“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers” — Shakespeare, Henry V
Perhaps because it is a time of transition, the month of September seems to evoke certain childhood memories in my consciousness. Although the warmth of the summer may remain, the presence and the spirit of the season slowly cedes to the passage of time. For many of us, September is as much the commencement of a new year as the first day of January.
As a child, the beginning of a new elementary school year in late summer signified the start of another year’s journey through my particular — and peculiar — childhood. Within the first couple of weeks of school, the inevitable question would arise. My parents — or sometimes my oldest sister — would ask me if I was “making any (new) friends in school this year?”
Just as inevitably, I would obfuscate my answer. “They’re all just the same kids from last year”, I would shrug.
“Well, are you going to be friends with any of them?”
“I don’t know”, I would mumble.
“What do you mean you ‘don’t know’?”, I would be interrogated further. “Don’t you play with anyone at recess?”
“Sometimes”, I would look downcast in shame, “I guess.” There was some truth to my answer: sometimes girls would be engaged in some gender-neutral activity in which my participation would not be considered too deviant from either gender code as to cause a scandal.
Still, my answers would be invariably unsatisfactory to the inquirers: another school year had begun, and I was still not going to finally become, in my father’s angry lament, “normal like other boys, damnit!” Though I conceded that I was identifiable as male, I could never figure out how I was supposed to be a boy. Indeed, I was rather scared of boys. There were no brothers in the household where I resided, and I regarded my father with fear and distrust. From my observations, boys preoccupied themselves with all manner of rambunctious behavior that merited the disapproval of my mother. And what my mother disapproved of, her jealously loyal husband brutally enforced as a display of fealty to her.
Moreover, other boys that I would have ostensibly played with or befriended seemed to instinctively deduce that, appearances to the contrary, I was not a member of their “tribe.” I was slow if not oblivious in picking up on the social cues of boys. In lieu of their companionship, I kept to myself, or played with dogs. When I grew up, I consoled myself, opportunities would present themselves which would finally allow me to “fit in” to society.
In middle age, I write such words not in bitterness but, rather, as mere statement of fact. Growing up is never easy for anyone, of any gender. As I told another trans person recently, I suspect that many of us spend our adult lives compensating for the childhoods and adolesence which we were not quite able to experience when we were younger. Perhaps, I told him, this accounts for a certain kind of playful boyishness that I observe in a lot of trans men.
In many ways, trans men remind me of the kind of boys whom I would have liked to have had as friends when I was a child. Many of the trans men whom I have met possess a sense of fun and mischief that I find appealing. They seem to exude an adventurousness and daring, and as a trans woman I observe in groups of trans men a distinct comraderie, an esprit de corps, that I find wanting among trans women.
Simultaneously, many of these same men also possess a sensitivity regarding the restrictions that are placed on women. Trans men have experienced sexism in its many oppressive guises, and some of them, like Brandon Teena, have lost their lives to it. That much transphobic violence and contempt is directed at trans women for choosing to live as women in a misogynist culture does not diminish the particular oppression which trans men have endured: in being rendered invisible, so too have trans men been silenced and marginalized.
Writing sweeping generalizations of groups of people can make for inaccuracy and stereotyping. As in any group, there are bullies, sourpusses, and killjoys in all subcategories of the human race. There are doubtlessly some trans men who are as paralyzed by shyness and introversion as any trans woman, and just as emotionally fragile. Still, at risk of perpetrating a blanket judgment on a set of people, I observe evidence of a certain psychological resilience among trans men that, I conclude, serves to fortify their character.
And at the heart of character is, well, the heart itself. I recently had the good fortune of meeting a beautiful young couple in a northern forest. What I found beautiful was the depth of their love for each other, and the spirit of their love seemed as if to form a glowing light around them. And it was from their love, I sensed, that they extended their friendship to me, an ertswhile stranger who had come to the forest rather unprepared for the elements.
Incidentallly, one member of this couple is a trans man; that he is trans is, in one context, a mere incident of fact. Yet, in other ways, my new friend seems to be an example of what I have found in many of the trans men who I have met. It is as if these men constitute an underground river whose current runs counter to the aethos of manhood that predominates in patriarchical society. If my friend is any example of this underground current, then his is a masculinity that expresses itself in love. And it is in love that the world can be healed and renewed.