Am I Man Enough?

I'm a straight guy with no interest in sports and almost no body hair. What makes a man masculine? The question led me to a doctor’s office, a therapist’s couch, and a drag bar in Tacoma.

Am I Man Enough?

Kelly O

This is what Paul Constant looked like after the drag kings were through with him.

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All Photos By Kelly O
This is what Paul Constant looked like at the beginning of this adventure.
Charlie Menace
Damien Jewel
Paul Constant
Jak Mehov
Austin York
Kiyle Calloway

I've never been a manly man. I'm not into sports, I'm not good with my hands, and even though I've tried to work my body into something resembling good physical condition, I feel like a different species than some of the men you see, the ones out on a nice day jogging or playing soccer. Compared to them, I am a small, unimpressive thing with smoother, softer skin and a more rounded body. I lead with my hips when I dance. I can grow the facial hair of a 14-year-old boy if I don't shave for a month. The last time I counted—two months ago—I had exactly 37 chest hairs.

I'm a heterosexual man with a normal-to-high sex drive and a girlfriend of three years, but men and masculine attitudes have always bored me. When I was 6 or 7, while my cousins and uncles would congregate in the living room to shout at football players on television, I would stay in the kitchen and talk with the women and help them clean up. I was always fascinated with the gossip and the nuanced interpretations of everyday events that the women in my family shared. They were so wise that I had no desire to be anywhere else. Listening to them talk through their lives was like getting a road map to what was ahead of me, a way to learn how to be in the world. It was something that the men in my life wouldn't—or couldn't—teach me.

Middle-aged women are more than tolerant of a young boy, of course, but when the boy hits puberty, things in the kitchen get a little weirder. An unspoken discomfort with having a teenage boy in their space eventually pushed me away. I'd stand in the living room for a while, watching the men watch football. Though my exasperated father tried again and again to explain the rules to me, I never developed any interest at all—I still, to this day, don't understand how the game is played. Separated from the women in the kitchen by gender and separated from the men in the living room by interests, I would go up to my room and read.

In high school, people mocked me relentlessly for my weight, my glasses, and my nerdly pursuits—but most of the jokes revolved around punishing me for my unmasculine behaviors. I didn't walk in that careless way that jocks do. I was about as aggressive as an overfed hamster, and for that I was called all the names that men who don't act manly are called. One day after school, I was thrown down a flight of stairs by a guy who hated me because I couldn't stand up to him. I was bounced off lockers after gym class by guys with muscles and facial hair because I tried to hide my pink, hairless body in a corner when I changed.

The only male friends I had tended to be gay or barely functioning science-fiction geeks who made me look positively cosmopolitan in comparison. Most of my friends were women. If real men wanted nothing to do with me, I certainly wouldn't have anything to do with them. Eventually, I intentionally fucked with my nonmasculine tendencies by toying with the feminine. I'd have mud-mask parties, for instance, or three female roommates and I would dye our hair. These attempts to try on feminine affectations generally ended in failure; whatever else I was, I certainly wasn't pretty. Nail polish and steaming water facials felt in many ways as ridiculous as sports.

I wasn't a girly man, I was just more of a non-man. A woman at a party once insisted that I was gay because during a game involving a hammer she said that I had "the swishiest swing" she'd ever seen in her life, including among women. It was a white-trash-themed party, and all the men had fake mullets and belched and swore and played recklessly with power tools. Though I'm from a family of carpenters and car mechanics, I've never really handled any power tools—I find it impossible to be in the same room with them without picturing all the different ways I could accidentally dismember and mutilate myself. Hair stylists always comment on my inability to grow sideburns. "You're the most hairless guy I've ever seen," a stylist at Rudy's once told me when she picked up a razor to trim the back of my neck and discovered that there was no need.

Dudes—the kind of men you see at bars on Saturday night with porcupiney hair and striped, button-up shirts with stiff collars open down to there with a white wife-beater T-shirt peeking out from underneath—are as alien to me as the Amish, or people with Asperger's syndrome, or television newscasters. And here's the thing: If you want to try to understand masculinity, asking men isn't the way to go about it. When I was 13, I asked a neighbor why he liked motorcycles. "I just do, okay?" he said. I asked him to further explain what it was, precisely, about motorcycles that he liked. "Nothin'," he said. "I just think they're cool." I asked him a couple more times, in a couple different ways, and finally he just shouted "Faggot!" and hit me and ran away.

Neither are women good to ask, if only because they are better at talking about what masculinity isn't. On subjects like manliness, they're often as tongue-tied as men. Hetero women I've known who are enthralled with male bodybuilders, for instance, can usually only go so far as explain that they like them because they're—and here would be a big, unconscious sigh—"so big," and their glassy stares would indicate that they weren't going to be able to explain any further.

Which is why, after many years of thinking about it, I decided to visit Dr. Peter Shalit, a medical doctor who has worked with transsexuals in his private practice since 1990. He was the first person I've ever talked to about my masculine deficiency without cautiously framing it as a self-deprecating joke. We met in a cramped First Hill examining room decorated with yellowing Far Side cartoons. Dr. Shalit is smallish and balding and gives the impression of a young boy dressing up as a doctor. He listened with a real acuteness, choosing words with patience and certainty. "The biggest part of masculinity, physically, is the hormones," he said, beginning with the most obvious signifier of manhood. "Testosterone will make you hairier."

Does that mean it would be possible for me to grow facial hair with a testosterone treatment? "It depends," he said. "FTMs"—female-to-male transsexuals—"get hairy based on their genetic background. People from Mexican or Asian backgrounds aren't as likely to get hairy, but if you ask them, they'll say that men in their family can't grow a beard, either." Facial hair is genetic, but it varies from person to person, and patients simply don't know how they'll turn out until the treatment begins.

One common assumption is that, somehow, as soon as a male's body develops testosterone, he becomes a jackass. That's because, after puberty, a great many men become jackasses. Once, when facing financial ruin, I tried to work as a landscaper. In my first weeks there, Pete, the owner of the landscaping company, turned to me out of the blue and said: "So, Paul, what do you think about titties?" He was driving us in the company truck and we were heading out to plant sod in front of a brand-new house that resembled a wedding cake. I was speechless for a moment; then, ingeniously, instead of answering, I asked him what he thought about titties. He went on to list a dozen manly uses for breasts in the most colorful language imaginable, concluding with the ever-popular, "You can just shove your face right in there between 'em and go, you know," which he said while waving his face violently from side to side like a dog shaking off water. He let his mouth hang slack and issued a roar of pleasure, yodeling in a canyon of gigantic, imaginary cleavage. After that sloppy display, there was an awkward pause, and I demurely told him that I was more of a leg man.

Another fellow landscaper, Ron—a wiry little man who had a small tattoo of a swastika on his hand, whose license had been revoked for drunken driving, and who was on parole for beating his wife in public—was an utter animal when it came to women. Occasionally, we'd drive past a middle school and Ron, admiring a girl far too young for him, would mutter, "I'll come back and see you in five years, honey." As we'd rake out the shrubs of wealthy homeowners, he'd hoot, "Hey, baby, you got a license for that ass?" and "I'll take you home and show you a good time!" and so on. The women he was hooting at would keep walking, or very occasionally flip Ron off, and he'd laugh and tell them that they knew where to go if they wanted to get fucked. One day, I started shouting at him. Why did he persist in this repulsive behavior when the women clearly didn't want him to, when it was wrong and unwelcome? He smiled and replied, "Most of the time it doesn't work, but one out of a hundred times it does work."

Testosterone isn't an excuse for dogged, brainless horniness, and neither is it an excuse for aggression. Those steroid-addled men who work their bodies into patties of muscle for sport are freaks of science, not exemplars of manhood. "There is this thing called 'roid rage," Dr. Shalit said. "But those are really extreme steroids." In the name of science, men have been given four times the normal amount of testosterone and there's almost no discernable effect. "The steroid rage may come from the fact that they're doing high doses. In a way it's like PMS, because they're having big fluxes in their bodies." Testosterone is, in fact, better at creating feelings of amorousness than inciting violence. "When they discovered testosterone a little less than a hundred years ago, they gave it to gay men to see if it would make them less gay, but it just actually made them into hornier gay men."

Testosterone might have a lot to do with the physical characteristics of being a man, but Dr. Shalit doesn't think it has much to do with masculinity itself. "Most of the FTM individuals that I've dealt with have this sort of guyness, this sort of masculinity that's not exaggerated. They're just guys who don't have a body to match their psyche."

When pressed to rate factors in terms of masculinity, he offered a rough list: "I'd say it's the psyche first, hormones next, and the physical body is the least important."

The body is relatively unimportant in how many FTMs view themselves. When I made a clumsy reference to transmen "changing their equipment," Dr. Shalit corrected me: Most FTMs don't actually acquire penises anymore. Genital surgery is expensive and the results are not always satisfying. "We used to be skeptical of transgender folks who say, 'I don't want to have genital surgery,' but more and more I'm accepting of them," Dr. Shalit said. "Many of them will do what we call 'an upper,' which is a mastectomy, and then there's a minor surgery where they can trim a ligament to release the clitoris so it resembles a preadolescent penis. I think as long as they're happy with their bodies, that's cool."

Dr. Howard Leonard, PhD, is a psychotherapist who has been seeing transgender people since the "very late 1970s." Trans patients make up 15 to 20 percent of his client base. Sitting in his roomy, darkened office on a comfy couch, I had to fight the unmasculine urge to spill my life story. He's a gentle man with quiet mannerisms, but he's forceful to correct a mistake or address an attitude in society that he finds unjust.

Within Seattle's progressive culture, at least, he thinks that the idea of what masculinity is is changing. "Even as recent as 10 years ago, people were trying to stick themselves in a box," he says. They thought "that being a guy means I'm supposed to do these things, dress a certain way, walk a certain way, be aggressive, be gruff, be like the Marlboro Man." He paused. "Society relates to a person, they don't relate to a pair of genitals, but being a man sounds like it's objective. It's not, but it sounds like it: 'If I have a penis, I'm a man.' Masculinity is a state of being, a set of traits or characteristics. It used to be more like, 'I must be a guy because I'm interested in these things.' Now I think it's way more: 'Here's the type of guy I want to be.'"

There's so much more to gender than my relatively banal experiences, of course. Gender is fascinating. For example, FTMs and MTFs (male-to-female transsexuals) experience a very interesting trade-off, according to Dr. Leonard: "It's way harder to feminize than to masculinize. A meek guy doesn't stand out as much as an aggressive woman." Some men are frustrated when they find out that they have a smaller range of accepted behaviors to choose from when they become external females. "It's totally counterintuitive. Men have to fit into a narrower range of options, but in the trans world, it's the opposite. It's easier to act/behave/walk/present as a guy than it is for someone who was raised male to tone down enough and slow down and present in a way that seems female."

Which means that a lot of becoming a man has to do with being treated like one. Dr. Leonard talked about the transcendent sense of relief when someone is finally accepted for the gender that they feel like inside, although it's entirely possible for FTMs to get frustrated in different ways when they become men, too. "We're raised differently as men and women. There's a male entitlement that goes unnoticed by men because it's just their normal life and it is noticed by women because it's not their normal life."

I thought of a female friend of mine who once complained that sharing a room with a man took effort. "It's as though," she said, "his being there, his existence, demanded some of my attention." Talk to most men about male entitlement and they'll look at you like you're crazy. But it's real and it's more than just being able to walk around the city after dark without the fear of being raped. It's the way strangers look at you on the street, or the way they relate to you on the phone, or the way their bodies in space interact with your personal space. Think of the inconsiderate seven-foot-tall oaf who sometimes winds up in front of you at a concert and then imagine that man appearing everywhere in your life, stepping on your toes and stumbling back into you and all the while not so much as acknowledging your existence. Many MTFs experience these losses of privilege—the abstract privilege that's concomitant with masculinity—as a series of surprising, disheartening blows. Their gender transformation is going to take a bit longer than they thought, it turns out.

Dr. Leonard describes what FTMs deal with as a simultaneous attraction and repulsion: "If you have someone who's raised in a female body and they suddenly get that male entitlement, there's a sense of both I want to use this because I've got it and also My feminism says that I abhor the fact that I want to use this. I like this but I don't like that I like this."

Aidan Key is a short man with broad shoulders and a firm handshake. He has muscular arms and a confident stance; he occasionally strokes his goatee thoughtfully, just the way people do on television. He was born a woman, with an identical twin sister who happily remains a woman to this day. His voice is a bit nasal, but it's nothing that would cause anyone to think twice; I know many natural-born men who have higher voices. If we were to quiz people at the coffee shop where we held our interview, pretty much everyone—myself included—would pick him as the more masculine of the two of us.

It's weird, waiting in a coffee shop for someone you've never met who you know is transgender. Is that bodybuilder a seriously overcompensating FTM? That reedy boy with the long hair is sort of feminine—is he who I'm looking for? I gave up guessing and called Key's cell. Just then, his phone rang. He was standing right in front of me, a guy I hadn't even considered. Key, who runs Gender Odyssey, a Seattle-based transgender conference now in its sixth year, sometimes speaks at schools on the subject of transsexualism, and he often begins by having the class make assumptions about him without telling them the subject he's there to discuss: What's my class status? What's my education level? What kind of hobbies do I have? Pets? "The answers are all over the map. You should try it sometime," he says.

Key shares a prevailing opinion among transsexuals: Masculinity is something you're born with. "Growing up, I had a natural level of masculinity, certainly in contrast to my sister, who showed more stereotypically feminine girlish behavior and all that. I was more of a tomboy." Key didn't have any close male role models, and even in high school when he found some male friends, "They viewed me more as dating material."

Later, Key started identifying as a lesbian. He found a subculture that seemed to accept him. "I got connected with these [women] 15 to 20 years older than me. The masculinity they saw in me was something to be celebrated, something that was desirable. That was a pretty good time for me."

With acceptance came the desire to take the next step, but when he told his new friends that he wanted to become a man, everyone became less accommodating: "In the lesbian community, we could express masculinity as much as we wanted, even to the point of growing facial hair, wearing men's clothing, wearing a strap-on, or binding breasts. You could do all of that, but you had to do it in the context of the word woman." This is because, the thinking goes, white heterosexual men "keep you down as you're fighting to empower yourself. Our society sets us up as an enemy to overcome, and it happens to be embodied in that particular person I'm transitioning to."

Key looked into his Americano for a moment and I fiddled with the filter in my pot of tea. "When I was transitioning, I was working as a body piercer. It was at a point when people would use male or female pronouns when they talked to me. People would come in for a piercing and I would be trying to assess who they're seeing and respond accordingly. If a person would come in with a couple of friends, and two of them would be using male pronouns and the other would use the female, all of a sudden I couldn't even talk anymore. Everyone who walks in to be pierced is a little bit nervous or a lot nervous. My job, besides poking a hole in them, which is not rocket science, is to help them navigate that experience, to soothe them and to help them get through this as quickly and painlessly as possible. I thought I was going out of my mind. I did 10 to 15 piercings a day, so finally I was like, Forget it. I'm just going to be and I don't care. The minute I did that was when I started getting consistently read as male. One of the lessons I learned is that my natural masculinity is there. People see it and if I relax and be myself, that will serve me best in the long run."

Everyone makes snap judgments about sexuality hundreds of time every day, and gender is one of the first things that we unconsciously decide about a person. Many men with long hair have been mistakenly hit on by drunken homeless guys or confused for young women by old folks with myopia and a nosy demeanor. People get unsettled, even nervous, if the initial gender assigning doesn't go well on meeting someone new—it's one of the reasons why transsexuals can unnerve so many otherwise progressive/sophisticated/open-minded people.

"I have a more masculine presentation than a number of transmen. I have some muscles, and I have either a goatee or a full beard so I can move down the street and not have to interact with anyone, whereas before, every person I would pass I would question who he or she was."

Another element of masculine privilege is developing with age. "I'm 44 years old and no one's looking at me like I'm used up or past my prime. My sister is the same age and she's struggling with that. Society is shifting their perceptions of her because they see her as a 44-year-old woman. Privilege is something that most white transmen struggle with."

The Royal Knights, a drag-king troupe, perform every Saturday night at a bar called On the Rocks on Tacoma's waterfront. It's less a bar and more a compound, with four or five large rooms spread over two floors. The Knights' manager takes me on a tour of On the Rocks as the Knights put on their beards and costumes. They only want to talk to me while in drag.

Charlie Menace is physically imposing, but he has a laid-back demeanor, kind of a big teddy-bear-ness. He says, "I'd never even heard of drag kings before and I ran into an old buddy of mine who explained it to me, and so I worked out a piece and went and auditioned." Charlie mostly identifies as a man all the time now, and he credits his drag experiences with helping him come to terms with who he is. Derek Ryder is a hyper-outgoing African American who asked not to be photographed for fear of repercussions at his job, where he is a she whose most sophisticated coworkers assume is a lesbian. He's a fireball onstage, though. "It's a rush. It's a hook," he says.

Damien seems like an average working-class guy, talking a lot about his wife and kids and work. "I started because my wife saw their website and said, 'You should totally do this. You want to be a boy, anyway.' That's your choice. A hundred thousand dollars for a penis or a hundred thousand dollars for a house? This is definitely as close as I'm going to get to being a boy."

Two of the Knights identify as male, and most of the others pass as male from time to time outside the bar. Derek says, "I can pass without the drag. I've been called 'sir.' I've gone into women's bathrooms and women threaten to hit me with their purses. One time, this lady screamed for me to get out of the bathroom because I'm a guy. I showed her my ID and she swore that I'm not the person that my ID says I am. Finally I said, look"—Derek gestures at his chest—"do you want me to whip 'em out?"

The kings have different ideas on matters of privilege than Dr. Leonard or Aidan Key. "All my guy friends treat my girl friends like crap," Charlie says. "Some drag kings treat their women totally like a guy would do it. Women will complain that they don't like the way that men treat them, but then when they become a man they do it, too."

Derek volunteers, "Everybody loves control. When you get power, you get crazy. When you're playing a masculine role in a lesbian relationship and you're doing that power play, you get into it. I get the power; I get to tell you to get my beer, get me dinner. If the person you're with allows you to act that way, it's gonna be that way."

The Royal Knights start to put me in man drag. The costume is important. I'd been thinking about what kind of masculine man I would be, and the first thing that came to mind was the kind of man I hated most from my childhood in Maine: the white drug dealer who still lives in his mom's basement, plays around with weights a little bit, and totally immerses himself in hiphop culture because he sees himself as "street" and "edgy," although he'd probably cross the street muttering racial epithets under his breath if he ever saw a real African American—a true rarity in rural Maine—walking in his direction.

With the sartorial advice of my friend Kelly, who is along to photograph the transformation, I'd bought an outfit at Value Village for about 20 bucks: super-baggy Tommy jeans, a mesh Michigan tank top, and a yellow velour FUBU short-sleeve, button-up shirt. The clothes feel comfortable but awkward—my arms are so white and flabby that I don't usually let them out into the open air.

The Knights' narrow dressing room is a kind of loosely organized medley of masculine showbiz accoutrement: One wall has a long mirror lined with hair gel and eyeliner and duct tape, the other is a messy line of clothes on hangers—sports equipment, huge cowboy hats, whitewashed denim, some nicely cut black suits. The Knights go thrift shopping three weeks out of every month; they bring outfits in and out of rotation.

Charlie gives me my first—and probably the only I'll ever have—beard and mustache. He uses his own hair trimmings from his most recent buzz. He draws a thin line of glue on my face, then fastidiously applies the hair to the line. I wind up with a skinny Backstreet Boys beard, the kind that requires a tiny razor to maintain. It squares my face a little bit, detracting from my puffy lips. Looking in the mirror is a shock, but kind of an exciting one. My hair, normally too listless and heavy to take any product, stands on end with layers of gel and hairspray.

The binding, though, is the really transformative part: Charlie makes me put my hands on top of my head while he straps back my man-breasts with a dozen pieces of duct tape, first horizontally and then vertically. This forces me to stand up straight and hold my chest forward, and my entire gait is changed. No longer am I the round-shouldered wimp. I have no idea what it is like to be a manly man, and I suspect this is as close as I'll ever come to the reality. I broadly swing my shoulders and arms as I walk—I feel intimidating and potent, for maybe the first time in my life.

I ask them if they act more masculine while they're in drag, and they all say yes. I ask why and several of them grab their crotches. "It's the penis," they say, almost in unison. Charlie says, "Our prosthetics have a lot to do with it, but it's a combination of everything. The facial hair, the stuffing, the binding."

Then, one by one, and with a kind of naughty schoolyard glee, the Knights show me their prosthetic penises. Derek's penis is color-coordinated to his brown skin. I especially like Charlie's, which he jokingly refers to as "the average white male." It is tiny and almost pointer-finger thin. Leave it to the biological women to actually get penises that are in character with their personas. Most men would just buy the 13-incher.

The packing part is unnecessary for me, of course, but they give me some sunglasses and a giant gold cross and stand back to admire the man I have become. I look in the mirror and see something that could have been, if a few chemicals were apportioned differently in the womb. The binding makes my shoulders look prominent, and my beard points down at my barrel chest. There is still no hair on that chest, but there is some on my face, and even the hair on my head seems like an act of aggression (at least against gravity). I look like I don't give a fuck, and it doesn't even strike me as ironic that I had to travel to a different city and sit through 45 minutes of intensive cosmetic work to get that way.

That said, when I try to walk, natural order pretty much restores itself. Kelly, the photographer, bursts out laughing and then explains that I am "gliding like a model" and not walking like a man at all. Derek tries to demonstrate a pimp walk, and the other Knights just laugh my walk off, but Kelly is right: Even in drag as a man, I am a failure. These women with rubber penises in their pants are more manly than I will ever be. I could swagger and drawl and strut, but it would always be a bad act by a nonactor, more parody than reality.

Being masculine is kind of like being cool. It isn't really something that you can adopt; it is something that others perceive and reinforce. This doesn't mean that conservatives who swear that men are a certain way and women are another way are right. Just because you're masculine doesn't mean that you have to be a douchebag. In fact, most of the douchebaggery that's prevalent in so many men comes from the privilege that comes from being born a man, not from masculinity itself. Those little cues—the liking of sports and the scratching of balls—have to do with more mysterious things, like personal taste. Why does a 3-year-old child suddenly decide that he hates mayonnaise and then carry that hatred all through his entire life? Who can ever say? And when it comes to those cues, when I pay real attention to myself, I learned that I've got a few of my own. When Kelly and I were driving around trying to find On the Rocks, we got lost. She wanted to stop at a gas station and ask for directions. I flat-out refused. We can find it on our own, I said. And, goddamnit, I was right. recommended



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I can't believe you have 0 comments on this article. Perhaps they were removed, censored, or not censorial enough for the Stranger?
Your writing kicks ass - a mini odyssey trying to understand your place in this universe - smart,funny, honest, respectful, blah blah forget the book reviews - looks like you have a potential book of your own. & thanks.
Posted by consuela on September 19, 2008 at 10:42 AM · Report this
You 'da man! :) Hey Paul, it's Kat from high school. Stopping by to check up on you. Hope you are well.

Posted by Kat Schorr on September 19, 2008 at 5:00 PM · Report this
Paul's article is one of the reasons I regularly read The Stranger. It is comforting to know that critical thinking and literacy still exists in the younger generation. Keep up the good work
Posted by Don on December 5, 2008 at 11:10 AM · Report this
Great article. It's too bad all men, straight and gay, couldn't take the time you have to think about what masculinity is and what it means for us.
Posted by David on December 29, 2008 at 10:03 PM · Report this
I think I have too much testosterone if it makes you feel any better:) lol nice article.
Posted by rick on February 4, 2009 at 10:34 AM · Report this
I have been on T for over a year now and I want more facial hair whats your opinion on that. I see that all you all have nice facial hair. Seth
Posted by Seth on February 12, 2009 at 12:04 PM · Report this
Fucking excellent article. Blew my mind.
Posted by ChaseJW on February 12, 2009 at 8:50 PM · Report this
Great article. I went through a similar journey when I was growing up, learning on my own what being a man meant when dad's vision of manliness wasn't working for me. What helped me me get to my current comfortable masculinity was a two fold process: joining the Marines and looking beyond the American stereotype of what's "manly". Growing older helps, too.
Posted by nom de plume on February 16, 2009 at 2:19 AM · Report this
Unbelievably clear writing and a story that was fascinating. You covered more intensely and with so much more clarity the issues of gender on so many levels than I found in Master's level classes on the subject. Thank you for sharing your experience and writing. Thank you for putting a message out there that so many men and women can learn from. Thank you for your courage.
Posted by kate on March 3, 2009 at 10:28 AM · Report this
This article is incredible-- and frankly, the writing is more attractive that beefcake.
Posted by lebasbleu on March 6, 2009 at 8:27 PM · Report this
What a great essay; might really get some thinking going. It has resonance with a SavageLove podcast (from a while ago) about why (some) lesbians like manly women but don't want men. The layers of what constitutes "gender" are fascinating, complicated, beautiful and maybe a little disturbing. I grew up not knowing what this "feminine" was that everyone wanted me to be. Now that I'm old enough to not care what (most) others think -- and out as a dyke -- I still don't know.
Posted by gardener7124 on March 12, 2009 at 1:05 PM · Report this
I have a very short attention span and This article kept my interest the whole way. Great writing style and great topic as well. I hope to see more articles from you.


Posted by KEVIN on April 1, 2009 at 3:58 PM · Report this
along with everyone else, great article. i would recommend the book 'Self-Made Man: One Woman's Journey into Manhood and Back Again' for an interesting and entertaining read.
Posted by charlie k on April 18, 2009 at 4:56 PM · Report this
Great article. You have put together an interesting perspective on what society considers to be manly.
Posted by online-dating http://hintcafe.com on September 9, 2009 at 11:48 PM · Report this
Well, it's not your appearance only that decide whether you are masculine or not. It's also your action, imo. I never really choose man from their appearance. I love people who pays attention to me and love me of course. So you are man enough if you can love a woman with all your heart.
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Posted by Tiara on November 29, 2009 at 12:07 AM · Report this
I have a friend that went through the same thing. Hey not all guys like sports. Not everybody is a mold.
Posted by Used Cars Los Angeles http://www.culvercityautos.com on January 5, 2010 at 2:59 PM · Report this
Great article with excellent idea! I appreciate your post.
Posted by melissam on March 5, 2010 at 6:06 AM · Report this
Great article! You should do a documentary based on it. I think it would be great - especially if it could open more people's eyes to the fact that genitals aren't the center of the universe.
If you do a documentary then you should get your testosterone levels measured and an MRI scan to check if your mirror neurons are normal. Mirror neurons read what other people's muscles are doing and if your's are inactive then a lot of body language should have passed you by as a kid.
But as I said, great article =)
Posted by Morten on March 7, 2010 at 7:09 AM · Report this
I really enjoyed reading this; I'm a woman who has always wished I could be more "girly," but am hopeless with makeup, hairstyling or fashion, and I gave up trying to walk gracefully in heels years ago. The kink/BDSM community has given me a safe outlet to dress slutty and feel pretty and I am far more comfortable in my skin (especially dressing to show off my nice "rack") than I've ever been before.
Posted by scrubjay on March 10, 2010 at 4:06 PM · Report this
i think your gay, just don't have the courage to come out. you will someday,but i guess at least you've thought it through first and came up with this prelude to your outing. good luck with that you're gonna need it.
Posted by gillettebret on March 11, 2010 at 2:27 PM · Report this
Really great article. I've pondered my own femininity and have questioned my sexual orientation. I've concluded I must be bi. As for my womanliness, I'm still mixed on that. I dress in jeans, t-shirt/sweatshirt and running shoes. I've got short hair. I walk like a guy (when not wearing a dress), I have huge hands and feet like a guy. On the other hand, I also enjoyed a very low risk pregnancy and birthed a beautiful healthy baby boy. So I accept my mannishness and womanliness together. I was lucky in that I wasn't raised in gender roles; we were never told girls do this, boys don't do that, etc etc. Thanks so much for an insightful and intelligent article, Paul!
Posted by seattlekos on March 11, 2010 at 9:15 PM · Report this
Cynic Romantic 22
bret @20, you think you know the writer's sexual preference better than he does? Sure you aren't just projecting your own preference?

Great article Paul, I really enjoyed it. I guess I had "poor" (by which I mean, different from the norm) gender role models when I was growing up. I could never understand why women ''liked'' me, but few wanted to have anything to do with me sexually. As you surmised, I think it comes down to how we act, rather than how we look, but it took me a long time to figure that out. Frankly, I still think too many women want men who lord it over them, rather than being treated as equals (at least, if my experiences are any guide), as would be my preference. I'm not criticizing anyone for this, because I know how hard it can be to overcome that gender programming, even assuming there is that desire to do so.

Kos @ 21, I don't tihnk most gender education is verbal, more a case of imitating role models and changing perceptions and behaviours based on non-verbal cues. That's apparent to me in your words, due to your expression of gender confusion and need to categorise desires and behaviours as being gender specific, which saying you weren't raised in gender roles. I think everyone goes through that process, but most of us don't question it publicly.
Posted by Cynic Romantic on March 17, 2010 at 6:19 PM · Report this
well, its all depends on us, what we behave is what we look!!
Posted by Texas Drivers safety course online on June 10, 2010 at 5:02 AM · Report this
An interesting article for sure. This is something I have wondered about for a number of reasons. I found growing up that I got teased a lot for not being masculine and a great deal of that had to do with the parents my clothes bought me. They were about as androgynous as it comes.

As I got older, I found that my extreme interests in color (and bright color) again earned me a spot in the gay camp. Because I found color exciting and wore the colors that I felt best expressed my mood, the girls loved it (but not me) and the guys thought I was weird.

Growing up in the northwest, I'd get picked up on my gay men at record stores - but I have never considered it. One of the reasons, aside from the basic attraction, is that by and large I don't get along with men - feminine or masculine.

What I have determined, after years of examination, was that the principle difference between women and men relies on the tension of emotional intimacy and what I prefer to term, emotional modesty.

I call modesty the ability to enforce and engage doors that will lead others to a greater knowledge of who you are.

Generally speaking, mature women are required to have significant modesty in their physical appearance and communication. The ability to know when and choose when to be naked or not, and how much, is a distinctly feminine power that rides on the goods you have at your disposal.

Mature men, on the other hand, have the possession of an extremely stable emotional support system and motivational drive. They exhibit what I consider emotional modesty - not letting themselves fly off the handle, but likewise not being an emotion brick wall. Unfortunately we live in a society of double standards when women are treated as sluts if they loosen up their modesty while men in the name of chivalry are expected to 'give it up' emotionally whenever the need arises.

When a women exhibits no modesty in her public appearance, she gets about as much respect from men as a man does who exhibits no emotional control when women deal with him. Now some folks go for others with no boundaries because they are easy to exploit, but that's a different scenario.

The problem now is that we have a generation of nice men who are exploited by women in need of emotional support who have no respect or love for these guys as men. When confronted with this reality, I sought the middle ground and determined that if you want to be seen as a man, you must not draw attention to yourself physically - be dominant in the psychic realm - and yet maintain composure and modesty in how your expressions are felt.

Wear a black suit, and a boring tie unless you want to sell, be seen, or get a point across. Don't confess at every opportunity, don't prove yourself to every naysayer, don't tell anyone your secrets unless they already respect you. Don't tell anyone what they want to hear unless it is what you want. I'm not saying be mainpulative, but be in control of your emotions.

That is what makes for the masculine.

When you look at the dominant mistress, she does the same - the black dress, the controlled flirt, the selective flash of skin or eyes. Again, modesty is the key to attraction - what a person is modest about establishes masculine or feminine attraction.
Posted by jag216 on October 13, 2010 at 11:33 AM · Report this

An interesting article to be sure. I think part of the problem here is that what our society holds up as the definition of manhood is but a caricature of it. Being a man has nothing to do with hanging out in bars in wife beaters, yelling at football players, or working on cars.

Instead, act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly and you'll have it nailed.

(Written as someone who growing up asked some of the same questions you did, only to realize the above later in life. No testosterone deficit, no hair deficit, I like women [in particular short, cute, brunettes], and watch football as if it were a chess match having come to a deeper understanding of the game).
Posted by Thinker2 on November 8, 2010 at 7:51 AM · Report this
Canadian Nurse 26
Great article. I've definitely thought and journalled a lot about the nature of gender from the perspective of an unfeminine woman. I've wondered whether my life would have been simpler if I was lesbian, just because I fit the stereotypes so well. It's a gift to read about the perspective of an unmasculine man. Particularly one as perceptive and eloquent as you.
Posted by Canadian Nurse on November 14, 2010 at 6:33 AM · Report this
There are numerous interesting articles like this or something like political blah-blahs and pop-stars but there can be no high-quality amino acids proteins articles
Posted by AlanaM on February 16, 2011 at 6:46 AM · Report this
Great article, very interesting.

However, this sentence made me frown: "Some men are frustrated when they find out that they have a smaller range of accepted behaviors to choose from when they become external females."

Please remember that trans women (pre- or post-op) are women, not men.

Posted by Alea on February 17, 2011 at 10:48 PM · Report this
So it turns out Guy Fieri was a transexual all along?
Posted by SamMax on February 19, 2011 at 7:38 AM · Report this
If you had a group of people list words they would use to describe masculinity, I would bet that "brave" would come up quite often. It's interesting, then, that the author shows infinitely more courage by exploring his perceived lack of masculinity than do more typically masculine men who feel the need to regularly distance themselves from gay men or gay acts. While it may sound hyper-masculine to the shouter, "I ain't no fuckin' fag!" merely denotes a cowardly refusal to look inward.

Kudos to the author for having the balls to question his gender role.
Posted by Mizar on February 21, 2011 at 3:46 PM · Report this
If you had a group of people list words they would use to describe masculinity, I would bet that "brave" would come up quite often. It's interesting, then, that the author shows infinitely more courage by exploring his perceived lack of masculinity than do more typically masculine men who feel the need to regularly distance themselves from gay men or gay acts. While it may sound hyper-masculine to the shouter, "I ain't no fuckin' fag!" merely denotes a cowardly refusal to look inward.

Kudos to the author for having the balls to question his gender role.
Posted by Mizar on February 21, 2011 at 3:51 PM · Report this
JonSM99 32
So if I'm pretty much just like this but also have Asperger's Syndrome, have never had a romantic relationship, and am used to being assumed gay and asexual; does that make me some kind of double freak? Fun.
Posted by JonSM99 on February 24, 2011 at 1:38 AM · Report this
slade 33
lots of cultures that have celebrations of manhood
as for modern man in America its Ability and intelligence and a bit of bravado.

as you have the ability to understand your question and go after it and find answers using intelligence it makes you Masculine.

Tarazan was a real bad-ass but what made him masculine was his ability to communicate with the jungle and use it intelligently to rule for good. and as the Jungle was Tarazan that was some high level Bravado.

Being Feminine is getting Tarazan to work for you as a monkey for a organ grinder.
Posted by slade http://www.youtube.com/user/guppygator on February 12, 2012 at 1:50 PM · Report this
word3 34
What a thoughtful article. Paul Constant rules (as per usual).

"Sexual differentiation of the genitals occurs before sexual differentiation of the brain and is subject to varying and independent degrees of masculinization."
Front. End 2:1-11 (2011)

This quote is from one of the most thorough and up to date reviews on the current status of our understanding of the biological basis of sexual orientation that I have found. It is quite interesting and describes many of the animal models (including humans) used to investigate this question.
Posted by word3 on July 28, 2013 at 10:13 AM · Report this

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