HuffPost UK is running a month-long focus around masculinity in the 21st Century, and the pressures men face around identity. To address some of the issues at hand, Building Modern Men presents a snapshot of life for men, from bringing up young boys to the importance of mentors, the challenges between speaking out and 'manning up' as well as a look at male violence, body image, LGBT identity, lad culture, sports, male friendship and mental illness.
National Coming Out Day was only recently and it has left me thinking a lot about the many closets I have come out of. The trans, brown, queer, feminist closets burst open in succession. It was a loud and raw time that left me with more pain than peace. But here I am, out and happy and proud. And I'm lucky that I can be out. I'm out to my family, my partner, my work, and my friends. I am out and I am safe and I am lucky. Some people don't know I am trans and I 'pass' as a man, and when I come out it is a surprise. Some people say this is lucky too.
Coming out as trans taught me more about feminism than it did about what makes a man. Learning about feminism taught me about masculinity from a point of view that helped me to understand my gender as something that was evolving for me, not something I was losing and gaining, or transitioning to and from. My gender is beyond the binary, but I know it's easier that I pick one or the other. I let people gender me as they want because it's easier for them and to be honest with you, it says more about how they view gender than how they view me.
Discovering my gender identity as something that aligned more with being a man under the trans-masculine umbrella was a liberating feeling. Discovering intersectional feminism and reading about gender justice written by women, queer people, and people of colour was something else entirely. It transformed my life and helped me to understand the pain of being a hairy brown girl and gave me strength that my white friends and partners could never give me. However, these discoveries were not without conflict.
How could I move into masculinity that was all about dominating women and fitting into the patriarchy, whilst opening my eyes to a world that is patriarchal, and embracing feminism at the same time? Can these two things co-exist? Can I exist?
I think passing as a man is a really difficult thing. What makes a man is a really narrow box. Since identifying as a man, I've found it so hard to be myself. Men are so limited and restrained by the system of patriarchy they set up themselves. Men have built themselves a prison, where they are all just the same.
The few times I pass as a man, I am quick, I am invisible and I am quiet. Masculinity is something so desired to the point where everything about it is on trial. Every time I pass as a man, my masculinity is always on trial. So I give little away because I am not the man people read me to be. I've learnt a lot on what makes a man because I have to keep myself safe. Unfortunately we live in a world where weakness is punishable and emasculation is unforgivable. Yes, I keep quick, invisible and quiet to keep myself safe, to keep myself alive.
Masculinity that we know is embodied by the men we see around us that are valued, the men we see around us that are safe, and the men we see around us that are beautiful - white men, straight men, able-bodied men, cis men. Their masculinity is defined by dominance and power. But dominance over what? And power over who? Masculinity is dominance over women and power over gender minorities. Masculinity is defined by who it oppresses. So how could masculinity ever feel empowering to me?
The fact that being a man or a masculine person is defined by oppression feels truly weak, and it's not surprising that we are familiar with how fragile masculinity is, nor about how often we see violence to prove masculinity. Masculinity is toxic but only if we let it be. Think about how your masculinity is defined, what makes your masculinity feel threatened and who your masculinity is serving. Is your masculinity making people around you feel loved, is it making people around you feel safe? Is your masculinity making the world a better place?
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