My journey toward and through feminism and pro/feminist identification has been an extensive and arduous excursion that has had quite a few bumps and bruises along the way and continues to as I follow this important and cyclical path. This has been a most challenging and rewarding journey in collectively toiling toward equity in collaboration with feminists at the intersections of our identities. Lessons have been learned and best practices examined, then reexamined. There are times that I do well. I also fuck it up, often. It’s particularly challenging for me, as an omnigender1 trans*man, who transitioned later in life and has a seemingly inordinate amount at stake in the performance of his masculinity. I was ill-informed about what it meant to prove my manhood and discovered a profound emptiness within the enactment. I say this because it was the performance of said extreme hegemonic masculinity that at once brought me to the forefront of what I was never consciously aware. In a blog, I wrote about demilitarization and recounted some of the ways in which masculinity was a coveted possession and prize. A means by which to garner respect and validation. For me, the military was a fundamental depiction of hegemonic masculinity and the supreme image of power, occupation and command. I eventually learned to search for something healthier, a dichotomous evolution, as this dichotomous position where violence meets peacefulness only brought me a deeper and more profound emptiness. This is where I believe many men and masculinities find themselves; albeit, perhaps wholly unaware. There is an extreme and deafening silence and emptiness within the most dangerous forms of masculinity. It’s perhaps this seemingly electrifying danger that suddenly becomes provoking and critically deadly. I was able to come to the realization of just how impacting it can be to be socialized and conditioned within these constructs of manhood because I was able to accept and more fully adopt these constructs later in life. No individual experience is identical; however, this allowed me to see things differently than perhaps if I underwent the rites of passage of manhood as a young person. And while individual men and men as a collective are detrimentally affected by this conditioning, we are certainly not the ones most affected, not even close.
I’ve written in the past about how the military makes soldiers through a brutal enactment of violence and degradation. This proved to be one of the pivitol points of indoctrination and journey through masculinity. I wrote, “I remember my throat closing slightly when we were forced to chant, ‘blood, blood makes the green grass grow drill sergeant!’ I remember choking it down through tears that I hid behind a raining morning sky and donning the tough guise. This is the tie that we make in the military between being masculine, being powerful, being strong: stoicism and blood.”
I recently wrote a friend something like this, “In my early 20’s I donned the tough guise in an effort to shield myself for protection. In very early childhood (think preoperational stage of development) I donned stoicism in an effort to shield myself for a multitude of reasons. While I work hard to confront all this within myself, it’s still a part of me and I have to love all of who it is that I am, even if I don’t like it and toil to change it. I try to be really honest about how my gender expression affects my exterior and the ways in which I interact interpersonally and with society.”
All of this was to give some context to a larger story about how we sometimes interact with the world, as men. I’ve come to the realization and understanding that oftentimes my mere expression is harmful to those with whom I am expressing. An extremely important thing that I’ve learned about this enactment is how it continues to harm, hurt or trigger folks who have fallen victim to, or are oppressed by, the presentation and use of male privilege, entitlement and masculinity itself. Sometimes it is subtle and I don’t mean to do it, but I soon notice it:
I notice when I am walking down a street late at night and a woman who is out jogging will cross the street to avoid me.
I notice when I am on the bus and a woman will turn her body away from me if I inadvertently stand too close.
I notice when I attempt to open a door (something I would do for anyone) and I am met with a palpable discomfort with the gesture.
I notice when I participate in discussion with women and folks rarely challenge me on the things that I add or contribute to the conversation.
I notice when the women that I work with justifiably view me with distrust and suspicion about my motivations within the movement.
I notice when I talk about how extreme masculinity harms and affects men, and women are justifiably angered by what is admittedly our own challenges with which to wrestle.
I notice when I contribute to conversations and am congratulated as though I came up with a concept that women have been speaking about forever.
I notice that when a man attempts to flirt with me and I turn him down that he respects my choice. I notice that he accepts and respects my autonomy and manhood. When I was identified as a woman to the world this situation would have turned into continued attempts or a verbal attack. So I then notice the privilege of assumed safety that I now enjoy. (more on this another day)
There are so many things, I notice…..
I notice these things, in part, because of the fact that I once lived in a reality where I was brutalized by the same constructs of masculinity from the other side. It’s a little easier for me to understand and to, well, notice. Yet, I also understand that I have to be open to seeing it in order to fully understand it, embrace it and then to confront myself with compassion.
Until we are open to noticing it, we won’t be able to play a role in lightening the weight of our impact within the feminist movement……
Men, we won’t be able to notice it, until we are willing to open our minds and simply listen to the lived-experiences of the feminist women around us. Resist the urge to contribute, to analyze or offer solutions.
There are so many stories to be heard, simply be in the moment, sit with it, reflect on it, then open your mind to notice…..
1. Omnigender (omnigendered) Possessing all genders, exhibiting cultural characteristics of male and female, the term is used specifically to refute the concept of only two genders.