7 min read

Cry like a boy

Cis men’s tears can cost them their admission to masculinity, and trans men face far more scrutiny over our gender than they do.
Cry like a boy
Hello! Welcome to Genderbent, a newsletter about gender, transmasculinity, and mental illness by journalist Quinn Rhodes.

[CW: description of kink scenes and impact play]

Boys don’t cry, right? Except they do. We do. I do. 

I cry quite a lot. I cry when I have to work through messy, confusing emotions with my girlfriend and my metamour. I cry from exhaustion and sadness. Sometimes I cry when I’m experiencing sensory overwhelm, or when I can’t work out what I’m feeling. I cry during intense and cathartic kink scenes with my girlfriend, after which they hold me while I sob into their chest. 

Crying does not make me less of a man. 

My girlfriend introduced me to The Great Pottery Throw Down while I was staying with them between Christmas and New Year. One of my favourite parts of the show is how one of the show’s judges, Keith Brymer Jones, regularly wells up with emotions at the potters’ creations. Keith is fifty-eight and a big, butch man – in his own words, he looks “like a bricklayer.” 

It’s not often that men get to cry on screen; it’s even more rare that men who look like Keith get to cry. 

What’s more, Keith isn’t not crying because he’s angry, or sad, which are more “acceptable” emotions for men. He’s expressing joy, and love of his craft. He gets overwhelmed by the care and effort and perseverance that the potters on the show put into their work. It’s beautiful – an incredible model of tender masculinity. 

Men are not supposed to cry, at risk of their masculinity being denied. Yet Keith’s masculinity is never in question in the show, and it’s powerful to see him cry on screen without shame. While they also benefit from patriarchal systems of oppression, men also face repercussions from breaking society’s heavily gendered (and strictly policed) rules. 

Man up. Don’t be such a girl. Boys don’t cry. I wonder how often Keith heard growing up in the 70s and 80s. I wonder if he’s always been comfortable with that part of himself, or he had to learn how to get back in touch with his emotions after being forced to push them down. 

I used to wish I cried less. I used to wish I cared less, but I’m slowly getting to a place where I see that as a strength rather than a weakness. I throw my whole self into the people and work I care about, but putting my heart and soul into everything I do means that sometimes I get hurt. But that hurt and those tears show that I care, and I’ve grown to love that about myself. In figuring out what I want my own masculinity to look like, I know I want to keep caring deeply. 

And for me – like Keith – that comes with crying.

I cry less on now I’m on testosterone, but I think that has more to do with how much fucking happier I am. It does sometimes feel like my tears come less easily, and the catharsis I’m seeking is harder to reach. There is scientific research to suggest that cis men may cry less than cis women because testosterone inhibits crying. 

But I also wonder if men cry less because we’re told we shouldn’t. Just like how we expect and excuse men’s violence, I wonder if crying has less to do with testosterone and more to do with bioessentialist bullshit about gender-binary-acceptable behaviour. 

I often feel like the world is telling me that I’m not really a man. They’re wrong, of course – I am a man – but it can be so exhausting to live in a world that tells me that my body is wrong, that it’s not a man’s body. Not always explicitly, not always to my face, but in almost every message about gender and bodies. Female bodies. Women’s health conditions. Female genitals. Women’s reproductive rights

It hurts to be erased again and again and again, even by people who say they support trans people. Faced with the years I have to wait until I can get top surgery, it’s easy to see how trans men and trans masculine folks end up buying into toxic masculinity and perpetuating misogyny in order to prove that we are men. Cis men’s tears can cost them their admission to masculinity, and trans men face far more scrutiny over our gender than they do. 

And although I know that crying isn’t shameful, I do find it embarrassing. I hate how easily my voice shakes and cracks when I’m having a difficult conversation. It makes me feel like I’m too much, too emotional. Broken. Wrong. 

If I’m being honest, how easily I cry makes me feel weak. 

And that is the problem: as much as I’d like to say that I reject the idea that cisheteropatriarchy-enforced behaviour is in any way inherent, part of me still associates crying with weakness. And ultimately, our society believes crying is weak because it’s associated with women. Patriarchy tells women and people of marginalised genders – as well as other oppressed groups – that they’re too loud, too emotional. You’re taking up too much space. You’re being unreasonable. 

I don’t think Keith is weak when he cries. Until I started writing this newsletter, I didn’t realise I think I’m weak when I cry. I know it’s ok for men to cry, I just don’t feel it’s ok for me to cry. 

I want to change that. It’s why I find kink scenes so cathartic. My girlfriend slaps my cheek again and again until I cry, and then keeps going until I’m crying so much I feel like I can’t breathe. I am not failing because I cry in that context – that’s what they set out to make me do. And when my body is no longer wracked with heaving sobs, I feel calmer. Stronger. More grounded. 

Crying completes the stress cycle. It isn’t only ok to cry, it can be incredibly healthy and even healing. I’m working on feeling emotions and then deliberately setting them aside when I’m ready, and crying helps me do that. When I’m finished, I can brush the tears away and move forward. 

I want my masculinity to be soft and queer, and to know that those things are not in opposition to my strength. If I know that other men crying doesn’t make them weak – if I see Keith crying on screen as an act of bravery and tender masculinity – I need to stop shaming myself when I cry. 

I need to let myself cry like a boy. 

Links to what I've been writing, reading, and generally getting excited about recently – now with brilliant artwork by @drawn.in.the.fog.
  • I wrote about the first steps for couples who want to open up their monogamous relationship for Gay Times. While I'm so here for the wider awareness of non-monogamous relationship styles, it can be hard to find practical advice about navigating open relationships. My aim was to share what potential partners of newly open couples might want them to know. "Non-monogamy isn’t a plaster you can stick over issues in your relationship, it’s an entirely new relationship that requires work and care."
  • I absolutely tore through Just As You Are* by Camille Kellogg, which is a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice set at a queer women's digital magazine in New York. I loved it so much. It was full of heart and I think Kellogg's translation of the biological family in Austin's original to queer found family was beautiful. (Literally everyone is gay. It's great.) And – because I'm a sex nerd and erotica writer who cares about this – the sex scenes, while short, were hot and really well written.
  • Talking of books, ever since Ella Dawson announced on her Patreon that she'd sold her debut novel back in September 2022 I've been waiting to pre-order it – and now I can! Dawson is genuinely one of my favourite writers and But How Are You, Really is a second-chance rom-com featuring an abuse survivor, disaster bisexual heroine and a cinnamon roll bro hero. I'm so fucking excited, and you all need to go pre-order it now. (If you're also in the UK, Blackwell's is the only place I've found where you can pre-order it currently.)
  • I loved the Gender Spiral's Making Podcasts for Trans People episode with Tuck Woodstock (of Gender Reveal fame). I sometimes forgot how fun and affirming and even healing it is to listen to trans people talking to each other, and I'm challenging myself to get back into listening to T4T podcasts regularly. (My favourite quote from the episode was Tuck saying: "the word faggot is really important to my gender" because same.)
  • Jeanna Kadlec's newsletter, substack f***'d up and now we have to talk about it, offered a nuanced exploration whether ethical consumerism is practical or even possible. I definitely agree that we often place too much individual responsibility on people for their choices, regardless of how limited and shitty the options available to them are. "I think it is important, so very important, to show up and protest where you live, to hold people’s feet to the fire and tell them that this is unacceptable."
  • Confession: I stopped wearing a mask a while ago, and I'm struggling to start doing so again. I love this art by @chava_goodtime and @rachaellgofrom their Tkhines For A Free Palestine – it's an important reminder that community care is absolutely an act of resistance:
*Book titles marked with an * are affiliate links, so if you click through and buy a copy then I get a small commission at no cost to you.