Nishant Shah (he/him) Grey Weinstein: In as much detail as you’re comfortable sharing, how would you describe your gender? Nishant Shah: I would say it’s almost the same as my sex assigned at birth. I would say that I identify as a male, but the definition for male for me is not what gender roles says, for me it’s more like I can be myself and push the borders of masculinity. Or not push, but blurthe borders of masculinity. GW: How would you define masculinity? NS: Okay, that’s a really good question. I think being comfortable in your own skin, and not just comfortable but being secure in your personality and in yourself, is something which I would say masculinity is all about. GW: Yeah, absolutely. Do you feel like the role that masculinity plays in your life or your views about masculinity have changed or evolved throughout your life? NS: Oh yeah, for sure. So I come from India, which is a third world country and is a very orthodox society, and boys are expected to behave a certain way. And there is always a comparison, there is always a scrutiny, not just on boys but on girls as well. But speaking of masculinity, for example, since childhood I was told that boys don’t cry, or pink cannot be your favorite color, like all those stigmas. But then eventually, I figured out that at the end of the day, no one matters but you. You have the right to express your emotions the way you want to, be it anger or sorrow or actually crying. You know, why can’t men cry? So definitely my definition of masculinity has evolved, and I still think it’s in the process of evolution, because gender is never constant, I feel. It’s what you feel at that moment. GW: That’s such a good point. What caused your relationship with masculinity to change that way? Like, what helped you understand that men can show emotion and cry and all of that? NS: I think that discovering myself would be a big, important factor. Also for context I’m not out to family yet because they’re pretty othodox, and I don’t want to get into that right now. But a few of my friends know, and I could be myself around them, especially now that I’m in the US where society is much more liberal and accepting. But going back to your question, I would say what made me realize is Indian movies. I know that’s a weird connection, but I’m really mesmerized by movies wherein you can see stuff happening on screen that does not actually happen in real life. It was a very cathartic experience, I would say. Indian cinema is evolving a lot, and I was in that teenage transition phase where I got attracted to a lot of movies. And because of that, and seeing that every actor had their own expression of an idea, or an expression of an emotion or feeling, that was one of the turning points in my life. At the same time I would say, the people around me. My father is my role model, and one of my very close family members expired. And so that was the first time that I saw my father crying. And so that vulnerability, you know, to get to know that such a strong person in your life can also be vulnerable, like they have that in them, that actually really changed me. GW: Absolutely. Do you feel like people in the LGBT community– you know, queer people, trans people– express a different type of masculinity than what we think of as normative? NS: Honestly speaking, I really don’t think so because I am at this stage where I really think that everyone has their own definition of masculinity. Masculinity is a spectrum, and I think compartmentalizing it to “normative” or “real” does not make any sense. Sometimes there are times where I feel like I just need to hit the gym and pump up, and there are times where I feel I just want to watch a romcom eating chocolate chip ice cream, and both are equally masculine situations for me. So I honestly do not want to see any difference, but there are people who would compartmentalize and categorize, that’s just the sad reality. GW: So you feel like there’s not really much point in distinguishing between “normative” masculinity and any type of “newer” masculinity because we should all feel free to express both? NS: Right! So there’s this concept in one of the faiths that I follow which I really like, which is sort of like the yin-yang, but imagine it for energy. So like, masculinity and femininity are energies, and everyone has both present in them. So there’s a part of you which is masculine, and there’s a part of you which is feminine, irrespective of your gender. And there are situations, there are circumstances, in which one would overpower the other. And that depends on how you deal with those situations, or how you want to express yourself in those situations. So I really believe that everyone has their share of masculine energies and feminine energies. But like hormones, the proportions are different for everyone. And different in different situations. GW: That’s really smart, I’m going to be taking that into the future with me, thank you. Okay, the last question I have is: In your ideal world what would masculinity look like in the future? NS: I would say, a man is most masculine when he’s secure in his masculinity, when he’s comfortable with himself. So a man in heels is very masculine for me, and if he can pull it off and be himself then that is very masculine. A man in makeup, for that matter, or a man wearing a skirt, that is masculinity for me. And this isn’t just for people who fit the “man” definition, anyone can be masculine. I wouldn’t say it is better or worse, because that’s not what we're all about, but I would say that it’s different from femininity. You don’t want to compartmentalize it, but there is an essence which is different. And of course the lines are blurred, the dialogue is changing for sure. And like I said, the energy-proportion balance thing is also there. But I feel like, in conventional terms, I would really enjoy a man who is comfortable in his own masculinity, and he doesn’t shy away from wearing lipstick, or wearing heels, or wearing a skirt or something like that. GW: Yeah, absolutely! How do you think we can get there from where we are right now? NS: I think we are getting there, we are in the process of getting there. Especially coming from India, there is so much “metrosexuality” in major cities and especially in the US; it is so normal for men to wear makeup nowadays. Especially for straight men, I would say that it was a stigma twenty years ago, but now I’ve seen so many influencers on Instagram wearing makeup, and they are perfectly comfortable in their masculinity. And not just that, I think pop culture helps a lot when it comes to this. Again, I’m coming from an Indian perspective, so there are a lot of celebrities who are endorsing gender neutral clothing or gender blind clothing. Like, I don’t know if you know what a sari is– oh, you do know– like why is a sari considered feminine, why can’t a man wear one? So, I think the narrative is changing, but if you ask me how, I think individuals can do it. I would say first, embrace yourself. You yourself have to be comfortable, because I understand that for twenty, twenty-five years of your life you’ve been seeing one thing about masculinity that’s been pumped into your head since childhood. So you need to be comfortable with yourself, because if you yourself are not comfortable, you can’t induce that comfort in someone else, or you can’t expect others to understand what’s happening. Secondly, create awareness. I’m pretty sure that everyone has queer and straight friends, so when the topic comes up, or whenever a situation comes up, we need to seek that awareness. Because if I tell three people, and they tell three other people, that would create a dialogue. Creating a dialogue is very important; including this in the topic of conversation is very important, I feel. And I feel like that’s started already. The best example is this conversation we are having right now! So I feel the dialogue has already started, but it needs to penetrate a larger audience. That’s the second thing, and the third step in this process would be normalization. If you just go back two, three hundred years, pink was actually considered a masculine color, and blue was a feminine color, but over time it got switched. So societal acceptance and normalization is something which will take time. This will be something that is very long term, but I honestly feel that society is evolving. All the older people are filtered out eventually, and I think the newer generation is much, much, much more woke and liberal and accepting. I honestly think that this generation doesn’t care; I think that is the stage that I would want to see in society, that people won’t care. Like, you wear what you want! It is you who should be comfortable, and it is you who are representing your personality, so people shouldn’t care. That is the stage where we should reach, you know?
Spencer Hall (he/they) Grey Weinstein: In as much detail as you’re comfortable sharing, how would you describe your gender? Spencer Hall: That’s a loaded question! I think for a lot of years I was very headstrong about the fact that I was a trans man and no one could get through to me otherwise. Like, I was a trans man, and that was that. But I think that recently, and by recent I mean the last couple of years, probably two to three years, I really began to explore the ways in which gender is a social construct. So I’ve really been exploring what gender actually means, the ways in which we were socialized into this system, and what it actually means to be a trans man, particularly in relation to masculinity. I think about how we’re socialized to believe that men are masculine and heterosexual and all of these things, and I think that that’s not necessarily true for me. But I think that for a lot of years I felt like I had to uphold that standard in order to prove that I was a “real man.” GW: That leads really well into my next question, which is: How would you define masculinity? SH: I don’t even think it really does have a definition. Again, I think that we live in a society where gender is a social construct, and I would argue that femininity and masculinity are also social constructs, so I would say that essentially it’s made up. Does that answer your question? GW: That’s perfect! And I know you already touched on this question a little bit, but how has your relationship to masculinity changed? I guess I’m interested in how you talked about reevaluating what it means to be masculine during the past couple of years, even if it is a social construct. SH: I would say more so– again going back to the fact that I was so headstrong in the fact that I was a trans man and that’s all there was to it– in particular when I think back to those times, a lot of what I was trying to do was prove that I was “a real man.” And now looking back, I don’t even know what that means! But I spent a lot of years trying to prove that I was a real man and I was trying to meet society’s expectations of what we believe a man is. I think in particular we strongly associate heterosexuality with masculinity in or society, so I know that for a lot of years I didn’t come out as gay, essentially because I thought that in order to be seen as a man I had to be heterosexual and be attracted to women. And so I think now looking back, my relationship to masculinity has evolved in a way where I don’t necessarily feel the need to prove those things; I don’t feel the need to show up in spaces and essentially prove that I’m a man. I think that my relationship to masculinity has very much so changed in that way, and I think about, like, if I want to paint my nails, I can do that. But I also think that for a long time my relationship to masculinity was all about my gender identity and trying to prove that to other people, but I think it’s very much so switched now. So while my gender identity remains male, my gender expression continues to be fluid and change, but I don’t think that that necessarily changes who I am, just the way that I express it. GW: Yeah, that totally makes sense. What role do you see masculinity play in LGBT communities, and do you think that queer and trans people experience masculinity differently from broader cishet society? SH: Particularly in relationship to queer folks, we live in a society where we’re socialized to think about what masculinity and femininity are, and we’re taught that they’re oppositional to one another. But I would argue that they’re not. And when I think about queer folks in particular, especially trans people, our relationship to our gender expression looks very different because we go through this process of reflecting. Like, before trans folks inject hormones into our bodies, we sit and think, “Who am I? Who do I want to be in this world?” And really reflect on our relationships with our own bodies and our gender, while I think a lot of cishet folks don’t do that. So I think that trans folks in particular, our relationship to masculinity and femininity is very fluid because of that, and is ever evolving. And I would say that the other thing I see in the queer community, and this isn’t just for trans folks, I think about how masculinity is often put onto queer bodies. Particularly when I think about gay cis men or gay cis women, it is interesting how gender roles are placed onto them, and the idea that one of them must play a traditionally more masculine role, even though we know these things are social constructs. So that’s one of the ways that I think that masculinity really shows up and plays a role, is how those societal norms are still pushed onto us into our community, and sometimes we still take them up as if it’s normal. GW: Who do you look towards to model healthy masculinity, and what does that look like? SH: Who do I look towards to model healthy masculinity? Gay people! No, I’m just kidding. I don’t think there’s one direct person I look at when it comes to modeling healthy masculinity, but I think about a lot of different folks who identify as male and have different understandings of what masculinity looks like. So there’s a lot of trans men out there who are now educators and have been pregnant, right? So instead of the idea of, “My body can’t do this, my body can’t get somebody pregnant,” there’s the idea that, “My body can carry a human,” which is a pretty unique thing. So again I don’t think there’s any one person who I look to for healthy masculinity, but I definitely look at trans folks in particular and the ways that they explore masculinity differently, and how it shows up differently. Again, it’s an ever evolving relationship, so I particularly look to trans folks, and transmasculine folks, to figure out what that can look like. GW: Yeah, definitely. Okay last set of questions: What would masculinity look like in your ideal world, and how do we get there? SH: This is very tenacious of me, but I would say that when I think about an ideal world around masculinity or just gender in general really, I think I would like to see this relationship between masculinity and femininity being so oppositional no longer be a thing. I would love to live in a world where people just got to show up and be creative, whether that was whatever they’re wearing, or the way they present themselves to the world. I think about how, if we didn’t have these standards of masculinity and femininity, how many men I would see wearing dresses, how many women would I see wearing suits every day. So I think that when we talk about masculinity in particular, what I would love to see is this relationship between masculinity and heterosexuality for masculine presenting folks to– I don’t want to say be abolished, but be abolished for lack of a better term. And vice versa. I think that would allow a lot of people to be creative, and I think that would allow a lot of people to be themselves. And when I think about building a future around that, I am a firm believer that trans folks lead the way. We for centuries have continued to show up in spaces as ourselves unapologetically, and I think a lot of cishet people in particular feel challenged by that. It’s really brave to show up and be yourself regardless, so I think that our creativity, cishet folks almost feel threatened by that. But when I think about building a future, one of the things I would love to see is the gender binary being abolished, and I think trans folks in particular are going to be the ones to do that. I think we’ve always led the way. GW: That’s really hopeful, I love that. SH: I just want to abolish the gender binary. I think being trans is not hard, the gender binary is hard. Let’s put the violence where it belongs. When I have to go through something, for example healthcare, and it’s like, “What is your gender, male or female?” I’m just like, “Why?” And when I think about that, I think about the way our systems are built to not include us. And so the onus does not belong on my body, but rather on the system that wasn’t built for me, for trans folks. And so when I think about masculinity in general, one of the things I would love to see is the idea that masculinity and femininity are oppositional to one another be abolished. And just allow people to be creative. And exist. You know when you go into a department store, and it’s men’s and women’s clothes? How different would the world look if I went into Macy’s, for example, and there was just clothes on the floor and I grabbed what I wanted? Rather than being like, “Oh I need to go to the men’s section because I’m a man, I can only wear pants and button down t-shirts, that’s all I’m allowed to wear.” Which is not the case for me, but for a lot of years it was, and for people who maybe feed into toxic masculinity that is the case for them. But I’m like, how sad for you, because you’re just not allowing yourself to tap into your own creativity. I’m just a very firm believer that trans folks lead the way. We always have. And we continue to.
Jamy Lee (any pronouns) Grey Weinstein: In as much detail as you’re comfortable sharing, how would you describe your gender? Jamy Lee: My gender is “shrug.” I’m not being facetious about that. I kept wondering about being a cis girl for most of my life, and then over the pandemic I had a lot of time to think about myself. And I was like, “There are a lot of masculine features that I identify with, but there's also a lot of feminine features that I identify with,” and I’m like, “What even is gender anyway?” And then you get into that very introspective “what is life?” kind of thing. And then I just realized that I don’t really care. Gender is something that I would like to wear like a different outfit everyday, or express however I feel comfortable on any given occasion. It’s not necessarily something that I have to identify with strictly on one binary on one basis every single day of my life, because that’s constrictive. And my whole philosophy on life is that it has to be as free as possible, because there are a lot of other things we have to deal with. Gender and sexuality and relationships and stuff like that, those kinds of things don’t really deserve as much stress when identifying with something. GW: Very true, that’s a great answer. Next question is: How would you define masculinity and what does it mean to you? JL: Basically, there are two definitions for me. There’s the personal one, where masculinity is anything that you want it to be, essentially. Which is kind of a non-answer, I’m not going to lie. So for example, my boyfriend is a trans man, he’s out, and he identifies with masculinity not only by wearing horrible tie-dyed puffer pants situations, but he also has big rainbow coats, he wears makeup, he has nail polish on. Those are all things that tie into his masculine identity, because he’s not using they/them pronouns, he’s not using she/her pronouns, anything like that, he’s just a man. And everything that he does, therefore, is masculine, by his identity informing all of those decisions. On the other hand, there’s the idea of masculinity that society has pressed upon us, where masculinity is like, you are supposed to be the provider, you are supposed to be tough, you’re not supposed to cry, no emotions. Take care of people, don’t feel anything, and also eat meat a lot for whatever reason! So, that really toxic version of, “I gotta be a man, you gotta grow up, you gotta do this, you gotta do that. You gotta love working with power tools and working on cars and stuff.” And that’s somehow turned into this societal view of masculinity. I think both concepts exist in tandem, and I don’t think they should, I think that the first one is the one that I most want to identify with. But the second one still does exist and I think it would be remiss of me not to point that out when talking about the concept of masculinity. GW: Yeah that makes sense. So how do you think that your relationship with masculinity has changed or evolved throughout your life? JL: So my background is that I’m East Asian, and East Asians, as well as a lot of POC or diaspora cultures, they have sort of this hypermasculine cisheteronormative aspect to them. So I did grow up believing that my dad was going to be the breadwinner and that my mom was going to be a housewife, and that I was going to eventually grow up and learn what she did. And that even if I wanted to become a doctor– which has that whole sort of Asian model minority thing going on too, intersectionality!– me being a doctor wasn’t going to keep me from being this amazing wife and mother. I was going to take care of my kids but also take care of my job, and then that work-life dichotomy that comes with being in a Western society. So there’s all these identities intersecting with one another. But essentially, as I was growing up I noticed more things that my dad would do that were considered feminine, and that my mom would do that were considered masculine, and they were looked down upon for those aspects. I was just like, “Why? It’s better to be a versatile person, so that you fill different boxes.” Like, if you really want to be that person who works and takes care of family in an effective way, why wouldn’t you want to fill all these boxes and be as versatile as you want to be? And so, seeing that disdain and not really identifying with it eventually brought me to, “Well hey, what are gender identities? Why do gender identities have to exist? What’s with this binary and the way that society informs this binary? And why is gender identity not only a thing that you are assigned, but something that you have to continue acting on as though you’ve been assigned a part that you can’t get out of your entire life?” And it’s so constricting, and it’s so bad. And so by the time I’m in my teens and I have my first gay crush I’m like, “You know, I could be a guy.” Because again, that whole first stage of being gay or queer or part of the LGBT community and realizing that you like the same gender makes you sort of think about your gender identity as well. And I’m like, “Okay, so this person that I like right now is a girl. If I like her, that might mean I’m a guy. But I would be a guy for her–” But then following that, I’m like, “Wait, why do I have to be a guy, though? Why can’t I continue to stay myself?” And then also this person, who happens to identify with the same gender that I am– I’m like, “Well, wait. I don’t have any disdain for these gender identities. And why do I have to identify with these gender identities? Why is masculinity in this box? And why is femininity in this box?” So then I’m just like, “Okay, open the boxes!” And so that’s where I am right now; I don’t know if that’s really an evolution or just a pattern of circular behavior that I keep going back to, and just rethinking and reconsidering. But if that’s evolution then I’m happy to have it. Does that answer the question? GW: Yeah! I’m wondering where you are right now with your gender identity, do you feel like it’s connected to your sexuality? JL: So for example, there are absolutely trans people who are straight, and there are absolutely gay and queer people who have stayed with the original gender identity they were assigned at birth. They’re just comfortable in that, and they don’t want to be anything outside of that. Like, if they were assigned female at birth they just want to be “a she/her,” and that’s fine, that’s totally okay. But I think that it opens up a thought process to try to question everything after that point. Because if you’re like, “Okay, only boys can like girls,” or, “Only girls can like boys,” and then you’re a girl liking a girl or you’re a boy liking a boy, it’s just like, “Oh, so we broke that norm. What other norms can we break?” And I’ve known so many people in the queer community that have started liking people of the same gender and then thinking, “Oh, I want to explore my gender.” And sometimes they go back to identifying with the same gender as they did at the beginning, sometimes they change their gender. I have transgender friends and people that I’m in relationships with, obviously, that went that route and explored all the weird stuff that there is in there, and found that they really like and identify with a lot of it. So in short, the two concepts aren’t together always, they don’t come in a bundle deal, but it does come with a sense of, “I can break these rules, and no one’s going to tell me not to do that.” GW: That kind of leads into my next question, which is: What role do you see masculinity play in the LGBT community, or other communities you’re part of? And do you think that queer or trans people experience masculinity differently? JL: I think that queer and LGBT people– I will say this once and I will say it again– I think we’re always on the forefront of new trends and new styles and new everything. Like, yeah, there’s the fashion aspect, we’re always on the cutting edge of creativity and all that. But I think also in gender norms and societal norms, we’re always on the cutting edge. We want to accept more people. This new identity, sure, we’re out here for it; this new way of expressing your masculinity, we’re out here for it. I know that there are some people in the LGBT community who are still divided about what they will allow. But in my version of LGBT community and community bonding, everyone accepts one another. And if there are questions, we ask those questions, but we just accept one another for who we are because that’s what we identify with and we know ourselves best. And with masculinity in that regard, if someone wants to be masculine in a way that is not socially accepted, or not traditionally accepted even in the LGBT community as it stands right now, I think it’s all valid. And I think that some of the discourse that I hear within the LGBT community is related to the idea that masculine people aren’t allowed in spaces that women loving women, or feminine identified people loving feminine identified people, are allowed. That kind of thing, that’s a huge debate. And I’m just like, this is a coed space, the space that I want to cultivate. It’s a coed space. So if you’re a masculine person and you want to be in these spaces, don’t talk over people, but you are fully allowed to be there. So that was kind of a tangent, but also in other cultures and communities, in diaspora specifically– so I’ve spoken with a number of POC who are also queer or trans or in the LGBT community, that have noticed the masculinity thing even in their own houses, even in their own cultures. [...] Like even in East Asian societies, we have this incredibly cisheteronormative society, and in a lot of ways we crack down on it a lot harder than Western society, but there are also a lot of norms that Western societies don’t have that East Asians do have. Like for example, there’s this thing called “skinship,” which is the physical touch of someone that you’re close with. So you will see girls in the street holding hands, you will see guys in the street with their arms around each other. So that’s physical contact, but the moment you’re like, “Hey, that’s kind of gay,” they will bristle up on you, and then it’s not acceptable anymore. Or, bathhouses are a thing, you see a bunch of naked women, you see a bunch of naked men, they are gender oriented, male and female. Going in there, you can wash your friend’s back; my mom used to tell me stories about how she would remark on her friends’ boobs or whatever. And it would just be like a gal pal thing. And the moment it would turn queer or LGBT related, it’s over. But those kinds of things happen. And then, for example, it’s very common for K Pop boy bands to do skincare, to wear makeup, to wear feminine clothing, to do all of that kind of stuff. But this is a norm that is not based on what that society considers to be traditionally masculine, it’s just like an act that they put on, like a social bonding thing. So in keeping with masculinity and how diaspora cracks down on that, there are also norms outside of Western culture that we have to consider when we’re talking about masculinity in other cultures and diaspora. In the medical community also, with masculinity and the way that one presents oneself! There is literally a training that I went through that was like, “Don’t judge people based on their outward appearance! Please don’t do that!” And it is kind of hard for me to hear that every time I have to go through those kinds of training, where it’s like, “Okay this person, let’s say her name is Sandra, she has not presented feminine that day and some unknowing medical professional who has not been versed in this kind of thing goes out and calls her a man.” Or conversely, “There’s this wonderful guy who’s there, his name is Tom, but he happened to wear a skirt that day, or he had nail polish on or he had earrings on or something, and he gets misgendered just because of those things.” To have a social cue based on outward appearance, even in a clinical environment where you’re supposed to be treated for medical stuff! That’s a place, unfortunately, where people will misgender you no matter what it says on your chart, based on outward appearance and how you present yourself, whether it's masculine or feminine. And that bums me out really badly, but that is also a thing that happens. GW: Do you work in the medical field? JL: I do. I want to in the future, I want to be a medical practitioner. But right now I work both in research at Michigan Medicine and as a medical assistant in urology. Urology actually is very funny; there’s a transgender clinic within Taubman urology. The thing is that in the materials that we print, in the bags that we give out and stuff, it will still say, “Male, penis,” or, “Female, vagina or vulva.” And when we’re doing catches for urine, or talking about certain diseases or procedures that we do, they are still very much based in gender binary stuff. And that always bums me out because I see people’s charts when they come in, and they’re like “trans woman” or “genderqueer” or “nonbinary” and I know that I personally– again, my gender is “shrug” and I identify with all pronouns so it doesn’t affect me as much– but for people who have been fighting their entire lives to be recognized as a certain gender, to go in and be like, “Oh, because I have a vagina am I not a man?” It is crushing to me how primitive our medical systems are and continue to be in this day and age regarding masculinity and femininity but also just gender in general. GW: Very true. Who do you look toward for models of healthy masculinity, and what does healthy masculinity look like? JL: In terms of models of not-very-healthy masculinity, I will say at least 99 percent of dads. Like, honestly– this is a sidebar but– I know so many people in the community who are just, with their mothers, whatever, but with their dads, are usually estranged from them. And that’s not a trend that comes lightly to me. Because the thing about toxic masculinity with dads is that you have to pass on these ideals to your son or daughter, no matter what, and then some people just take it to another level where it almost becomes abusive. So for people who are trying to express or explore their gender identities, dealing with that kind of aggressive masculinity being thrust upon them, it almost never turns out well. Unless, and this is where I guess I’d pivot to healthy masculinity, the dad starts becoming accepting of viewpoints and perspectives that are not his own. And so my version of healthy masculinity– this is going to be such a cheap answer, I’m sorry– but I think that the Fab Five from “Queer Eye” are one of the good examples of healthy masculinity. Because, for example– and I’m not counting Jonathan in this because Jonathan’s a nonbinary person– but the rest of the guys, they are informed about the issues, they’re open to new ideas and culture, they accept pretty much anybody who comes into their path, and they try to treat everyone with respect and kindness no matter what. And if they don’t know about something– like for example, there was an episode of “Queer Eye” where a trans guy was represented– a couple of the guys on the Fab Five didn’t know what transness was really like for someone who is transmasc. And apparently, according to an interview someone had with the trans man who was on the episode, the guy was like, “Yeah, they went above and beyond. They stayed with me during the episode to ask me questions about what I was comfortable with.” To get more information about this from someone who was emotionally able to and compassionate enough to explain the concepts to them! And they absorbed it and they took it in, and they’re still doing trans episodes. And you can see that the respect is there. If they don’t understand they ask questions; if they do understand they try their best to help. In the simplest terms, I think those two tenets are what make up healthy masculinity, and healthy people in general. But healthy masculinity is also for me having the ability to retain a masculine identity but to have that identity inform your actions and not have your actions inform that identity. GW: Those are all really good points! In your ideal world, what should masculinity look like in the future? And how do we get there? JL: I’m going to sound like a broken record saying this, but have your identity inform your actions, do not have your actions inform your identity. So if you’re a dude and you are comfortable being a dude– and by dude I mean someone who identifies as masculine and “is” masculine– if you want to cook or garden or paint your nails or do your hair or go to a spa or whatever, those are not feminine actions. Those are actions that are masculine because you are a masculine person doing them. As opposed to, “Oh this action is feminine, so now I’m feminine!” It’s an active choice, as opposed to a passive choice. And I don’t have a gender, so if I go to a spa, that makes the action non-gender based for me. I can just go to a spa because people like going to spas, or I can paint my nails because I like having my nails painted, and that’s it. There’s no gender attached to it. But if you’re a masculine person and you want to go to the spa, you don’t have to be like, “Oh I’m such a man, I’m going to use man wipes and man cream!” It’s just, you’re going to the spa, and that’s a masculine action because a lot of people like going to the spa. That’s it. A lot of people like to make a big deal out of gendered things, even though a lot of time those experiences are universal. Or, those actions are masculine or feminine or whatever because you’ve done them. Gendered products though, that’s a whole different beast, I hate that. Like when Bic puts out pink pens because they don’t think that women can hold regular black pens, that’s just bullshit. So I’m not saying that; like, Bic, cut that shit out! All of these companies, cut that shit out! I also hate capitalism, so cut that shit out. But on the topic of just an action, healthy masculinity is doing things and accepting that those things are now yours because you’ve done them. And to not be afraid of any action because it is gendered by society, or because it is shown as weak. Guys that stay home, for example, when their feminine partners go out to work– that’s not weak, that’s not feminine, to stay at home and take care of children. And the fact that it is considered feminine is based on this anthropological history of how women were gatherers and men were hunters or whatever; that is such an antiquated idea. Healthy masculinity moving forward has to cut ties with all of these old things. And I also think that in terms of tradition– in East Asia, for example, in Korea, there’s a tradition that men wear a certain uniform, women wear a certain uniform, especially for ceremonial dress. Like during weddings and such. Who says that you can't wear the “women’s outfit” and make that masculine by you having worn it? You can still identify with some tenants of the tradition, but the specific gender based parts of it, those don’t have to matter anymore. Because you’re the one doing it. And moving forward in the future, being confident is one part. But the other part is that everyone should have more empathy and compassion for one another. So moving forward, if you see someone on the street who isn’t necessarily “passing” but is doing something to make themself look more feminine, just respect that they want to be seen as this identity. On the flip side too, if someone does not want to pass– like, my boyfriend passes, but he doesn’t want to pass in the societal way, so he’ll wear long nails and feminine clothing and things that are traditionally considered feminine. But you’d still consider him a guy! And people still should consider him a guy, because it’s masculine because he’s doing it. So confidence to be who you are, and compassion and empathy for those around you to understand that that is who they are. And then the final note is that as I’m talking about this, I am wearing earrings, I usually have my nails painted, I will sometimes wear feminine colors, sometimes I’ll wear boots with heels on them, whatever. Those kinds of things, people will look at me, and if they don;t know me, they will say “she/her.” And the thing is, even as someone who identifies with any pronouns and having gender be a shrug, I do like it when people vary my pronouns. For example, I’m polyamorous, my girlfriend calls me “boyfriend,” and my boyfriend calls me “boyfriend” most of the time. And those kinds of things, even if I don’t specifically identify with being masculine all the time, I enjoy having masculine pronouns assigned to me at times, because it shows how varied I am as a person. And I think that with compassion, with healthy masculinity in place, more people would be apt to call me by different pronouns than just she/her. Which is something that I would love to see personally. And people have talked to me when I’m in a room saying, “Hi ladies,” or, “Bye, ladies,” and then apologizing to me for it. I would rather than the brain doesn’t go to that schema that makeup and earrings and all these other things means that you’re feminine. ‘’Just having the brain throw up a question mark whenever you see somebody, unless you already know their pronouns, and having the brain schema go to, “Oh, hey, ask them for their pronouns.” And then if they use they/them pronouns or he/him or whatever, go, “Oh okay, so their actions are now masculine. Or the actions of that person are not gendered.”
Will McClelland (he/him) Grey Weinstein: My first question is: In as much detail as you’re comfortable with, how would you describe your gender? Will McClelland: Generally, if I’m explaining my gender to a cis person, I would say I’m a man. If I’m describing my gender to one of my friends who is also trans, I would say I’m “just some guy.” It’s kind of ambiguous or nebulous to some degree, because yes, I consider myself transmasc or a man, and I don’t really have any significant connection to femininity. However, what I have seen as cis manhood my entire life, I don’t really relate to that as much. So, I am a guy, but even calling myself a man kind of feels weird at times. Because I don’t really think of myself as a man, because that has connotations to it that I don’t associate myself with, but I’m not not a man. I’m just a guy. GW: That definitely resonates with me, too. How would you define masculinity, and what does it mean to you? WM: Masculinity is something that I don’t think is very easily defined for one thing, because it is going to be different for everyone. And I know that society’s perception of masculinity, at least in the US, is very macho; it seems to be very strength based. But I don’t really see that as much; I think that masculinity to me is more… damn, what is masculinity? Honestly, now that I’m thinking about it, it is very hard to define, because I don’t want to fall into patterns of the binary. But I want to say that having a strength of character, or having a firmness to you that people can depend upon. But then again, that’s not limited to masc people. I think when you get into the weeds of gender, it’s harder and harder to see what’s actually there. It’s kind of like quantum physics. Like, you see what’s in front of you, but when you start looking at it more deeply and trying to pick apart what builds it, like what are the building blocks of masculinity and what we see as gender, what is actually there is so hard to find. I use masculinity in the sense of my gender expression the most. But the masculinity that defines my gender expression is a masculinity that is defined by a more traditional sense of masculinity. So I don’t wear dresses, I don’t wear skirts; I wear pants, I wear button downs, I bind. It’s a very cis-guided version of masculinity that I use in my gender expression. But it’s because that makes me the most comfortable in my gender expression. I like the feeling of those clothing, I like the way I look in that kind of clothing. But if I really think about it, I don’t think it’s because it’s masculine, it’s just what I like wearing. So I guess masculinity is fake, but I use it every day. GW: That’s a good answer! That leads to the next question I have, which is: How has your relationship with masculinity changed and evolved throughout your life? WM: So when I was really young, like first grade– I went to a private K-8 school that had a uniform– I would always wear the boy’s uniform whenever I got the chance. There was a spring and a winter uniform, and the spring uniform let us wear pants if we were “girls.” So I would wear that whenever I got the chance, because I was more comfortable. But actually, it wasn’t really related to wanting to look like a guy, it was just that I like wearing pants more, and I feel more comfortable in that. So I know that’s more gender expression rather than necessarily masculinity itself, but I think that is something worth noting. But growing up, getting older, I felt a very distinct distance from femininity as I interpreted it, and as society interpreted it. So kind of by default, I was leaning more towards masculinity. I was like, “I don’t want to wear pink, or wear girly things!” This was like third grade. So kind of by my own personal aversion to femininity, I kind of leaned more into masculinity. I eventually learned about feminism and stuff, and I was like, “Okay, that was fucked up.” So over time, I’ve leaned more into masculine expression but not necessarily stereotypically masculine behaviors. I guess my relationship with masculinity has always been about expression rather than how I am as a person. I would not say that my mannerisms are particularly masculine in a lot of ways, and never really have been. If we take this cis masculine idea of being tough and not talking a lot, or having a low voice or being less open about their emotions, I don’t consider myself any of that really. I’m pretty loud, I’m boisterous, I use a high pitched voice for comedy a lot– like when I’m talking I’ll do silly little voices. I’ve never really related to that idea of a strong, more aloof person, because that’s not who I am as a person. So I guess this idea of masculinity, it was never something that I was aiming for more than in gender expression. In high school I went to an all girls school, and junior and senior year there were classes with an all boys school across the street. And I think during that period would have been when I was most trying to emulate a stereotypical masculine ideal of personality. When I would be around the guys from the all boys school, I would try to speak lower, I would try to control my voice more, or act like I cared less, or try and fit into that more cis performance of masculinity. But then when I came to college and met other trans people, especially other transmasc people, I was like, “Okay, that was just me trying to emulate cis people, which is not something that I want to do in general.” In a nutshell, I would say for a long time my relationship with masculinity was defined by my aversion to femininity, and then growing up my relationship with masculinity turned more into an expression-based thing. I just enjoyed it more, and connected with it more, and realized that the reason that I’d been averse to femininity was that I just felt more comfortable with the societal expectation of masculinity, with that expression. But then for a brief period of time because of the circumstance of being in an all girls school I fell a little bit more towards an expression of masculinity in my own personality. But then coming back to college it became more of a personal expression thing rather than a personality thing. GW: Were you out as trans when you were in an all girls school? WM: Junior year. Well, I came out to one of my friends sophomore year, and then junior year I was out to friends, my whole grade, but not going by my name with teachers. And then senior year I was going by my name. GW: That sounds really hard. WM: It sucked! It was a liberal school, but once I was like, “Okay, I’m transgender,” they were like, “Fix us.” And I’m like, “...I have homework.” They were like, “How can we make this better for you?” and I was like, “I don’t know, stop addressing us all as ‘ladies,’ or ‘young women’” and they were like, “Okay,” and then proceeded to not stop doing that at all. So– it brought Schuyler Bailor in to talk to us! GW: Oh, wow! WM: But that was kind of it! GW: What role do you see masculinity playing in queer communities or other communities that you’re part of? And do you think that LGBT people experience masculinity differently than cishet people do? WM: Absolutely, I think that queer people experience it differently. Because I think with queer people, there’s more of a choice involved. Like, cis people could have more of a choice, but I don’t think it’s obvious to them that masculinity as it’s presented to you is something that you can actively choose to take part in or not. The queer people that I know– and I’m mostly friends with trans people at this point, if I’m friends with someone who’s not trans, eventually they will be– everyone just kind of plays around with it more. It’s like a little tool; some days someone might present more masc, and other days they won’t. It’s really turned into something that’s more expression-based than anything else. I think for cis people it might be more tied into personality and how they present themselves to the world in terms of how they actually act with other people, because that is what is impressed upon everyone by our patriarchal society. I’m thinking of, “boys don’t cry,” repression of emotion, presenting with strength and whatnot, increasingly that’s something that’s being criticized especially in feminist spaces. It might just fall under toxic masculinity, but the question of what is non-toxic masculinity, you’re going to find those traits in women as well, and in people who aren’t men or women. I don’t think it’s easy to define what isn’t toxic masculinity, because then you’re assigning certain traits to some sort of gender, but those traits aren’t limited to one gender. So I think it’s easier to define what toxic masculinity is, and then saying that masculinity is more about gender expression in terms of presentation. But even with presentation, assigning pants to men and masculinity, there’s still issues there. So if you’re going with assigning pants and button downs and blah blah blah to masculinity, then yes I think it’s an expression thing and queer people can play around with it a little bit more. Being queer I think releases you from a lot of expectation. And I don’t think that every queer person realizes that necessarily, but it’s something that I have found personally and that a lot of my friends have found. And it will certainly be circumstantial; like, there are plenty of queer people out there who still feel very trapped by societal expectations. But I think that by engaging with the community a lot, you can realize that society is bullshit, and that gender expectations that are put on us are stupid. I have a lot of transmasc friends, and I think it really does come down to how they present themselves to the world, and to some degree maybe a bit more… I don’t want to say stoicism, that doesn’t feel right, but a lot of transmasc people I know try to be very grounded or dependable. But again, that just leads me back to how women and nonbinary people can also be grounded and dependable! I feel like I’m taking a queer theory class right now, my brain’s about to explode. Like, what is masculinity? I came in here like, “Oh, surely I will have an answer,” and now I’m like, “It’s all just vibes.” GW: Well yeah, I think there’s definitely something to be said about how maybe masculinity and femininity are social constructs to the same extent that gender itself is, or that gender roles are. WM: Yeah! GW: And yet, society gives so much meaning to it, so I feel like we can’t just opt out trying to understand it. My next question is: Who do you look to for models of healthy masculinity, and how would you define healthy masculinity in general? WM: Honestly, I kind of do look to my transmasc friends for healthy masculinity, in how they present, and using healthy communication and being more open about their emotions and that sort of thing. I look to them for encouragement to do that myself. To some degree, I’m not the best at communicating my own emotions, but I don’t associate that tendency with masculinity so much as it’s just a me-problem. But I would say that I would look to people who are very open about their emotions. I see how toxic masculinity can be, and then I look to people who are masc and don’t do that. A certain amount of– this is going to sound weird– but a certain amount of homoeroticism too, or at least openness about sexuality and gender, I admire that in masc people. Andrew Garfield might be a good example, because he’s very open about his emotions and he has a lot of very interesting things to say about life. I was on a “Social Network” kick a while ago, and the way he talks about Jesse Eisenberg– I mean, this man is supposedly straight, but I don’t know, there’s something there! And he’s said that he’s straight but “open to experiences” or something like that, I don’t know. But that level of comfort with being himself and being open with other people in his life, and being very open about showing love and appreciation for others, I think is very admirable. And I think it’s that kind of care for others and that drive to show appreciation for others and love for others, I can say I think that that is healthy masculinity. Because if you’re defining masculinity as acting as a protector of others– which in and of itself is kind of bioessentialist in its roots maybe– but if that’s part of your definition of the social construct of masculinity, I think that would be a healthy version of it. By encouraging others around you, and protecting their emotions by showing your own care; showing that they have someone they can go to, that they have someone who loves them, that’s a really admirable form of it. Yeah. I don’t look to my father, but we’re not going there! GW: Who does? I’ve interviewed a handful of trans people for this, and no one has said their father. WM: Glad we’re all on the same page! GW: We’re all very much on the same page. Okay, last question: In your ideal world, what would masculinity look like in the future, and how do we get there? WM: In my ideal world, it probably wouldn’t exist. Gender wouldn’t really be as defined of a thing as it is currently. Some people are very tied to gender, and power to them, especially trans people who are very tied to their gender. You’re doing great, you’re awesome. Personally I was really in it for a long time, like, “I’m trans, I’m a guy, blah blah blah,” but as I’ve gotten older I’ve just been like, “I don’t really want to think about it anymore, I just want to exist.” And I think that that’s been really freeing, just not worrying about it or trying to define myself anymore. Because for a long time I was caught up in, “Am I masc enough? Do I pass?” But now I’m just like, “I don’t even care, really.” I just want to live my life, and worry about things other than gender. So I guess in an ideal world, people wouldn’t necessarily have to worry about, are they passing, are they masculine or feminine enough? Masculinity would be something that could be tried on or taken off here or there, at one’s whim. It’s something that would be used to define a certain set of traits, but I feel that by using “masculinity” as a term it gives it a gender. I feel like changing the name but keeping the same substance wouldn’t do much, but at the same time if you’re grouping– hmm, I’m digging myself into another hole. It just wouldn’t exist I guess, people would have traits, people would choose what they want to wear and how they are, people would be able to just kind of exist as they are and wear pants if they want to. They can be open with their emotions, or go to therapy, be a protector of the people around them, look out for the people around them, or lean more towards a different approach. I think as a construct, it acts to limit people in specific ways, and I know for me it can cause some stress in terms of how much you’re adhering to masculinity in order to appease a cis society. Like for trans people, are you masc enough or are you fem enough to appease cis people? So I guess in my ideal world that wouldn’t be something that would exist, you could just be a person doing your thing. But that’s just me, I know that some people are very tied to masculinity and femininity for their gender, and that’s fine. Like, yee-haw.