Untangling Gender, Vulnerability, and Toxic Masculinity

Today I had planned to write a fun blog post about my gender. It was going to involve a photoshoot and outfit changes. I’m genderfluid, so I often find myself identifying along different parts of masculinity and femininity – often at the same time. I’ve coordinated my wardrobe, my hair, everything about how I present to allow for this constant shifting. But the more I thought about letting people in on that, the less I wanted to share.

I’ve always associated my writing with raw and real vulnerability. I’ve written poetry brimming with melodramatic metaphors for over a decade; I’ve written stories exploring my inner demons; I’ve filled many notebooks with existential angst over my sexuality and my mind and body.

But I rarely shared them.

These notebooks and stories and poems have been hidden from the time when floppy disks were still a legitimate storage option. I would occasionally share a story or poem with a close friend, but it wasn’t until I was nearing the end of high school that I ever talked to anyone about it. Until then I would hand it over, ask, “Is it good” and then proceed to never talk about why it was or wasn’t.

The more open I was about my writing, the less personal my writing got. And a lot of this does have to do with my gender and how I came to accept myself.

Just because people didn’t see me as a boy or a man, doesn’t mean that I was safe from the clutches of toxic masculinity. I attempted to overcompensate for the inherent “womanhood” assigned to my body and to subvert my family’s expectations of me.

I spent a lot of my time growing up trying to distance myself from “other girls.” As a good friend of mine once pointed out, there was no reason for me to not like “other girls,” I just didn’t feel like I was the same. There was something that was just quite off. And it was only affirmed by the way I shuddered at the words sister, she, her, girl, woman, miss – even my own name.

But I didn’t talk about it. I wanted to stop being called girl, missy, young lady, so I began wearing my brother’s clothing. I started shopping in the “boys” section in the store. My mother would try to put me in dresses and I would roughhouse with my brother even more.

To me, performing that kind of emotional labour was for women. It was for girls. And I wasn’t one. I began to mimic traits of masculinity in the media around me. I wasn’t supposed to express my feelings, I wasn’t supposed to express weakness, and if I was going to be sexual, I wasn’t supposed to care.

But all of these things aren’t inherently masculine. They’re just toxic. And none of these things were me. I’m explosive with emotion, I feel very deeply, I empathize deeply. And it’s taken me a long time to be okay with that.

So my writing – and everything that was expressly me – all got hidden away. And even now, as I write more professionally, I have strayed further away from the things that matter to me. Talking about struggling, talking about bad experiences, has been something that I’m not supposed to acknowledge.

But if I ignore my weaknesses, my struggles, my emotions, then I am ignoring who I am. And I’m also ignoring the men and masculine people in my life who are sensitive, open, and communicative. I’m doing a disservice to the non-binary and gender nonconforming people in my life. When I pretend that I am always strong, and tough, and I distance myself from femininity or align myself with masculinity, I am hurting everyone affected by gender stereotypes and roles.

I still hope to do a post on my gender and the way I present it. I am still struggling with untangling this toxicity from my masculinity and trying to rediscover what my masculinity means to me. I hope to be comfortable enough to talk about my authentic self instead of shying away from the things that actually matter to me. I hope that I can keep remembering that being honest and vulnerable doesn’t make me any less of a strong person, a leader, or a professional.

I cannot separate who I am from what I write, and I’m not going to try and pretend I do to avoid letting anyone know that I struggle. That I hurt. That I care so hard about the people in my life, and the people like them, that I will rage and cry and talk about it.

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