Category Archives: Masculine Life

That time I became a man

NB: I am a cis woman, assigned female at birth, and I’m pretty happy about it. I have never felt a need/desire to transition, so this is not that kind of story. It’s a different kind of story.

Background

When a girl-child acts and dresses kind of like a boy-child she is called a tomboy, and that was me. I liked to climb trees, hang out with boys and play with gadgets. I favoured trousers and pockets and came home with grass stains on my jeans.

But, I also fancied boys and wore dresses and when Clueless the movie came out I fell in love with long socks and miniskirts, and I adored wearing shirts with a short skirt and heels. I played with dolls, kept a secret diary and devoured teen romance novels. I was obssessed with relationships and boyfriends.

For me, any behaviour that is normally gendered seemed to be theoretically on the table. I understood that people often divide down gender lines but I felt that you didn’t actually have to. Anyone can grow up to be anything, right? Such was the luxury of being a girl in the 80s/90s. So I happily sampled from both genders in terms of behaviours, clothes, thoughts & hobbies.

Context

The local context of this ‘when I became a man’ story is much the same in terms of gender. I was in my late 20’s, newly out of a long relationship, newly out as bi, and also quite newly polyamorous. I was a passionate feminist activist, and a menstrual activist. I talked to people about their periods, having completed my dissertation on it at university. My friends called me ‘the period lady’. I loved being female and was making more and more female friends.

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I was also deeply engaged with masculinity, what it means to be in the “active” role in a relationship with a woman, especially sexually, how to ‘get girls’ and so on. I was also curious more genereally since I’d always had such a strong masculine side throughout my life. I was reading radical feminist texts and hanging out with lesbians, while also trying to have sex with lesbians, and also feeling more kinship with men as my friends and lovers. Armed with awareness of how to deconstruct gender, I was exploring what being a man really means.

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I played around with lowering the pitch of my voice, I dressed in a masculine way, I already had short hair and a bit of swagger, I sometimes pencilled a moustache on my lip at parties. I was curious how much you could do without changing your body in any way. How much was masculinity a state of mind, and how much could you project that to others? How much does biology matter when it comes to being a man?

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Early mustache

I like to think I was quite successful. When feeling masc I was constantly ID’d for alcohol because I looked like an 18 year old boy. As soon as they looked closer they could see I was a nearly 30 year old woman, but the first glance had completely fooled them. I was also mistaken for a guy in shops or in bars, with people greeting me and my friends as “lads” and “fellas” until they realised I was clearly female.

I discovered how warmly men treat other men, when they think no women are around.

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Masc for a party

I sunbathed topless all summer that year with my guy friends, to see if I could trick people even when naked, by my posture and by being in a group of other guys. It worked. It would take people whole minutes to realise I was actually a woman with my tits out. I was never bothered about it or arrested, even though I was in public parks or in our front garden facing the street.

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I’m in the middle

 

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In the local park

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These pics are all on Facebook and have never been reported

I interanalised a lot of it too, fairly frequently commenting “come on, you can speak freely, we’re all guys here” or accidentally miscounting the number of men and women in a room because I’d counted myself as a guy.

I also had a friend where me and her joked that she was my “wife” and I was her “husband”. Here I am with a protective arm around her chatting away while she rolls me a smoke.

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Setting the stage: Makron

One of my best friends from this time was Makron (not his real name). Here’s us.

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Listening to drum ‘n’ bass in the local dive bar

Here’s me imitating him while we roll cigarettes.

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My t-shirt says “My Marxist feminist dialectic brings all the boys to the yard”

Makron (and our other male friend Feo) never questioned my desire to act like a guy and were completely on board with me relating to them as a guy would. It wasn’t hard, we were all into smoking and video games and talking about women. Makron got me into drum n bass and we would go moshing together. Feo patiently played Halo with me on the Xbox 360 while I got the hang of analog sticks on the controller. We would fuck around yelling at people on the street and trying to slap each other as hard as we could.

Makron loved women and dated various people on and off during our friendship. I slept with three of the men in the house we lived in, including Feo and Makron, and slept with several women in our friendship group. Makron and I talked openly about our escapades and once he mentioned that none of his girlfriends had ever let him do anal, because even if they were into it, his penis was too big.

Another time, I asked him when he lost his virginity, and questioned him when he said he lost it “properly” at age 18. I had to drag it out of him but it turns out that while he lost his ‘virginity’ to a woman at 18,  he actually lost his virginity to a boy at age 15, back when he lived in Portugal. Him and this boy were fucking for about a year, so it was not just ‘experimentation’ or an accident at school. This was a whole thing!

He once mentioned that he’s mostly into women, but for some reason he starts to find men attractive in spring time. How awesome is that? Bisexual men exist y’all.

Another thing about Makron was that he refused to wear condoms. Not only was this bad for me because of diseases and being poly, I also had stopped using hormonal contraception years before, because of its negative effects. Between that and him having monogamous girlfriends, our sexual interactions were limited.

The time I turned into a man

One day, at a party, Makron was really horny and so was I. We really wanted some kind of sex to happen. He wouldn’t budge on the condoms but I told him that I was into anal and willing to try.

Anal is always tricky but after a bit of fumbling we got his cock in me and he started gently thrusting. Anal is an extremely intense experience, almost overwhelming at times. But me and Makron were very close by this time, I trusted him and myself, I felt super secure and horny and we could read each other really well.

Suddenly I tuned in to what Makron was doing as he fucked me. He was touching my hair. Delicately, maybe even nervously. He was also not touching my boobs or butt, rather pulling on my hips and touching my neck. He was avoiding the parts of me that were female. At that moment a bunch of different realisations hit me from different conversations we’d had over many months. In one huge moment I realised that he was experiencing me as a man.

He had lost his viriginty to a guy and had tons of sex with him, but only slept with women after that. None of the women he’d slept with had ever done anal with him. And I spent all my time relating to him as a guy. Now here we were, doing something he had only ever done with guys.

He was touching my hair and penetrating my butt, remembering what it was like back when he was 15 with that boy in Portugal. He was a guy relating to me as a guy, and for all intents and purposes, I was a guy too.

My masc energy was more than willing to rise up and meet that, I’d been practicing with my mind, my body and my voice for months. Hell, I’d thrown off a shirt, waistcoat and tie and left my “wife” downstairs to come up and do this. I was overwhelmed by the physical sensations of the sex, and a little drunk too.

I ran with it.

In that moment, for just a fraction of a second, I feel and I like to believe I “became” a guy. My biology didn’t change, but I experienced myself as a guy while someone else was experiencing me as a guy, together in one of the most intimate ways two humans can experience and witness each other. It was and remains the most transcendant moment of my life.

Nothing changed after that. We’re still friends, though separated by time and distance. I’m convinced masculinity is largely in the body-mind system and deeply influenced by intention. The meaning of my experience is, as with all things, a complex interplay of many factors.  I don’t know if there is some “essence” in biology that is required in order to be a man, and of course I will never know, but I’m certainly suspicious that it is required.

I’m not sure how to adequately sum up this story, but we’re all guys here, so maybe I don’t have to.

Let’s Talk About Street Harassment

Lately, in any discussion on street harassment, there has often been a comment along the lines of ‘but… some of this doesn’t seem to be harassment’, ‘it’s a fine line between harassment and good nature’, ‘what if the guy was just saying hello?’, ‘don’t tar all men with the same brush’ etc.

Let’s talk about that.

The comments made above seem reasonable, and here are my thoughts that are probably not obvious to men who have never suffered street harassment:

Comments like ‘hello’ and ‘good morning’ are still harassment because it is unequal. It is clear, being in an urban area far from home, that there is no chance that this person is a neighbour or otherwise a not-stranger. It is also clear that this only happens to women. This stranger is a man and aside from anything else, men do not say ‘hello’ or ‘good morning’ to other strange men. When men interact with strange men, they avert their gaze, don’t speak unless spoken to etc.

But strange men do not show the same deference to strange women. They speak to them, they stare at them, they wolf whistle them, they catcall them, they turn around to check them out after they’ve walked by (my personal un-favourite because they think no women see it) and yes, they say ‘hello’ to them. The ‘hello’ and ‘good morning’ is a plea for attention that is exactly the same as the more directly sexual comments. It is also completely and entirely obvious from their body language, tone of voice and social context that their ‘hello’ means, “I’ve noticed you, I want you to notice me because: sex.” I mention social context because it is important to remember that this never happens if any other man is present. It is also much more rare with groups of women, and in this case the guys often yell from cars, from across the street, in groups, or other ‘safe’ places. When a woman is street harassed she is in a public place, alone and being harassed by a strange man.

Now, when men comment on stories of female harassment there seem to be a number of feelings tied up in the comments. The feelings are also all tied together. They seem to be:

‘This is awful, I don’t want this to happen to women’. ‘I’ve never done this to women, in fact I’m careful to not do it’. ‘I’m sure I’ve said ‘hello’ to women in the past, I don’t want them to think I was harassing them’. ‘Maybe some of these guys these women are complaining about were guys like me, truly well-meaning’.  ‘I’m now scared to ever say hello to women in case I get tarred with the man-hate brush’ and ‘How is anyone meant to meet anyone new/get laid?’

Let’s talk about this.

Let’s just lead with the fact that street harassment is a massive open secret that has only begun to be spoken about with any kind of coverage in the last five years. And I repeat, ‘spoken about’. We’re not even close to doing something to make it change yet.

Street harassment is very much part of a spectrum of behaviours that has murder through domestic violence on one end and lad’s mags/page 3 on the other end. None of it is good, some of it is worse than other bits, and we’re not *very* close to the murder end of the spectrum today, we’re more in the middle (although street harassment has lead, and continues to lead, directly to murder if you’re trans*), however it is an endemic spectrum of behaviours that shows us that the whole system is rotten. Men are bound up in this rotten system just as much as women, and it’s the system that needs to change.

Only a percentage of men harass women on the street, although a greater percentage may have done so in their lifetime. Everyone on every side of this debate knows that not all men do this. But people who are posting about it are not being careful to remove any implications of this. Men, I’m asking you to please let this one slide. Why? Because we’ve only just started talking about this. Decades of rage, oppression and very negative feelings are all coming out in a rush. We are not being nuanced about this. When out on the street, there is no way to know which man will harass and which one won’t. We know that three out of the 100 or so men who pass us today will demean and degrade us, we will feel threatened, frightened and alone. Not only that, but we’ll see it happen to other women too. We know it’s not all men, we have fathers, brothers, sons, dear friends and most of us have kind, wonderful lovers. We know it’s not all men, it’s only some men, but we’re having a really freaky bad time over here, we’re finding it really hard to talk about, let alone with any careful language and the ‘not all men’ argument derails the debate. Any victim is going to have a hard time talking about their experiences at all, and expecting a victim to be careful in their speech is quite a stretch. Women don’t hate all men, just as men don’t hate all women. This is a given.

This is the part of the conversation where, despite lack of nuance, the listener just listens. (And I do honestly believe this debate will evolve over time and it’ll be totally cool to call out the ‘All men’ statements, just not yet.)

We also know that most men make sure they don’t harass women on the street. We know most men have refused to bow to the pressure of peers or culture and have carefully figured out that strangers should probably be left alone, even though that leaves us with a bit less opportunity for amazing interactions. We appreciate your efforts, we really do. Like I said before, fathers, brothers, lovers…

Now we approach the idea of the misunderstood guy. The friendly ‘hello’ guy. This part is particularly hard. Men are defending a straw man that doesn’t exist because the feelings behind it are: ‘these new-fangled rules are pretty darned strict and it’s uber hard to not come off as creepy. Plus, I’m really freaked out that I might have done this accidentally in the past’.

I sympathise strongly with the feelings, but not the straw man argument of the mythical misunderstood guy. By saying one or some or all of the harassers might have not meant any harm is demeaning to the women who report being harassed. It implies you don’t believe them. It implies that they cannot read body language, tone of voice or social context. That women are unsophisticated with social interaction. It implies that they haven’t been dealing with this since they were thirteen years old. It implies that the intentions of the harasser matter more than the feelings of threat. It implies the patriarchal pat on the head, the ‘don’t be so silly’ argument that has been used to dismiss women’s experience over and over in all of living memory. Or worse, it implies that women are lying and on a hate-campaign against men. This is fucking rare, about as rare as men who have hate campaigns against women. These implications give women rage. Which does not help with refining a debate and using correct words to describe things.

So, don’t say ‘maybe those guys didn’t mean it’ because we need to practice believing the victim and you have no idea what happened, you weren’t there. Instead say ‘I am scared I’ve done this and didn’t mean it’ or ‘I’m scared someone will think I’m creepy when I wasn’t’ or ‘Can we have a talk on another thread about this whole thing because it feels shaming’.

EDIT [ Actually, this part is key. Women have been victims, and when women speak out, men are feeling shame, even though it’s not personally their fault. I’m asking men to listen to female victims, even if they are not very nuanced, but I’m asking men to have nuanced replies, even though they are having bad feelings too. I think we definitely need a space for men to talk about these feelings, where they are supported and uncriticised. We have always needed this space. It might just have to be a separate space to the original victim speaking out. ]

In terms of the past, it’s highly unlikely that you accidentally came off as creepy. People are generally very able when it comes to social interaction. It’s very nuanced. If we go down the road of believing that women have the skills to notice a creepy ‘hello’, they can also tell an un-creepy ‘hello’. Women aren’t unsophisticated about this. Women want to find new friends and lovers just as much as you, and continue to engage with random interactions and go on dates, despite all the horror.

But if you did come off as creepy once, don’t worry too much, it’s probably forgotten and mistakes happen and you have friends and lovers who know you’re not creepy and you’ve heard about the types of things that come off as creepy and you haven’t done them. And you’d rather the person walked away and called you creepy than we live in a world where we’re going backward on this whole patriarchy thing. So it’s ok. I’m sorry if you’ve been misunderstood, it was in the service of a good cause and everything is going to be alright.

The current rules ARE darned hard, because everyone is trying to be better to each other than they were before. We’re working inside of a toxic system that sets genders against each other and no-one has any easy new rules about how to deal with this new stuff. Women are going to react in wildly different ways, and it’s going to be hard to find a baseline that generally means everyone is ok. It’s going to be a bit sad for quite a while, what with stranger interactions being reduced between men and women while we sort the harassment thing out. But overall happiness will still be higher since women will feel less threatened, day to day.

The only good general solution is honesty and respect for boundaries (and this is on everyone, not just men, of course). Honesty with ourselves about why we’re saying hello to this person on the street, or someone is saying hello to us. Honesty that certain things are gonna seem creepy. Honesty that there is a lot of sadness around this, and everyone needs to give support to people who feel sad. Honesty that we’re scared we’ve done the wrong thing, because the new rules are so hard to fathom.

And almost no-one is doing that yet, so we’re all well outside of comfort zone, and social sanctioning. But it’s worth it.

It’s worth it because, we’re trying to build a world where men and women can openly say to each other in the moment, without conflict or fear of violence, ‘hey, that came off as creepy’ and the other party can say ‘oh my god that was NOT my intention, please tell me in detail what it was that seemed creepy’. This will also be a world where both men and women can say, without fear of shaming or violence, ‘hey, you are attractive, any interest in fucking?’ and there is no obligation to say yes or no. In a world when all genders are empowered to ask for/accept sexual interaction in an equal, honest and open way, street harassment could disappear.

I want to live in that world, and we need to do everything we can to get there.

2012 is coming to an end

I felt a slight shock when I realised that 2012 is almost over. Here is my traditional post musing on the things I’ve done this year.

I gave away (almost) all my worldly possessions. I went to my third BiCon. I had group sex! I had group sex more than once! I had group sex with people I’d only known for a day! I went to Doncaster, Middlesbrough, Manchester, Bradford, Cambridge, Portugal and Madrid for the first time. I walked outside of Birmingham New Street Station. I cried infront of a painting. I went to a psytrance festival. In a foreign country. I swam in a lake sparkling with fool’s gold. I saw a lizard. I volunteered for litter picking at a festival. I saw how the world works. I learned how to get food out of bins. I was travelling/homeless for two thirds of the year. I read/watched the entire run of Promethea, My So-Called Life and Firefly. I fell in love. I added some notches to my bedpost (including three girls and a royal marine!) I blagged three nights in a caravan after a festival. I went backstage. I was a runner for stilt walking performers. I met some famous drum ‘n’ bass DJs. I did bi activism. I stayed over in a squat. I stopped being scared of London. I saw Tube mice. I hitch-hiked. I ate melon and liked it. I kissed a guy with a forked tongue. I made many new friends. I stayed on a boat in the Lake District. I met many people who will change the world. I tried mushrooms. I stopped taking sugar in my tea. I got so ill my period came a week and a half early, and I mistook it for kidney disease! I broke up and got back together with the same person! I walked on a slackline! I learned to juggle! I protested outside the deputy PM’s house! I lead a protest charge with “She’ll be coming round the mountain”! I marched with the trade unions against austerity (twice)! I saw a world title boxing match! I went to a gig with someone I didn’t know. I saw my father. I met my step grandmother, and other estranged family. I entertained revolutionary thoughts. I  took my clothes off for cash. I joined libraries in four different cities. I got a tax rebate. I “looked poly” in public. I confused people. I loved it when my boyfriend kissed a guy. I stayed awake all night and worshiped the full moon. I wrote dirty stories for money. I went to OpenCon. I was captain of a starship. I lost my childhood. I quit my job. I had dinner at Harvey Nicholls. I was looked after. I busked on the street. I got pet rats and had to give them away. I felt human. I stayed alive.

This year I’ve had a So-Amazing Life.

And what have I learned? When it comes to food, you get what you’re given, be grateful for it, don’t waste any and always share. When it comes to sleep, just do it when you want to or when you can, there’s no need to worry. You can learn to change your sleep over time, including where you can tolerate doing it. A futon on slats is the best way to sleep ever. Food is only out of date when it smells bad. Food is all around you, the more humans in any given space, the more free food you will find. The humaniverse will take care of you, if you let it. Be patient. Walk everywhere. Be the change. Doing new things makes life feel full. Being somewhere comfortable with nothing to do slows time down. Follow your highest excitement. Whatever your heart sings for. Who dares, wins.

Still to come:

get dp’d, apply to a PhD, start my own business, get a tattoo, get my driving license, go to Burning Man, eat at high table.