I only started assuming a male identity when I realized that I didn’t have to reproduce the dominant types of masculinity; that I didn’t have to be misogynous, oppressive, and rude. Of course, not all men are like that, and many women are, but I had to overcome that mental hurdle. I’m not the only one: it seems like many other transmasculine people have the same internal struggle.
I aim to embody a non-violent, non-aggressive form of masculinity. Since I started being perceived consistently as male by strangers, I’ve striven to be especially aware of what a male presence might mean to women. For instance, I try not to walk too close behind women because I know they might get nervous; being in her situation makes me nervous, too. In fact, I don’t know why I single out females (and kids, and the elderly); in a way, I’m reproducing the stereotype that those groups are defenseless. I feel that, as a guy, I have a debt towards all of womankind, but I’m kind of conflicted about that simplification: gender isn’t the only source of power.
In any case, I think I’ve succeeded in looking relatively harmless. My small and non-muscular body helps, too. But recently I’ve realized the costs of gentle masculinity. Apparently, looking peaceful makes me look passive, and that in turn makes me look vulnerable. At least, that would explain why people try to rob me so much, threatening me with violence. Apparently, young teenage boys are the target of preference for mugging. But why? Is it because we aren’t physically strong enough? Because we haven’t yet learned to be aggressive? And why only boys: do more girls shout for help, or are strangers more prone to help girls and women?
I’ve learned two things from these experiences. First of all, that I want to take a self-defense class to feel safer on the streets (Which one, though? Can I take a women’s class?). Second, I think this is a physically-explicit example of why boys reproduce hegemonic masculinities: it’s about survival. Maybe mugging experiences aren’t essential for most boys, but I remember that the least aggressive guys in primary school were singled out for bullying. They were called fags, and people who look like fags can still get attacked on the street.
In that context, I bet that all the guys tried to look tougher; the ones who couldn’t had a hard time. Even now, knowing about power and privilege, it’s hard for me not to wish for the ability to look more threatening to thieves (although I’d like to be able to turn it off for everyone else). So imagine what the threat of violence –physical or verbal– can do to a growing boy, too young to think about the big-picture consequences of his attitudes. Add all the media images of masculinity, and that’s enough to suppress any visible signs of gentleness in young men.