Dillan DiGiovanni grew up with the myth that men don’t talk or share, and has (happily) found it to be untrue.
When I decided to transition from female to male, I had no idea what to expect. The last thing I thought I’d even notice or care about was my relationship to men, specifically men who are not transgender, who are born biologically male. What I’m learning about men* from this side of the fence, so to speak, is astounding me and making me more grateful than ever that I chose this path in life. One of the most poignant observations I’ve made surrounds this myth about men not being big feelers or talkers, specifically about intimate topics or their internal lives. I’ve found it to be a widely believed myth that I, myself, am responsible for believing. What I’m understanding about it from my experience these past few years may be useful to men and the people in their lives.
It’s true that much of who we are, or who we are experienced to be by others, is caused by socialization. We are taught what to do, say, think or feel and especially how to behave, by the society in which we live. While I was raised and socialized to be female, I hardly ever identified that way and didn’t have many of the experiences, both positive and negative, that I hear many women, namely cisgender, heterosexual women, discuss. I was hardly ever catcalled on the street by men in passing cars or propositioned for sex. I don’t know what it feels like to wait to be asked out on a date by a guy or wait to be called back after the “three-day rule”. I never, ever, got excited about dressing up in heels.
Since I was raised mostly by my mom, I spent less time around men than many women I know, so I didn’t get to know them the way my female peers did. I also never felt inclined to interact with them in the ways I experience many women do, probably due to my latent gender identity. I suppose that’s why I never questioned the popular opinion that “men don’t talk”. I heard people say it, saw it reinforced in popular culture in songs and television, and took it for granted as truth. It wasn’t until I actually became male that I learned it actually isn’t true. And it’s blowing my mind.
First, I should share that many men DO talk. In fact, many of them talk often, particularly if there are other men around to impress. As part of some training I did years ago, I learned that white men, when in group settings, speak proportionately longer, more often and sometimes more loudly than people of other identities. I used to put a lot of weight in this and formed rather judgmental opinions, but now I see it as merely proof of how our culture has evolved and continues to socialize people. And that’s changing, not as quickly or with as much justice as many people would like, but it is changing.
So, we know white men talk a lot in groups, for a wide variety of reasons I won’t explore in this article. And we know men of other identities talk in different ways in different contexts due to their own socialization. We also know there is this pervasive contention that men don’t talk about their internal worlds, least of all with each other. The tendency men have to not talk, or the perception that they don’t, has led many people, often women, to think men don’t have feelings or thoughts at all. I’m here to tell you that it is simply not been my experience since moving through the world as a (perceived) man, and it’s been one of the greatest and unexpected gifts of my gender transition. Men have many feelings. Men do want to talk. What’s interesting to me is who they talk to, when, how and why they do it.
I was born female but since I now “pass” as male, men interact with me quite differently than before. The first thing I’ve noticed is that many men are surprisingly funny and cordial people. I never would have described them that way in the past. They strike up conversation with me about the most insignificant thing for no reason other than to be friendly. This took me by surprise, early on in my transition, because men had never done this with me before. Sometimes, when they approach me, I still think they are talking to someone else.
Recently, I became more present to my male friends opening up to me more often. I began having really deep and intimate conversations with both old and new male friends and questioning why it was happening. When it kept happening with more people, I began to think critically about it. I paid attention to my female friends and the conversations they had with and about their husbands. I observed men of different identities and how they engaged with people around them and then with me.
What I’ve come to realize is that men do want to share what’s inside of them, but societal expectation and other relationships in their lives often don’t allow for it. Sometimes they are silent because they think they should be. Often, they are silenced by a partner, spouse, parent or sibling and simply not given the space or time to share openly and honestly.
I thought men didn’t talk to other men because they didn’t want to. I think it might be more because they are often afraid to be the person who wants to. Since I was socialized female, I bring that way of being to my conversations with everyone–including men. One quality I exude is an invitation to engage in open, honest and deep conversation. I thought this was the reason why my male friends talked to me more, because they felt somewhere deep down that I was still a woman to them. That’s ok. Transgender identity is complex and I don’t take it personally. I just think it’s interesting.
What’s even more interesting to me, however, are the men who engage with me who have no idea about my identity as a transgender male. I speak to these men as I would anyone else and, after being hesitant at first, they lean into it. They open up. They don’t back away or make fun of me for asking questions or being interested in their inner worlds. They seem almost grateful for the space I create for them.
There’s such an interesting opportunity for us all to learn from this, and I’m struck by the bittersweet reality that it’s all possible until I share I am transgender. But that’s a whole different topic for another time.
The men around me have helped debunk the myth of the mute male and I’ve been please to be a part of it. Questions and comments welcome.
*Author’s note: For the purpose of this article, when I use the word I men, I mean specifically heterosexual, cisgender (not transgender) men.
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