Transman is raising two boys—as a solo transgender man. Here is what he says to people who don’t think he can raise sons since he is not a ‘real’ man.
People sometimes question my ability, as a transgender man, to raise boys … “How can you teach them to be men?!? You’re not a real man, after all.”
In these moments, I channel the spirit of Socrates (minus the hemlock, of course).
“What makes a man a real man?” I ask.
“Well, you know … for starters, he’s a guy.”
“What makes a guy a guy?” I ask.
“A guy, a real guy … he’s, you know, he’s got …”
“Got what?” I want specifics–and I want the speaker to be a little uncomfortable with their assumptions.
“You know. He’s got a dick.” [Note, they never say “he’s got balls,” because people regularly tell me I’ve got balls.]
“So, if I understand you, any man who has lost his penis to cancer, accidents, diseases, etc., is no longer a man?”
“Well, no,” the person usually responds.
“Well, then, a penis can’t be a prerequisite of manliness. Is the sole essence of your being located in your genitals?”
“No, of course not,” my companion will nearly always say.
“So, if it’s not just a matter of a body part,” I then ask, “what makes a man a man? More important, what makes a man a good man?”
The person usually starts ticking off qualities they associate with good men–responsibility, honor, loyalty, honesty, courage, strength (emotional as well as physical), decisiveness, dedication, etc. Never has anyone said, “a penis.” They might mention fatherhood, but they never list “having sex” as part of what makes a man a good man (if anything, having lots of sex with random people makes a guy a “scumbag”).
I look at that list and think that, other than fatherhood and, possibly, physical strength, most of those virtues can be applied to both men and women. These are qualities of decent people in general.
What can I teach my sons about being men?
Before we get to that list, let me first address the care of the physical body: it’s true; I do not have the exact same plumbing as my sons. But, thanks to years in graduate school, I know how to do research. I have read up on how my sons’ bodies work and what kinds of care the dangly bits need–I’ll never experience the pain of testicular torsion first-hand, but I know the symptoms. I’m also not afraid to talk to doctors.
Now, to address some of those qualities …
Empathy. Being able to put ourselves in other people’s shoes is key to understanding each other and being able to do things like think about what might be best for the group or to calm a situation that is threatening to get out of hand. At the very least, it helps in daily communication with people we care about or have to work or go to school with.
Responsibility. If you make a commitment to something, follow through on it. Take care of your family, community, and anything else with which you are entrusted. Be responsible for your self; no one can live your life for you so make decisions you can live with. If you make a bad decision, accept your part in the process.
Love of learning. Humans are born curious and would stay that way if school didn’t wear them down and beat the curiosity out of them. I don’t mind if my kids take something apart to figure out how it works; I don’t mind when they check out every book on mummies or World War II at the library just because they want to know everything about the subject. Learning should happen all the time, not just from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Integrity. People should take responsibility for their actions, whether it is at work, at home, in relationships, etc. If you’re going to do any of these things, do them well and, if you screw up, take responsibility for the mistake; then fix it. Take pride in everything you do. If you can’t look back on your effort and feel good about putting your name to it, something is wrong.
Courage. Many of the situations where I have had to be brave had more to do with overcoming fear than with innate courage. I was more afraid of what would happen if I didn’t take action than if I let things remain as they were. I try to show my sons that sometimes you have to keep on going even if you’re scared shitless–especially when other people are depending on you.
Protecting. This includes not only physically protecting the ones you love from harm, but also speaking up for those who are weaker than you or who don’t have the courage or means to speak up.
Nurturing. If he’s healthy, most any male can get a woman pregnant, but it takes a man to be a father. Helping the next generation grow up into healthy, decent, contributing people is hard work. Men need to take part in that process, whether it is raising family or as teachers and volunteers in their communities.
I can teach them stereotypical “man” skills such as shaving, throwing a decent spiral, grilling, setting up a tent, etc. I can also teach them stereotypical “woman” skills like cooking and housekeeping (well, not really, on that second one). Mostly, I want to teach them “human” skills.
Originally published on The Adventures of Transman