Ed Note: Title taken from this amazing campaign.
Despite my ovaries, I am not a lady. There’s no English word for what I am, but for the sake of simplicity let’s say that in American society I operate socially and sexually much like a man. My buddy Battle and I have a regular “boi night” where we consume substances and watch hockey,* my girlfriend introduces me as her “personfriend,” and I buy the drinks. I glare at people who call me “Miss” and give all the change in my pocket to the occasional panhandler who calls me “Sir.” I wear boxer briefs, pack literally four pieces of clothing when I go on vacation and I don’t dance, I sway.
I carve the goddamned turkey, ok?
Being a “man” when I have Brad Pitt‘s face, Cherie Currie‘s hair, Rosario Dawson‘s ass, Anne Hathaway’s crazy-ass smile and Justin Bieber‘s fashion sense; identify as part of the lesbian community; have some (but not all) stereotypical female anatomy; and was raised and socialized as a girl makes for some amount of cognitive dissonance in my daily life. But that I can handle–I’ve learned that boxer briefs are not incompatible with an addiction to CuteOverload dot com. But being a feminist “man” when my masculinity is rarely acknowledged outside the queer community (and often not even inside the queer community) is a C-H-A-L-L-E-N-G-E.
Before I became a feminist, I measured my strength by the people I could subjugate. It wasn’t always just girls–when I was a kid, I used to hold court over my six brothers and sisters. I was a benevolent dictator–but if they misbehaved, I’d pin them to the ground and make them apologize over and over again until I was sure they understood who was in charge. But as I grew into a young teenager who wasn’t taken seriously as a masculine being by other masculine beings, as my brothers got bigger and the neighborhood boys became able to outrun me, the pool of people I could overpower got smaller. The only people who were susceptible to my domineering were women, especially the queer women I dated.
Here’s the thing–the domination of women is an easy path to masculinity. I’m aggressive. I’m masculine-presenting. I’m athletic, and very strong. I’m tirelessly argumentative, and I am allergic to admitting I’m wrong, or that I don’t know the answer. It would be appallingly easy for me to establish my masculinity by walking all over women**.
Feminist men have done a lot of good work talking about how to embody and celebrate masculinity without using it to hurt women. I can take some lessons from them, but my problem is unique***. I’m not seen the way I want to be seen in this culture. When a feminist man refuses to make rape jokes, for example, fellow men might call him a f*g or a pansy, but they still believe he’s a man. They don’t believe his penis has literally fallen off because he respects women.
There is masculinity in me that is screaming to be heard, and acknowledged, and recognized. It is a struggle to get the world to acknowledge that masculinity without using what little power I have to control those with less power.
Let me illustrate my point with animal pictures, since this is the internet: Most people who look at me see:
- This guy
But I am really more like:
- This guy
You know how little dogs are assholes? I’m 5’2.” Y’all tall men are all lucky I haven’t bitten your ankles when you park your giant man-selves in front of me on the metro and make me snuggle your swampy armpits for 45 minutes. Being me is kind of like in Good Omens when the Hell Hound is all “I am ready to DESTROY THE EARTH AND SEA WITH MY MASTER” and then the master’s like “Lol ok but you have to be a tiny terrier.”
So I am already pissed, you guys. I am ALREADY mad that no one sees (or they choose to overlook) this crucial and obvious part of me. I am ALREADY pissed that I was given the rage, and gender identity, and will to dominate of a much more masculine looking (and larger) person. So the temptation to use every gun in the battery is very strong. But some guns aren’t meant to be used. Being a feminist masculine-of-center (or MOC for short) person is about putting down some of the guns because of the risk of friendly fire.
I’m gonna spend the rest of my life struggling with this beast of a problem, but here’s a few things that have helped so far:
1. Seeking out people who accept and celebrate my masculinity. My mom bought me and my ex-boyfriend matching ties for Easter. My best friend uses the right language to refer to me. My buddy Battle invites me over for sports nights and gives me older-brotheresque advice. My girlfriend lets me open literally every jar.
2. Reminding myself that real power comes from self-assuredness****. I don’t “lose face” when I admit I’m wrong, or let my girlfriend help me carry the groceries. If I lost power or status any time I let someone else take charge for a second, I wouldn’t have anything left. We all lean sometimes, and it’s ridiculous to act like my personal well of masculine strength depletes when I let someone help me.
3. Think about what masculinity means to me, and keep only the parts of it that are essential. This is the hardest one. Masculinity is HARD to navigate even for people who were born into the role, and I am figuring out how to do this totally on the fly. Masculinity is a powerful tool, and has been used irresponsibly and cruelly for much of recorded history. So, it’s my responsibility, and the responsibility of all other people who claim a masculine identity, to think about how this is going to play out. I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes I fail. Sometimes I let myself take the easy way out.
Most of the writing I do on the internet has some sort of clear message, some sort of call to action. Sometimes I’m yelling at people to wake up. Sometimes I’m explaining how to treat me, or people like me. This is not one of those pieces. This is a public acknowledgement that practicing nonviolent masculinity, especially for those MOC people whose masculinity is not otherwise affirmed, is complicated and painful. I have a right to embody my gender identity. It’s fair to expect to be treated the way I want to be treated. But I don’t have the right to claim my space at the expense of feminine people.
*I hate hockey, but I accept that it is my duty as a masculine of center person to yell at hockey games when they are on TV. Lest you think I’m some sort of silly little hamster, though, I passionately and vocally love football and baseball. What can I say, I like my balls to be balls. Oh and I like women’s soccer and fuck you very much if you think it’s not as good as men’s.
**Obviously I do not dominate every woman I meet.
***The Brown Boi Project is conscious of the tension between being seen the way you want to be seen and empowering women, but they’re the only group I know of doing this work and I can’t, for racial and geographic reasons, be terribly involved in their work.
****I am not talking about institutional power.