Real men don’t cry.
Be a man.
We hear these phrases, and other words come to mind.
Misogynist. Sexist. Controlling.
There’s plenty more words that pop up for me, which bothers me. The word ‘man’ comes with such negative connotations. And it doesn’t seem like anyone (especially men) are trying to change this.
I was in a situation recently where the discussion turned towards what it meant to be a man and how none of us trans men wanted to identify as a ‘man’ because of all the negative baggage that comes with it. Other labels, like guy or trans man were acceptable. It was okay to refer to each other as the other’s ‘bro’. But none of us were men. Each time we’d say that word, our faces would scrunch up as if we were tasting something awful.
There have been other times too. Driving home after a particularly horrid week of work, I found myself full of road rage. I was vacillating between whipping people the bird and wanting to bawl my eyes out. And this little voice crept into my head.
Real men don’t cry.
I was horrified. I’ve always been a bit proud that my emotions are readily available. Did starting my transition mean I’d suddenly have to pack all that down, because that’s what real men do?
Then there was the conversation I had with my girlfriend, when I told her I didn’t want to be the breadwinner of the house, and then had to think about what I meant by that. Which is essentially that I don’t want to ever tell her she can’t work or shouldn’t work or make any kind of big decision like that about her life or our life together. (RE: the idea of staying home and being the doting housewife for her should definitely be something she chooses, not because of my saying so)
But all of these things are coming about because of this disgusting baggage associated with men.
So I choose to call myself a trans man. And if someone calls me a guy, that’s cool too. I’ve got bros, and I’m proud to be a bro. And I’m even okay with someone calling me dude. But man? Them’s fightin’ words. Apparently.
There’s a bit of shame with that, too. After all, I’m a firm believer that despite Michigan legislator’s apparent anger and disgust with the LGBT community, that it’s my responsibility to stay and fight for equality. I bite my tongue when people say they can’t wait to move out of the state. I’m staying to fight. This is my home state, and I have a very strong sense of loyalty to this state, despite its’ failing ratings in the LGBT community.
And yet I run like hell from a single word. Because I don’t like the baggage that comes from it. There’s another word I don’t like. Hypocrite. And I’m treading a very thin line.
There’s a problem with the trans men community. We have no role models. I mean of course there’s Chaz and Buck. I’m sure there’s others too. But the problem is, they’re not visible. They’re not nearly as visible as Laverne Cox or Janet Mock. And they don’t advocate for change. Society has a fascination with trans women. But a trans man? Well, he’s just one of the guys.
Okay, so that may be painting with broad strokes. But there is some truth to it. Many trans men, once they’ve transitioned, sort of fade into the abstract. They’re content with who they are and seem to feel no real need to be out in the world of advocacy, mingling with legislators or giving media interviews. We have our social groups (that I’ve found) which remain secret and almost anonymous (like the Illuminati). Now there’s no shame in being happy with who you are, and it’s certainly your choice whether or not you want to live the life of an activist, but isn’t fading into the abstract almost a cop-out?
Just like running from the label of ‘man’.
It’s a complete cop-out. Here I am, identifying as a trans man, as masculine and a guy and with it comes all the privileges, but I’m unwilling to take on the label. I’m accepting the male privilege, but refusing to accept the word that comes with it. It’s having my cake and eating it too.
Why? I’ve no valid reason. No argument I could possibly come up with justifies it. And while I might not ever be as famous as Laverne Cox or Janet Mock, that doesn’t mean that I can’t be a role model.
Change comes in different ways – maybe an instantaneous change, like when the traffic light changes from green to red. Or perhaps change comes in ripples, like the concentric circles that occur when you drop a pebble into the water.
So how do we go about changing the definition of manhood? Well, what defines manhood? Is it biological? Social? What it means to be a man certainly has varying definitions throughout the world, but at the very basic level, there has to be some correlations.
What is manhood? In the past, I’ve looked at being a man as always being stoic, and if tears are shed, it’s few, before the emotion is sucked up and tamped down deep in the recesses of manhood. Being a man meant you remained emotionless, unless you were angry. That was fine. Being a man meant it was up to you to take care of things when crises hit. Being a man meant working a difficult, laborious job and having the woman take care of you. Being a man meant you didn’t have to work as hard to make as much money, and women were never your equal, because…well because that’s just the way the world is, son.
Being a man means you think with your genitalia, and believing in things like legitimate rape and that she deserved what she got. Being a man means you can act like an ass, do stupid, hurtful things, and it’s okay because “boys will be boys.” Being a man means you’re in constant competition with other men to be the best in everything, to be the strongest, to have the most toys and the biggest titles.
Of course these are all the awful stereotypes that many men perpetuate. And why would anyone want a label that comes with all that baggage? I realize not all men are that way. There are good men out there – nurturing fathers, loving husbands, caring and considerate boyfriends. There are men who are feminists, believing that a woman’s place is wherever she chooses it to be, not barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. There are men who cringe when another man jokingly tells a woman to “get in the kitchen and make me a sammich.”
And I’m sure there’s more of these good men than I or many others realize. But the general overview of men and manhood is essentially the Brawny Man or Mr. Clean – but much meaner. And it’s true, 85% of domestic violence victims are women. And when you think of road rage, you think of men tailgating and driving aggressively, not women, who are horrible drivers anyway. (Please read the sarcasm in the previous statement. I in no way think all women are horrible drivers.)
I don’t want the label of ‘man’ or to associate myself deeply with manhood because of all of these things I’ve listed, and many more. And I know I’m not the only one. But I don’t like being a hypocrite either. I can’t look at those who move out of Michigan and shake my head in anger and disappointment because they aren’t staying to fight when I want to put so much distance between myself and manhood.
So what do I do? Change it. I want to be that rock and create those ripples that reach out, further and further. How? By reclaiming manhood and defining the concept as something to be proud of, not something that gives me Medicine Face when I say it.
It’s not an easy thing. And where the hell do you begin to change thousands of years worth of misogyny and sexism? Well, some things can’t be changed, and it’s necessary to accept that and move forward. What we need are role models. Good, healthy role models to come forward and not only show other trans men, but cis men what it means to truly be a man.
Real men not only show their emotions (besides anger), but they support other men in showing their emotions as well.
Real men understand their privilege, and more so, use their privilege to further the rights of others – by advocating for women’s rights, and the protection of those rights.
Real men call one another out when we’re being sexist or misogynistic, and then call one another in by educating each other on those points.
Real men stop looking at women as things to be conquered, but as equals, to be treated with great respect.
Real men aren’t afraid to follow their significant other into the intimate apparel stores.
Real men are respectful, honest, and compassionate.
So, as I take on this label of manhood, I ask that my fellow trans men step up and do the same. Advocate for change in the LGBT community. Advocate for change for the trans* community especially. Make yourselves visible (if you are in a capacity to do so) and fight for equality. Show all men what it is to be a real man. I dare you to take on that label, accept the baggage that comes with it, and then show others the baggage no longer fits. Trans men don’t have to be hyper masculine to be men. Redefine manhood by being authentically you, by using your agency, by not simply fading into the abstract.
Life isn’t meant to be easy. If it were, we would take all the good things in life for granted. As of right now, I’m adding ‘man’ to my list of identifiers.
Be that rock in the water. Be that change.