Man up; Strip down
How would you define masculinity?
That’s a good question! I don’t think there’s an end-all-be-all definition of what masculinity means, it means different things to different people depending on who you are and what your experiences are. For me, masculinity means that I’m being my authentic self and people are perceiving me in a more masculine manner. Being a transgender man, I’ve always had an interesting relationship with masculinity. I like to make it work for me, I like to be silly, I don’t take myself too seriously, I’m a cat lover. I don’t adhere to strict gender roles and so I don’t think I have the most common definition of masculinity, but I think a lot of it is the perception of how other people view me.
If you had to describe to someone what a masculine person looked like, how would you do it? (What celebrities or fictional characters comes to mind?)
I think there are definitely stereotypes about what masculine looks like. I think it’s less about bodies and more about what’s on those bodies. What color clothing you’re wearing, or what type of clothing you’re wearing; dresses aren’t typically masculine, although I would argue that you could make a dress masculine depending on who’s wearing it. Shorter hair, muscular bodies, certain types of clothing, all those are how we perceive masculinity on someone.
CONSIDERING THIS DESCRIPTION, HOW DO YOU FEEL YOUR BODY COMPARES? DOES THIS COMPARISON INFLUENCE HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT YOUR BODY?
This has been a lifelong battle for me, around making my body match what I perceive masculinity to be, which is pretty stereotypical. Having a flat chest was very important to me, and so having top surgery to get that was a huge part of my life to make me feel comfortable in my body. I do go to the gym often to be more muscular, and so that is another way that I try to portray masculinity. As well as your typical shorter hair, that was a big step in my life, too, when I cut my hair off from long to short. And so having gender dysphoria on top of body dysphoria as a kind of chubbier person is always interesting how that compares and how they really intersect, which is a lot, and sometimes what I perceive as gender dysphoria is really body dysphoria about being a fat person and vice-versa. So, trying to align what parts of my body I can and want to change to be perceived as masculine through testosterone, surgery, and exercise and what parts of my body can’t I and what does that actually look like for me is something I struggle with fairly regularly. For example, how do I take the body I do have and redefine it as masculine? Transgender people are often defined by what surgeries they have had because society is obsessed with the notion that only a man can have a penis and only a woman can have a vagina. Meanwhile, I’m not very interested in having any surgeries other than top surgery. Does that make me less masculine? Less of a man? I don’t think it does.
BASED ON YOUR DEFINITION OF MASCULINITY, DO YOU FEEL THAT THE PEOPLE YOU DATE SHARE THAT SAME DEFINITION. IF NOT, HOW DOES IT DIFFER?
It’s unique as a trans man, who has often had a gender expression that is more masculine, I don’t necessarily think that’s what people I’ve dated are attracted to. I think it’s more who I am, which may or may not be masculine. They say beauty is on the inside. I don’t know if the masculinity is what they were attracted to or if it was really just the authentic self that I bring to my relationships.
Do you feel like your race or ethnicity impacts your concepts or understanding of masculinity? How so?
Oh, absolutely. Without a doubt. I feel like as a white person I can be more fluid with my gender and not be as concerned, my safety’s not as threatened. I have much more privilege as a white person to be my authentic self than I would if I was a person of color.
What do you think is sexiest about yourself?
Oh my god, I was dreading this question the whole time! I think my brains are sexy. I think my smile, I get compliments on it quite often.
IF YOU’RE CURRENTLY DATING, DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOUR APPEARANCE HELPS OR HINDERS IN FINDING DATES?
I think my appearance would definitely hinder. I don’t think I meet the ideal of masculinity for most people who are attracted to masculine folks. I don’t have experience dating post-transition but I don’t think people would find me attractive initially or really know what to do with me. I think as a queer woman and even as a genderqueer person, dating looked a lot different and was somewhat easier than it would be for me currently as a transman.
What parts of your body are you really comfortable with or really appreciate? And why?
I’m learning to be comfortable with my body. I’ve started with my chest; having top surgery, but also working out so that it’s more muscular and looks like how I want it to be. I’d say that’s one part of my body that I’m fairly comfortable with. I’m learning to love all the hair that I have, it hides my scars really well on my chest. Compared to a lot of cisguys I can grow a pretty good beard, although I think it’s still patchy so I’m still trying to come to terms with that. I think I still am a lot harder on myself and my own perceptions of myself then what, maybe, people perceive.
Compare those parts of your body with parts of your body that you’re less sure about; parts that maybe affect the way you get ready for the day, i.e. getting dressed, maintenance, personal hygiene, etc. Stuff that maybe you’re self conscious about other people noticing because these are parts of your body that compromise your sense of your own sexiness or appeal.
I think one of my biggest struggles when I look in the mirror is seeing my hips. Again, being fatter, yeah, I’m going to have hips— but it’s also I have curvy hips. I think it’s more bone structure for me, coming from a strong Italian family, that was how I was born, with child bearing hips. So, that’s kind of where I am less comfortable with my body. I am losing a lot of hair on the top of my head. I have lots of hair everywhere else, but on the top of my head I’m losing a lot of hair, and so figuring out what that looks like for me moving forward and how I’m dealing with that and how I ask Shanna to tell me when it needs to get shaved. I don’t want to be that person faking having hair. I don’t want a comb over. So when it’s time, it’s time. But coming to terms with that is hard, because pre-transition I did have a lot of hair and there was never a worry of losing it.
Have you ever felt that society pressures you to look or act in certain ways? If so, how?
Absolutely. I have a really unique perspective about this. I’ve lived as a woman and lived as a man, and in-between. I think one of the most interesting spaces in society are the bathrooms. There are all these rules that men have, like ‘don’t go into the stall next to someone’ or ‘who’s using the stall and why?’ And so those perceptions of what happens in the bathroom are really interesting. At the gym, I don’t lift quite as heavily as a lot of other guys who have similar body shapes as me, so it’s like how are they perceiving me as someone who’s not meeting their awesomeness, I guess. I started a new job not so long ago, and not everyone there knows I’m trans. Not because I’m hiding it— I’m very out. But it just doesn’t come up in conversation, ‘oh, I’m trans.’ So it’s very interesting to see them, how they perceive me when I talk. I have lots of interesting hand gestures; I talk with my hands, and sometimes it looks very feminine. I talk about my partner, who happens to be a woman, so I’ll be like, ‘she’ and ‘her’ and name her name and they’ll be like, ‘wait! I thought you were a gay man but you’re married to a woman. We can’t compute. Our minds are blown.’ It’s just really interesting how much of my every day, how gender impacts that. As somebody who passes really well as a man, I still kind of queer gender because people don’t know what to do with me half the time.
WHAT DO WORDS LIKE “PATRIARCHY” OR “PRIVILEGE” MAKE YOU FEEL? WHY DO YOU FEEL THAT WAY?
Fuck the patriarchy! I think I have a unique perspective of what patriarchy means and how it impacts people. And having quite a bit of privilege, specifically having male privilege. One of the first times I realized I had male privilege was when I was walking down the street one day, I was going to a coffee shop and there was a woman who was in front of me walking and she looked back and she saw that there was a man behind her. She grabbed her things closer and started to walk quicker and I knew exactly why she was doing that because I’ve done that when I’ve seen a man that I felt threatened by, whether or not they were actually threatening me, having a man walking behind you can be threatening. Women are taught to be aware of their surroundings. It’s put on them to protect themselves rather than men not performing violence against women. And so in that moment I realized that this is what male privilege is. This woman is afraid of me. She doesn’t know me, if she just looked back and said, “Hey.” I’d be like, “Oh hey! How are you doing?!” and it’d be fine. But I couldn’t tell her, “I’m trans. It’s okay.” in that moment. And so living that male privilege and coming to terms with what it means to have male privilege and using it wisely and trying to use it in ways that I can bring voices of people who don’t have privilege to the table. And as a white trans man I am in a lot of spaces and at a lot of tables that a lot of people don’t have access to, so I try to use that for the better in a way to dismantle the patriarchy so that we don’t have masculine people being better positioned than feminine people and genderqueer people, nonbinary people, and black people, and disabled people – just get rid of it all, all these oppressive systems! We’re not there yet and so we need the people who can speak up, who have that privilege to do so without risk of their safety or livelihood, to do it.