On Manning Up: What Makes A Man

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?

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The Feminine Threat

When people critique femininity, they proclaim that femininity is weak, unnatural, and artificial. Many of the traits that people associate with femininity are seen as inferior, such as emotional, sensitive, grace, innocence, feminine styles of dress (such as colorful attire), especially when compared to their masculine counterparts. However, I find this kind of absurd when compared to how fragile masculinity actually is. It is threatened and questioned, potentially even destroyed, by being near femininity. Even associations with femininity cause chaos in the stability of masculinity.

Masculinity, especially the masculinity of cisgender straight men, is constantly under threat from femininity. Masculinity is something so fragile, that they fear to breathe the same air as someone who is feminine, especially someone they perceive as male (whether this is correct or not). For something seen as so weak and so inferior, masculinity is certainly on shaky ground. This ground becomes increasingly shakier the more masculine a person becomes. It becomes increasingly fragile the closer someone gets to hypermasculinity or idealized masculinity. It becomes threatened by something as small as painted nails.

In an attempt to stop biting my nails, I wore fake nails with sparkling purple nail polish on them. People stared at my hands. They refused to touch me. They acted as if touching me would somehow have them catch The Gay. People would take bags from me at work, avoiding at all cost touching me. The overwhelming majority were men. They were threatened by my blatant display of femininity, seen as more over the line than my long hair. It’s absurd that we see femininity as weak when masculinity is defeated and threatened so easily. How can femininity be seen as weak when masculinity is threatened by a dude with painted fingernails? A small dude, nonetheless, with painted fingernails who is 100lbs soaking wet. Yet we see masculinity as strength?

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What ARE You?: Confusion in a Confusing World

“What are you?”

Honestly, I’m not quite sure. I am a trans man…..sort of. I do not entirely identify with man and trans is more of a description for me than man ever has been. I am non-binary, but that is just as vague as saying I have some sort of gender, but I’m not quite sure what it is, no matter how true that is. I am not confused as to who I am, I know that part quite well, but what I am is quite a bit trickier.

Imagine someone handing you a color swatch. They are painting their house and need to figure out how to describe the type of color. They want your help. You look at the swatch. The swatch is purple…kind of. It’s not exactly purple but, that is the closest word you know to describe it. It is clearly not green, orange, or red. However, purple is not quite the correct term. Purple-ish? Not exactly quite right either. You know what the color is not, but you can only describe certain qualities of the color, not the color itself.

Thus, for me, man is the closest I can get to my identity in the current word pool I am allowed and know. However, it is not entirely correct, thus I use non-binary, however, even then, it is imperfect.

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Trans Masculine/Feminine: The Recreated Binary

I can only speak on the term trans masculine and how it erases CAF (coercively assigned female) trans people like myself. Thus, the majority of this piece will focus on those erasive and binary aspects of the general usage of the term trans masculine.

 

I do not feel safe in trans masculine/trans male spaces. Despite identifying in some ways as a trans guy (my identity is complicated), I know these spaces are not for me. I am not masculine. I am what I consider to be high femme. I prefer feminine clothing and dress. I embrace my feminine characteristics such as my speech patterns, movement, and hand gestures. I’d be considered camp and flamboyant by gay male standards of femininity. My personal style is more close to drag queens than it is to other trans men. I am not trans masculine.

Trans masculine spaces, in an attempt to be inclusive of people like me, have shut people like me and many others out. They tie the ideas that to be trans and have been CAF, one must also be masculine. These spaces are overwhelming dominated by masculinity, as the name implies, to the point that feminine people like me are pushed out. Our identities and ‘transness’ questioned not only by the terminology but by the members as a whole.

They continue the binary and cissexist notion that to be trans, if one is CAF, one must be masculine in some way. They tie maleness to masculinity, often in excess. Even the non-binary aspects, are tied to maleness as masculinity is tied to that idea in society. If we wish to escape the binaries of society, we need to unravel that connection. We need to remove masculinity from male, femininity from female. Another discussion for another time.

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Drag, Counter Culture, and Transmisogyny

Currently there rages a controversy about the drag community and its use of transmisogynistic slurs, in particular the t-slur. Among the justifications from cis drag queens on their use of the word is the idea that drag is inherently offensive because it exists as a counter culture to mainstream. It is inherently offensive in today’s society because it runs the opposite as to what is expected in the mainstream. There is a problem with this, especially at the defense of transmisogyny.

There is nothing counter culture about transmisogyny. In fact, transmisogyny is so deeply ingrained in our society that it is literally everywhere. The most popular TV shows ranging from Bob’s Burgers to House and any TV show among all genres and networks all have that one episode. That one episode, or even a handful of episodes, where they drop the t-slur, make jokes about ‘men in dresses’ (in reference to trans women), or run of the ‘shock’ of a woman with a penis.

In video games, trans women are the butts of jokes as well. In Catherine a trans woman is given the same dreams as the men in order to prove how she is really a man. Grand Theft Auto V makes jokes at the expense of transgender sex workers, a very real reality due to the transmisogyny faced by trans women when it comes to finding jobs. These women are portrayed with beard shadows and make references to tucking and electrolysis. The writers did their research and then made sure to do the exact opposite, playing off the ‘men in dresses’ trope, yet again.

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Compliments and Intent

Listen up cis people, I want to talk to you today about intent. However, not in the intent isn’t magic sort of deal. Well, that might be a lie. I want to focus on compliments though, especially the one that goes a little bit like, “I would never have guessed!”. I get it. I understand the intent. It’s meant to be a compliment. Now, I want to address that this is my opinion on the subject. It may not be shared by you, and that is ok! I just want people to know that there are many people who take offense to statements like this and other statements like it.

By telling someone you would have never guessed they are trans*, you tell them they are passing. That’s great! Many people want to hear that. However, you are also implying that being visibly trans* is a bad thing. That to be visibly trans* is not how that person wants to be seen. That being visibly trans* is something that no one wants. You also enforce the idea that cis is the norm and the default for people. There is another companion to this quote, one just as well intentioned (insert quote about Hell and good intentions), but infinitely worse.

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Double Standards

Trigger Warning: Trans*phobia, transmisogyny, cissexism, femmephobia

There lies a double standard in feminism and society on a broad scale, not just radical feminists of the TERF variety, that holds trans* people to an entirely different set of qualifications than their cis counterparts. It’s interesting how feminism is about freedom of expression and freedom to simply be without policing. Yet at the same time, police exactly how one should be a feminist and a “real” person. Trans* people’s bodies are not seen as our own. In an age where we fight for bodily autonomy, trans* bodies are still at the mercy of others, whether it be doctors, therapists, other medical professionals, or fellow people. Trans* bodies are not allowed to exist as their own and hinge on the validation of others for their existence. We are not allowed to be in control of our own lives, bodies, and identities in the same way that cis people are.

These double standards exist is different degrees and different ways for trans* people. Trans women, trans men, and non-binary people are held to different standards, even among themselves. Feminists and those who proclaim to be all accepting (or even openly discriminatory) highlight these differences quite explicitly. For example, it is easy to see how many feminist spaces are dominated by more masculine or butch people. Even among trans* circles, genderqueer, genderfluid, trans men, masculine of center, or trans masculine people who are FAAB, dominate discourse and discussion (heck, even butch cis women). These people are often celebrated for forsaking the gender binary and transgressing it while at the same time, trans women, trans feminine people, and even feminine cis women are seen as promoting stereotypes and binary oppression. Femme people, across all gender categories, are seen as tools of the patriarchy who have succumb to media and social pressures and thus, have submitted to these forces.

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A Review of Transmisogyny Embodied: Cathy Brennan

Trigger Warning: Trans*phobia, transmisogyny, cissexism, rape, assault, violence, harassment

On Sunday, October 27th, Cathy Brennan was a guest star on Roseanne Barr and Kathleen Wells’ talk show. This was of course in regards to Brennan’s stance on trans* rights, especially trans women. I decided to take a listen and see what this show was going to be all about, a “know thy enemy” type of deal. I do want to mention that this is my own personal review, feelings, and analysis of the show. I will try to go in chronological order of events as they happen in the show, with commentary woven throughout. I will mention some things out of order as they may tie into the current discussion. This is because Brennan’s thinking is very circular and repetitive due to her simplistic understanding of gender and trans* people.

The show is opened with Barr saying she was away for a meeting with a friend. This meeting was for a conspiracy theory involving the US government using mind control on its citizens as well as enslaving people as spies. Good way to open a show with a guest star who is obsessed with the conspiracy that trans women are forcing lesbians to have sex with them, among other ridiculous claims, but more on that later. I’ll be honest, I did not pay attention much to this section as it was of no interest to the reason I was listening to the show.

After they introduce Brennan, they talk about her history involving her activism with LGBT rights. She includes trans* people in this because at the time the “trans* community was very small” (this was early 2000s) and they were not pushing much for rights. She goes on about how she was active in even passing legislation for trans* non-discrimination policies. This was because she believes that gender and gender stereotypes are damaging and inherently oppressive. Brennan wants for the abolition of gender in its entirety since it is a system of oppression, specifically aimed at women (mainly cis women). Brennan mentions how damaging stereotypes are, yet is a person who holds trans women to gender and sexual stereotypes. Brennan believes that trans women uphold gender stereotypes by simply existing since according to her, all trans women embody female stereotypes and are hyper feminine beings.

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