I’m struggling with defining my manhood. This month marks three years since I began living my life as a man and August 31st of this year will mark three years of hormone replacement therapy. Why am I sharing this on a public forum? Because I know there are many transgender men who can relate. We also receive far less attention, good or bad, than transgender women, which means a Google search will comparatively produce few results about issues and perspectives relative to our experience. If I can add an additional-but-different narrative, I know that would increase the online resources available for other transgender men in the world. A term which often comes up in discussions about transgender people is living stealth. It means you self-disclose on an as-needed basis. Some of us live stealth for safety reasons, others because being transgender isn’t the sum of their existence. Let me get this out of the way now — by and large, it’s much easier for transgender men than transgender women to live stealth because of another term called passing privilege. It’s a privilege I most certainly have and use to my benefit in day-to-day life.
There are many reasons other transgender people live stealth. My reasons? Being transgender is simply a gender identity for me. I have a variety of interests and experiences that make up my life. I care more about a person respecting my humanity than a person fully understanding what it’s like to be transgender.
My friends and family call me Geronimo and refer to me with male pronouns. They don’t use words like tranny, he/she, or it around me and any time they have, I’ve corrected them. The few people who have expressed their disapproval of my transition have done so respectfully and I rarely, if ever, have contact with them. Life is good for me existing as a transgender man in America.
Before I transitioned, I lived life as a masculine-identified lesbian with the different regional slang terms being dom, butch, stud, or AG (aggressive girl). I came out in 1998 at the age of 16 and faced minimal negative response to the revelation. Coming out while living on the East Coast in a major metropolitan area during the late nineties was my saving grace. I can think of many places in the world and eras in time that would have given me a completely different experience. Here we are in 2018 — Being gay does not hold the same shock value it once did throughout most of the world. I recently visited family in Trinidad & Tobago for the first time and was surprised to see a large number of openly gay people, along with learning of a few gay bars and parties throughout the country. Being transgender, however, not so much. Let me get back to my struggle with defining my manhood…
I love my father. He always had good intentions for me, but he was unable to get a handle on his insecurities, therefore, allowing his flaws to get the best of him. Hard work by any means, a stern hand, and a high standard of educational achievement were all values he brought with him as an immigrant. However, he does not have the typical story of immigrant exceptionalism. He has held numerous jobs in my lifetime, currently working at the most stable of them as a school bus driver. When he was up, he made sure my mother and I were comfortable. When he was down, my mother and I suffered. Instead of weathering the storm and finding solutions, he always worsened things by not being honest about his troubles and attempting to drink his problems away. What I learned on my visit to Trinidad & Tobago is alcoholism, infidelity, chronic debt/unemployment, and cowardice were the realities of all the men in my family older than me. I was stunned and forced to look in the mirror.
Not only did I realize there were no examples of good men in my family, but I also realized I was guilty of many of the same behaviors long before I decided to transition.
I once told a friend, several years ago, I was afraid of ending up like my father. I explained to her what that meant and how he continued to sabotage his life. I eventually tucked it away in the irrational fears box and continued with life as usual. As of February 2018, however, I’ve been preoccupied with correcting these flaws and defining my manhood.
I’ve been a curious person my entire my life. Whatever is required to find the answer to a question, from a Google search to real-world experience, I’ll do it. Therefore, I looked outside my childhood home for representations of manliness. I’ve always gravitated more towards masculine people for friendship or even general conversation. I’ve also toyed with the idea of transitioning from female-to-male since I was four years old. I hope this is piecing more parts of the puzzle together for you. The outside images I found were a mix of traditional manhood tropes and men who defied everything known to man. I’m traditional when it comes to dating. Although I’m not married to rigid gender roles, I also don’t think a woman who wants to be a homemaker in the 21st century should be demonized. If I can afford to make that happen for my wife, I’d support her as much as I would if she were a highly ambitious career woman. Like many masculine-identified people, I thought to womanize was next to manliness. I learned quickly I’m not up for managing a group of people for free. Pimping once crossed my mind, but breaking a bitch down for money wasn’t my forté either. I used to think fear and respect were the same until I saw feared men have their power taken from them. The next manly characteristic I got wrong was confusing being a provider with having a lot of money. If you listen to this interview, you’ll hear about all my short-lived attempts at making a lot of money. I now know four traits which align with my core being — Strength, Courage, Mastery, and Honor.
- More strength means the more physical power to protect.
- Courageous men fear but still take risks.
- Mastery of trade or circumstance denotes value.
- Men of honor stand firm on their principles and see their visions to fruition.
I’ve gotten glimpses of all these traits observing the many men encountered throughout life, but only a few fully embodied all four.
I have an old soul and enjoy talking with older people. I’ve learned in conversations with them you never achieve perfection, only wisdom. I know even the best men fall short of full embodiment of the aforementioned traits. It’s acknowledging the failure, correcting the issue, and not allowing it to happen again which separates men from boys. These traits give me something for which to strive on a personal level. Male rites of passage in American culture are already few and far between, usually existing within niche groups like Boy Scouts of America. Growing up hood adjacent, I saw many brothers who unfortunately chose the street life go through their rites of passage in some negative ways. The difference between cisgender males and I, regardless of them having positive male reinforcements as a youth or not, is them not experiencing a coming of age as a self-aware thirtysomething. The double whammy of voluntary male puberty and defining my manhood after never having consistent positive male reinforcements has been a struggle. If I were to say this has been a cakewalk, I’d be a bold-faced liar or a great actor.
I’ve done some fuckboy stuff and taken advantage of the kindness of women. There have been times I didn’t keep my word. I’ve quit when the going got tough more times than I can count. My physiological and physical changes have been easier to manage than metaphorically “manning up.”
I want to start a family one day. I want to provide opportunities for my existing family and the black community. I’ve broken ground on building a legacy to bring this to fruition but defining my manhood first is necessary for my achievement. If I’m too consumed by what is and what isn’t manhood while climbing the entrepreneurship ladder, I’ll be left with little energy to focus on the effort.
Another struggle I’m having is finding a place where masculine-identified black people can have a productive conversation about manhood, masculinity, and maleness. I may have to add this to my to-do list.
Geronimo Knows is an urban culture + lifestyle enthusiast, reformed blogger turned full-time interviewer. He hosts the lifestyle and travel series Cool|Calm|Connected, now playing on AllTheFlyKids.com. You can also hear him on The All the Fly Kids Show podcast, airing Mondays at 1pm on Full Service Radio at The LINE Hotel in Washington, DC. Learn more about Geronimo at geronimoknows.com.