Male Androgyny

I love 70s glam rock. I was all over that when I was a kid and teen in the early 90s. T-Rex, Bowie, Aerosmith, Iggy Pop.

I always loved the androgynous look, but never pursued it for myself. I didn’t want to be coming at androgyny from an androgynous-woman angle. Though I thought that sort of woman looked cool. I wanted to be an androgynous man.

And nobody I’d ever heard of, famous or personally, went from woman to androgynous-glam male.

People would tell me when I was younger, that there was nothing wrong with being an androgynous woman if that’s what I wanted to be. They’d point to people like Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. And I didn’t have the language to tell them that it would be, for me, coming to androgyny from the wrong “direction”.

I found myself real frustrated with the idea of presenting as a masculine or androgynous woman. It just didn’t fit me. I kept wanting to be a little…fancier than that somehow. But that always got read as simply feminine.

And I wasn’t a glam woman at all. Dressing up even slightly triggered my dysphoria. In order to feel safe, I had to dress fairly drab, and I hated it.

Even later in life when I met a couple of trans guys, they were either masc, or “normal guys”, if that makes sense. Nothing I felt I could relate to.

It was so illuminating to me two summers ago to realize I could transition to male, then approach androgyny from that place. It had literally never occurred to me before then, that people would want to transition to male so that they could look like feminine or fancy men. It’s one of the two main things that kept me from realizing I was trans for so long. I didn’t want to look butch or super masc, and I thought all trans guys did (the other factor being that I was into guys, and I’d thought all trans men had been lesbians).

As soon as I figured out that my actual style was meant to hang off a dude’s body and not a lady’s, it all made sense.

Feminism & Transgender

I was a feminist my whole life as a “girl”, and I look forward to continuing to be a feminist when I’m presenting fully as a man. I know the way I’ll have to do it will change. When talking about feminism with women, I’ll need to do more listening than talking, concern myself more with holding space than with asserting my right to fill it, etc. But I’ve received so much validation in my life for being a feminist, it’s time I passed some of that validation on.

I always felt, as a “girl”, challenged to hold this balance between being a feminist and deeply loving men, being male-aligned and able to see men’s beauty and goodness, sometimes when they couldn’t even see it themselves. I always hated hearing women bash men, and tried to gently shut it down whenever I could. Those were the moments I sometimes felt like I was “betraying my gender”.

But I never thought it was right to bash a whole demographic of people (even if I secretly feared that the reason I defended men was that I selfishly found them so damn beautiful). And it was never feminists that I heard slamming men, it was women who didn’t much like other women either.

The feminism I love intersects enough with humanism to advocate reaching for one’s truest potential, not letting social or biological constrictions hold you back. And that’s what trans means to me.

If “biology isn’t destiny” is a feminist idea, then being transgender is, in a lot of ways, a quintessential feminist act.

Masculinity

I actually don’t think masculinity is fragile at all. The version of masculinity our culture promotes is very brittle and limited, hurts men and enables them to justify hurting others. Masculinity itself just is. If anything has made masculinity fragile, it’s society limiting what masculinity is allowed to be. It’s an emasculated version of itself. And it makes men fear further emasculation, to the point where they’ll react with predictable violence if that’s threatened. And it think it’s all done on purpose to control people.

I was talking to a friend once about the fabled masculine confidence, and how so few guys, cis and trans, feel like they have as much as they need. We broke the idea of confidence down to some of its component parts, and decided out of all of them, three seemed like they had the most return on investment:

  • good personal boundaries
  • a sense of your uniqueness and its worth
  • and the ability to be emotionally generous

All the tips and techniques in men’s magazines and stuff just looks try-hard without those things.

I think defining masculinity by what it is–or could be–is way better an idea than defining it by what it isn’t. The latter is sexist, and has also left a whole generation of guys with no sense of intrinsic value.

Masculinity is both a quintessential quality, almost like an energy or a vibe, that any gender can carry. It’s also this very wide spectrum of interests, preferences, tastes, values, and tendencies that are heavily influenced by culture and era. People who align with a lot of those interests etc. might consider themselves masculine or even male–but they don’t need to align with any of them to be a man. So it’s complex.

It’s both waves and particles, you know? Trying to pin it down is the wrong approach–just like in science, I think we should be looking at exploring possibilities just as much as we look at pinning down definitions. And if a definition seems elusive, as gender is right now, it may be because we should socially be focusing more on expanding possibilities.

I try not to get too embroiled in labels, because they lead to Discourse, my arch-nemesis. But I definitely feel like a man. To me, “man” is a label given to this energy I’ve always had. We can debate if it should have that label, but right now it does.

As a person assigned female, having that energy had consequences. It’s not always socially acceptable everywhere to be a female-perceived person with male-labeled energy.

But the truth is, even if I’d been in a place where that was more acceptable, I’d have still felt incomplete. There was something inside me that wanted to be seen, and being run through the prism of a female body made it not fully seen. The femaleness of the body obscured a lot of who I am.

What does it mean to me to be a man? There’s masculine and feminine inside me, but the particular flavors of each seem more clearly perceivable to others, and comfortable to express, when expressed through a body that’s read as male. It’s a question of getting multiple parts and levels of me to work in alignment, not to obscure and confuse each other and land me in uncanny valley.

I think the masculinity of trans-masculine people is a lot less fragile on average. After all, it survived being contained in a mislabeled body for years or decades.

We might struggle with how to express it, especially since we can’t just thoughtlessly repeat training that we didn’t even receive. We have to approach a societally-mangled concept with an already-developed sense of our own personality and morals. That doesn’t make our masculinity weak. Complicated, maybe, but not fragile.

I think the process trans men go through might be illuminating for non-trans men, as they search for their own meaning.

I Guess This is Growing Up

What was scary for me, pre-testosterone, was the feeling that I was aging in a body that had never “blossomed” fully. That I was growing older before I’d ever been born, or really lived. That feeling, which had plagued me since I turned about 25, disappeared within a month or two of starting T.

Testosterone isn’t like a bucket of chemicals upended over you, that change your meat suit and leave you even more confused inside. Testosterone slowly changes your inside, too, and all the parts that feel like they’re jangling discordantly now often start to harmonize better.

I think when I conceptualized transition, I pictured it as moving from the adult woman I’d been, into an adult man. But it’s like I got dropped from adult womanhood to boyhood, and it was weird but fun. It’s like an accelerated growing-up as a guy.

I haven’t become any less weird. It’s just easier now to express it the way it really wants to be expressed. I’m queer now because I’m queer, not because I’m a collection of contradictions.

I feel so much better about getting older now. I still can’t picture myself as an old man, I think that’s hard for any human to imagine. But I will be me, not my father or my grandfather, or some generic “old man”.

It’s been interesting to finally experience aging as natural, and not a barely-staved-off disaster. Like I’m actually on a human life track, no floating in some clueless limbo. And it excites me to think I may actually experience what people mean when they talk about being “in your prime”. That it might still be ahead of me, at least in the ways I find most important. I feel like I won the hormone lottery.