In becoming a man, Dillan DiGiovanni realized this: “I am in charge of the guy I am.”
When I decided to become a man, my biggest fear was becoming “that kind of guy”. I didn’t want to be associated with the negative stigmas and stereotypes I associated with maleness masculinity in this country. If you’re confused so far, I was a born a woman. I’m transgender. And it is both the most difficult and more incredible experience I’ve had in my life thus far.
Being socialized as a woman, studying Buddhism for 10 years and carefully scrutinizing my identity from a multicultural lens made me keenly aware of the imbalance of power and privilege in this country. Because of the way our country has grown and developed, women still make .75 for every dollar men make. White men in general are overwhelmingly afforded more opportunities than people of other races. Gay white men struggle compared to heterosexual ones due to the rampant homophobia in many areas of the country. I use the words many and most with intention. Naturally, the generalizations don’t apply to everyone.
And here I was at 34, staring down the possibility of becoming, in the eyes of some people, a straight white man. The privilege triple-play.
And after years of hanging out with folks who spend a lot of time talking about these issues, I was downright terrified. I hated the possibility of becoming this person who would wreak havoc in the lives of those less fortunate.
And then I realized something: I am in charge of the kind of guy I am. Everyone is. Every man in this country has the power to be part of the problem or part of the solution, even the white guys. But demonizing them sets them up to fail and will never bring them around to the potential they have to use their power for good. Demonizing that part of others prevented me from accepting myself, for most of my life. When I spent time and energy judging and resenting others, I got really good at it. But it didn’t bring more men around to loving themselves or ending injustices.
I stopped hating and started observing and listening. I met more men. I stopped listening for them being arrogant assholes and I heard the pain and struggle in the limitations placed on them. I saw the demanding gauntlet that is ‘American masculinity’; simultaneously an expectation of power and dominance matched with kindness and vulnerability, and don’t forget to do the laundry, too. It was when I realized this complexity, that my own male identity rose to the surface. I realized that some have it better than others and that isn’t fair or right or good. It’s my personal opinion that it’s all for good reason. Injustices aren’t happening by sheer accident. There’s a bigger purpose to it all. When I decided to become male it came with this realization: I had all these experiences in my toolbox and all this information and I could choose what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be.
Every guy, and every person, has this opportunity. Even the ones who think they don’t. The obstacles are just hurdles to overcome and we all have the choice whether we see them as blocks or as opportunities.
Becoming male hasn’t erased my past. It’s not like a switch went on and I forgot where I came from. I was born and my parents divorced when I was 6 weeks old. I grew up barely seeing or knowing my father. My mom didn’t go to to college but I did and had to pay for the whole thing. I still owe thousands of dollars in loans. I’ve been financially independent since I was 16. There is no trust fund waiting for me. I got jobs easily because I’m smart and white and have a college degree. Now, I’m transgender. Less doors will be open to me for the rest of my life as soon as people find out that fact. If they don’t find out, I will benefit from the opportunities given to straight white men. And then it’s up to me what I’ll do with those opportunties.
My friend, J., was being offered jobs as a recent graduate of Princeton University. As he considered offers well into the 6-figure range, I felt myself seething with anger, disappointment and frustration. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right. And then he said, “yeah, I can’t wait to get all these dollars. I am bidding for the highest salary so I can give a substantial portion to all my favorite charities. Give the money back where it belongs.”
I actually felt my heart explode from joy. Pieces of it still come up into my throat when I realize there are good men, good white men, doing things like this all over the world every day. The more I write about it and share their stories, others will see potential ways they can do the same thing with what they’ve been given. I want to be someone who helps people, especially men, love what they have and who they are so they can give more of it to the world. I want to be that kind of guy.