7 min read

Happy International Men's Day: do I have to feel guilty now?

I don't get to just sit back and tell myself that my transness absolves me from working to dismantle the cisheteropatriarchy, but I also don't have to feel guilty about being a man.
Happy International Men's Day: do I have to feel guilty now?

It's Trans Awareness Week, so I've spent the entire week trying to write the perfect newsletter that summarised all my anger and fear about the state of trans rights in the world right now. It feels like Trans Awareness Week is one of the only times cis people might actually pay attention when we tell them that we're dying, and I felt so much pressure to write a post that was a powerful and emotive call to action.

And then I spent all of yesterday working on to meet a deadline, and didn't send out a newsletter at all.

So instead of talking about Trans Awareness Week, I thought I'd talk about International Men's Day - i.e. the day that many cis men feel it's important to ask about on International Women's Day. Because I've been thinking a lot about masculinity recently. Specifically, masculinity and guilt.

But first, a quick request:

I'm honoured and excited and really fucking proud to be shortlisted for Writer of the Year in Brook and SH:24's Sexual Health Awards!It means such a lot to have my work recognised alongside so many other incredible sex writers and educators. I pour so much of myself into my writing and changing the way we think and talk about sex is so important to me - especially so queer, trans and disabled people are represented in the sex ed they get.If you've enjoyed or engaged with my journalism, sex writing, or trans-inclusivity education, I would really appreciate it if you would vote for me.(You'll have to create and verify an account - or log in if you've voted in the Sexual Health Awards before! - to vote, which is to ensure people can't vote more than once.)

Happy International Men's Day: do I have to feel guilty now?

[CW: misogyny, misandry, transmisogyny and mention of sexual assault]

When I was about sixteen, I read Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates. It changed my life more than any other book has. I sped through it, the words coursing through me and bringing with them white-hot rage. Everyday Sexism* painted a stark picture of the reality of the misogyny that women experience. Reading it made me scared, but it also made me angry.

From that point on, I called myself a feminist.

My early feminism was almost certainly of the white feminist, #Girlboss kind. I don't hold that against myself too much - I was sixteen and just realising that I liked girls. (And at that time I thought I was a girl, so that was a big deal.) By the time I was nineteen, I had read enough writing on feminism and queerness that I at least was aware that my feminism probably was those things, and I wanted to work on it being more intersectional. What stuck around longer was the misandry.

Now, let me be clear: there is no such thing as 'reverse sexism', though the patriarchy can and does hurt men. It hurts everyone, and I wish we were better at acknowledging that. Misandry is described as the hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against men, and it was a defining feature of my feminism in my early twenties.

After reading Everyday Sexism, I saw misogyny everywhere. And it is everywhere, but sometimes I wished I could turn off the part of my brain that noticed it. Autistic people apparently have a strong sense of justice, and I wonder if that's part of why it bothered me so much that other people told me the things I noticed were one-offs rather than part of a bigger pattern. We don't live in an equal world, but in the 21st century there are many people who would like to tell you that we do. There are young women your age who tell you that you should be grateful that your new coworker only calls you sweetie because it used to be so much worse.

Why the fuck should I be grateful for that?

If my life was a novel, this misandry would come to make sense. After I realised I am actually a man, my hatred and fear and disgust of men would be understood. Like my vaginismus and fear of my own body, maybe those emotions were trying to protect me because I was scared. Scared about who I was, scared about how people would see me if I was fully myself.

But this is real life, and I wonder if that story is just a bit too neat to be real.

I think the reality is that I was angry at a world that said I could be whoever I wanted to be, do whatever I wanted to, when I could see that it was a lie. And it was easier to direct that frustration towards men themselves rather than the racist, fatphobic, ableist cisheteropatriarchy. Systems that many men upheld and benefitted from, yes, but systems that they were not directly responsible for. Maybe it's unfair to expect my sixteen-year-old-self to figure that out, but I still feel that it took me too long.

Thought is it any surprise that I had so much anger, distrust, fear and maybe even hatred towards men? I felt all those things about myself - even more so - but it was easier to deal with them when they were directed at someone else. (It's only now that I'm starting to understand the transmisogyny in my younger self's feminism.)

The women are angry I abandoned them. Thy would rather I abandon myself.
(Charlie Josephine, I, Joan)

I wonder if I'm allowed to claim the word 'feminist' anymore. I hear people on a certain podcast talking about how men can never be guilty feminists, only smug feminists, and wonder why they never seem to remember that trans men exist.

Because I have felt guilty. Not for being a feminist, but for not being a woman. Being a trans man feels so good, so easy, that I've wondered if I'm cheating somehow. Surely it shouldn't be this easy? Maybe I'm betraying the sisterhood, betraying feminism, by choosing this.

Except I never was a woman. It feels easy because I finally get to be myself, not because I no longer face oppression. Being a man is not a choice for me, any more than being trans is a choice. It's easy to say that even if being trans was a choice, I'd choose it every time. It's harder to say that about being a man.

I love myself now in a way I didn't before, but it feels strange to say that I love being a man. It feels like a betrayal of feminism - and a betrayal of my younger self, who made his slightly misandric feminism such a big part of his identity.

And now I'm not only a man, but the kind of man who has to stop himself from saying 'not all men'. When I see cis women tweeting about men, I have to force myself to pause and ask myself if they should specify that they're talking about cis men. There are definitely times when they should - like when they're talking about how if men had periods then period products would be free. But there are also times when I have to stop myself, because I'd be tweeting only because I wanted to separate myself from cis men and the guilt I feel about the fact I am a man.

The truth is that trans men can perpetuate misogyny. We can benefit from sexist systems. Yes, we also experience transphobia, but after top surgery and years on testosterone, there is every chance that I will "pass" in such a way that women and other people of marginalised genders will cross the street at night if I'm walking behind them, just like I do. Because the likelihood is that the person behind me doesn't want to rape me, but that's not a chance I want to take.

I out myself every time I introduce myself with my pronouns, because people still read me as a woman and I have to correct that assumption. In five years, ten years, I imagine people will make a more accurate assumption, and I will experience the male privilege that comes along with that. One might argue I already do over email, because my pronouns are in my email signature, but when I literally introduce myself as a trans and disabled sex writer I'm not sure I have the same privilege as a cis guy who doesn't have his pronouns anywhere because he's never even considered that people might not see him as a man.

It's hard to tell myself that I don't have to be guilty that I'm a man, that I might have male privilege. I am a white, middle class man, but privilege is not - in itself - a bad thing. I just hope I am self-aware enough to acknowledge mine and try to use it for good.

I'm still stepping into my masculinity. I am working out what I want it to look like. What does queer masculinity look like? Trans masculinity? Soft masculinity? I am learning how to be a man I can be proud of - one who is strong and feminist and takes up space and knows his worth but listens to and raises other voices up as well. We don't have good models for these kinds of masculinity, but that doesn't mean they can't exist.

But part of myself still feels guilty. For years, I defined myself by not being a man, unconsciously telling myself that I was somehow a better person because I was a woman. I'm ashamed of my younger self who thought that, but I can't shake the belief that masculinity isn't to be celebrated.

Toxic masculinity is not to be celebrated. Misogyny and sexism are not to be celebrated. But masculinity not inherently misogynistic. I do not have to feel guilty that I am a man.

I am angry with the cis men who ask when International Men's Day is on International Women's Day, because in trying to make a "reverse-sexism is real!" point, they miss the reasons why International Men's Day is needed. The cisheteropatriarchy hurts men too. It defines masculinity in an incredibly rigid, narrow way and punishes anyone who deviates from it. Well fuck that: I reject the idea that I have to buy into toxic masculinity to be a man.

Men can cry. Men can wear skirts. Men can be vulnerable and admit they're struggling and ask for help. I don't get to just sit back and tell myself that my transness absolves me from working to dismantle the cisheteropatriarchy, but I also don't have apologise for who I am. I don't have to feel guilty about being a man.

Happy International Men's Day to trans men and trans masculine folks. You don't have to feel guilty about your masculinity. Your masculinity is beautiful. It is fucking sacred, not something to be scared of. It's something worth celebrating.

I'm sure as hell going to celebrate mine.

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