Yesterday Val and I were talking about reading blogs written by genderqueer and asexual folks and noting how much those things seem to go together. Val mentioned that there is very little writing from cisgender people on what it is like to be them and I realized that I had very little idea of what I would say if I were trying to do that. How exactly would I distill down the essence of what it is like to feel that I am a man? It is a tricky thing because it isn't as if I have ever had to defend that feeling to others nor examine it particularly - the very essence of privilege right there.
I have always felt that a lot of what gets assigned to men in society is crap. Refusing to acknowledge feelings, vulnerability, or uncertainty is a standard thing that society taught me was part of being a man and I rejected that. I cried easily as a child and was terrible at projecting a tough guy image so I ended up being tormented constantly. I didn't have the desire or raw talent to be great at sports (though I wasn't terrible by any means) and I found hurting others to be painful to contemplate so I wasn't much for winning games, fighting or name calling and those were the ways to prove your manliness to others. When I was young I always felt that I was a man but that the standards for being manly were stupid and awful.
Sometimes in my life my body really irritated me but it was never a gendered sort of thing. When I looked down at myself I often wanted clearer skin or bigger muscles but I never felt like my body was wrong or didn't reflect my nature; I just wanted a few upgrades and improvements here and there. Puberty was frustrating sometimes but it was always a social thing rather than a body issue. For example, growing facial hair meant I had to cut myself learning to shave and feel self conscious about it but it was really just the awkwardness of transition that was the problem.
The cornerstone of feeling that I was a man in my younger years was certainly heterosexuality. Guys were expected to be attracted to girls and since I am really attracted to the feminine form that made it very simple. Those two things were very much mixed up with one another and fitting into the norms for both made it extremely unlikely that I would question either. These days I don't buy into heteronormativity so my male identity cannot be based on being attracted to feminine bodies but to be honest I don't know what it is that it *is* based on. My body is obviously biologically male but biologically male bodies are only statistically correlated with male identities, not causally connected.
I look at my body and think "Yup, penis, chest hair, straight body lines, facial hair, adam's apple, these things all make sense." If someone used female pronouns to refer to me I would correct them without any sense of insult but I would definitely believe that they were making a mistake. How that works and how that might differ in terms of mental experience from someone who looks like me but does not feel male is quite beyond me. I can't quite put myself in that frame of mind and I certainly couldn't describe in any useful way how it is that I know what I know about myself.
The more I think about this topic the more I recognize that I really have no idea about anything.
Note: My standards for male behaviour were not ones imposed by my parents. They were and are progressive and wonderful in that regard and the things they taught me about gender are often exactly the same things I teach Elli. My toxic ideas about gender roles came, as most people's do, from my peers and the culture around me. You can only do so much to shelter your children from crappy ideas in the world and eventually you have to let them sort things out for themselves.