Friday, May 30, 2014

Is Masculinity Inherently Toxic?

A while ago, Red Durkin posted something on Facebook celebrating Laverne Cox and Janet Mock, expressing her delight at having two such fantastic people as the highest-profile trans women in the US at the moment.

One trans man's response was a jocular wish that the guys had anyone half as good to represent us. As he pointed out, who do we have? Chaz Bono? Buck Angel?

What I want to know is: why

Why are the high-profile trans women amazing people who speak out with incredible nuance and sophistication about intersectionality, while the high-profile trans men are just swimming in unchecked male privilege and douchebaggery?

Is it because they're men? Is masculinity inherently toxic?

The answer is, I think, more complicated than a simple "yes" or "no." It's a bit of both.

Obviously not all men -- not all trans men, not all cis men, not all non-binary-but-masculine-leaning people -- are privilege-denying (trans-)misogynists. I'm not literally saying that all men are terrible and all masculinity is toxic. But I do think that, as long as we are uncritically beholden to western late capitalism's current construction of maleness and masculinity, we can't help but be misogynistic, for one simple reason:

Masculinity as we know it is primarily about rejecting femininity.

Western late-capitalist masculinity is basically this, with fewer newspaper hats and more violence.
Around eighteen months ago, I was getting really sick of being taken for female. Being pre-T and in the San Francisco Bay Area, I was consistently seen as a butch dyke. In frustration, I took to Facebook to ask my friends for tips to appear more masculine. Every response -- every single one -- was about being a douchebag. I was told to take up more space, to be loud and annoying, to be rude and obnoxious. Farting and misogyny: is that what masculinity is?

I don't think it has to be, but I think we have to try extra hard if we want it not to be. I wish I could say that trans masculinity is a different creature than cis masculinity, but you don't have to spend time in the cesspool that is the FTM Facebook group to know that trans guys are exactly as insecure, juvenile, and misogynistic as cis guys. Just because your gender identity is different from your birth-assigned sex does not mean you have spent a lot of time pondering the nature of gender and trying to challenge cultural sexism (and, of course, vice versa).

One of the nicest things anyone has ever said about my gender was when a friend said I reminded her of her son, because we both manifest a kind of masculinity that is not about constant oneupmanship. Of course, then the danger is that I find myself Doing It For The Cookies, and my God that's a strong temptation. I want to be a good man, a man committed to dismantling the patriarchy, but I want to be doing this for the women and the non-binary people and the gender-non-conforming guys, not for the accolades.
This post has been on the back burner for a while, not least because I was afraid it would turn out as narcissistic cookie-hunting, but in the wake of Elliot Rodger it seemed important to finish it. There's a direct line between a masculinity predicated on rejecting femininity and violence against women (and men judged insufficiently masculine -- the gender-policing of men and boys in our society is appalling). As long as masculinity manifests as misogyny -- objectifying women, a sense of entitlement to women's bodies, controlling and policing gender expression, self-defining in opposition to femininity -- it's going to be toxic. "Misogylinity," as Jenn at Reappropriate calls it, is inextricable from white supremacy. And cis supremacy, and all the other supremacies that constitute the shit stew we call kyriarchy.

I don't really know what non-toxic masculinity is. Maybe we'll only find out once we've dismantled the toxic kind. Maybe non-toxic masculinity is the dismantling of toxic masculinity. I know it's my duty as a man.