What I Learned About Masculinity from a Transgender Man
I recently attended a seminar on “masculinity.” After I sat down in a small circle, I discovered it was being led by a transgender man.
This was tough for me to entertain as a Christian man. Hasn’t masculinity become confusing enough? I tend to agree with Steph Fairyington’s sentiments in Elle: “While women’s roles and opportunities have dramatically expanded and improved, men’s have remained stagnant and become less clear: If they talk too much about their feelings, they’re unsexy saps. If they talk too little, they’re emotionally distant Neanderthals. If they participate in locker-room talk, they’re pigs; if they try to disrupt it, they’re sissies or homos.” Being a man can be a lose/lose situation.
Hearing about masculinity from a transgender man only blurs lines more, right? But before I could get up and leave, I remembered this verse: “You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” James 1:19 NLT
Hearing about masculinity outside of my gender and comfort zone was a unique opportunity for me to learn something new about masculinity from a completely scientific point of view. Here we have a biologically-born woman who wants to be a biological man and asks, “What does it take?”
I understand your reservations while reading this. I acknowledge my perspective is drawn from a Midwestern framework. I’ve always believed sexual confusion comes from deep wounds. This was a stretch for me.
Let me give you the whole backstory. A couple of weeks ago, I was on a cruise conference called Summit at Sea. Paste describes this event as “3,000 entrepreneurs, activists, artists, entertainers, athletes and other ridiculously smart and successful people on a trip from Miami to Nassau and back.”
At this event, I attended sessions from Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, social media guru Gary Vaynerchuk, “The Iceman” Everest hiker Wim Hoff, and a joint session on creativity with Quintin Tarantino and Kendrick Lamar.
One session option was “Masculinity So Fragile.” As a writer on masculinity and leader in this space, I knew I had to attend it. The description said it all: “Men are supposed to be stoic, brave, and all-knowing. In actuality, being a man is messy, scary, and just as performative as any other gender identity…we’ll explore why masculinity is so fragile and identify ways in which we can begin to develop a manhood that is tethered to our spirits, versus being defined by how much it can control or what it’s entitled to.” Sounded good to me. I marked it to attend.
I was a bit confused when I walked in to the big theater. On the stage were a bunch of mattresses and pillows. We were invited to sit in a circle; this was not going to be a large session like many of the others.
It turns out one of the session leaders sat right next to me. Tiq Milan said, “I am a man because I say so.”
His statement was profound. How many men would say this? Subconsciously, many men believe they are men because they drive the right car, play the right sports, smoke cigars and drink beer, date hot women, make lots of money, and built a tough physique.
How many men would say they are men because it’s within their inner core?
Masculinity should be tied to our spiritual core instead of external validation.
Then Tiq stated he was transgender man. My Midwest roots were rattled. While I’ve been in Los Angeles for 8 years, I don’t think I’ve encountered a transgender person…at least that I know of.
Whether my world view agreed with Tiq’s choices or not, he’d spoken truth, and one I could have a better understanding and grasp on myself. I also had to acknowledge my job is to love first, not judge.
We might not agree with the results, but here’s someone who embarked on a journey (much like many of us need to do) to find manhood.
Here are some of Tiq’s thoughts in Ebony:
“I am becoming a man by my own design [literally] and that has meant unlearning and re-learning everything I thought I knew about masculinity and its relationship to the world. Coming into the understanding that masculinity is not the opposite of femininity but its counterpart gives me a starting point to build authentic solidarity and shift the way we think about the role of women and femme identified folks. We’re only better together and manhood cannot be defined by how ‘un-feminine’ it is but should be invested in creating healthy consanguinity.”
Consanguinity…an appropriate word…”the quality of being descended from the same ancestor as another person.” Perhaps femininity shouldn’t be viewed as opposite of masculinity since it came from masculinity’s rib.
A war is being waged against men, but it’s not being waged by feminists. The most insidious attack might be coming from men…in the form of toxic masculinity.
What is toxic masculinity? In 10 Ways to Win a Girl’s Heart I use a quote from Robert Bly that describes the ideal man of the 1950s.
if you were a man, you were supposed to like football games, be aggressive, stick up for the United States, never cry, and always provide. But this image of the male lacked feminine space…It lacked compassion…”
And it lacked authenticity. Masculinity is imperfect. It’s not one shoe size, but comes in many shapes and colors. As author Gordon Dalbey states, “A real man is a man who is real.”
Masculinity has its own integrity. It’s not defined by a woman and it’s really not defined by men, either. It may be conferred from the fathers before us, but it’s defined within.