Finding where I fit in gendered spaces
Disclaimer: This is based on MY INDIVIDUAL experiences. I do not and can not speak for everyone that identifies anywhere in the trans umbrella. We’re all unique people.
A few weekends ago, I did something that really pushed me out of my comfort zone. I attended a “men’s only” intensive weekend. In addition to sharing my experience, I want to also talk about everything that has been swirling around in my mind about gendered spaces ever since (and honestly, for the last several years). As someone who was raised as a girl, transitioned to male, and now finds the most comfort in a space somewhere in-between while also neither, gendered spaces and groups are a tricky topic, to say the least.
The event I attended is put on by the Conscious Man Brotherhood, an organization I have had the privilege of working with in a support role for the last year. The coaches involved all know me, and have my back, and are committed to making their spaces and programs inclusive. This is the main reason I was willing to step into the room. I knew no matter what else happened or came up in there, these men had my back.
The workshop summary (from the website): UNLEASH is a 2 Day, action packed, fully immersive workshop that’s designed to help you uncover and discover all of your underlying, limiting beliefs and unconscious patterns that have been holding you back from OWNING your greatness.
The good: I was fully honest about who I am AND all the men attending with me accepted me as one of them. I felt seen, safe, and held by a brotherhood, something I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to experience. I pushed past my comfort zone and I learned more about myself. I also feel like sharing myself and my story helped to break down some of their expectations and stereotypes around what it means to be a man.
As a trans person who jumped straight from “raised as a girl” to “man” without experiencing boyhood, this was an amazing and educational experience. Since I didn’t get raised as a male, I don’t have the same internalized stuff they do – I have my own different stuff, and lots of it. I learned a lot about cis men, and all the internalized shit they are born into and handed. The things they hear from their parents and society growing up that become part of their being. I have a new respect and understanding for how we’ve gotten to where we are with men in western society, and I witnessed firsthand men actively working to grow and become better and become who they truly are instead of who they think they’re supposed to be.
I even got comfortable enough to take my shirt off while hanging out with these dudes. That’s a big deal for me.
The one pause point: Right NOW, as it stands, though they are working to be inclusive, all the coaches are cis, straight men. The language of the programs tends to gravitative towards heteronormative relationships. There were definitely segments, as someone who grew up differently, and who has a fluid relationship with gender and sexuality, that didn’t quite fit or apply.
I 100% believe the work CMB is doing is vital and needed for cis men, and would recommend the workshop with no hesitation to people who fit that label. With some minor tweaks to language (and I’d love to see LGBTQA+ coaches added), I would also recommend this workshop to cis bisexual or gay men. But as it stands right now, for men who are trans and/or in any way queer with their gender or how attraction works for them, I don’t know if this would be a space I recommend. On a very case-by-case, individualized basis, maybe. In the future? That could very well change. I think it will. I WANT this to be a space I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.
My gender and where I fit
As a human who was assigned female at birth, raised as a girl, then tried on different skins until coming home to “transmasculine, genderqueer, demisexual, and panromantic”, there’s good reason I use the term “Queer”. My identity and my history are a dissertation, not something easily handed over on a calling card. It’s a continually swinging pendulum – I swung from the far end of femininity to somewhere in the middle to the far end of masculinity to somewhere back in the middle, a little to the feminine, a little to the masculine, lather, rinse, repeat. Right at this moment? I’d say I’m around 60/40. Might be different tomorrow.
There was a time where I was welcomed in women’s spaces. Before I figured myself out, that seemed the obvious choice based on what I knew of myself and the body I had. These people had shared experiences and similar societal programming to me, and yet there was a discomfort I couldn’t explain (especially the more womb-centric the space). And herein lies one huge issue – defining woman by things like reproduction and menstruation when that is not a truth of all women, be they trans, intersex, or cis with medical issues! I have also seen in recent years more groups that welcome “women and non-binary”. Therein lies another slippery slope, as unfortunately that often means “female-bodies but identifying non-binary” and male-bodied non-binary people need not apply.
And of course, once I labeled myself firmly as “man”, those doors became closed anyway.
However, men’s spaces brought new fears. They seemed loud. More competitive, more aggressive. Things I also didn’t identify with. Things I was taught (as a girl, by society) to be wary of. I had fears around admitting my transness – I’m not a woman, but worried I would still not be accepted as a man. Also, finding mens groups that don’t revolve around sports or beer or other things I didn’t have much interest in proved tricky. While this was where I now “belonged”, I didn’t have the shared experience of growing up male. My stories, my internalized everything, are completely different.
What about groups for gay men? Okay, better. A little more comfort. But still disconnect. Shared experiences of growing up I don’t quite match. Often filled with younger and still single guys. I’m older and married. Also based more on sexuality than gender, and I am not, strictly speaking, gay.
Okay, trans men groups? Again, often much younger than me and in a different phase of experience. And surprisingly harder to find than groups for trans women. But yes, these feel a lot more comfortable. So do most groups that label themselves generally as queer.
So I should just stick to Queer spaces and groups then, right? Well, no. See, while I want and very much appreciate having a space of people like me where we have shared life experience and feel safe together, there’s one thing about Queer spaces…they keep us other.
To be clear, I LIKE being other in many ways. I like being hard to define. I like not fitting boxes.
I ALSO want to be seen as just human, like everyone else on this planet. I also want to be able to be comfortable going into spaces that aren’t labeled queer or queer-friendly. I want myself and my friends to not have to have a moment (or more) of fear and concern before going into a space labeled “women & non-binary” or “men”.
I don’t have an answer. I suppose one utopic vision would be a world where there are no need for gendered spaces. However, I also acknowledge that for some people who are trans, being able to firmly land on one side of the binary is extremely important. And I acknowledge that however we individually identify, the gender we were raised as makes a difference in our life experience. Like I said, I don’t have an answer. What I have are thoughts and questions, which I want to share to get others thinking about, too.