When I launched the Better Men Project I chose to focus on cisgender (term for people whose gender identity matches the sex that they were assigned at birth) heterosexual men in committed relationships. The intention was not to exclude other men, but to humbly begin the process based on the experience that I know. You have to start somewhere. And it is good to start with yourself.
My dear friend Felix Endara was generous enough to sign up for an interview anyway. Felix is a trans man. I had no idea until the moment of our interview. I have been working with Felix for years. It turned out to be the most powerful interview that I’ve had during this process.
Who better to speak to the redeeming aspects of masculinity than people who have had both experiences, the experience of being assigned female at birth and the experience of transitioning to life as a man. I write with Felix’s permission and with his eyes on these words.
Felix spoke to the challenge of finding ways to be in solidarity with this #MeToo moment. Felix was assigned the female gender at birth, he can certainly point to painful experiences in his past that would allow him to use the hashtag. But today he walks in the world as a man, with all the privileges that entails. Felix speaks eloquently about double consciousness, and about the trans experience of being Man2.0, a man with the somatic memory of walking the world perceived as a woman, a man with an intimate understanding of the feminine experience.
While this is not a replicable experience, it led me to ask myself, how could cisgender men come any closer to truly understanding the experience of women under patriarchy? Felix showed me that there are at least some trans men that would be willing to help.
One of the mantras that Felix repeated is that biology is not destiny. He spoke to the challenges of living through a moment that vilifies testosterone, even as he takes weekly testosterone shots. He reminded me that being a cisgender man, having male organs, and an abundance of testosterone does not itself make you dangerous or toxic. This should of course be obvious to me, as I am the father of a beautiful and innocent six year old boy that seems to display a lot of masculine traits.
If we want a culture that is truly inclusive of trans people, then we must acknowledge that there are redeeming aspects to masculinity. We must remember that biology is not destiny. That patriarchy is culturally conditioned, that it is not a biological fact. In working on a project that tackles toxic masculinity by seeking to define and practice conscious masculinity it behoves us to learn from trans men who hold this double consciousness. What can we learn about masculinity from the people who have fought so hard to become the men they really are?