When I was a little boy – no wait – my story doesn’t start out that way – because I never was in fact a little boy. This doesn’t authentically speak to a gender-variant history.
My earliest memory of gender confusion is from somewhere around first grade. I recall a profound bodily dissonance prior to this; even so, this confusion did not yet have a name. I was playing in an empty lot with a few boys of the same age. I remember dropping to my knees in the dirt to pick up a football. I could smell the strong scent of dying grass on an unclaimed plot of suburban Detroit. I recall the sensation of the cool autumn air on my skin and also that there was wet dirt on my hands and under my ragged nails. I remember the boy’s voice ringing in my ears when he said, “girls can’t play football”. At the time I wasn’t even aware of the anatomical differences between boys and girls; however, I was sure that I must then be a boy because football was a game I completely enjoyed and was pretty damn good at. (more examples)
It is interesting that at such an early age I began to form a conception of what it meant to be a boy or a girl based on an action, behavior or even an interest, rather than on an internal identification or bodily disposition. I’d later come to terms with physical disassociation; however, it’s worth noticing and speaking about how other factors play into the construction of gender expression and gender identity. I’m certainly not an expert on gender construction; however, I can begin a conversation and see where it leads.
I’m fairly confident that many trans*men and masculine-identified women share similar stories. I’ve heard and shared them. Yet we seem afraid to bring up the conversation. If anyone questions me on the construction of my gender expression and masculinity they risk getting accused of transphobia.
As a result, a very necessary conversation is never started.
As for the nature verses nurture debate about gender expression. I refuse to engage in nature dispute simply because this implies folks are unable/unwilling to evolve beyond supposed primitive characteristics/traits and this then gives folks an excuse for inappropriate and/or violent behavior. While I do understand that physiological conditions influence behavior, I refuse to allow this to be an excuse or distraction to accountability. I’m primarily talking about men’s aggression and violence. I call bullshit. Moving on.
I’m a masculine of center trans*man and my sexual orientation; which occurs separately, exists on a spectrum. My lived experience for the first 30 years of life being identified as a woman certainly informs/influences how I move about in the world. It also influences ways in which I perceive gender and the subsequent violence that is perpetrated by a particularly violent/brutal construction and enactment of hegemonic masculinity.
Most of the folks with whom I usually roll know that I didn’t grow up being socialized as a boy. I did however receive and internalize the same cultural messages about what it means to be a man. I can never say, “When I was a little boy,” because it wouldn’t speak the truth of a gender-variant history. I wasn’t raised in this way; although, I was raised very similarly in relationship to being forced to conceal any range of human expression and/or complexity. To laugh meant I needed to control myself. To cry meant that I was weak, a baby or ridiculous. To be silly meant I was out of control. To dance was met with ridicule. To joke was met with mockery. To goof around was harshly met with criticism. While I may not have been specifically subjected to the words “man up” (I would later in life, however), the messages were essentially the same. The cultural messages rang to the same tune of supposed manliness as well, and were deeply internalized in an effort to securely prove the authenticity of my identity. In many ways, I adopted a stoic hypermasculinity in an effort to demonstrate the authenticity of identified manliness.
Cis*men do this every day.
I’m sharing this to simply bring to light a very pervasive and cultural narrative about the socialization and understandings of sex , gender, gender expression and to then begin a conversation about addressing the root causes of gender-based violence and perpetration of masculine privilege through both benevolent sexism and outright brutal and violent hyper masculinity.
I’m 35 years old and have experienced expressed manhood for little less than six years. At least I’m new to the social and cultural implications that manhood carries into my life because I was born female and began gender transition around thirty. I’m not new to the internal feeling or identification of manliness and certainly not nearly new to the experience of masculine privilege. Our stories, the collective stories of gender-non-conforming folks, sheds a unique perspective about gender construction. We need to share these stories. We need to share them openly, with honest examination and assumed principled intentions.
With the basic presumption that sex and gender are two separate continuums: gender is complex, layered, intricate, confusing and brilliant. The amount of time I spend with others thinking about it, talking it through, deconstructing, critiquing, redefining and transforming is also extraordinary and essential. It’s also really fucking hard to stare one’s own privilege in the face and then subsequently confront it and talk about it boldly; nevertheless, also essential.
This blog is to begin an “on the ground” conversation about social construction of what it means to be a man or a woman outside of academia and within community. This is about looking at how masculinity/femininity plays out across cultures and within a historical context. It’s about masculine privilege. It’s about deconstructing gender and dismantling the foundation that allows us to rank and value gender characteristics that subsequently devalue women and femininity.
This is about staring society in the face when it/they tell us that our identities are wrong or punishable or of less worth and attempts to categorize us. It’s about confronting our individual internalized self-loathing and external behaviors that perpetrate oppression and marginilization and having the courage to say out loud, “Wow, cultural messages really do affect me and play into my life and expression.
We need to do this in order to have an authentic conversation about gender and to redefine the assumptions and expectations that surround gender. This is about saying that I’m willing to become aware of how cultural influences affect me and I’m willing to change and transform these assumptions and behaviors.
For me, this blog is simply a start……
Local folks, this is a call to action, join us and be a part of the conversation on January 28th 2014. (See link for details)
For a more comprehensive guide for LGBTQIA terminology
1. Gender Expression: Relates to the external representation, mannerisms, traits and/or behaviors which communicate an individual’s identification as masculine/feminine/androgynous and one’s representation can flux along the spectrum. One’s expression exists separately from their gender identity and sexual orientation.
2. Gender Identity: Generally relates to an individual’s internal sense/identification of existing as a woman, man, intersex, third-sex and/or two-spirited. One’s gender identity exists separately from their gender expression and sexual orientation.
3. Sexual Orientation: Relates to one’s inclination of romantic and/or sexual attraction along the continuum to gender. Often refers to whether one is attracted to same-sex/gender, opposite sex/gender or to both/all sexes and genders.
4. Sex: Referring to one’s anatomical/chromosomal and genetic structures as male, female and/or intersex. This is not necessarily related to one’s gender identity, expression or sexual orientation and exists separately.