Category: March 2012


I changed my name by deed poll in December 2010, and was uncharacteristically efficient telling everyone (well, sort of everyone…well, ok, most people…some) that needed to know. One of the first things I did was get my driving licence changed, as it’s very useful to have photo ID with the correct name on when you’re changing other things (another Trans Top Tip!). The bank presented no problem, my GP surgery was fine, and so on. Mind you, all this time later, there are still a few things lurking in the woodwork in my old name. Partly because I was a wuss about changing some, and partly because I just didn’t get round to it.

The biggest change that I really must make is my passport. At the moment, I’m not able to leave the country, but until I can get my sh*t together and get a letter from a doctor confirming that my “change of gender” (their words)  is expected to be permanent (well, duh) and £77.50, I am destined to holiday in the UK.

I’m much better at dealing with things like this at a distance, eg: via email, or by post, if I can at all get away with it. In the case of my driving licence, all I had to do was send a copy of my deed poll, fill in a form, send them a cheque, and voilà – all sorted. However, sometimes it’s necessary to speak to someone in person. Despite my notable lack of modesty regarding my transition, I still feel uncomfortable telling complete strangers – “coming out” really, just for the sake of getting the right details on someone’s computer system. It took me ages to sort out my mobile account, because I knew I would have to take proof of my new name to the shop. I ended up doing it in London, because I figured that the staff on Oxford Street would probably be more cosmopolitan than here. Nope. You probably can imagine the sort of young guy who works in a mobile phone shop – times that by five, and imagine me explaining at the counter, then twice more, that I needed to change my name…and then watch their face when I handed over my paperwork. #bloodyembarrassing

My situation isn’t helped by the fact that I changed my name twice within 6 months. I went from being (let’s say) Spottyknickers Smith to Spottyknickers Smith-Jones when my partner and I got hitched, to Mark Smith-Jones. Of course, it would have made much more sense to get it done all at once, but life doesn’t always turn out that easy to organise. So I have two lots of name change paperwork. For a short while, my partner and I were both Mrs Smith-Jones, which was complicated enough even before my transition became official.

Just occasionally, this makes my life awkward, such as when I get a ‘phone call from someone asking for Spottyknickers Smith. Or Mrs Smith-Jones (do you mean the ACTUAL Mrs Smith-Jones, or the person who is now MR Smith-Jones??) Or just Miss Smith. At this point, I have a dilemma. I don’t want to say “yes, I’m Spottyknickers” as, well, I’m not. But I don’t know if the person calling is someone Dead Important, or just some poor soul in a call centre using an old contact list. So it can go a little like this:

“Hello, can I speak to Spottyknickers, please?”
“Aaaaaahhhhhhhm………….can I ask who’s calling?”
“It’s Curlylocks Hair Stylists. We’ve got a great new offer on at the moment”
(Audibly relieved) “Ooohhh, I’m afraid Spottyknickers hasn’t lived here for a while. Sorry!”
“Er, thanks…..goodbye”

At which point I realise I’m speaking to them on my mobile.

I haven’t yet had the guts to say “Spottyknickers? No, I’m sorry, there’s no-one of that name here”, just in case it’s information I might need, or the news that a Great-Aunt I’d never heard of has left me a squillion pounds. But really, as time goes on, the name Spottyknickers is increasingly redundant, and I guess the time will come when it can be quietly but respectfully consigned to my personal history book.

Throughout my life I have spent a lot of time trying to see both sides of arguments. Even in situations where I feel very strongly, it’s always been possible to see why the other argument has been made. In many ways this has been a blessing, in others, a curse. It is hard to be really rabid about something whilst simultaneously appreciating the opposite perspective. Not agreeing with, mind, just appreciating. Perhaps it is this that means that whilst I hold very strong political views, it is rare that I choose to bang my political drum. And all the more upsetting that when I do poke my head above the parapet over an issue, it has been seen by some as ‘unnecessary’. Trust me, if people were aware of the strength of my feelings on a lot of issues, they’d realise how much I choose to hide, out of consideration for ‘the other side of the argument’.

From the perspective of a trans person, it can be helpful to recognise and appreciate that not everyone agrees with or applauds the right of a person to determine their own gender identity. Unfortunately, if I do happen to get into a conversation about the politics of gender, some people can be quick to level the accusation of some sort of ‘gender evangelism’, or to be more crude ‘shoving it down their throats’. To bring up a side-issue, this also happens because I am a vegan. I can be happily chowing down on my chosen meal and a fellow diner will then ask ‘Well, WHY don’t you eat X?; so does that mean you are JUDGING me for eating X?; what about X ludicrous scenario involving a desert island and a tub of Philadelphia?’ Funnily enough, I’m not crazy about discussing food-production techniques at the dinner table, and am happy to say so, but you can bet that if I actually answered the questions, I’d be seen as trying to thrust my views on others. This also seems to be the case regarding my transition – people ask lots of questions (which is fine) but not always in the most appropriate setting, and not always without seeing the answers as an attack on or affront to their own gender identity. No, honestly, I’m not recruiting.

I have come across the idea on more than one occasion that choosing to hide your beliefs, feelings, etc. can be seen as a favourable attribute in a man. ‘Stiff upper lip’, ‘sucking it up’, ‘manning up’ and so on, tend to refer to putting aside what you feel and ‘getting on with it’. There have been plenty of times recently where I have had to swallow my pride and refrain from saying what I actually think or believe, because I don’t want to be seen as someone who constantly flies the flag for the Kingdom of Transgender.

As I have mentioned previously, I am very honest, and find it hard to lie. I was at a birthday ‘do’ recently – very few of the people there actually knew me, and those that did were, let’s face it, not sending out an addendum to the invitation reading “Attention, there will be a transgender man at the party. He is short, wears glasses and looks kinda masculine, but not quite. Please do not refer to him as a lesbian” Because it wasn’t all about me, nor did I want to stick out.  We were sat with some really nice people, and chatted on and off throughout the evening. At no point did I make any reference to myself, my business, my gender ‘stuff’ or anything like that. Later on, one lady asked ‘so, how long have you and your wife been together?’ I replied we’d been together 7 years, and married 18 months. At which point she looked me in the eye and said ‘Ah, is that because it’s only recently been made legal for couples like you to marry?’ Did I put on my poker face and ask ‘what sort of couple do you mean?’ Did I give her a brief but thorough run down of my transition, and how it has affected the status of my civil partnership? Did I hell. I smiled sweetly and said ‘that’s right’. On reflection, I’m pretty sure that the majority of people there saw us as a lesbian couple (but MY wasn’t the short one with glasses BUTCH?!) and it would not have done me any favours at all to pitch my Kingdom of Transgender flag in the middle of the birthday cake.

So maybe I am ‘man enough’ to take this kind of situation on the chin, but what are the immediate psychological consequences? Hard, actually. However much I realise that these things are just going to happen, that people don’t mean it, and will have gone home completely oblivious to any identity crises on my part, it hurts. Of course it hurts to be misgendered (and yes, I KNOW how easily that happens/that it’s early days yet/etc. Please see first paragraph re: The Other Side Of The Argument) but it hurts more to have to hide how much that hurts, for fear of being seen as a freak, or even worse, an attention-seeking freak.

 

Happy Birthday to meee, happy birthday tooo meee!!! Well, if the Queen can have two birthdays, so can I. Today is the Ides of March (as in “Bewaaaarrrre the…” for the classicists amongst you) and it was this time last year that I first slapped on a handful of testosterone gel.

Those of you who’ve been following this blog for the full year may recall that my period started the same day, hung around for a few days, then NEVER CAME BACK! So that’s definitely also something to celebrate. Yeah, f*ck you, Madame Oestrogen…I won!

So what has testosterone done for me lately? I am happier, more relaxed, more in control, more confident, feel sexier, want to smile far more often for no good reason, am more logical, more able to cope with stress….and many more. And for anybody who says these are down to some sort of placebo effect…it doesn’t matter. All I know is that despite a year that has been challenging, heart-breaking in some areas and full to the brim with new experiences, I have come out feeling better than I have ever felt before. That’s not an exaggeration, just the plain truth.

And the other stuff? Well, I’m more muscular, my bum is smaller, my hips and thighs are trimmer, my tummy is podgier. I have hair growing in all sorts of untoward places. Instead of the manly stubble I anticipated, I sport a fuzzy halo of babyhair on the lower half of my face. I’m sexy and I know it…

My neck has broadened, along with my jaw, my face looks…well, different. My shoulders are broader, my hair line is changing, but not receding, despite having lost lots of hair over the year from my whole head.

I routinely use gents’ toilets and changing rooms, where I’m learning just to ‘do my thing’ and not worry about other men, because they Won’t Be Looking. I get called ‘Sir’ about as often as I get called ‘Madam’ and I’m trying my best not to mind when people slip up. I get called ‘Sirmadam’ a lot, as well as ‘Sirmadamsirohsorry’. Strangers frequently call me ‘mate’ and the men who call me ‘darling’ are either trying to chat me up, or have the grace to look a bit bashful when they look at me more closely.

Am I selling this stuff to you yet? Testosterone has saved me from the life I had before, in a way that I never thought it would. After all, you cannot expect a hormone to make your life better, or solve problems that were already issues in your life. But…I am now able to see just how many problems in my life were due to the chronic difference between my body, how I related to it, and how other people treated me whilst I was inhabiting that body, and my mind and heart. Life is not perfect, nor do I expect it to be. My problems have not suddenly evaporated, but believe me, my life is a hell of a lot better than it was.

And that is why today, to celebrate my 1st birthday as ME, I got a new tattoo – four stars on my arm. Why? Because the best analogy I have ever found for what testosterone has meant for me is this: Imagine you were a car, and ran on unleaded fuel your whole life, not knowing there was anything else out there, feeling that something was missing. Then someone filled up your tank with Four Star…

It has been a year – happy bloggiversary! Well, it was on the 5th March, anyway. I’ve been posting every week, and occasionally in between when I got particularly over-excited. I have now produced 66 posts, of varying seriousness, usefulness and quality, and now I’d like to share my amazing secrets. Please don’t get me wrong, I know that there are WAY better blogs out there, dealing in the same issues that I raise, with far more panache, from a much more educated perspective, and getting a gazillion hits a week. However, I acknowledge my own brilliance, so these are my gems of wisdom…

1) Don’t try to “represent”.

One of the biggest things I have learned through speaking to, mixing with, following online and reading about people who come under the heading of FTM, is how completely different we all are. And I mean completely. I have never met anyone who shares exactly my aims, experience and beliefs regarding transition. I try really hard to make it clear that what I say in my blog relates to me, and whilst there’s a lot of stuff FTM people have in common, it’s not fair or accurate to try to speak for them.

2) Be honest.

I’m a terrible liar, and also have a core belief so deeply-seated that it’s probably become an internal organ by now, that I have to tell the truth. This has got me into trouble on numerous occasions, but I’ve learned to work with it. Society does, after all, require a certain amount of bending of the truth and omission in order to get by without dipping oneself in the sh*t, or hurting others. Anyway, this isn’t a post about telling the truth, but I did promise myself that this blog would be truthful, and that I wouldn’t censor what I said according to who I think might be reading. That said, if I’ve been really torn over something, I’ve developed a policy of “not now but maybe later”, as it may be that later on, talking about something may be easier, or more appropriate. Which leads me to…

3) Draw your boundaries, and stick to them.

I was chatting to someone in the pub a while back, and we agreed that sometimes it is possible to say more than you are actually comfortable with about your transition, particularly given the very searching questions people ask (and my personal honesty fixation). As I put it then: “Oh god, yes, I get carried away, and the next thing I know I’m talking about my clitoris”. In writing a blog about anything, but particularly personal stuff, decide right at the beginning what you WON’T be talking about. For me, it’s what’s in my pants.

Sure, there have been times where I think that others might benefit from knowing in more detail about genital changes through testosterone use, or the different paths available regarding genital surgery (or the lack of it). I do have opinions on these things, but actually, that’s not something I feel comfortable about sharing just now, and I’ve stuck to that. I’ll certainly make reference to things when appropriate, but really feel that just because this is often one of the first questions people ask about FTM transition, that does not mean it should be the first to be answered.

4) Think carefully about the words you use (general).

Talking about anything can be a linguistic minefield. As I’ve discovered over the past year, it is easy to get things wrong. ‘Transgendered’, for instance, was a word I used to use, until I learned that that’s just not a correct term, so made sure I used ‘transgender’ from then on. It’s tempting to go back and change early posts, but after all, this is the story of a transformation, in more ways than one. I feel that each post was the product of how I was feeling, and where I was on my particular journey at the time. I also used to refer to myself as transsexual (still do under certain circumstances, but that’s a whole post of its own) but now, knowing myself better, and appreciating the connotation of that word, tend to steer clear. The word ‘trans’ works well for me when referring to myself or others, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that one word can fit all. Some use ‘trans*’ to denote an umbrella term with the possibility of a number of endings according to the individual. Just be careful that language that you use and feel fine using does not have a different meaning or context for someone else. Tricky.

5) Think carefully about the words you use (naughty).

I made the mistake, being a bit of a comedian, of entitling a post “You typed in Cute Pu**ies and got WHAT?” Only with s instead of a *. You get it. Now, this post was looking at some of the referrals that search engines have sent me. It was largely a humorous post, but also challenged the reality that often people come to my blog because they want to see an FTM pen*s or something along those lines. This would have been fine, but me using the word pu**y has meant that that post has amassed the most individual hits of any of my posts, all year. Even changing the title hasn’t made a difference. I don’t think the picture of the shocked cat, apparently caught watching po*n helped…

6) Be aware of where your pictures may end up.

I like to have a picture on my posts, and they are often of me. That’s fine, as I don’t mind people knowing what I look like, or my partner for that matter. I make sure I have her permission to publish pics of the two of us. That’s all well and good, but I do know that quite a lot of ‘random’ traffic to my blog comes via G**gle Images. Occasionally I put one of the search phrases that has been identified as leading to my blog into an image search, and there are a lot of pics of me on there. How hard I laughed when I put ‘hot ftm’ into an image search, and just a few pics down was a picture of me, topless. That didn’t weird me out too much (though I nearly cracked a rib laughing at being labelled a hot ftm) as I have chosen to put these pictures ‘out there’. Just be aware, expecially if you are stealth.

7) Stay focused.

I challenged myself to write a post a week, and most of the time, that’s been pretty easy, as the nature of transition is that there’s usually something changing/bothering you/to look forward to, plus it’s a time when you are super selfish, and therefore convinced that everything you have to say is important. Which of course it is. What also helps is deciding right at the start what you will and won’t include in your blog. I don’t mean as in point 3, so much as generally. My blog is about my transition, and related topics. It’s not about the great night out I had last night, unless that had some relation to my transition, or how I feel about badger culling. I have edged into talking about my bipolar, where I feel it’s connected to my gender identity and/or medical treatment. Apart from that, I’ve tried to stay very focused.

8) Be prepared.

At the risk of sounding like a teacher (Flashbacks! Aaaaargh!) it helps to know roughly what you’re going to write about before you start. Don’t get me wrong, I mostly start with a rough topic in mind, then write off the cuff after that. I’m not a planner. But I always like to avoid that ‘oh no, I’ve got to do a blogpost and I don’t know what to talk about’ moment. I’ve made a habit of writing things down during the week, so I always have a stash of ideas. I use the ‘notes’ section on my phone, which is full of weird, wonderful and downright stupid ideas for posts.  Just looking now, there’s “You’re history, no good to me”, “More defence than Villa” and “You have the Rights to remain silent”. These may or may not ever be used, if I can even remember what I meant. Many of you will know I’m not a good sleeper (I’m terrible in bed…) and a lot of my note making is done at 3am. What makes perfect sense then tends not to the next day. Witness my weirdest note: “Elastical”. Hmm.

9) Find an audience.

I started this blog for friends and family. Quite selfishly I figured it would be a good way to avoid having to say the same thing over and over. ‘Look at my blog, here’s the address’ probably sounds a bit pompous, but does save repetition. Use the tags facility – I’m not very good at this, but tagging your post will help bring people to your blog who are interested in a particular topic. The stuff I mentioned earlier about G**gle etc can work in your favour, as those search engine people are very clever, and will pick up key words. Just make sure it’s things like ‘ftm’ and ‘transition’ rather than ‘pu**y’, as we’ve established.

Facebook is, of course, a powerful tool, and Twitter too (did anybody hear an owl?) Publish a link to your newest post. Hopefully your FB friends and Twitter followers will be interested rather than annoyed – I suppose it depends how aggressive you are! Word will get round – I’ve bumped into ex-colleagues that I haven’t spoken to for over a year who’ve said, ‘I read your blog’. That is weird, but good. Try linking to other, similar blogs, as people often want to ‘read around’ a topic.

10) Enjoy it.

Oh, I know it’s a cliché, but there’s no point pouring your heart out if it’s not fun. There’s only been a couple of times when I felt I didn’t want to do a post, and I do get a bit stressed, wanting to write something ‘good’ (well, don’t we all?) but otherwise, I love doing this. The whole process is very therapeutic, and I like to think that for a few hundred words a week I am A Writer. Of course, it would be cool if thousands of people suddenly became terribly interested in my blog (how DOES that happen?), but that’s not why I do it. I’m terrible at keeping a diary, but this way, I can see for myself how far I’ve come, and how far I still have to travel.

I have currently had 9576 hits on my blog, with 4993 of those on the home page. I never in a million years thought I’d be looking at nearly 10,000 hits in a year. I am undecided at the moment whether to continue doing a weekly blog, or perhaps try fortnightly, to keep things fresh. My transition is at a point where nothing very dramatic is happening, and as happy as I’d be to rant about gender issues every week, I feel that would skew the focus of the blog. I’m going to see how I feel when I get to 10,000 and re-assess.

My next blog will be on Thursday 15th March, to celebrate One Year On Testosterone…my Transiversary! All 1st Birthday greetings and vegan birthday cake welcome 🙂

You mention ‘masculinity’ in your blog on a number of occasions (being comfortable with it, not wanting to be on one side of a binary, embracing the masculinity you feel, masculinise my body, true masculinity, masculinity I am claiming etc.). I’m interested in how you see/construct masculinity and, in particular, the masculinity you claim.

Some time ago I asked people if they had any questions for me about transitioning. Whilst I’m happy talking about myself at length, I am interested in finding out what, if anything, people would like to know about what I’m doing. My cousin sent me a question (above) that I’ll admit completely stumped me. It’s true that I talk about masculinity a lot – more so than talking about being a man, for reasons I’ll elaborate on later. Thinking about this made me realise I’ve probably been using the word as shorthand for something else entirely. I decided to enlist the help of others on this one – people from a variety of backgrounds, some transgender, others cisgender, some genderqueer, some who do not necessarily identify with any of those labels. This post is intended as a way for me to explore the issue of masculinity through both my own thoughts, and those of others.

Being sent these contributions has been quite scary, and I’ve worried endlessly over how to do them justice. As I said to my partner recently in the wee small hours “but they say these things so much better than I do. How do I write anything that won’t seem like a waste of their effort?” I didn’t want to trivialise the issue, but there have been times when this looked like it was going to turn into an academic tome. You don’t want to read my academic writing – it’s dull and pretentious. I have proof in the shape of 15,642 words comparing literary treatments of the Faust legend from the 16th Century to the Present. Yuk. So being reluctant to turn this into a school essay, please forgive me for what may have ended up as a twisty wander through my thoughts.

One thing to which I refer occasionally is ‘masculinisation’, as in ‘masculinise my body’. This is a word commonly used to describe the physical changes that the body goes through when transitioning from female to male. Testosterone leads to masculinisation, eg: lower voice, greater muscle mass, clitoral growth, increased body hair, and so on. Chest surgery is also often put under the heading of masculinisation.

I think that over time I have come to associate the word masculinisation in the context set out above with ‘the experience of becoming more masculine’ in general, and this may be where my use of masculine starts to get a bit rocky. I am often reluctant to say “I am a man”. Partly as I don’t see gender as a binary situation (see earlier posts), partly because whilst I know I don’t identify as ‘a woman’, I’m not sure I identify as ‘a man’, and lastly, and this is me being very honest here, because I am not yet (will I ever be?) comfortable with having been born female-bodied and being able to say categorically ‘I am a man’. That’s me, not many others. A lot of transguys have no problem self-identifying as a man from very early on, because that is absolutely, categorically how they feel. Whilst I “know myself” and, as mentioned earlier, know I am absolutely not a woman, I have a lot of issues that prevent me from slipping easily into being a man.

But I digress, the short version is that discomfort with saying ‘I am a man’ has led me to adopt the word masculine to describe how I feel, as it’s a more general term, and I guess has more room for gender manoeuvre. I have always felt comfortable with masculinity as, I suppose, a general area of behaviour, social context and expectation. But it doesn’t take a lot of deconstruction to know that the word masculinity is just as contentious as ‘man’ is for me.

My own masculinity is something I’m hardly ever aware of. I never look at myself and think “I feel masculine”. However, when I think about it, I have some very obvious and immediate ideas about what constitutes masculinity in others (Leighton Williams)

One of the first questions people tend to ask me when they hear I’m transitioning is “how do you know?” How do any of us know what gender we are? From an early age, of course, we are neatly divided into girls and boys by the way we are treated and spoken to, the toys we are given, the expectations placed on us, and this continues long into adulthood:

From cradle to grave, our culture stamps its definition of what makes a man or a woman upon us. When you’re a boy it’s all blue clothes and Action Man and not crying and later, when you’re presumably a man, prodigious beer consumption, football and lighting your own farts. It’s owning a flash car, having a lucrative (or exciting, or dangerous) job and shagging a sexy woman. (Leighton Williams)

We learn very early on, from parents, TV, shops, peers, everyone and everywhere, the things that are considered acceptable for men and women to do, say, wear, and so on. With the best will in the world, these things become so ingrained that we don’t see them as socially constructed, but as ‘true’ characteristics of men and women. We are then left to define ourselves based on a set of rules rigidly set along gender lines.

I don’t like football or fighting but I love guns. I like subtitled films, flowers and long walks, I bake my own bread and like driving fast, I really don’t know if masculinity can be defined unless it is in context with stereotypical views on what it is to be male as thrust at us in the majority of medias (AW)

Any child that is different either has to face the social music, or learn to hide their differences. I don’t think anybody would want our children to grow up as homogeneous Stepford-style children, but I believe that in any society there is a limit to how much ‘rule-breaking’ you can get away with before alienation, bullying and discrimination start, at whatever age.

The fear of not meeting the expectations of being a man, a ‘man’ or A MAN ran through my childhood, particularly amongst my peers (rather than family). I was never interested in sport – well, not ‘manly’ sport, anyway – and anything oily, greasy or muddy held no interest for me. The thought of being pigeon-holed as ‘effeminate’ or ‘gay’ in the changing rooms at high school scared me (despite the fact that, by that age I knew perfectly well which team I batted for) (Richard Cooper-Knight)

I’m not suggesting that somewhere in the world there is a secret society of rule-makers dictating gender stereotypes as a means of social control, but there doesn’t need to be – we have become self regulating, penalising those who step outside of what is considered normal and acceptable. It is important to us, in order to avoid dissent, that certain people behave in a certain way.

Masculinity to me is a concept that society has a great deal of investment in defining-what it IS and what it IS NOT, who is allowed to embody values that are signified as masculine and who is not. When I was perceived as a woman I was constantly told that I was too masculine-meaning I took up space and behaved in ways that only men were permitted. Now that I am perceived as a man I have to watch myself so that I don’t take up space that belongs to people who are not granted the same amount of license as I am, someone perceived to be a white, middle aged man. I perceive myself as a ‘herm’ and someone who has zero investment in propping up patriarchal dominant masculinity (Del LaGrace Volcano)

So society has a stake in reinforcing particular behaviours.

But what of physical characteristics? Whilst socially constructed differences can be seen as such if you pick them apart enough, men and women are certainly physically different, though even these things can come into question to a degree.

To me masculinity is not much to do with gender. As you can get masculine women and feminine men (later category I fall under). For me, when I think of masculinity I tend to think of the below although obviously not everyone who possesses any of these traits is necessarily masculine – it’s more having lots of the traits combined which gives that impression I think:

Deep voice, confidence, assertive manner, little interest in clothes, make-up, etc. Interest in stereotypically ‘male’ things, like maybe sport, work, out-doorsy things. Being one of the lads or enjoying the company of other masculine men, being direct. Physically, I would say having masculine features rather than pretty or delicate features, having a muscular physique possibly, facial hair, large prominent features like brow and nose and chin (Anon)

It’s certainly possible to put men and women into loose physical groups, based on perceived differences, and as someone using testosterone therapy in order to achieve a more stereotypically male body, I’m as guilty as the next person. The thing is, a lot of statements about men/women start along the lines of “All X have this…”, then graduate to “All X except those have this…”, then “Many X have this, but a lot have that”, “X can have this or that…” and so it goes. And let’s not forget how much physical appearance and perceived appropriateness of behaviour are used to categorise and judge, and pull rank.

I think that there can be a tendency generally…to construct a ‘true’ masculinity as physically strong, self-assured, often more aggressive with higher sexual drive – those that possess these features seen as being more masculine (and biological determinism / testosterone claims almost let them off the hook when they behave like utter wankers in the name of maledom). Indeed, for some, such behaviour becomes a rite of passage. All too often the primarily social construct of masculinity is conflated with sex and physical appearance (Anon)

But what about genitalia? Reproductive paraphernalia? Ask a lot of people how they know if they’re a man or a woman and they’ll probably refer to their bits. The thing is that as with my “All X have this…” point above, you really cannot say “All men have a penis” any more than you can suggest “Women are women because they have wombs”. Many men do not have a penis, and I’m not just referring to the John Bobbitts of the world. And even if I were, he didn’t suddenly become ‘not a man’ any more than a woman ceases to be a woman after a hysterectomy. Many people have different biological characteristics from the gender with which they identify, but that doesn’t make them ‘less of…’ or ‘not a…’ so whilst genitalia in particular may be some indication of gender, that’s not the whole story. As Stephen Whittle explained to his oldest child.

When the twins were about three months old, we were both feeding them at the living-room table, and Eleanor turned round and said, “Mum, Dad, how do you know Lizzie and Pippa are girls?” And Sarah and I just looked at each other and went, “Mm”, and I answered, “Well, we don’t actually know whether they are girls. What we do, just like every other family does, we make an approximate guess. We know that most people born with fannies will grow up to be girls, and most people born with willies will grow up to be boys. So we start off somewhere.(p90)

Self, W. and Gamble, D. Perfidious Man Viking, 2000 

We all have to start off somewhere as children, and whilst I’m no psychologist, it’s fair to say that our experiences of our parents go a long way to help us understand ourselves, and choose (whether consciously or subconsciously) the traits we wish to emulate.

Seriously, I would have to say that masculinity to me is working hard to provide for the people you love, putting your own feelings and reactions aside for the sake of consoling those around you in a time of crisis (not to reject your own feelings but to deal with them at a later time when the situation has been handled), providing a feeling of security and protection to those close to you and being a source of reliable practical knowledge and good humour to those around you. I hasten to add that my attributing those things to masculinity does not suggest they are absent in femininity. Also, I recognise that those are all things I have come to consider masculine purely because they offer a very accurate description of my father and my father has always been the biggest influence on my idea of masculinity (EH)

We learn young. Watching kids TV a couple of days ago (yes, for pleasure, not research!) it was interesting to see how behaviours are perpetuated and somehow made desirable to the point where absence of these behaviours is seen as strange or unusual. To summarise, group of female characters are in tree house having tea party, won’t let in boy characters because ‘they will be noisy’. Boy characters build castle, fight and shout abuse at girls. One girl wants to go play with the boys, but is shouted down and shunned by the other girls until she goes back into the tree-house. Boys have skull and cross bones flag, so girls make themselves a flag…pink and flowery. The girls eventually get bored and want to go into the castle. Why? Because then they can be fairy princesses in the castle. None of this stuff is wrong, but it is drawn very much along the lines of what constitutes acceptable behaviour for a girl/boy.

When it is implied that masculine behaviour ‘must be’ a certain way, the pressure to conform for those who don’t toe the stereotype (and really, who does?) is huge.

Welcome to the world of different body dysmorphia and body fascism, lower life expectancy, reduced likelihood of health-seeking behaviour, pretending to like football in order to fit in, higher suicide rates and, oh yes, the eternal elbow-scramble at bars while calling one another ‘mate’ (Anon)

As a transman, do I have any advantage in *not* having been expected from an early age to ‘man up’? Arguably, yes, in some ways. Any urge to ‘fit in’ largely amounts to the desire/need for social acceptance from the point of view of a grown-up. However, 39 years of socialisation as a woman leads to some very odd juxtaposition of needs and behaviours. That said, I feel I am in an interesting position with regards to being able to analyse my own reactions to the expectations and acceptance of others.

So much of my contemplations on masculinity have been focused around how to divide out what is innate to being male and what is socially learned. I think that trans people have a unique experience to be able to speak to this divide since we were not socialized as the gender we identify with. There is a lot of my own feelings of being masculine that have been with me my whole life, but now that I am finally being socially accepted and socialized as a man, there are other aspects of my masculinity that have been influenced or shaped by that social recognition (abeardedgnome)

So this masculinity of mine, the more I consider it, is a house of cards. If you try and base any definition of masculinity on physical characteristics, genitalia or behaviour, there will almost always be a hefty ‘yes, but…’ involved. The more tentative these ‘traditional’ assertions become, the more it becomes clear that what is considered to be masculinity is largely a social construct. Which poses problems for my next argument. Masculinity as an absence of femininity.

I guess masculinity to me means un-feminine. It’s unfortunate, but most of the time I define things as what they are not (HK)

This ‘absence of’ has been a useful mental position for me going into and experiencing transition. Having experienced years of dysphoria in a female body, despising the sexual characteristics that oestrogen had gifted me, my main aim in embarking on this course was to free myself from the femininity I had grown up with and been socialised into. But then, if we’re unable to pin masculinity down as a solid concept, the same must be true of femininity. Dammit.

Traditionally and historically treatment of trans people has been based very much on the understanding that they identify very strongly as ‘the opposite sex’ (sic) and this is certainly what many of us have had to tell doctors in order to access appropriate treatment. Whilst ‘we as a society’ often have very fixed ideas about gender, ingrained practically from birth, I believe that as individuals it is rare to see anyone that actually embodies the stereotypical view of ‘femininity’ or ‘masculinity’, regardless of gender identity or sexuality. It seems all the more ludicrous, therefore, that we should ever have to define ourselves so rigidly to others.

What does masculinity mean to me? It’s my animal side, my hunter, my dispassionate observer. It lives side by side with my femininity of course. A cross dresser I spoke to recently told me his ‘girl’ side allowed him to be a better man, and I think that’s the trick, so keep both sides in balance, though that balance is different for us all. (Vince Laws)

I see the masculine/feminine qualities as extremes that no one should aspire to embody as much as strike a balance between…The trick is to transcend the stereotypes and find the worth in containing an equal balance of both. (Leighton Williams)

I’ve had it suggested to me that if we could raise all children completely without gender, no social expectations based on perceived gender, no associations of behaviour, emotional response etc., that there would be no transgender people. I guess the argument is that what “we” are seeking is to get away from the gendered role we have been handed at birth. A small part of me can see the logic there, but speaking personally, despite everything I’ve said here, there is more to gender identity than we can define.

I don’t think I can understand masculinity in isolation, but only as compared to femininity. It’s a bit like temperature – you can’t really say what is “hot”, without comparing it to what is “cold”. I think these clichés apply: masculinity is hard where femininity is soft; it’s penetrating where femininity is embracing; it can be analytical compared to emotional etc. But these are just terms that describe the opposite ends of a sliding scale of characteristics, of which most people seem to have a fascinating, ever-changing combination. And I think an individual’s behaviour fluctuates around a unique point on the scale, more often gravitating towards one end, which feels like “home”. I feel out of place when people try and pin me to the feminine side. I instinctively “know” my home is toward the masculine. I use the word “instinctively” because this “knowing” can’t easily be intellectualised. My sense of my own masculinity originates at some deeper, more basic level of my being, It’s not a creation of my conscious intellect (jmj)

I like this idea that we ‘instinctively know’ where we are at in terms of gender. Looking at this issue of how I define ‘masculinity’ serves to make me realise that it is a word I have chosen to describe a set of quite personal, and probably very ill-defined feelings. Unfortunately it comes with a number of connotations that reflect society’s obsession with pinning everybody down. However, whilst I can be a bit of a doom-monger when it comes to the woes of this world in which we live, I do believe that increasingly there are a lot of people who are willing to see the individual, rather than the category.

I am a gay man, though it is never something I consider any more important a part of my identity than that I’m an artist and have a dog…it’s never the first thing I’d ever mention or consider primarily important when introducing myself. As such, I generally view others in similar ways (RK)

A lot of time and mental and emotional space is spent as a transgender person trying to work out ‘who you are’, when actually I’d say that most of us KNOW who we are already, but in stepping out of an accepted social role, there is a lot of pressure (and incentive, in terms of acceptance) in stepping back into another one.

Any attempt to define what [male and female] ‘means’ seems more and more to me like a clichéd construct, burdened with what society apparently expects of those ‘roles’. We’re all human beings, that’s the key thing and we are what we are. There’s a lot of unnecessary misery in the trans community caused by the perceived pressure to ‘conform to the (gender) norm’ (ZG)

In all honesty, I think I have done more of a job of deconstructing what I mean by masculinity, rather than explaining how I construct it as a concept. And I’ve not even mentioned hegemony once. I think the main issue that I’ve had here is that whilst fully aware of the connotations of using the word masculinity, and the flimsy nature of the assumptions on which it is most often based, it has been the easiest word to use, and consequently I have been doing a bit of connotational cherry-picking to justify my choice.

I have spent a long time trying to write a pithy ending to this, neatly summing up my feelings without resorting to using language laden with a meaning and context that instantly negates what I am trying to say. I guess if I saw things in black and white, it would be easier to justify using particular language or ideas to describe my feelings, but all I really have to go on are a gut-feeling and a generalised sense that being and becoming different from what I was is right for me. To finish with a final quote:

I am always very troubled by these types of questions. I’m forced to express my deep, un-examined beliefs, whilst also knowing full well that they are the product of my experiences rather than being any kind of objective account of things (EH)

Thank you to everyone who contributed to this post.

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For further reflections on this subject by a friend, please take the time to look at Homebase and Handcream.