Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Masculinity

This week I have been thinking a lot about masculinity. 

It seems a little odd to me that I would. Masculinity is a concept with a whole host of unsavory connotations and associations: violence, brutality, entitlement, war, rape culture, aggression, domestic violence, ruthlessness, misogyny, etc. "Be a man" brings to mind war stories, overbearing conservative older male relatives, sexism. 

Yet as a result of all my thinking about gender this summer, I have been forced to admit something that has been true for as long as I can remember: I want to be more masculine. 

I'm really starting to worry that I'm a bad feminist. 

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There are a lot of pieces that go into this and I'll try to go through them somewhat systematically. Here are some points I want to hit:
-connection to race
-the body
-the mind (gender identity)
-thought experiment: if I had been dmab (designated male at birth)
-role models for masculinity
-the world (gender expression)
And maybe some other errant thoughts. 

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Race

I'm East Asian. You may be familiar with the stereotypes about Asian girls: tiny cutesy submissive femme. Small hands. Giggly. Pretty handwriting and emojis. Pastels and frills. The stereotypes about Asian men are similarly emasculating, though less fetishized. 

I feel angry just thinking about it. I hate being small (more on that in the next section). I never cared much for pretty things but since becoming more aware of the stereotypes around Asian girls I've grown to actively try to reduce the decorative and frilly and femme in my life. My messy, cramped, decidedly un-aesthetic handwriting has long been a somewhat perverse point of pride for me, because it shows that I'm not the stereotypical cutesy Asian chick.

The "model minority" narrative is utter bull. Females are supposed to be pleasant. Asians are supposed to not cause trouble. The raw arrogance and entitlement of masculinity are tonics for me in countering these stereotypes. I am not here to please. 

(See this article on the misogyny of certain Asian men to see what I'm trying to avoid.)

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The Body

I mentioned that I hate being small. Let me repeat: I hate, loathe, and downright resent being small. When I was in elementary school I was tall and have never stopped thinking of myself with a tall person's mindset. Look at all my Doppelgangers: Orsolya is the shortest at 5'8". The male Doppelgangers are all at least six feet tall. 

I can do nothing about my height, but I can do something about my scrawniness. I've gotten out of the habit of exercising but if I got more muscular I would be way closer to what I want to be, so I'm making plans to work out regularly with one of my friends. I'm probably going to work on upper body strength, because as this guide to passing as male points out, on men weight is distributed higher than on women (shoulders, not hips). 

Incidentally, I am inordinately pleased that my waist:hip ratio is higher than what is considered normal for women. My body dysphoria would be way worse if I had more convexity (by which I mean I am glad I have no curves).

A friend of mine recently made a video answering questions about gender following something called the gender tag, and in it he mentioned a concept I had not come across before: gender euphoria. It is the opposite of gender dysphoria and it blew my mind. 

In terms of the body: I loved being tall. I loved being strong (I used to be able to do a lot of push ups) and fast (I used to run). I love having short hair. I am appreciative of the fact that despite having a stupidly round face, my jawline has a definite angle at the hinge. I like that my voice is alto but wish it was deeper. 

What this boils down to is: if my body was more masculine I would be a lot happier with it. 

(I really wish I was tall.)

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The Mind (Gender Identity) + Thought Experiment

In case you drew certain conclusions from the FTM guide I linked to above: I'm still agender. I don't feel like a boy or like a man, not do I want to. But I suspect that if I had to pick a gender, it would be nonbinary and masculine of center. 

Since I'm agender, though, I don't really have a good sense of what it's like to feel as though you have a gender. I thought I was a girl until recently but I always filed female under "what" I am, not "who." 

If I was dmab (designated male at birth), I think I'd still eventually realize that I'm agender. But I don't think I'd realize it any earlier than I have in this world, because I wouldn't have had to fight as much against the associated gender stereotypes. I like math and engineering and playing bass clef instruments (and yeah, I'm probably compensating for something) and don't want to spend time thinking about my clothing (but I do because as someone who looks like a girl I'm judged on my appearance) and don't wear makeup. I've gotten BS about all of these things, and if I had been a boy I would not have. There's a reason half my Doppelgangers are male.

As a side note: songs sung in high pitched voices are less likely to resonate with me. The voice I use to speak to myself in my head sounds way closer to Till Lindemann than Taylor Swift.  

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Role Models for Masculinity

I've internalized a lot of misogyny. But I'm working on getting rid of it, and I'm aware that toxic masculinity is responsible for a whole host of ills. So I'm picking my role models carefully. 

The main thing is that being masculine, for me, is a self-centered deal. You have confidence in yourself, even when it may not be backed up by the evidence (arrogance). You believe you and your ideas are worth time and space and respect. You don't put your self-worth into your appearance or how pleasing you are, but rather into how much you can accomplish. 

This doesn't tell you how to treat other people. So I will fill in my own definition: with respect and empathy and patience. 

My unfolded self is my main model, and unfortunately for my feminist cred, it's damned paternalistic. I want to have power that I can then use to protect and support those who have less than I do. Anything about nurturing them or being emotionally available? Eh. That's not my strength. 

Literary models: all listed under my animus. Patroklos. Horatio. John Watson. Men who are strong and competent and uncomplaining but also kind. In addition, Marcus Aurelius, Kingsley Shacklebolt, and King Mendanbar. Wise rulers. 

(I identify with Turnus but he's really not a good model for how to behave. I want to be Augustus but, much as I idolize him, I would never treat anyone the way he treated his children.)

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The World (Gender Expression)

What am I going to do about all this?

I haven't decided how out I want to be. I definitely don't trust my parents enough to be out at home (hell, I'm not even ready to tell them that I'm ace). I don't know if I trust enough people to be fully out at school. My closest friends know I'm not cis but they sure don't know how masculine I want to be, since I'm only figuring that out now. 

(Incidentally, in high school I gained the epithets of both knight and gentleman, and this induced gender euphoria. Maybe I can tell my closest high school friends?)

Look at the FTM guide above. I'm going to try working out so my shape is, if not masculine, at least somewhat less weak. I already dress in a fairly unisex way but I think limiting future purchases to the men's section is a good idea (except shoes, because my stupid feet are too small). The FTM guide includes specific injunctions against clothing that will "make you look like a lesbian" ("And while there's nothing wrong with being a lesbian or looking like one, butch lesbianism is a mode of being female. [sic] This is about being male. Lesbians are women who are cool with being women; that is not me") but I'm not trying to pass as male so I can ignore that. 

Clothing is the boring part. I'm worried more about behavior. Because while I would dearly love to cut out all cases where I act more feminine than I want to, I know that I read as female and that acting "like a man" might have consequences for me that it would not have for someone who reads as male. In an ideal world I wouldn't have to care.

Luckily, though, acting more masculine in social situations won't have any downsides that I can't deal with. Look at my role models for masculinity above: their masculinity is more in doing the right thing with confidence than anything else. (I shouldn't have to go to masculinity to find this expressed clearly.) No mincing about, no angsting, just clarity and action and kindness to the people who matter. 

I was deluded into thinking that I should want people to think I'm pretty. I don't want to be pretty. I don't even like pretty. And when I tried for pretty I didn't succeed, so not trying shouldn't have any fallout. (Besides, a lot of that impetus was because I thought I should be attractive. Now that I know I'm ace I can look at that, see I don't actually give a damn, and toss that goal out the window. I don't want to be attractive. What do you care what other people think?)

One goal I have is to let myself be more real with more people. Liars need good memories and I don't have enough energy to front. I've noticed that my fakeness rises with the pitch of my voice. If I sound contralto I'm probably realtalking about race. If I sound soprano I am lying to you or putting on a nice-sweet-young-lady act for someone I don't know well. Being more real == using a deeper tone of voice. This works perfectly. 

I want to dance lead more. Therefore I will. 

How much farther will I go? I don't know. I saved this photoset of self-identified "butches" with the caption "Goals". Was I referring to being comfortable exploring and expressing my masculinity? Was I referring to not looking like a joke when I don't have sleeves? Was I referring to the awesome undercuts? 

I don't know about the last couple of questions, but I do know that I've been terribly ambivalent about my masculinity for a long time. Taking pride in certain aspects while also playing along with societal expectations of femininity (to some degree). Simultaneously wanting to be "pretty" and wondering wistfully if anyone has ever mistaken me for a guy. Bearing people's comments about how small and cute I supposedly am because it's meant as a compliment (note: if you know me IRL and have ever done this, don't sweat past examples since I didn't articulate before that it bothered me. Now you're warned).

I still don't know if I'm being a good feminist or not. I get that this applies. The ugly truth is that masculinity is associated with power and I want power. But if that was all it was, I'd be more vocal about expanding the definition of power to include the traits I already have, which would be feminine. And I fully support those who are fighting the notion that feminine is weak, but I'm not feminine enough to make that my main fight. 

I don't want to be a man, but I do want to be like a good man. Masculinity is a large part of my power, my weakness, and my truth, and it's about time I owned up to that. 

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Related:
http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/09/boys-men-respond-be-a-man/

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