I was reading through this list of possibly “genderqueer” or non-binary gender definitions, and found a theme that may have helped me clarify something.

One thing I noticed in the definitions was that they were often framed around two separate questions, that is, the level one associates (or doesn’t) with female-ness/womanhood and separately, the level one associates (or doesn’t) with male-ness/manhood. It’s a “non-binary” list, so there’s some other stuff in there, but the separation into two questions, as opposed to my assumption that there was only one question (where to fit on a single feminine/masculine) scale, was really helpful. And please, I know I’m going to mess up subtle or not-so-subtle distinctions in definitions, especially since I’m wading into non-binary territory where it seems like, as far as I can tell, the definitions (and thus the possible mistakes) are endless. Just work with me here.

In particular, when framed in that way, I got a moment of clarity. At this point, I feel pretty comfortable saying that no, I don’t identify as a woman. I feel a lot of relief from that one answer. A lot of that relief comes from letting myself off the hook for a lot of feminine/girl stuff I’ve never been and never done, and have apparently been really angry that it’s been expected of me at all, in some form. I can’t handle right now wading into a dissection of how much of those expectations, and thus the relief, are due to sexism/misogyny, but I’m sure some of it is, and some of it isn’t. The relief certainly feels very internal. Some of it feels physical.

Separated in this way, I see that the question driving much of my confusion/searching/questioning is the second one: How much do I identify with being male? I can see that I feel a lot more comfortable at least part of the way there. Certainly in my clothing. Certainly lots of stuff about my body, stuff that I hadn’t even realized was causing a lot of tension/problems until I understood there might be other options, and that those might apply to me. I can also see that the heart of my difficulty on this question is about social interactions, about who I am in the world, how I want to be seen and understood, and about what the world expects of men.

And while I have experienced, first hand, what the world expects of women, and thus know the lay of the land there pretty well, I don’t know the lay of the land for men. I have seen parts of it though, and it’s not necessarily all that encouraging. Our first child came to our family via my wife’s body (and egg). During that pregnancy, I felt far more connection to men, and in particular fathers, than I expected. That particular path to parenthood allowed me to see how much men are shut out of the world of their children, especially babies and small children, how much their role in their family is circumscribed, and how much power women, and in particular, biological mothers, are granted in the family sphere. That rubbed me the wrong way from the get-go, and some of our best parenting friends have been dads who fight back on that front, who insist on taking a very central role in the day-to-day lives of their children. Another place I see limitations on men/boys is through my son. The gifts and clothing he gets seem more limited in scope than what our daughter gets, though we work to expand what arrives as gifts and he has access to plenty of things that are not stereotypically “boy.” As annoying as the gendered messages are that girls get, boys are also extremely limited in what they are granted access too, sometimes more so. We work to counter that, but I still see it in a way I never would have before I had a son.

And I see the gendered space that some (obviously not all) trans men occupy, and it seems that they may be allowed (or allow themselves?) an even smaller slice of masculinity. In my newfound comfort with a more masculine appearance, in my growing desire for a more masculine body, I don’t want to, in my haste, sign up for an even more limiting social space. I know I can find my way forward, but with so many confusing interactions between what I feel (and want) in my body, who I am in the world, and what the world expects or allows, it is challenging to keep steady, to keep a solid center. Answering one question does help.