So I was watching this documentary on Netflix titled “The Mask You Live In” (which is awesome by the way and you should totally check it out). It offers some great perspective on masculinity in American society and the way that we as a culture define what it means to be a man. He must be swift as a coursing river, with all the strength of- well, you know what I mean.
There are many facets of a trans male identity that could be tackled on this topic. But something I found particularly interesting while watching this doc was how ingrained these ideas about what it means to be a man are, not just in young cis boys, but in everyone. Even those of us who were socialized as female. In my experience, many trans men will go through a sort of phase when they first begin transitioning where they are so desperate to escape the “female” box that they put on this facade of being as stereotypically masculine as possible. I’m not suggesting this is a bad or wrong thing to do. It is a way for us to sort of bridge that gap between coming out and wanting other people in your life to recognize you as male, and being read as male by society at large.
What is fascinating about that to me is that we can so easily pull out this caricature of what we think a man is and slip it right on, even though we weren’t directly taught to be that way. We may change the way we walk and talk, the topics we will discuss, the way we gesture and interact with women or other men. We inherently know that to break these norms means that we will be othered. And trust, by the time a person is ready to transition, they have had their fill of that feeling.
In American society, a man is often defined by what he is not. He must prove himself to not be considered feminine or gay. I think trans men early on in transition hear this message loud and clear, and also carry a fear of being associated with women. But unlike our cis-male counterparts, (for most) it does not stem from misogyny or homophobia, but rather a deep-seated yearning to be recognized for who we truly are. Unfortunately, some do take this to such an extreme that the line becomes blurred. It seems paradoxical to be a misogynistic trans man but they do exist. Most trans guys will eventually abandon the pretense once the hormones have done their work and can pass as male without any extra posturing. Then they can feel free to be whatever sort of man they want to be.
So in a sort of roundabout way, even though I didn’t grow up cis male, I know what that pressure to be a particular brand of masculine feels like. How suffocating that can be. Then there’s the added layer of how strange it is to be deprecated and criticized your whole life for being “too masculine” only to turn around and be told you aren’t man enough if you don’t do A, B, and C. Anyone who thinks trans people transition to escape social pressures of a particular gender don’t realize that, yes there is a privilege hierarchy, but the pressure to conform exists on both sides.