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Male vulnerability

November 28, 2009

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.

There are lots of neat articles out there about radical masculinity and feminist masculinity. I just hope I’m brave enough to embody what I believe is right.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. November 28, 2009 4:55 pm

    Quite a thought-provoking post, genderkid. I love how well you express your thoughts!

    While transguys have a unique perspective on masculinity, it is sad that some are compelled to give in to the society’s idea of masculinity. I hope you achieve that level of masculinity which you find true to yourself, without compromising your safety or your perspective in any way. Take those defence classes! I think everyone should anyway. Just remember to be yourself and, of course, you will turn out just fine.

  2. January 10, 2010 8:36 pm

    I think this is a physically-explicit example of why boys reproduce hegemonic masculinities: it’s about survival.

    absolutely. i notice myself subtly altering my body language, facial expression and voice when i find myself in a situation that is less-than-comfortable (i.e. i believe it has a good chance of turning nasty if i’m noticably queer/faggy). while i try not to do this too much, it often really does feel like self-preservation. in other instances (e.g. at work, in places i know other people will look out for me), i do not alter anything, and i notice that it makes men uncomfortable when i refuse to buy into their blokey (often sexist and/or racist) game of ‘mateship’.

    i wish more men chose to refuse that particular style of ‘solidarity’, but i am also aware that most men didn’t have the chance to grow up as girls, weren’t encouraged to be non-violent, didn’t come to a teenage awareness of sexism and feminism. in this way, i feel kind of privileged to have been able to escape being bullied for being a fag (and i didn’t really give a shit if i was bullied for being a dyke, because… whatever).

  3. January 23, 2010 4:48 pm

    Hey.. I absolutely loved this post. Very thoughtful. It’s hard to walk out what you feel is the best expression of gender for you without being confronted with all the roles and rules that have been established by society. You want to be respectful of women, but then find yourself thinking that just because she is a woman she needs to be protected. It takes time! Good on you! Check out my blog! I hope you enjoy my journey!

  4. March 8, 2010 1:55 pm

    Not often I leave a comment on an old post but this one really caught my eye. I’m on the other side of the mirror from you as a t-girl but since I present to the world most of the time as a giant-sized slightly scruffy bloke I suspect I encounter the same issue you deal with here.

    Being so large and male in appearance I have had very few issues with other people giving me bother. I find it all to easy if I want to put across the worst type of male aggression because when you’re bigger than every other bloke it almost comes naturally. As a trans girl the aggressive potential of my male presentation is thus one of the things I like least about being a bloke. In the rare cases I am forced to put on an aggressive show of strength I can do so with extreme prejudice but it leaves me extremely stressed and affects me for ages afterwards.

    I too therefore aim to embody a non-violent, non-aggressive form of masculinity when I’m presenting as male. Sadly sometimes my sheer size means people don’t expect this and they respond aggressively to me because that’s how they expect me to be.

    Maybe there’s a sweet spot somewhere between smaller-than-average guys and larger-than-average guys, blokes who don’t get picked on but don’t come over as threatening :)

  5. March 12, 2010 5:46 pm

    I’m glad you posted this. When i present as a male, other male friends expect me to toughen up, especially those who used to be the underdogs in male society. Its as if “I had to go through it, now you better too cuz its for your own protection”.

    I’ve also had many problems where I consider myself a male feminist and it backfires on me because it is misconstrued as “protecting” women and being chivalrous. It makes me angry at the same time that many women encourage this needy, submissive, sex-goddess, whatever you want to call it attitude and then complain they aren’t treated as equals. They undermine the whole idea themselves.

  6. March 17, 2010 6:27 pm

    I think it is very admirable that you are a transmale who also understands the plight of many women and seek to be an ally. I wouldn’t get too caught up on trying to be seen as masculine but non-aggressive. Just be yourself, there are many very masculine guys who are very kind and don’t put out that sense of sexism and overpowering attitude.

  7. Jiontari permalink
    February 21, 2012 8:16 pm

    I love this post, I can relate to a lot of what you’re saying. I’ve seen a couple of interesting videos on the issue of transitioning into male privilege:

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