“I’m from the inside not the outside. That’s where I come from. The inside.”
This is what my father said to me as we talked about him approaching 70 and me gliding through my 30s. My father has always operated with a level of introspection that I admired. It’s no wonder he eased into accepting me and loving me as a son. I think of my masculinity as a place that comes from within. It’s tethered to the spirit and is not authenticated by social cues or undone by them. I’ve had to dig deep. In the silence of introspection and frustration I pulled from inside, my authentic self, regardless of how scary and complicated it would be. This intention is an on-going process of becoming the man of my own dreams. A man by my design.
There are different ways to arrive at manhood. No one way is better than the other, and no one owns the patent on how masculinity shows up in the world and who it’s embodied by. The more I learned about manhood the more I realize that I’d been lied to. The examples of systemic masculinity I’d seen were wrought with unaccountability and fear. I didn’t become a man to become a part of the dysfunction. I’m not trying to make sexist or patriarchal systems work for me. I want to disrupt them. I’ve worked hard for my manhood and masculinity and I refuse to allow it to be seeped in toxic rigidity that limits my humanity or judges my expression.
Being queer allows me to curate my manhood in a way that is altogether different and deliberate. Yet, I found myself navigating the messy fraternal order of heterosexual masculinity. It was fueled with social anxieties obsessed with protecting masculinity at all costs from the seemingly thousands of symbols, gestures or activities that could undo it. From something as innocuous as wearing pink, to having emotional depth and being accountable for the space we take up in the world. Becoming a man has been scary, confusing and contrary. It hasn’t swelled me with pride in manhood. Being born into certain entitlements comes with absurd restrictions and expectations that most guys can’t meet. In turn, some evolve into brutish and scared caricatures of themselves. Or never really mature at all, becoming grown-up boys who never stopped snapping girls’ bras, just shifting to slut shaming, name calling and other aggressions. Needless to say, there was a point on this journey where I was sorely disappointed. It felt as if there was a blank check written for being a man but you had to be of one dimension to cash it. It was crushing.
Coming into manhood by way of deliberate legal, medical, and social transitions as opposed to birth right gives space for a lot of questions. Too often those questions stop at the medical processes and gender marker and name changes, not giving enough time and attention to what it means to be a man in the world. And I don’t mean in the context that being a man is so complicated or noble that it needs so much deliberation, but because it has so much to account for. To be seen as man in the world comes with enormous privilege and subsequently enormous responsibility. Everyday I’m challenged with how to meet that responsibility and create space for other people. It’s about being a model of possibility for all those who embody masculinity in some way. I want to challenge, aggravate, and change the way we talk about men and masculinity. The time is now for us to dig deeper and be better.
Being transgender is to embody critical engagement and has broadened my horizon on what masculinity should look and feel like. It’s the tint to my personhood. It’s the vehicle in which I move through the world. My experience across the gender spectrum has had a profound influence on my relationship to my masculinity. I love my black masculinity. I love it as an autonomous place. It isn’t built on entitlement and subjugation. If liberation is to come by any means necessary, than my liberation has come through my trans experience, which has been about resistance, perseverance, and transcendence. I believe that approaching life deliberately, and with intention, is freedom. A freedom from culture designed for minimal interaction and maximum consumption of ideas, ideologies, pathologies, or other people’s truths and definitions. My transgender journey is about living honestly, curiously, and without fear. This isn’t just manhood with intention. It’s about becoming my most ideal self.
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