Becoming Visible

Earlier this month, for International Women’s Day, a friend on Facebook was making frustrated noises about an acquaintance of his who had whipped out the tiresome “BUT WHEN IS INTERNATIONAL MEN’S DAY” apparent-gotcha (it’s November the 19th, when these men mysteriously go quiet about male suicide levels, male rape victims, male domestic abuse survivors, the role of toxic masculinity in capitalism, or junk like that. Half of them don’t even use it as an opportunity to talk about cis-centric but well-meant topics like prostate/testicular cancer, for God’s sake); I tried to cheer him up by pointing out how angry the guy will be when he discovers greedy, greedy trans people have TWO international days! TWO! One to remind cis people we exist, and one to remind cis people that THEY KEEP FUCKING MURDERING US.

[Trans Day of Remembrance is also in November. Fairly close to International Men’s Day, in fact. Last year rather cruelly gifted me with someone to add to the list for the Day of Remembrance; I owe him a lot, and one of the best things I can think of to do is to pass on his assurances to others like him and like me].

It’s not all murder and toilets and gate-keeping insurance-providers and places where your actual existence as a human being is illegal, although those things do rather play on the mind (nothing so refreshing as needing a piss and having to wonder if you’re about to die from it in the literal, rather than figurative sense). It’s not even all continual rejection from people who are Absolutely Fucking Obsessed With Genitals and sudden, self-made (and wrong) experts on chromosomes.

[at point of taking, that’s 13 months on testosterone & 5 months after surgery]

I mean, my life has 100% improved since I stopped pretending I was ever going to Female Correctly. Side-effects have included health! Fitness! Confidence! Abandoning the need to check with other people whether I was allowed to like things, think things, believe things, or walk or talk a certain way! No longer shrivelling up like a dried plum in company! Finally making eye-contact! Enjoying being alive! Not constantly fixating on death.

Years ago I used to write regular blog entries acknowledging Self-Harm Awareness Day (March 1st), because, well, I did a lot of it. Continuously, from about 11 years old, until my early thirties, I hacked up parts of my body with a variety of sharp implements. There are scars everywhere as a result, from calves to face. Some people find them disturbing; some of them are very prominent.

There are lot of people I’d like to see change their position; there’s no arguing with some of them (committed TERFs who want to shout about “mutilating your female body” or whatever their bio-essentialist nonsense is this week; the creepy few of the cis lesbian world who feel entitled to any body born with a vagina but somehow angrily rebel against lesbian trans women who’ve had vaginoplasty; extremely paranoid cis gay men who are unnecessarily fixated on dick; homophobic & transphobic straight cis women convinced they’re being “lied to” because a trans man genders himself correctly; The Daily Fucking Mail, etc), but to the salvageable…

Cis men, straight or otherwise: please, if you think your masculinity isn’t tied to your noodle and nobbles (and it shouldn’t be, or you’ll have about forty crises all at once if you get fucking testicular cancer or the like, as a mate of mine did at 16), try to consider your feelings towards trans men. If there are cis men you admire for their masculinity or their achievements & trans men have managed the same kind of shit, your feeling should be the same. And yes while transitioning is hard for us it… actually needn’t be. There should be no fear involved, no terrifying social and bodily risk; so “these dudes are really brave” shouldn’t be the basis of your admiration, either. Jumping out of a burning building into shark-infested waters isn’t brave: we do it to save our lives. Making sure we don’t land in the fucking shark-infested water, to labour the metaphor, would be the sane and upstanding thing to do. Make that courage unnecessary by making it clear you already view trans men as men and admire at least some of us for the same goddamn reasons you admire any other men.

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The Collapsing Upper Lip: Loving The Unlovable Early 20th Century Masculinity

If one was so inclined (which I am) it would be easy enough to argue that Western Masculinity has been undergoing a dramatic change in nature over the last century, far more rigorous and bewildering than that of Industrialisation and the rise of the merchantile classes spreading the notions of masculine power and responsibility through more individuals. Improvements in communication, I think, may have a lot to do with it: women more able to speak to each other without interruption, across countries and continents, are more able to organise and achieve what their forebears were already battling for.
It would be hard to pinpoint the exact moment when the notion of the All Powerful Upper Class White Empire Male began to decline, because it hasn’t been an abrupt descent, but a series of small jerks and crunches. Doubtless each of the World Wars have played a part in crushing class barriers and gender inequalities. For Britain, the dissolution of the Empire brought more and more knocks to the notion of Natural Leader role we’d collectively brainwashed ourselves into thinking we deserved.
The imminent crash of Western Masculinity & Power, and the conflict between a fully-bought subscription to the idea of Masculine Power & Responsibility/The Empire and the necessary sense of Otherness derived from being homosexual (or merely not-heterosexual) is, I think, a potent source of fascination for me and at least partially at root in my interest in figures like T. E. Lawrence and Siegfried Sassoon.
T. E. Lawrence as a cadet at Newport Beach, near Falmouth, Henry Scott Tuke, 1921-22, Clouds Hill (National Trust), Dorset
Siegfried Sassoon in a rare smiling shot.
There is none of the sense of righteous struggle that there is in more visibly maligned demographics of the time: while there is the sense of secrecy and imposition of internal struggle due to societal homophobia, sexual orientation is one of the few things than CAN remain secret, festering as an internal wound comprised of self-disgust and fear of exposure. With the misogyny, racism, anti-Semitism, classism, and other vicious prejudices in the last days at the height of an already-fading empire, there was no option for recipients of this treatment to participate in expected rule while carrying their own weight of internal self-horror with them.
Righteousness without hypocrisy bores me as a reader: it interests me more to see individuals unpicking their own beliefs and in conflict with themselves, and T. E., at least, is a rich seam of internal conflict. He is rabidly, ashamedly self-aware, and in later life filled up letters to Charlotte Shaw with self-analysis and recrimination for earlier views. Even in the midst of driving the engine of Empire he was engaged in doubt, piling transparent (even to him) self-deception over his too-soon clarity at what he was enabling. In hypocrisy and in self-pity, in high-mindedness born of torturous childhoods (the standard fare for men destined to Run An Empire: psychological destruction and the attempted murder of compassion), queer manhood in the upper and upper middle classes as the Empire reached the brink is a specific and heady drug.
There is again, I think, a particular idea that role models and subjections of historical fascination must be morally upright, and people we want to emulate rather than learn from, which remains with us from childhood. Peter Pevensie, who becomes a fine and wise heroic figure of a man, is a children’s role model. Sad, flawed, mistake-making men who are not quite brave enough to completely destroy their own privileges or buck the narrative that claims they somehow deserve them – who eat themselves from the inside while pouring their best efforts into Not Failing those they feel responsible for* are mine. Not because I think I ought to be like them, but because I think there’s a lot to be learned about how to improve from both their failures and their successes, and from their blind spots as well as their self-awareness.
More than this, I suspect I have a certain amount of fondness for them because it is handy to be reminded that at least some people felt that the powerful place they occupied in society conferred a responsibility of care onto them. I don’t believe it was universal, and I am sure there are people who still hold that belief, but it feels less as if that is the case; perhaps it is only that the few individuals who feel a real sense of responsibility for those less powerful than them no longer have such eloquent and self-assured figureheads.
Perhaps I will be optimistic, and suggest that the power in society is more evenly shared. It doesn’t look that way from here.