Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tranifesto: The Mechanics of Masculinity and Manhood

By Matt Kailey

A reader writes: “I am struggling with what kind of man I want to be. What does it mean to ‘be a man’?”

When non-trans people ask me this question, I say, “It means not being asked this question, because you would not ask me this if I wasn’t trans.”

But when trans guys ask me this, I have a much more thoughtful response. The problem is that “being a man” means different things to different people, and that meaning is affected by culture, society, family, age, and a host of other variables.

“Having a penis” is a common response from non-trans men, but that is so simplistic (and inaccurate) that it really doesn’t warrant a lot of discussion. Suffice it to say that if a non-trans man’s penis was damaged or disintegrated – by an illness such as cancer, an injury, or an accident – he would still be a man. If one (usually small and rather fragile) appendage is all that defines a person as a man, then his manhood is shaky indeed.

Your culture, the society you live in, your family, and your generation also define manhood for you – at least with regard to expectations. But these are ideals that have been crafted based on certain norms that can actually change over time depending on what a culture, society, family, or generation needs of its men at that moment. So you have some models out there, but they only work if they feel like a good fit to you.

In my opinion, it’s far better to create your own definitions. Instead of asking “What does it mean to be a man?”, ask “What does it mean to me to be a man?” And you’re the only one who can answer that.

One of the good things (and there are actually quite a few) about being trans is that you get to create and recreate yourself. You get to decide who you are and who you will become, and you can make whatever tweaks you want to.

It can be difficult because, in many cases, you have spent so long denying who you really are. That can make it tough to uncover the real you that lies underneath the facade that you have worn all your life. But the exciting thing is peeling away the layers and finally discovering that person. And that’s when you can start piecing together the man you want to be.

There’s nothing wrong with looking at men out there who you admire and deciding that you are going to emulate them or adopt certain qualities they have that you want. There’s also nothing wrong with creating your own brand of manhood from the ground up. Early in my transition, my therapist said, “The kind of man you are is the kind of man you are.”

I think that pretty much sums it up. What it means to be a man is what it means to you – period. To say that there is a right way or a wrong way to be a man is like saying that there is a right way and a wrong way to be a person. The only “wrong” way to be anything is to be something you’re not.

Ask yourself this: “Who am I and who do I want to be?” Then work on making that person – that man – a reality. Here’s a past post that might be of interest: What Does Being a Man Mean to You?

This post originally appeared on Matt Kailey's award-winning website Tranifesto.com. Republished with permission.  

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