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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Trans 101: Misconceptions

There are a ton of misconceptions, incorrect facts, half-truths, and a myriad of other problematic information about trans people floating around in the media, academics, word of mouth, and so on. In fact, these misconceptions are often perpetuated by mainstream media and academia. For example, Orange is the New Black which is touted to be extremely positive towards its portrayal of trans people with its trans woman character, Sophia, has its problems. Sophia has had bottom surgery and has been on hormones for a while, I will not spoil any of the plot, but the show ends up showing Sophia sprouting chin hairs and experiencing breast shrinkage due to issues accessing hormones in prison. Neither of these actually happen to trans women who have had some form of bottom surgery. However, the show incorrectly shows Sophia experiencing secondary sex characteristics that are typically male due to her lack of hormones. While minor, these types of misinformation plague the trans community and society at large, creating a lot of confusion and misconceptions about trans people, transition, and their lives.

I am going to dispel some of these misconceptions and misinformation throughout this piece. I have split it into three parts:  Identity/Sexuality, Surgery/Transition, and Choices/Binary/Enforcement. There will be things that fit into several or all the categories. I picked the best category I felt for each option.

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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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Where Do We Belong?: Gender and Privilege

Privilege is always a sticky discussion. It is something almost everyone experiences in varying degrees in some aspect of their lives whether it is gender, sexuality, race, social status, etc. Privilege and the lack of privilege is something that is extremely important in the discussions about intersectionality and oppression in feminism. However, as someone who presents and IDs as male, I’m left in a weird gray area.

As a trans man, where do I stand in feminism? I’ve experienced misogyny and sexism in the past, especially since I worked in a video game store for most of my working adult life. For 20 years of my life, I presented as female even if my gender identity did not match this, this is how I was perceived by the world. Working in a male dominated area, I experienced sexism and misogyny. I have a history with these things, a very personal history. Transitioning does not erase my history, as my history is part of me. I do not deny being trans* and fully embrace it as part of my identity. I should not be excluded from feminist spaces (not women’s spaces, as a man, I do not belong there). I also must sidestep and let women speak before me. I must acknowledge, accept, and understand how my new privileges affect me in my life. I am seen as a man (most of the time). However, this does not erase my history with sexism and misogyny.

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I Am Valid

What makes people like Eddie Izzard, a self proclaimed transvestite*1, drag queens, cross-dressers, and other male identified people allowed to exist, but me not? How is their identity any more valid than mine? What makes me, someone much like Eddie Izzard or other ‘full-time’ cross-dressers, different? We are both men who enjoy and prefer feminine articles of clothing. While he might prefer dresses and skirts to my bell-bottoms, or flats to my heels, we are basically the same. Are we not? I mean, he does wear a lot more make-up than I do.

So what is the difference? Continue reading “I Am Valid”