Another Perspective on Gender Socialization
and Learning, Unlearning, and Relearning Gendered Behaviors, namely, different forms of Toxic Masculinity.
I was more of a toxic man before the rest of the world knew me as a man. That alone opens up a whole other side of gendered socialization. I could go on for days. But this is a conversation starter!
If we go by the logic that I was assigned female at birth, and therefore was socialized as female, that misses a massive piece of my life. Socialization has factors that vary individually, not to mention that there is more than one way to be socialized “as a gender.” The assumption made by the socialization argument is that everyone comes from the dominant/hegemonic culture with no other influences, and that lacks a great deal of nuance. I’m only speaking from a Jersey, Jewish, white, wealthy, lens. Through my lens, and this is not the full extent of even my experience, just some. Not to mention, the argument that all transgender people were exclusively socialized as their sex assigned at birth discredits our experience of gender. It also tends to be used as a case for absolution of toxic masculinity for transmasculine individuals and assumption of inherent inherited toxic masculinity in transfeminine individuals, which is misogynistic and transphobic.
So, I’m here to set my score straight on how I was also socialized as a male in myriad ways and have since learned what I will endeavor not to take on. Mainly through external examples, I’ll save some stuff for therapy, etc.
Religious studies and internalized misogyny: I am not trans because of internalized misogyny. I am trans and have a history of internalized misogyny. I was exposed from a young age to a mix of egalitarian and more orthodox perspectives on religion. Just because I was being “socialized as female” doesn’t mean I, someone whose self-perception of gender is a man, was always interpreting what was being spoken about from the perspective of a girl/woman. I have since been unraveling how culturally, observant, and even secular Jewish spaces, unfortunately, reinforce misogyny.
Macho Man Masculinity: I grew up predominantly in the 21st century, in an era of military propaganda, Mad Men, actual advertising, Marvel Movies [whoops, already said military propaganda], Eminem, Jersey Shore, and so on. I used Axe body spray in middle school. I had a phase where I was super into Fight Club and the oeuvre of Quentin Tarantino. I learned how to shoot BB and airsoft guns; I played Call of Duty and used fake guns in my movies. I got a copy of How I Met Your Mother’s “Bro Code.” I ate red meat. I drank beer and whiskey and scotch. I took supplements and lifted weights to get “swole.” I got into rugby. BEFORE my transition. People of all genders do these things, but we classify many of those activities as masculine expressions.
Nice Guy Masculinity: In the 21st century, there has also been a somewhat newer counterculture where men and masculine people can say “I’m a nice guy” but engage in abusive behavior. A push to be small and fragile. The Scott Pilgrims, the guys from 500 Days of Summer, the Evans Hansen [this is the agreed-upon plural form of Evan Hansen, get used to it]. Terms like tenderqueer, incel, perpetually online, soft boy, sad boy, all come to mind. I am part of a longstanding cycle of men like my exes, but I’m not above acknowledging times that I have leaned into “sensitivity” as a cop-out. I’m sure I’m not the only man of trans experience who’s ended up in this camp, but cis men do it too. We all could and should do better.
Homonormativity: I’m writing a musical about this one. As a man attracted to other men, and a man who grew up in the arts, I’ve met the occasional gay man. [this is a joke for those who don’t know me; cis gay men are the bulk of people in my sphere]. Gay men have a lot of things to juggle when it comes to masculinity and a lot of shame that leads to varying forms of coping and cycles of abuse. There are those who borrow bits and pieces of feminine expression while expressing discomfort around women. There are those who put “Straight Passing” hyper-masculinity on a pedestal. There are those who condemn gender variance and/or bisexuality, perhaps also a bit of misogyny baked in there. There are limited discussions of consent, sometimes aided by the party culture. There is sometimes encouragement of repackaging heteronormativity through a homosexual lens. Things that are phallocentric and body shaming as far as the eye can see. It can be a bit much, and just as indoctrinating as organized religion, though I am sure that’ll get me some hell.
The Work Continues: I have to keep endeavoring to listen to more people dedicated to the liberation of women and people from marginalized gender experiences; I cannot stress enough how much getting out of a bubble or echo chamber helps. I don’t claim to be perfect, but I do claim to be working. There’s no universal right way to experience gender, but there are ways that skew more on the side of violence.