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.