It’s become so important for us to distance ourselves from those groups who these statements are about that we’re missing the point. Of course not all men are rapists. I’m a transguy, and I’m not a rapist, but I also don’t need to tell people that.
“Hi, I’m Teri. I like cats, I like to write…oh, and I’m not a rapist.” No, that’s stupid. If you have to state that you are the exception to the rule, and not the standard, something is terribly wrong.
There’s been a movement, where Christians show up at gay pride festivals across the country and apologize for the pain and suffering inflicted by the religion. They hug LGBT people and say “I’m Sorry” and wear t-shirts with the phrase emblazoned on the front. There’s other movements too, where white people have shown up to protest alongside blacks in their neighborhoods, protesting police brutality.
It’s not enough. Saying you’re a good Christian, and you’re sorry doesn’t do anything for me. Why? Because it doesn’t close the gap between the two communities. You’re sorry on behalf of those who wish to take away my rights, and in some instances, wish me dead. They’re not sorry. They most likely never will be sorry. So unfortunately, your apology, as well intentioned as it may be, is empty. At least to me. If five people at a pride event say they’re sorry, then I go home and there’s 20 people talking about how it’s the LGBT community’s fault that Nebraska had an earthquake, or a reporter is telling the story of a trans life taken much too soon…it just simply isn’t enough.
We talk of privilege. Privilege of skin, privilege of money, of education, of sexual orientation and gender identity. But what do we do with it? I’m sure there are black people who appreciate the white people standing beside them in solidarity, but that doesn’t stop black youth from dying.
A Christian telling me they’re sorry doesn’t change the fear I have using a public restroom or keep me from being fired because I’m trans.
So you’re sorry. That’s great. But don’t come to me to assuage your guilt for being Christian. Don’t tell a woman who has been raped that not all men are rapists, because clearly it doesn’t do her a damn bit of good. If you want to help, if you truly want to make a difference, get out there and change things. Engage in conversations with other Christians, tell them you know gay people, that you know transgender people, and surprise! We’re not bad or evil. Use your white privilege to change people’s attitudes. Call others out when they’re racist. Go to community meetings and stand up and tell people that police brutality is not only unacceptable, but that it needs to stop and things MUST change. When other men are being misogynist, call them out. Let them know that it’s not right.
Be that change. Don’t hug me and tell me that you’re sorry. I appreciate it, but it doesn’t help me move forward towards equality.
Yes, all lives matter, and yes, not all of us are [pick your poison]. But stop erasing the struggle because you need to clear your conscience. I know you’re a good person, but simply being a good person doesn’t create the change that’s needed to make this place safe for all of us. Stop telling me you’re a good Christian and go find out why the bad Christians feel the way they do about us.
So I talk about changing the meaning of ‘manning up’ from being this misogynistic machismo thing to a concept of men taking responsibility for their actions and their lives. I’m working on manning up myself, because I want to be the best man I can possibly be. And I’ve got some really awesome role models to help me fill those shoes.
Turns out, I’ve got a new guy to add to that list.
We all struggle with life at times. And, it’s gotta be some kind of Murphy’s Law that kicks you when you’re already down.
But I know a guy, in spite of all the stuff he’s got on his plate, is manning up in one of the best ways possible. He’s manning up to be a father. He’s fighting for his son.
My co-worker, my friend, is fighting for full custody of his son.
I wish you could see him talk about his son. His face completely lights up and you can literally see him filling up with pride. But it’s not the sort of unattainable adoration that every son acheives to invoke in his father. This is real. This is a father’s love for his son. I dare you to talk to him about his kid and not find yourself feeling proud right alongside with him.
But here’s the thing. In order to get full custody, it costs money. Filing fees, attorney fees – my friend and his fiancee have a lawyer ready to go, but they don’t have the money. Now, normally I don’t do this, because I don’t always feel comfortable asking for money. This is different. This guy, this man – he wants to do the right thing, he wants to be the father to his son and give him a life of love and happiness and teach him what being a man is all about.
My friend has some medical needs, both him and his fiancee, that need taking care of. He’s paying for those out of pocket, so when it comes to money for a lawyer, he’s lacking the necessary funds for the ongoing process of a custody fight.
This is where I’m turning to you, friends. He’s started a GoFundMe to try and raise the money for lawyer’s fees. Any and all donations help.
He’s working on fixing mistakes from his past, so let’s not punish his son for past ghosts (God knows we all have some). My friend also said any money left over from the process would go to the travelling hockey team his son plays for – to help other families that are struggling give their kids a little something extra.
I really want to see this dad get custody of his son. So how about helping out? I did. You should too. I wouldn’t advocate for this guy if I didn’t believe in what he is doing.
I’ve written about wanting to be that rock that creates ripples in water. I’ve pointed out the fact that there aren’t a lot of visible trans men in role model positions, or at least are not readily accessible via media without already knowing who you’re looking for or sifting through Google results.
I’ve also written about my struggles with my lack of dysphoria, and how I didn’t think I was trans, because I wasn’t miserable, despite the nagging voice in my head trying to convince me otherwise.
Mira, my partner (who has her own, wonderful blog) asked me who my role models were. I stumbled, I fumbled for words. I responded with,
“I don’t really have any.”
and then I wondered why. Which led me down a path of reflection, and so in this blog post, I want to thank the men who have been in my life, and whether they realized it or not, have taught me some incredibly valuable lessons on both manhood and acceptance.
First, I want to thank my friend Erik, a wonderful guy with a wonderful wife and a wonderful son (who will also grow up into a wonderful guy because of his father). Erik is the living definition of an ally. He has taught me what it means to be an ally. His words in support of who I am makes me less fearful that I’ll be rejected by manhood as I transition.
He’s living in Denmark now, navigating a new plane of existence. But when he was here, he threw a couple of “Man Parties.” And no, they were not misogynistic guyfests. In fact, it was more about the craft beer than talking about women. I remember him sending me a message on Facebook, saying he didn’t want to be a jerk the first time around, but that he thought I was one of the coolest people around and he wanted me to come to the second party. Maybe he saw something there that I hadn’t seen yet, because at that time I was still identifying as a butch lesbian, but regardless, the message touched me and still brings tears to my eyes.
Erik is unconditional in his friendship, and in his support. I’d see so many times when he would comment on an LGBT story, stating his anger over the injustice done to a community that he was not a part of, but allied himself with. Erik, you were my first “bro”, and I thank you for showing me that I can be a man without attaching all that baggage to the word. And thank you for simply accepting me as I am, without making me define myself to you.
Next, is my friend Brian. I met Brian several years ago. He welcomed me into his house and quite honestly, into his family. I work with his wife, and she’s just as amazing as he is. Brian has shown me that you can love with emotion, and it’s okay. He and his wife are madly, endlessly in love, and because of them, I know what love is supposed to look like, and I’ve found that. Brian has always seen me as me, and has even threatened to smack me upside the head when I’ve made a ridiculously dumb decision. He’s been somewhat of a father figure to me, showing me that love and emotion are okay in manhood.
Brian has shown me that I can be a man without showing that machismo. That manhood can be full of understanding and love and family without compromising masculinity. Thank you, Brian, for showing me that manhood can be defined by subtle masculinity and strong love. Thank you for showing me that emotions don’t take away from, but add to, the definition of a man.
To my friend Greg. I know we only met a while ago and even then it was for a handful of hours, but in those hours you taught me a lot. You taught me that standing behind the woman you love doesn’t make you less of a man, but rather, lifts both of you to a place of understanding and respect. You showed me that being a male feminist is actually a thing, and that you don’t have to emasculate yourself to do so. You showed me that being an ally does not mean you speak for others, but with them, and never louder than them. You taught me that respect for women is something that comes naturally, and is not only the right way, but the only way to love.
To Jessie, a fellow trans man – thank you for showing me what strength in character is. And thank you for showing me that compromising who you are is never an option. I look forward to this journey with you, and I’m really proud to know you. Same goes for you, Nico. You were my first trans “bro”, and hold a special place of friendship with me. You’ve helped to show me that struggles can be overcome. You’ve also helped me to look for the good in everyone, regardless of any biases or preconceptions I weigh myself down with.
These are the men in my life. Some have been there for a fleeting moment, others for years. But you all have taught me that a man, by his own virtue, can define his own manhood. And because of you, I am molding my own definition of manhood – one that will hopefully, eventually, negate the baggage that comes with the concept.
So in answer to Mira’s question – it turns out I do have role models. None of them grace the big screen, or have won Nobel Peace prizes. But when I look at how I want to model my life as a trans man, these are the men I turn to.
And on the flip-side, something else I’ve learned, mostly through the help of Mira – is that not all of my role models must be male. It’s not a requirement that men should only have male role models. Having female role models is not only not going to reduce my ability to call myself a man, but it’s something that is necessary, as men are not the only creatures with qualities I want to model.
So, to Laura, you welcomed me in as family, and you’ve taught me that mansplaining is wrong. Always. You’ve taught me how to stand up for myself in subtle ways that leave a lasting impact. You’ve taught me that in the end, if I’m not happy, then I need to change something. You’ve let me know that it’s been okay to screw up and make stupid decisions, and you’ve told me “I told you so.” in ways that didn’t make me feel lesser, but respected. Thank you for never making me feel ridiculous or useless.
To Paige, for navigating your way in a male dominated industry, and becoming a force to be reckoned with. I have the utmost respect for you because you taught me that women can go toe-to-toe with men, and be absolutely awesome while doing so. You have shown me strength and grace. You have shown me acceptance. You have shown me that it’s perfectly okay not to lay down and take the bullshit that the world can throw at you simply because some aspect of society has tried to define your role as a woman as such.
To my new friend, Amy. You’ve shown me what internal strength is. I’ve only gotten to talk to you a handful of times, and always in a censored fashion (which needs to change, soon, btw), but in those conversations, your ability to completely accept what’s happening and deal with the punches as you navigate your day has taught me patience. Your innate ability to know what to say, despite your fear of offending, is immeasurable, and you’ve taught me to open my ears and eyes to others around me and listen to what they are saying without adding my own biases.
And finally, to Mira. My love, my life. You have taught me strength, perseverance, and grace. You have taught me that it’s okay to be happy without regret. You’ve taught me that I am capable of change, and you have taught me that unconditional love is not only real, but completely attainable. You have given me knowledge and shown me what respect truly means. Watching you navigate this world and hearing you speak and captivate an audience, a crowd, or a small group of people – it is not only an honor, but something I aspire to do. You have taught me that I can be who I am, and I can do so without apology.
These are my role models. Men and women from all walks of life, cisgender, heterosexual, transgender, with different backgrounds and experiences. And it feels really, really good to have this realization, that I do have role models, and that they all are helping me (whether they know it or not) to become the person I am. The person I’m supposed to be. My journey of self-discovery is one I may have to go alone at times, but with these people as my role models, I’ll never really “be” alone.
And because of all of this, I can be that rock in the water.
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.