up to these harmful ideals. What does this say to the feminine people like me? It pushes those like us away, those who many find homes in trans male spaces no longer feel welcome. If we toe the line of maleness, especially without masculinity, we are not valid.
Trans history is fraught with gender policing, usually from the cis gatekeepers who dictated who could and could not be trans. Unfortunately, some trans people also have taken to this idea of gatekeeping the meaning of trans and trans-related identities. This still exists today in the form of gender policing those of us who do not meet the criteria, whether it be a lack of dysphoria, a non-binary identity, or atypical presentation of our genders. This is not the message we need to be sending to those of us struggling, especially those of us who do not meet the stereotypical markers of masculinity for men and femininity for women. When trans men use terms like Manning Up to describe their seminars, anthologies, resources, and so forth, they are not only erasing, but harming their community.
We should not be telling our fellows to Man Up. We should not be associating and engraining our identities with the very toxic hyper masculinity and patriarchy that believes we do not exist or are just ‘confused lesbians’ (despite the fact we are from all walks of sexuality). We should not be alienating those of us who are femme. We should not be tying our identities as men to these out-dated, harmful, and toxic ideals. We need to be supporting the idea that we are men simply because that is who we are. We must accept and celebrate the diversity among ourselves and presentations, something that the greater society tries to snuff out.
Instead of Manning Up, we should be saying nothing. We should be supporting each other, regardless of masculine or feminine lean. We should be saying Act Up against the harmful gender stereotypes and policing that exists not only in the outside world, but within our own communities. Instead of saying Man Up, we should be saying Get Up, because we know life is hard, it’s confusing, and it hurts, but you can do it. We need to toss Manning Up to the fire. We have no use for it. It is erasive and it is dismissive. We are what we are. We do not need others telling us how to be, we should simply just be.