Posts Tagged ‘my evolving masculinity’
I started this series in the summer, nearly six months ago now. I have already written a post about some of what I dealt with personally in the late summer and early fall, and some of my point of part four I have already gone through – some of it was about me processing through what I was struggling with in light of masculinity and the ways that thinking about maturing my gender helped me overcome some of the hardships.
There were a variety of things I was struggling with—all of the major elements in my life were shaken, just a tad, and then there was a personal crisis (related to someone who I continue, somehow, to allow to haunt me) that was the straw that broke the Jameson glass. And I kind of lost it. I was full-on in crisis, fairly unable to keep myself stable. I have a lot of tried-and-true “coping mechanisms,” tricks that make me feel whole and solid and thoroughly like myself, and are comforting and grounding, but they were failing me too. Nothing was working.
Here’s what’s interesting: everywhere I went, in my own writing, in my conversations with Kristen, in my psychotherapy work, in my bodywork, I was hearing from everyone that I needed to be stronger. To contain more, let it out less. Hold my own better. To “man up,” in other words.
Part of me oh so resented that! I mean, excuse me? I am a dyke, by definition I overprocess! Are you telling me that because of my gender? Would the universe be telling a femme the same things?
But once I got over myself a little, I thought, what the hell. I can’t keep going like this, I may as well try anything because I can’t continue this way. So I tried some new things on. I tricked myself into being stronger for a while, to see what happened.
It’s kind of the psychic equivalent of holding your breath, and letting it out in a slow, controlled stream.
But – this is a double edged sword, isn’t it, for someone masculine? Hold back your emotions? Don’t express yourself? Handle it on your own, don’t ask for help? These are classic PROBLEMS with masculinity, not necessarily what should be encouraged in someone masculine.
But despite that, I was willing to give it a try, because I could tell I was in dangerous slippery territory and needed to get myself back to somewhere stronger. Things started shifting. I attended a yoga class where the instructor spoke about making the pose effortless, and I thought: that is my problem. I extend so much effort to everything in my life. What would happen if I didn’t? I mean, do I really need to extend so much effort in getting on the subway and commuting to my job daily? Or in meeting a friend for drinks? Or in writing, or meditating, or doing yoga, or preparing food? These things could be effortless parts of my life, why do I waste so much energy thinking they are hard and require so much work? They could be easier than I let them be.
And then there was the Modern Love column in the New York Times, Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear:
You see, I’d recently committed to a non-negotiable understanding with myself. I’d committed to “The End of Suffering.” I’d finally managed to exile the voices in my head that told me my personal happiness was only as good as my outward success, rooted in things that were often outside my control. I’d seen the insanity of that equation and decided to take responsibility for my own happiness. And I mean all of it.
And there was Nicole Blackman’s poem, You Are Never Ready:
You must change your life. You are never ready.
There were other things, too. The new Tori Amos album was comforting. I re-read Tim Ferriss’s article on Stoicism 101 and was reminded of my coworker who used to say, “I like to be stoic about my suffering.” I re-read some of my notes from a recent Buddhist class, and meditated on suffering, and on effort, and on lovingkindness.
Something started unraveling, and my grip on whatever this suffering was started to loosen. I started thinking myself out of my fear of the forward movement, and into what is really happening for me: I’m growing. And growth requires the temporary suspension of security.
I know what I need to do to get to where I want to be. I know how I want to spend my days, I know what I want to do with my time, I know the subjects which I want to study. I have a much better idea of how to get from here to there than I ever have. I have a trajectory, I have thoughts, I have aim, I have focus. And now I need … what? Patience? Or perhaps endurance, perhaps stamina. Sometimes I need to be able to trust that when I take that leap of faith, something will catch me. That is precisely the definition of a leap of faith, after all. And grace, I need more grace, by which I mean “the ease with which one handles crisis,” I need more of that too. I pull so heavily on buddhist teachings when I get in crisis, or when those I care for are in crisis, I think I should really deepen that practice to give myself even more tools with which to deal with hardships and suffering.
I had a Part Five planned for this series, which was titled “In Which I Grow Up,” but that page has been blank since I started this series. I’m not even sure I know what I’m trying to say here. Something about how “grown up” masculinity actually is some of those things that we think are “bad” about masculinity—like stoicism or containing our emotions—and yet it is precisely that which opens up a whole new level of being, of caring for ourselves and others. Something about how that is not the negative, awful, repressive thing that, as a feminist studying masculinity, I was always taught and told. Of course, there are buckets of problems with this … but it is not so simple as just being a 100% bad thing. There are benefits, too. I’m struggling to articulate the ways that it is beneficial, I suppose we are lacking language and theory on this in general. But perhaps this small series—and, now, my Radical Masculinity column—can be a springboard to my further studies which shed more light on the ways this is useful.
Now’s the part where I ask you what you think. Please do chime in on what you think about the evolution of masculinity—your own, or those whom you have witnessed:
What has your experience been with “grown up” masculinity vs a younger masculinity?
What changed for you when you grew up?
What is different? What evolves, if anything?
What kinds of qualities would you like to see masculine folks embody as we get older?
How does masculinity evolve?
Part Two in a series of five. See also: Part One, Introduction
Beyond the Concepts of Yin & Yang
I was introduced to many new concepts at the 5-day tantra retreat I attended over the summer of 2009, but the one I’ve been constantly chewing on and talking about and sharing and using to analyze myself and others has to do with yin and yang.
Most of us are familiar with the concepts of yin and yang – and many of us who study gender may call bullshit immediately, saying it is a binaristic, dualistic system that does not account for the gray areas, just the black and white. But as much as postmodern theory wants to deconstruct the binary and create and celebrate a multitude of options, there’s a part of me that thinks outright dismissal of the binary is just unrealistic – we are bipeds, we have a long human history of constructing the world in twos, in binaries, in this-and-not-this. Yes, we need more than two options, do not get me wrong. Especially when it comes to gender, there are so many more expressions and experiences than ‘man’ and ‘woman.’ But that said, there is something basic about the binaries – light/dark, in/out, hot/cold – that is useful to structure the world around us.
Most of us are familiar at least in a broad way with the yin and yang concepts. Yin is receptive, dark, fluid; yang is penetrative, light, pointed. Yang enters, yin receives. Yang inquires, yin observes. Associating feminine and masculine with yin and yang is a challenge because I do not want to seem prescriptive – if you are feminine, you are not required to be yin, for example. Gender expression does not necessarily line up with these types of energy breakdowns.
Yin is traditionally associated with femininity, and yang masculinity. It’s probably clear why: the penis/vulva intercourse description inherent in the penetrative/receptive delineation easily dictates how the energies are divided. Together, yin and yang are called the Stabilizing Energies, as they need each other in order to be strong. Without something to hold, yin is empty; without somewhere to rest, yang cannot stand up by itself.
When broken down, yin and yang Stabilizing Energies are the Masculine Yang and the Feminine Yin.
The second type of energies, which was the part of this that is all new to me, are the Transformative Energies, which are the Masculine Yin and the Feminine Yang.
The Feminine Yang is also called spanda or shakti in tantra, the equivalent of ‘life force.’ But not life force in an ommmmm prana/breath way – more like a violent life force, the ripping open of legs and cunt to push a baby to be born. The spontaneous expressions of joy and energy that overcome us. A lava flow, a rushing river of rapids. Pure force, pure energy, intense and wild.
Her counterpart is the Masculine Yin. He is the riverbank to her river. He is the container, the thing that keeps her safe. But not in a controlling, overbearing way (that is perhaps indicative that the masculine yin in someone is imbalanced or poorly developed) but in the way a father coaxes a wild child to redirect their energy, like martial arts, taking the opponent’s force and deflecting it, using it against them. The Masculine Yin is a firm, nurturing hand, the container in which the feminine yang can rest and grow and feel safe. Without the container, she is explosive, sometimes wild. She needs the gentle guidance to be transofrmative.
Though these qualities are associated with gendered words, they are by no means prescriptive or restrictive, and in fact tantra presses that everyone needs to have a balance of all of these energies, and even has some methods by which to develop the areas where one is weaker.
Because, well, this is my personal online writing project (a.k.a. “blog”), I am going to take a minute to explore these four categories and how they relate to me and especially my evolving masculinity.
Feminine Yin – Growing up the child of two feminist hippies, and discovering things like Ms. Magazine, wicca, and feminism as a teenager, gave me a very strong base in the feminine yin. I did not grow up a tomboy like many transmasculine folks, I wore dresses and skirts and makeup (much to my feminist mother’s chagrin) in my teens. When I did begin taking on masculinity, my respect for femininity stayed steady and firm and did not really change – what changed was only my own presentation. I still saw a lot of value in the caretaking qualities of the feminine yin. In fact, perhaps more than feminism (which, one might argue, sometimes values the feminine yang over the feminine yin), my base with the feminine yin comes from my mother, who is an early childhood educator and extremely receptive, sometimes to a fault. And while there are some ways I could improve my feminine yin receptivity (i.e. sexually – though I’d rather have a different kind of sex, more on that later), for the most part my issue here is that I am too receptive, too hyper-sensitive, too eager to take in the world around me. I don’t necessarily have a deficit, then, but I do perhaps have an overabundance.
Masculine Yang – I have spent at least the last five years very intentionally developing my masculine yang. That is the energy that more than any others was left out of my family, so I didn’t know intuitively how to reproduce it, and the examples in culture are generally negative, overbearing, misogynistic, even dangerous. I took a lot of time learning how to penetrate, how to be inquisitive, how to investigate, how to externalize my desire. I even moved to arguably the most masculine yang city in the United States – New York. So much forced learning happens here, at times painfully. I don’t think New York creates problems so much as it exacerbates and explodes what is already there, and in my case, New York would not let up, would not let me turn away, and I had to develop and strengthen my masculine yang to keep myself safe and whole. I feel good about the changes I’ve made – I was clearly lacking some masculine yang, and I think I’ve adopted it in ways that are strong and stabilizing, not necessarily in offensive, violating external ways.
Masculine Yin – When I first heard about this concept, this is the one that clicked. Oh. Fuck. That’s what I need. In fact, that’s what I’ve been trying to develop recently, for a few years now even, though I never had a specific name for it. The funny thing is, I am very skilled at being a container and holding space in many aspects of my life – I would say this site does a lot of that, for example: creating a safe space for people to come and interact and explore complicated, personal ideas. I do it in my sex life all the time, pushing the girls I sleep with to a bigger, deeper release, and then holding them through it and bringing them back to a place of safety and care. This happens with Kristen especially quite often; I feel blessed and privileged that she trusts me that much, and that she’s willing to let me guide her through some of these dark, complicated, occasionally painful places, and as our sexual relationship continues to deepen I think we’ve both been able to explore the ways that I contain her and hold space for her experience in bed in bigger ways. And yet … and yet. I can’t seem to do this for myself in the ways that I want to. I sometimes get frightened of my own capacity for “big-ness” and hold back because I’m not sure I can contain it. I need to have better corral over many aspects of my life (my paperwork, my clutter, my calendaring, my obligations) and I know I need a firmer, heavier hand to come along with gentle strength and say no, no, no, to more things than I do now.
Feminine Yang – I’m not sure I trust my feminine yang. I feel it bubbling up in me sometimes, but I’m not sure I – or the world or my partner or my friends or my community – can hold the bigness and chaos that I fear will spill out of me. At the tantra retreat, for example, when I was thinking beforehand about my intention and what I wanted to get out of it, I really wanted to leave my New York crazy life behind, to forget my to do list and the million things that were weighing on my mind, and really find some deep calm and be able to be present in that new delicious space. That, however, wasn’t a problem at all – the whole world and my whole life dropped away from me as soon as I entered the beautiful zen center hot springs space, and I stepped into a deep calm and sense of self that was just under the surface. The challenge, however, was with what came out of that deep calm – this overwhelming power and strength and WHOOSH that sometimes took my breath away. I always felt like I had to back off from it, to not indulge or give in to it, but to contain and control it. I don’t think I ever quite let it out. So I do need more practice with this one, definitely.
If I think about it, it seems to make sense that in a butch top/femme bottom sexual relationship the butch top would occupy more external, explosive yang and that the femme bottom would take in the receptive, containing yin. But in our case, she is feminine in both ways, in both the reception and the explosivity, and I am masculine in both ways, in the penetration and simultaneous containing. I think this is at times one of the frustrations of our sex life, one of the ways it limits us, because I’d like to be able to be more explosive and big in the feminine yang, and for her to be able to hold me through her own masculine yin. We’ve had this conversation, we’ve discussed it in depth and it continues to come up as we explore all sorts of other things, and as I explore my evolving masculinity.
How I Need To Grow
One of the tantra teachers on the retreat shared with me this story, when I went to her specifically about the Masculine Yin, saying, that. Yes. That is what I need. How do I get that?
She said that as her masculine side was pretty weak when she began this work, and specifically did some rituals to strengthen it. At some point, after a ritual, she was so heavily embodied in the Masculine Yang that she felt like she would just fuck anything that moved. She immediately went back to her teacher and said: “help! I am definitely embodying masculine yang, but it feels like I am an out-of-control teenaged boy! How do I control and contain this? What happens between the ages of sixteen and thirty, for men, in their masculine development, that they can handle this wild energy?”
Her teacher said: we grow our balls.
That was such an A-ha! moment for me. Yes, of course: Masculine Yin is all about balls, and, as a dyke, I have a particular aversion to balls, and most of my strap-on cocks don’t include them.
Balls are the literal counter-weight to the cock, the thing that keeps the cock grounded and balanced and in check.
I know my Masculine Yang. I feel pretty good about the ways I occupy it, too. But as my masculinity is evolving, I need to move into a more adult, grounded, Masculine Yin sense of masculinity, and I think if I could embody that more completely and wholly, my masculinity would feel better, and I would feel better.
The next part of the My Evolving Masculinity series is Part Three: “Daddy”, to be posted in the next week.
Gender evolves and changes and shifts over time; what’s true for me today might not be true tomorrow, and the questions and puzzlements that plagued me a year ago may seem irrelevant and minor next year.
I don’t have a major attachment to my own personal, inner expectations of consistency such that I believe that who I am today will continue being who I am forever and ever ad infinitium, but at the same time, I recognize that I don’t struggle with my own gender identity, performance, or exploration like I used to. I have come to a very comfortable place, where I am content to swim around and chill – to continue exploring and deepening my own understandings of both my personal gender, gender theory, the social constructions of gender, and how gender evolves, of course, but I’ve come to a bit of a plateau.
Sugarbutch used to be the primary space where I asked gender – and sex, and relationship – questions about myself, about my community, about my friends, and about culture, where I worked through my questions and concerns, where I tried to make sense of what it meant to embody female masculinity, where I asked questions and toyed over ideas and tried things on (and took them off again). I’ve been writing in this space for more than three years, and it has served me quite well.
But I’m not struggling with these questions like I was. I still analyze, I still observe, I still look at, well, EVERYTHING, through the finely-tuned lens of gender theory; I still learn new things or have my mind blown or adopt and integrate new concepts, but even the new things are not as huge as they once were. They are minor shifts in a very large picture that is mostly in focus, now just waiting for the details. I’m not trying to say I’m done – it didn’t just take a three-year exploration and now it is complete. I’ve identified as butch for nearly ten years, though it’s only in the last five or so that I have been adopting and exploring a much more intentional identity around that term. And it has, in many ways, culminated here, in this medium.
That I’m not struggling with this in the same way has meant that the writings on Sugarbutch have changed. Surely you’ve noticed this, if you’ve been reading for a while. I miss the daily journal ramblings about my personal feelings and thoughts and observations on my life and relationships, but circumstance (and a still-increasing readership) makes this much harder these days. I miss sharing with you my struggles and complications, and believe you me there are still struggles and complications, but they are not so much about gender.
So I’ve tried some new things, in the past year or so. Like the On Butches and In Praise of Femmes pieces, and the short-lived magazine-style layout (that nobody except me seems to miss), and the more how-to style posts about masculinity and butch/femme.
This has brought a whole new set of issues, because it is hard – perhaps impossible – to speak for, or about, or of a community accurately. After the fallout from Top Hot Butches, for a minute I resolved I would no longer speak for the community. I would no longer attempt to represent the community, or share our secrets, or expose our weaknesses, or attempt to heal our rifts and heartbreaks. (Who is “The Community” anyway? Perhaps those of you who have followed the sub-plots of Sugarbutch know of the deep thread of queer interconnectivity and the ways that this community is so goddamn small that I keep running into people I don’t want to interact with everywhere I go.)
But as I’m coming into some new projects, and thinking about and moving into what’s next, I am realizing: we desperately need leaders in this community. We desperately need people representing us. We desperately need more representation and recognition and acknowledgment of our beautiful, true selves. We desperately need mentors, telling us stories of how they found themselves and making it easier for us to create our own paths.
I do want to be a part of that, so I do want to keep writing about gender, about theory, about butch/femme, about what it’s like to revalue gender in a heteronormative culture which reproduces compulsory gender roles which nearly destroy us and in a mainstream lesbian subculture which values compulsory femininity and androgyny. I know there’s a need here, and I breathe and eat and sleep and commute this stuff, I can’t not see it, I can’t not think about it.
I’m struggling a bit with the movement from intermediate to advanced: I am beginning to get some teaching materials together, gender workshops and such, a series of gender articles perhaps, things I’ve been thinking about for a while now but which I cannot seem to complete. I know this subject matter inside and out, but now I think I need to learn how to teach it, how to break down the concepts into tiny, easy, bite-sized pieces and present them on appetizing platters. I’m also struggling with the question of continuing to engage the more advanced gender explorers, those comrades and friends I’ve met along the way who continue to inspire and inform my work and my own explorations. I want to encourage those conversations to happen, too. I want to engage on deeper levels AND beginner levels.
So, my masculinity is evolving. I have some particular ideas about where it’s going, and what it means to move from adolescent masculinity into adulthood, which I think is part of what I’ve been going through (and upon which most of the rest of this series on My Evolving Masculinity will focus). I’m a little plagued by questions: How do I continue to become a leader? How do I make a safe space for people to explore this stuff? How do I encourage deeper, more intentional thought, without policing or restricting? How can we, as a community, as friends, as lovers, as allies, continue to reclaim and recreate and remake gender in ways that are liberating rather than limiting? How can I assist the big big energy of this movement that I have felt growing, and that I have helped to create, in moving to the next level?
I want to invite you to participate as I’m thinking about new directions and new focuses of this site, new uses for this space, and new approaches to my own masculinity. Do you have particular ideas for things you’d like to see here? Any particular features? Any concepts you wish I would write more about? Any directions you would love to see? I’m open to ideas and suggestions as I slightly refine the direction, and attempt to continue to further my work in this medium.
Watch for Part Two of My Evolving Masculinity: Yin & Yang, exploring some recent concepts from my tantra retreat on the balancing of transformative and stable energies, coming soon.