I was recently asked by a reader what it is that makes me a man. And once again, I was placed in an indescribable position where I felt like I had to validate my identity. The truth is, gender is a social construct. It is something we humans made up and something with which we each identify in our own ways.
Gender identity is a very personal experience and is but one component of our social identities. One’s gender identity is their innermost concept of self as man or woman, or both, or neither. It is how we perceive ourselves and call ourselves using the labels which society has provided to us, or the ones we coin when what exists is insufficient.
There is no wrong or right way to be a man or a woman (or both, or neither), though society would have us believe differently. And as gender is a social construct, there are no “prerequisites” for claiming an identity. As Bob Marley said, “Who the cap fit, let them wear it”. Gender is not physical. A woman can have a penis; a man, a vagina. Being in possession of these physical (fe)male characteristics, these body parts, does not negate someone’s gender identity in any way or make them “less” of a “true” (wo)man.
I’ve never heard anyone ask a cissexual how they “knew” they were a man or a woman, or what (wo)manhood means to them, so why ask trans people? Which brings me to a sticking point: We need to stop reducing transgender persons to their genitalia and using the existence (or absence) of certain sex organs to validate or negate their identities. It places unwarranted interest in our biology, leading persons to take scientific interest in the trans community, effectively dehumanizing us .
These questions are almost always posed to trans people; as if to say that because we weren’t born with the “right” genitalia, we have to go through a verification process where our claim to our identities must be substantiated. Furthermore, these questions are almost always asked by cissexuals. I construe them as attempts to invalidate the identity of trans people; and also to further the misconception that we must identify with the gender most associated with our sex; that anything else is not “real”.
I have a friend, a wonderful woman, who finds the label of “transgender” problematic for this very reason. On countless occasions have natal women told her that she’s just “not a woman” because she has neither breasts nor a vagina (yet). They are in fact, waiting on these manifestations to even begin to consider her as a “woman”. Such exclusionary behaviour is harmful and discriminatory. And who’s to say that even after my friend has undergone transition to look and feel the part, complete with the “right” set of sex organs, that women will now consider her a true member of the sisterhood?
The fact is, gender is not simply binary. It is a complex construct encompassing a plethora of identities and we don’t get to tell people the one with which they (should) identify, or demean their identity because we don’t think it is what it should be. That is oppression and it stinks of entitlement. There is no such thing as the “Gender Police” and some cissexuals should stop acting like they belong to such an imaginary group of gatekeepers. As my friend so aptly said, “Forgive the cis. The cis is simple.”
Here’s an interesting video from Kat Blaque in which she addresses the question “If gender didn’t exist, would trans people?”.
Anyway, I have yet to answer the question.
The answer to your question dear reader is: I am a man because that is what little boys grow into. As a child I always thought of myself as a boy, envisioned the man I would become in the future, and hoped that he would be someone that my father could be proud of.
Certainly I embody numerous masculine characteristics, which I suppose add to my “manliness”, but I also possess many feminine ones, and those do not reduce in any way, my manhood. I enjoy many stereotypical “male” activities and…no, no I actually cannot say that I enjoy any traditional “female” ones.
I have never identified with things the more feminine of us would. Dresses, skirts, makeup, cooking, baking, sewing, shopping with the girls, doing one’s hair, nails, smelling like flowers and fruit. No. My tastes have always been distinctly masculine or encompassing neutral things, such as reading.
But the examples above are essentially aspects of one’s personality or their gender expression, more than their gender identity. A woman is no less of a woman if she prefers sports to cooking, or trousers to skirts. In the same way, a man is no less of a man if he prefers reading to sports, or wine to whisky.
I am a man because that is the social construct with which I identify. It is how I have always felt, and felt very deeply. There is no other profound, philosophical reason behind it. I know I am a man in the same way you know that you are a (wo)man.
I am a man, simply because that is who I AM.