In many ways, when I first came out as trans, I was very much alone. I was attending a women’s college — and while not everyone there identified as a woman, from the people I knew or knew of, the openly trans / genderqueer / gender-variant population of my college was roughly one-half of one percent of the college’s undergrad population. I was sort of making things up as I went along.
My conceptions of masculinity (for someone roughly my age) were based a little on those people, partly on people about whom I’d read, my guy friends from high school, and messages from society and the media — largely straight (ish), on the tough side, generally emulating society’s expectations for men’s behaviors. Even among the theatre boys in high school, for every boy I knew who would admit to reading Cosmo or acknowledge that Johnny Depp is good-looking, there would be several more who wouldn’t ever do so. They were from a military academy where gender was very strictly policed.
So there I was, with all of these very butch messages of how men act — and while I knew intellectually (and could argue most vehemently) that gender should not, and does not, determine how we act, really believing that for myself was an entirely different story. Being understood as trans became a matter of sending as many “guy” signals as possible in attempts to not be viewed as a woman — and even so, it didn’t really work.
Even moreso, it was exhausting. Anyone who’s ever met me could probably tell you that I’m not a butch, manly kind of person. Moreover, I don’t want to be that kind of person. But I do want my trans identity to be acknowledged, and I couldn’t figure out how to have that happen without changing how I acted. Or rather, since I didn’t really change how I acted, it was difficult to think of myself as masculine — transmasculine or otherwise — because I didn’t meet societal standards for masculinity.
And then I moved to Chicago, and everything changed. All of a sudden, I knew transguys who got mani-pedi’s (with nail polish) and genderqueer people who wore makeup, transmasculine people who didn’t bind and really flamboyantly gay transmen. I became friends with transguys who are physically affectionate with their friends, who very obviously adore their tiny pet dogs, who have dainty mannerisms, who proudly claim “fag” as an identity, who freely admit to having been Girl Scouts or cheerleaders in their pasts (and enjoying it), who have no desire to be “butch,” who refer to themselves as “girl” (in a “girl, you are a hot mess” kind of way, not a “I enjoy being a girl” kind of way).
All of a sudden, I could just be myself and be seen however I wanted to be seen — as trans, as a guy, as something else entirely. What used to be read as girly is now read as faggy (in that empowered, reclaimed way that I think is fabulous), and I couldn’t be happier. I listen to Barbra Streisand; I adore Broadway musicals; I gush and squeal excitedly about . . . whatever I’m currently enthused about; I order fruity drinks; I flounce around the room — and people just respond with grins and “Gayer.” Even if I wore a dress, heels, makeup, and long-haired wig, they wouldn’t assume that I now identify as a woman (I couldn’t make myself do that right now, but that’s beside the point).
Masculinity has become something new to me. It no longer has to mean dude-bro frat boy-style behavior. I no longer has to mean military academy. It no longer has to mean societal expectations of manhood. I’m slowly letting go of the double standard I’d held for myself — that femmey behaviors didn’t make bio-boys lesser men, but they did make me more of a girl. I’m beginning to discover a type of masculinity that I can embrace and make my own.