The Seductiveness of Masculinity

Prometheus and the Eagle

Prometheus and the Eagle

When I identified as a butch lesbian I envied other butches who were more masculine appearing than I am. The butches who were taller, slimmer, squarer, and more muscular. The butches who were mistaken for teenage boys, who had no curves, and looked natural in black boots and motorcycle jackets. I knew I couldn’t pull it off, I knew that if i tried I would look like a pear-shaped dorky wanna-be. Better to look like a butch nerd.

Before the transmasculine support group at The Center starts, while we are siting around in a circle, I compare myself against everyone else. I’m trying to suss out who reads as female, as transitioning, or as male. I pay attention to clothing, facial shape, voice, and beard growth. I know I am ranking all of us, with female at the bottom and male at the top, with pre-T lower than already on T. I’m hoping that I’m in the middle. 

I’m envious of the trans men with square jaws and beards. I’m envious when someone I know starts testosterone and moves past me on the transition line. I’m ashamed to admit that I place a value on how masculine appearing they are. I know this is misogynist, but it happens. I feel left behind. Fortunately, once we start talking I start listening and I stop looking.

I like that the group is inclusive, and that there are other members who are not following the standard transition narrative, but I am also seduced by the masculine binary (regardless of the sexual orientation). This is because I use their masculinity, and my proximity to it, to bolster my sense of my own masculinity. Once, our group leader asked us to separate into two groups: one for trans men and one for non-binary (I forget what the discussion topic was) and it pissed me off. It felt like elementary school, with the teachers separating the girls off from the boys in the playground. I wanted to go with the boys. I didn’t want to be excluded for being non-binary.

I don’t understand why I need to prop up my masculinity. If I could wave a magic wand I’d probably choose to stay how I am, use gender neutral pronouns, and never be (mis)gendered as female again. Maybe I’d lower my voice, and square my chin a little. I’d live in the world as a validated non-binary person with a masculine gender expression.

Rationally, I believe that trans is trans. That genderqueer, non-binary, transgender, trans man, and FTM, are different, but equally valid identities. One is not purer or better than the other. My dinosaur brain disagrees. It looks at masculinity like a standardized exam; at a minimum you need a passing grade, and the closer you are to 100%, whatever that means, the better. My dinosaur brain thinks I’m failing and that non-binary is not the real thing.

Insecurity, i.e. feeling that I’m not “trans enough”, makes me want to distance myself from everything female and/or feminine. It makes me question everything I’m doing and everything I’m wearing. I need to accept that while non-binary is not the farthest point away from cisgender female on the imaginary gender spectrum, it is my point. Transmasculinity is not compulsory masculinity and it doesn’t have to mimic identifiable forms of conventional masculinity. I’m not sure what non-binary masculinity looks like, but I think it looks a little like me.

Notes: So what is this masculinity that I keep writing about? Is it an inner sense of self, my gender expression, or just a set of patriarchal privileges that I want to experience? Amos Mac’s photo essay Masculinity Means sheds some light on it. Warning that the subjects are young, hip, and from New York.

18 thoughts on “The Seductiveness of Masculinity

  1. Lesboi

    You are what non binary masculinity looks like. I truly think that you have hit the mark you’re shooting for. I totally get the allure of trying to be more masculine or look more masculine but then you risk crossing over your non binary line. Everyone’s line is in a different place and I think you’re doing a great job of staying where you feel fits you best. You just have to keep doing you and stay true to that. Only you can define where the line is for yourself.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks Shawn – I am doing what feels most comfortable, and I mostly feel good about it – except that it seems like no one outside the Trans community has a clue as to what it is. And there is a subtle (?) assumption that people who are trans should be trying to pass – it is a big Catch 22 that I don’t want to get caught up in but can’t quite escape.
      I have to keep reminding myself that I’m lightyears away from where I was 4 years ago – even if I’m still getting Ma’am’d on a regular basis.

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      1. Lesboi

        Ugh, yeah getting ma’amed is like a slap in the face, I know. The general population does not yet understand anything beyond the binary. They get trans as long as it’s a binary transition. Maybe you could make it your mission to educate them on non binary identities and pronouns. I can see that being a frustrating and tedious job though. I just don’t think you should take hormones just to try to fit into something that doesn’t fit you. If you want to lower your voice some you could take it for a short term because that’s a pretty early change for most people and it does not reverse when you stop. I would do a full dose for about three months and stop but that’s just a suggestion if/when you decide to try it. Either way, you’re awesome as you are. You’re more awesome than you know actually. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. butchcountry67

    pretty much what Lesboi said , just be true to you, don’t compare yourself to others my friend, that just leads to a lot of self doubt , just be you, be the best you that you can be and so what if you don’t look like this or that … you look like you ….. how boring would it be if everyone was the same? you are unique , you are you and that gets mad props and respect in my books 🙂

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      It is next to impossible not to compare – but I may be able to stop judging myself or others based on their visible masculinity.
      Mostly, I want that magic wand to make people stop referring to me as female and to accept me as trans.

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      1. butchcountry67

        understandable, i think as time goes on and you become more comfortable and confident in you, your energy will shift and you will find that most will start calling you dude, man, sir etc, or they may very well ask you directly how you wish to be addressed , just prepare yourself for that and think of your answer, once you say it , it is almost impossible to take it back and change it.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. nath1809jones

    Your transition is your own, you can be whoever you want to be. I know the pressure, people think because you’re on the transgender spectrum that you have to be in the gym 6 days a week, trying to grow and beard etc. Ignore the external pressures, be you, seems to me like you’re doing great at being you already ☺

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks Nathan. I do think that there is a stereotype of the young, slim, muscled, bearded, trans man – which is just not who I am – most of the guys in the support groups are under 30. Being middle aged doesn’t help matters either. When I look at men my age it is a little better, because I’m actually in better shape than most cis-guys (no beer gut).

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  4. Bunnies!!!!

    How old are the people in your group? It’s bad news to look at someone in their 20’s or 30’s and think you don’t measure up. It’s just a waste of energy.

    I’ve lost almost 60 pounds since December, but no matter what, I’m not going to look like I’m 25 years old. I’m still an old lady. And that’s ok. 🙂 Just like whatever you look like, or how you present, if Gracie is ok with it, you should be as well.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      The group ranges from 18 to 60; mostly under 30 but with a bunch between 30 and 40 and two or three over 50.
      I’m not trying to compete with the youngsters in terms of attractiveness or handsomeness – more in terms of how they carry themselves and their gender expression (not everyone starts their transition from a butch vantage point – some come in quite feminine looking due to overcompensation or suppression).
      60 pounds!!! Hope you’ve bought some new jeans and tie-dye, and that your knees appreciate that you did it for them.

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      1. Bunnies!!!!

        I think the younger ones still must have it easier. They didn’t have to hide what they are for as long, if at all. So yeah, they would carry themselves in a totally different way I guess.

        $7 shorts from Amazon and whatever tech shirts they have at my local thiftshop. Companies in the Boston area apparently aren’t complete unless they have a T-shirt, so I have quite a collection at this point. Here’s my current favorite: http://i.imgur.com/5xjbxek.jpg
        I figure when I hit my goal weight maybe I’ll do some grownup shopping, but till then, nah.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. evergreen

    Hey, I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and hadn’t commented before, but this post really spoke to me. I do the exact same thing, where I find myself ranking people according to masculinity even though I know rationally that it’s this toxic system society has pushed on me. It makes me feel bad about myself (I’ve been on t for over a year, but I’m still visibly in the “transitioning” category) AND I feel bad for ranking other people like this, but however much I try to rationalize it away I can’t seem to escape it.

    It’s good to know that I’m not the only one struggling with this.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks for finally commenting! I’m glad that you could relate to the post, because this is not something most of us talk about because it is an appalling thing to do, particularly for someone who is critical of heteronormative gender.
      But, the more we talk about it and the more we validate each other’s individual choices of gender expression whether they fit into the stereotypical trans narrative or a DIY narrative then eventually we may be able to stop and appreciate ourselves and others. You are right that it is a struggle.
      It helps for me to remind myself that I’m actually most critical of myself, and when I feel judgemental about someone else’s gender it is almost always something that I am uncomfortable with or insecure about in my own identity.

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  6. anexactinglife

    Well, as a cis person “looking in” from the outside, most of us probably just read people with more visible feminine attributes as female, and more visible masculine attributes as male, rather than thinking of those individuals as “passing.” I do know that people with visible feminine qualities may not wish to be perceived or known as female, and people with visible masculine qualities may not wish to be perceived or known as male, but that can only be revealed through conversation and information. I am at the point where I don’t gender anybody I don’t know personally! I actually have the greatest respect for people who are transitioning or non-binary because IMHO it is the hardest way to “be” in the world and takes the most integrity and courage on a daily basis.

    Liked by 2 people

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I think that not assuming someone’s gender identity is a great strategy and I wish more people would adopt it. How I take my coffee (milk no sugar) has no bearing on my gender!
      I think the best rule is that if you don’t know how someone identifies, don’t make assumptions based either on what they are wearing or what they look like. And if you can’t figure it out, it doesn’t matter, don’t guess and stick to gender neutral.

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  7. genderneutral

    I relate a lot to what Dhana said in the attached blog: It doesn’t mean anything to me. Except for that it’s a comfortable outward expression and a natural part of who I am. – this feels like where I am landing. And it feels so complicated sometimes. The whole pronoun thing and wanting to keep it non-binary and yet i look at the outward way I am manifesting these days, and I see male. I am more than comfortable with this. I like it, it feels as it should have always been. This then makes me wonder why I am so attached to they them their pronouns. And ultimately it is about the breakdown of physical characteristics vs social behavioral expectations. Physically I identify as male, social behavioral gender norms I find bogus and here I feel non-binary having aspects of both. But presentation of appearance I definitely experience myself as male. I wonder sometimes if I should just make everyone’s life easier and accept male pronouns.

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  8. Jamie Ray Post author

    I think it is good to divide it into people I know and see on a regular basis, and strangers. The people I know – they pretty much get it. I don’t often have the energy to correct strangers, and so I do it on an “as I feel like it” basis. Particularly if I just got “Ma’am’d”

    There are a lot of masculinities out there (wardrobe, body shape, internal sense of being, socialization, legal, pronoun/honorifics, etc.) and everyone expects them to match or line up on one axis or the other. That if you transition you are trying to become as close to cisgender as possible. There is still a lot of work to be done for people to question the “trapped in the wrong body” narrative. Just doesn’t work for us.

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  9. Transmanwithcooties

    This really hit me. I’m a binary trans man, I pass, am masculine, have had top surgery, etc. But I feel less male because of my hated genitalia and bottom dysphoria. Why can’t I ‘man up’ and deal with being stone forever instead of being sad for what I don’t have? And then I feel alone for being bi and liking feminine men in addition to femmes of other genders when so many trans men only date cis women…

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