I was going to wait on this until I had heard back from Jason, but here is the piece I submitted to FTM Magazine's online publication. We were asked to describe what masculinity means to us:
"It’s three in the morning, and I just got back from the gym. Like so many men my age, I couldn’t help but snap a few selfies in the sauna after a particularly intense and productive workout. I’d been sick for two weeks prior to this evening, so I didn’t expect to feel so proud of those pictures. But then I saw them, and I became enveloped in emotions I had almost forgotten I could experience. Those pictures took me back to the day I got my first binder, when I stood looking in the mirror with tears in my eyes, as it all came together in my head: “This is how it’s supposed to be.” I saw my chest in a new light. I had finally come to see the physical progress to which I am so often blind—a phenomenon I’m told is experienced by numerous trans men. Is this what masculinity feels like? Yes…and no.
I feel lucky to live in an age where the queer community has come to embrace the notion that gender—and, by extension, masculinity—is limitless. Most of us, however, grew up with a different definition of masculinity. Hegemonic masculinity, which refers to the social construct that seeks to maintain men’s dominant position by reinforcing the idea that women and “non-masculine” men are inferior, has shaped our perceptions of manhood since our first breaths. As a young child, I rejected femininity wholeheartedly, seeking to distance myself from women and girls as much as possible. I prided myself on my traditionally masculine attributes: my strength, my appearance, my manner of speech, and my distaste for pink, among others. Transition was my gateway to freedom of gender expression. Although I did spend some of my early days in transition trying to prove my masculinity, the simple switch of pronouns was enough of a spark to allow me to embrace some of my more feminine attributes. Even before starting testosterone, I suddenly found myself attracted to the color pink, and it finally felt okay to express myself in “non-masculine” ways and media.
Today, I define my masculinity as limitless. I am masculine. Therefore, anything that comes from me is by extension masculine, whether I am flexing shirtless in the gym or dancing in a corset and four-inch heels. I’m constantly re-evaluating my gender in the context of the world around me, and I’ve even come to question this definition, which essentially states that gender labels are arbitrary and meaningless. If we lived in a social vacuum, perhaps that would be sufficient. However, some parts of me feel that this argument still seeks to reject the feminine pieces of my soul. Learning to be okay with being labeled feminine has been a huge step forward for me. It is an aspect of the gender revolution that should be the key focus of men who wish to support the movement: You cannot fight for true equality if you continue to distance yourself from women and the feminine based on arbitrary standards. Perhaps then “limitless” for me means that I am masculine, I am feminine, I am all that lies between and outside of these terms, and I am so much more than any descriptor of my gender can ever convey.
I see so many young trans men fighting for their place in this world, pursuing the ideals of hegemonic masculinity in order to prove their manhood. I want you to know that gender is not a mathematical concept whereby increases in your femininity detract from your masculinity. Femininity is not the opposite of masculinity. When I think of terms typically
associated with masculinity such as strength, courage, and confidence, I cannot envision a feminine person alive today—particularly when thinking of trans women—who do not possess these attributes in one way or another. The same is true when I think of traditionally feminine attributes or descriptors (e.g., soft, vulnerable, emotional). These parts exist in every masculine individual, and a healthy outlook on life involves acknowledging and channeling these aspects, and using them to improve upon yourself.
At some point during transition, you realize that regardless of how much work it may have taken, your true identity is the one that feels effortless—the one that prompts the least internal resistance and frees you from those feelings of fear and inadequacy. As the high of beginning your transition wears off, you will settle into yourself and realize that your identity may have evolved since the beginning. Once I transitioned, I felt less and less compelled to adhere to the standards of hegemonic masculinity. I no longer felt like I had to play catch-up by overcompensating for my femininity. My masculinity is now inseparable from my femininity, which I have embraced wholeheartedly. It is a lightness unlike any other to know that your soul is no longer divided."