Becoming A Man
January 22, 2020 7:42 AM   Subscribe

 
I appreciate the author's explicit mentions of whiteness and class. Too often, American white dudes (trans, queer, and cishet too) describe their own experiences of masculinity as unquestionably universal. I'd be interested in dialogue between him and Thomas Page McBee, who is another white trans dude who previously identified as a lesbian and comes from a similarly traumatic upbringing.
posted by wicked_sassy at 8:11 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


yes wicked_sassy, that struck me too. The insistent, repetitive references to whiteness stood out (in a good way).

this was a hell of a piece.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 8:21 AM on January 22


My father was an Office of Special Investigations agent in the Air Force and was stationed at the Osan Air Base in South Korea for a year in 1964, where his job was to sucker homosexuals into outing themselves and getting kicked out of the military.

Wowza, the author's dad already seemed like a rotten prick but oh my, what a miserable occupation. I thought DADT was bad, but actively trying to manipulate soldiers into admitting they are gay so they can be kicked out is just too much!

Great read, the last line of the essay was perfect.
posted by GoblinHoney at 8:30 AM on January 22


I just had a run in with (re: dated for less than a month) with a man who is obviously ruined by toxic masculinity of the military lineage sort, which I seem to attract despite being intentionally androgynous in both personality and appearance. It very obviously has broken his humanity in a way that he is still trying to understand and reconcile as an adult, resembling brainwashing that he now drowns in self-loathing and alcohol. It is always extremely hard to behold, as they tend to openly lament the sweet, curious child they were before their fathers called them a faggot or beat them senseless for having a emotion. I don't know what to think about it, but I'm growing less and less sympathetic the more I observe these men damage the lives of others, even if they are victims themselves.
posted by Young Kullervo at 8:48 AM on January 22 [10 favorites]


Thanks for posting; this is good writing of a story worth telling.
posted by theora55 at 8:55 AM on January 22


This article made me feel bad and I haven't unpacked it yet. Did I learn something uncomfortable? Is that why I feel bad? Or is it more simple than that? Is it just that I read a story about some mean people being mean? If I could just figure out what I've learned, I would feel better.
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 10:09 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


can't wait for gender to be over
posted by FirstMateKate at 11:02 AM on January 22 [13 favorites]


I'll tell you one of the reasons why I feel bad: hearing him bond with that Lyft driver over "all that bullshit about women’s rights". Experiencing him enjoying fitting himself right into the patriarchy at the expense of women makes me feel exhausted and depressed.
posted by theatro at 11:22 AM on January 22 [19 favorites]


That was really sad.
posted by antiquated at 11:41 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


I'll tell you one of the reasons why I feel bad: hearing him bond with that Lyft driver over "all that bullshit about women’s rights". Experiencing him enjoying fitting himself right into the patriarchy at the expense of women makes me feel exhausted and depressed.

As a general rule, I'm not that interested in these sorts of pieces--I've got my own transition experience, I don't need to read the think piece written for cis consumption but that was the point where I started skimming. I already don't care about you being a man but now I really don't care.

When I was getting read as a teenage boy, I had a man at a bus stop try to teach me to cat call women. I remember it being terrifying--I was scared what would happen if he realised I was trans, I was scared what would happen if he decided I wasn't participating because I was gay, and I still wasn't going to shout things at the woman across the road. I still feel guilty about not telling him to stop more forcefully (I protested fairly ineffectively) and this was the better part of a decade ago. My gender is no longer seen as so liminal and I did develop some skills at telling men to knock it off, but I never needed to indulge my inner "sexist jerk" to feel good about my gender. Of course, being read as an adult and developing more confidence in public (funny what happens when people stop hassling you about your gender) means that random men no longer try to engage me in sexist conversations at bus stops, but I can only hope that I did something constructive in the window where I was needing to deploy that skill with any sort of frequency.
posted by hoyland at 11:57 AM on January 22 [14 favorites]


regularly scheduled nixon meatloaf comment wishing for an end to trans people performing this stuff for the cis but shrug emoji lol
posted by nixon's meatloaf at 12:54 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


regularly scheduled nixon meatloaf comment wishing for an end to trans people performing this stuff for the cis but shrug emoji lol

But, hey, at least this one was like "You know, that whole 'dead name' thing is kind of weird." Though I didn't even really like that bit, and that's my hobby horse!

Someone pointed out to me (possibly on Metafilter) that these pieces are almost invariably written by people relatively early in transition. On the one hand, I don't like the ways that duration of transition gets used to legitimize some people's voices over others, but, on the other hand, there's very little for cis consumption written with the perspective of time and it serves to reinforce this idea of transness as perpetually new. (I generally won't tell people how long I've been on hormones unless they ask directly or it's necessary context because it totally influences how people treat me and make assumptions about my gender. This has been my invisibility rant for the day.)
posted by hoyland at 4:30 PM on January 22 [3 favorites]


Non-paywalled link, please. Nyt only lets me read approximately one article every four years.
posted by Sterros at 5:03 PM on January 22 [3 favorites]


I'll tell you one of the reasons why I feel bad: hearing him bond with that Lyft driver over "all that bullshit about women’s rights". Experiencing him enjoying fitting himself right into the patriarchy at the expense of women makes me feel exhausted and depressed.

I thought that was a gross moment. I mean, good for him for being honest about that, and I know the whole process is complicated, but still. It's one thing to smile and not push back when someone is saying something reprehensible, and it's another thing to choose to go there yourself. There's a distinction between being a guy and being "that guy."

there's very little for cis consumption written with the perspective of time and it serves to reinforce this idea of transness as perpetually new

That's interesting, something I hadn't noticed before but fits with what I have seen now that it is pointed out.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:36 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


It's rare for me to read a personal essay and feel almost no connection to the author. Yet here, to the extent I felt anything...I mostly felt pity. Which is the last way I want to feel when reading this kind of story. But how else do I react, maybe, when an author is describing ways of being that are sad, but also strictly limiting my access to his internality? Or at least, he limits my access to any raw or very deep sense of internality. Like, I feel like I understand how the author is trying to present himself to cis people, but I have no idea who he is behind those curtains. (Of course, maybe he doesn't either, but that's not explored.)

In any case, the author's emotional opacity made it hard for me to focus on this piece, and I just don't understand that choice from a stylistic or narrative perspective. What am I supposed to do with an anecdote like the Lyft driver thing, where he more or less tells us, "Yeah, felt good to be one of the guys," and then moves right along? Does he think his behavior was unremarkable, and/or "part of being a man"? I don't know how to engage with a narrator who is interested in sharing a moment like this, but not interested in reflecting on it.

Other alienating moments:

Becoming a white man visibly is like a newly found superpower

I love masculinity

...Personally, I'm baffled by sentiments like these, and wonder what editor agreed that they didn't need much context. For me? One of the hardest things about being trans has been navigating the pain of becoming a white man. It's terrifying. I don't want this power. Do people seriously want this power? God, I worry all the time about how male privilege might warp or seduce or erode me. I have nightmares about laughing with the powerful. I wake up sweating and wonder if T was a mistake. Then, of course, I get up, and I take my T. And I think how marvelous a gift this medication is.

I don't know. I don't especially know what gender is, so maybe that's part of my inability to understand this essay. I do know more what sex is, and I feel that I was not born as the right sex...but as traumatic as womanhood was, it was also an incredibly valuable experience. Not all trans men feel that way. But most mature trans men (recently transitioned or not) also don't make me wonder whether they value womanhood in general. This essay, well. Guess it kinda made me wonder.
posted by desert outpost at 5:58 PM on January 22 [16 favorites]


Do people seriously want this power?
If you don't, you feel (and are told) there's something wrong with you.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:39 AM on January 23


Yeah, the thing about him joining in with the driver about how "women are in it for the money", mere paragraphs after describing how the author and his wife had to leave money for his mother to get necessary dental treatment because his dad refused to pay for it--making cruel jokes all the while.
posted by Sublimity at 6:11 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


If you don't, you feel (and are told) there's something wrong with you.

To add a bit of transmsaculine color here (assuming you are not and hopefully desert output will elaborate if their take/experience is different), "you just want [white] male privilege" or "you think being a man is easier" is something that's perpetually thrown at transmasculine people (with varying degrees of malice). But transmasculine spaces are full of discussions of "Is being (seen as*) a man ethical?, Am I inherently bad for wanting something that will result in male privilege?" And if you're used to spaces full of that conversation (which, granted, is bound not to be all transmasculine spaces), it's a little jarring when someone is like "Woah, this is awesome", especially when it's not followed with "Oh shit, the world is terrible". Because, yeah, suddenly getting listened to at work can feel kind of like a super power the first time it happens. But not one you wanted.

*Some of us are pretty lukewarm about or just not on board with the idea that our own genders are "man", but that doesn't stop the world from assuming.
posted by hoyland at 7:29 AM on January 23 [5 favorites]


I found myself wondering how much this had been edited - the "and then I made a misogynist joke" part felt so weird and out of sync with the rest of the essay. It would have made much more sense if there were some "and in the moment I made the inexplicable decision to see what would happen if I said something misogynist as a man; it worked and I felt awful/anxious/deeply conflicted". Like, I can definitely see how you might wonder, or feel weird about fitting in and blurt out something, but it was very weird that there was no follow up.

I did like the parts about fitting together his old experience of living as a woman with his new experience, because when I've talked with cis people about possibly medically transitioning, I feel a lot of pressure to retcon everything I thought and felt in the past. I would like it if cis people understood that while on the one hand people are foundationally trans even if they're not living as their actual gender, that's not the same as literally "being a boy in a girl's body" or whatever....and that this is not some political gotcha, like "you're really a woman because you have not firmly rejected your childhood experiences of being treated as a girl".

I also wish that some of these trans essays for general audiences could be written not only by people who transitioned a while ago but also by people who have transitioned a while ago and are, eg, butch women or femmey men or in some other way gender non-conforming. I feel like I know a lot of these people.

Indeed, my gender ambitions, so to speak, basically involve being a small, arty man who wears a lot of scarves and has a lot of grandmotherish family heirlooms. People have occasionally said that surely I'll, like, want to put away the grandma china because manliness, and I feel strongly that I do not.
posted by Frowner at 7:34 AM on January 23 [6 favorites]


I wanted to say too, that it's not like I (nor presumably the author) didn't know about male privilege pre-transition, but I really had no idea how sexist men were amongst themselves--see the random men at bus stops trying to socialize me into this mode of interaction. Pre-transition I had disappeared into a butch invisibility to the straight male gaze that meant I had an ease in certain male-dominated spaces that gender conforming women I knew didn't, but I didn't realise the way I wasn't seeing all of straight male socialization.
posted by hoyland at 7:50 AM on January 23 [5 favorites]


Guidance on how to be a "good man" often ends up being "be more like women." And at first I read this article as following that trend: His (bad man) father is a violent, misogynist. The alternative, his (good man) father-in-law "wasn’t powerful or persuasive or ambitious or frightening or certain like most of the men in my life. He was curious, quiet and attentive. ... Frank wasn’t handy. He couldn’t fix anything. He wasn’t athletic, he never exercised and he never watched sports." But as I reread it, I realized the (stereo)typical male qualities that he admired in Frank: He was a provider: "He woke up every morning until he was 80 and put on a suit and tie and went to work." And he didn't seem to talk about himself: "We talked about finances and cars and his time as a radio operator on a transport ship in the Navy."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:13 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


@Frowner: hear hear. My gender ambitions are relatively similar, with a flourishing garden substituted for your grandmotherly heirlooms. May we get to inhabit these genders, and experience positive receptions to those best selves.
posted by wicked_sassy at 8:53 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Indeed, my gender ambitions, so to speak, basically involve being a small, arty man who wears a lot of scarves and has a lot of grandmotherish family heirlooms. People have occasionally said that surely I'll, like, want to put away the grandma china because manliness, and I feel strongly that I do not.

One of my closest friends is a trans guy who is very close to this description. I got to know him right when I started Working on my Gender and his presence in my life was immensely comforting in terms of showing me that if I did decide to medically transition, I would not have to become a whole new, toxically masculine, person. Some cis people really do have such a hard time understanding this!

I have more to say but I'm not sure how to say it, so I'll just say this: as someone who's transmasculine but not a man, and three (fucking glorious) months into a low dose of testosterone, these are exactly the kinds of essays I need to not read. So thank you for the warnings!
posted by lunasol at 2:56 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


I was kind of underwhelmed by this piece, especially since the author is not the first person writing about this experience for a broad audience at this point.

Another recent, more 201 (401?)-level piece on a similar topic was On Hating Men (And Becoming One Anyway) + some criticisms of that piece (twitter thread.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 5:14 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]


I also wish that some of these trans essays for general audiences could be written not only by people who transitioned a while ago but also by people who have transitioned a while ago and are, eg, butch women or femmey men or in some other way gender non-conforming. I feel like I know a lot of these people.

yeah but weve been around the block long enough to keep quiet sometimes maybe

i feel like trans perspectives on gender that do not center a relatively small set of accepted themes don't make it as articles. i have heard from friends who write that editors will sometimes pitch story themes to trans writers i.e. "i'm interested in seeing a trans story about trauma and the gender you're born in" and not be interested in an author's views if they contradict the theme of the story the editor is already kind of expecting.

i would like to write something at some point about both having a gender and having a heavy zen practice and these things informing one another as to the nature of self and the nature of change, but i am at a developmental point wrt both of these elements that i don't feel the need to talk about these things to a broad audience.

anyway as an official member of weird genders different bodies since high school in various ways club i love to complain about this shit on metafilter every now and then
posted by nixon's meatloaf at 4:40 PM on January 24


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