When word got out about Donald Trump bragging about sexual assault as "just locker room" talk, I saw a variety of responses but the two common responses made by men were: 1. I don't engage in locker room talk like that, that is just Trump 2. It's just locker room talk, it's what we all do.
Either route, it usually ends up in some discussion how their is little room to be masculine in today's society. People confuse critiquing toxic masculinity with critiquing masculinity period, and some feel like masculinity is under attack. They feel like that specifically cisnormative masculinity is under attack.
Earlier today, I got invited to speak at the Men's Center next semester about queer and trans masculinities. The person who invited me said that the head of one department's on campus said I have a blog about "trans masculinities" and that I would be a good choice. I was flattered.
I thought about what I advice I could provide to these men, and my dad immediately came to mind. I thought about the good parts of the men around me, and realized I was quite lucky with examples of healthy masculinity around me. I also have had a variety of experiences of toxic masculinity from cisgender straight men, cisgender gay/bi/queer men, gay/bi/queer women who express masculine gender expressions, trans folx, and non-binary folx.
I asked myself the simple question, "what is healthy masculinity? is healthy masculinity even possible?"
There is a myth that only cisgender men know masculinity, and that a man "like me" could only know about trans masculinity but I actually know masculinity as a performance quite well. I'd argue that butches, transboys and transmen, and non-binary folx often perform masculinity better than cisgender men.
Perhaps it's my bodily position, or maybe there is something unique to me, but many come to me for guidance on masculinity. Not just trans masculinity, but masculinity alone.
And honestly, I think it all goes back to three role models I had growing up: my dad, Peter Pan, and Elle Woods.
One of the biggest gifts my dad could ever give to me was to express healthy masculinity. He taught me it was okay to cry when I am hurt, because he would cry while watching movies in the theater in front of people. He would cry in front of others when he found out I was hurt. He taught me it was okay to feel pain and not to be angry about it.
He showed vulnerability. When I did well, he supported me. When I didn't do well, he supported me. My dad was always around at every game, award ceremony, and he even read my really bad fake goth middle school poetry.
He would sing in "girly" voices in the car when Taylor Swift or Katy Perry came on. He would talk openly on how he had a "man crush" on Alec Baldwin and Justin Timberlake. He openly complimented other men, without having to chase it with any reference to "no homo".
Anytime people wanted to say something about having daughters and how that is different than boys, he would defend us and himself. He didn't treat us as precious things to be broken, nor did he put us on a pedestal for simply being born with female anatomy.
He held my hand when I broke my ankle. He held me openly every Sunday morning, and always sat in line to buy me pads for my period. When I bled on my clothes, he helped me cleaned them in bathroom sinks if we were on the road.
Although Peter Pan never wanted to grow up, he sure did certain things better than most adults do. Instead of giving into the capitalist system where he was just a means of production and cheap labor, he decided to fly off to Never Land and never "grow up". Depending on the version of this tale, Peter Pan could either be super problematic or awesome. We are going to with the more child friendly versions, because those were the versions I was exposed to as a child.
Peter Pan leads his team of boys. They express love for each other without any further judgment. He takes care of the boys. He plays music for them to sleep. In many ways, Peter Pan represents the charmish boy many girls and women spend their lives looking for--the man not made bitter by age.
When Wendy wants to leave Never Land, he doesn't force her to stay. He respects consent and escorts her home.
And my last role model, you might be wondering what she has to do with masculinity. But Elle Woods, although she is hyper-femme, was just a good role model. She stood up for herself, stood up for other people even when they were cruel to her, and proved the toxic men around her wrong.
And so, from these three examples I made a list of what I think are qualities of healthy masculinity:
Signs of a healthy masculine person:
1. They express vulnerability and pain in the multitude of human expressions beyond just anger.
2. They compliment other masculine people without an ulterior motive. Most people focus on how masculine people treat women, but you can also tell a lot about a masculine person by how they treat other masculine people.
3. They show affection openly with other masculine people without feeling embarrassed about it. Healthy masculine people cuddle with each other, hold each other, and comfort each other when it is needed.
4. They don't tear down each other. They won't ever fat shame, or otherwise body shame other men. They see all men as beautiful and worthwhile.
5. They will ask if they aren't physically strong enough for help, even if it means asking a woman for help.
6. They won't shame other masculine people for not being strong enough (either emotionally or physically).
7. They will take care of other masculine people in need. They will bring gatorade, cold medicine, cough drops, ice cream, funny movies, etc. if their masculine friend is in need. Side note: if a masculine person only does this for femme identified people, you should run for the hills.
Several men in my life have taken care of me when I had colds, and I have done the same for my masculine friends.
8. They don't ever suggest a list of qualities that make them more manly, even if others joke about it.
For example, the other day I found myself in the woods on campus directing a transwoman back to her hotel. She joked and said "when lost ask the man with the beard for directions". I didn't laugh and just said "well the beard is a recent development so we will see how this goes" and I laughed. Even if I am good at directions, there is no need to promote the idea that a man or woman would be less manly if they didn't know directions.
9. They will let women struggle with heavy equipment until she gets it.
I know some southerners will detest this one, but it's true. A healthy masculine person will let women figure out something on her own, unless it looks like she will get hurt (then you should be a decent person and not let someone get hurt if you can prevent it).
Let her prove to herself that she can do it, and cheer her on when she does.
10. A healthy masculine person is upfront about their insecurities and comfortable with their shortcomings.