April 13, 2014
Interview with David Combs

This interview is a little different. In this one, I interviewed someone who has an interesting, non-traditional relationship to masculinity. David Combs, also known as Spoonboy, is 30 years old, grew up in Takoma Park, Maryland, and lives in Washington, D.C. This interview was conducted via email from February to April 2014.

David has a non-binary identity, but was assigned male at birth, was raised as a boy, and is perceived as a cisgender man and often benefits from cisgender male privilege. David’s experience is very interesting to me as a non-binary person who also benefits from cisgender privilege. Even though we share the experience of being non-binary, our experiences of being non-binary are very different, as David is living with the experience of being mistakenly perceived as a cisgender man and I live with the experience of being mistakenly perceived as a cisgender woman. With privilege, I have found, it doesn’t matter how you identify; it matters how you’re perceived. Of course, with that privilege comes an erasure of one’s true identity, which really sucks, to put it simply, and isn’t much of a privilege at all.

Content warning for discussion of patriarchy and rape culture.

Charlie Stern: What is your gender identity?

David Combs: i guess it’s fluid.  i don’t feel i have great words to describe my gender identity, but some words that have come close at various times are genderqueer, genderfluid, genderqueer man, boy, transfeminine, androgynous, ambivalent.  this manifests mostly in how i understand myself, and less through outward gender cues.  95% of the time i pass as cismale. 

Stern: At what age did you identify that way?

Combs: i started understanding myself as something other than cis when i was 28.

Stern: How does identifying as male make you feel?

Combs: it doesn’t click.  but other people identifying me as male generally doesn’t make me uncomfortable.  i experience the world largely with cismale privilege.  there are aspects of my male experience that i really value and i don’t just mean male privilege.  like parts of my experiences in life that were coded as male experiences are things i experienced as dissonant and alienating and other parts have been meaningful and resonant.

Stern: Do you sometimes feel trapped by your identity?

Combs: i occasionally feel trapped by a sense that i need to express my gender identity in certain ways for the benefit of others.

Stern: What made you decide to dress as your gender?

Combs: i’ve pretty much dressed the same way since i was 5 years old.  i wear more clothes with buttons now than when i was younger but i don’t feel like buttons are particularly gendered one way or another.

Stern: How long did it take you to “pass” as a male?

Combs: i’ve passed as male for the majority of my life but not all of it.  in periods where i’ve worn my hair longer i’ve often been read as female, both when i was a kid and as an adult.  but even when my hair is short, i’ve been read as female more often than any of my cismale presenting friends.

Stern: Do you ever feel completely at home with your developed voice?

Combs: no.  and as a singer i have more than one cause to be self conscious about my voice.  some of it has to do with gender and some doesn’t, but i’ve often wished i could sing with a typically female voice.

Stern: Do you ever have second thoughts about being male?

Combs: yeah.

Stern: When did you learn about the different gender pronouns used?

Combs: i learned binary gender pronouns like anyone else when i was first learning the english language.  i think i first met people who used non-binary pronouns around 2003 when i was 19.  i remember being put off by the idea of non-binary identity initially, because i considered my masculine identity to be a more feminine masculinity, and i sort of felt i was being left behind in a strictly defined masculine identity if i didn’t identify as this new and alien non-binary identity.  i later came to see that some of the non-binary people i met were using different words to describe a similar thing to what i felt.

Stern: Do you feel the need to conform to what society asks of you, in terms of your gender?

Combs: i mean, i definitely did when i was younger, particularly when i was a teenager and coming into my sense of self.  before i was a teenager i felt comfortable with feminine and queer aspects of my identity that i came to really hate about myself once i was old enough to know those weren’t socially desirable masculine traits.  as an adult i’ve learned to be comfortable with myself regardless of that, but there are certainly still times when depending on who i’m talking to i might feel pressured to perform my gender differently than i would normally.  but actually if you take that idea outside of the context of the mechanisms of culturally policed gender roles, i don’t that kind of fluidity is always negative.  there are certain environments where i feel really at home and comfortable presenting more masculine sides of myself, and certain environments where i feel at home and comfortable presenting my femininity. 

Stern: Do you think gender is merely a social construction? Why or why not?

Combs: i think the ways we define gender and the categories we use to understand it are constructed.  the idea that there are gendered behaviors expected of a person based on the sex they’re assigned at birth is entirely a social construction and there is so much evidence to that effect that i wouldn’t really know where to start.  but that doesn’t mean the way people experience gender isn’t real.  i think that a majority of people have an innate sense of gender whether that fits within binary categories or not.  and certainly we all experience the real world effects of the ways that gender is constructed.  arguing that gender is a construct doesn’t make navigating a gendered world any less real.

Stern: Do you think of gender as a thing you would like to undo? Please explain.

Combs: i think of the gender binary as something i would very much like to undo.  i don’t think gender goes away, but i think it should be something you define for yourself, not something you should be assigned.

Stern: If gender did not exist, do you think you would still have the desire to live as a male?

Combs: that’s kind of a trick question, right?

Stern: If you were unable to live as a male, what would that mean for you?

Combs: there have been many times when i’ve fantasized about living as a woman in a sustained way, but i’ve never done it, so i can’t say 100% that i’d be comfortable with that as my only option.  i could easily see myself occupying a more expressly non-binary identity, but it would probably swing towards the masculine part of the spectrum in regard to gender cues, so does that even count?  in that respect, i’d be happy to stop living as a man, but if it was never an option to express myself in a masculine way i think that would be pretty uncomfortable.  there is definitely a comfort in my lived experience of maleness that i wouldn’t want to give up permanently.  and again, by “comfort” i don’t mean male privilege, though that’s certainly part of my experience, but i mean comfort as in feeling at peace with myself.

Stern: Do you have many friends/family who are also male?

Combs: plenty of friends.  no family.

Stern: What is your relationship to the male community?

Combs: i don’t know that there is any such thing as coherent “male community.”  my relationship to other men really varies depending not the man, obviously, but if it’s a question of spaces where there is a sense of masculine solidarity among male identified people, my relationship is also fluid.  when my typically masculine people read me as feminine it puts me lower on the totem poll and i am antagonized by misogynist men.  but when there are others present who are read as more feminine than me, all of a sudden i’m part of the club.

Stern: Do you find that your relationships with people in the male community are different from your relationships with people outside the male community?

Combs: sure.  there are certain ways that male socialized people are taught to relate to other men differently than we’re taught to people we don’t read as men.  it’s like the cab driver who is perfectly polite until my female friends get out of the car and then he starts with the sexist jokes.

Stern: Have you ever felt excluded from the male community because you weren’t “male enough”?

Combs: i have felt excluded from certain communities of men for not being masculine enough for sure.  there’s a pretty long running narrative about the boy who is picked on for being too feminine and it’s based on a prevalent social dynamic.  it’s misogyny and it’s how masculinity creates a barrier of solitude to protect itself.  constructing itself in opposition to femininity.  trying to root out anyone who brings femininity into it’s fragile fortress of pure hegemonic masculinity.

Stern: Have you had any role models influence your gender, “teaching” you how to be male? Please explain.

Combs: i mean, totally.  our understanding of acceptable gender expressions are policed strictly by the people in our lives constantly, by the models we’re offered through media, and particularly by the people who raise us.  i certainly recall the ways in which my father tried to prepare me to “act like a man.”  i wrote a song about it.  it’s called “stab yer dad.”

Stern: What kind of support for being a male do you have?

Combs: patriarchy.

Stern: Have you run into any problems with religion, in regards to your gender identity?

Combs: religion is very often a primary influence in how gender roles are taught to kids.  i haven’t been in much of a religious environment since i was young, but i grew up immersed in various denominations of judaism.  and particularly in orthodox strains of judaism there are very strict restrictions on what is or isn’t acceptable depending on your assigned gender.  whether it’s self conscious or not, growing up with the idea of a masculine god, masculine messianic figures, masculine religious rights and leadership, you learn to value masculinity over femininity.  on some level that influenced my self-understanding and biased me against my own femininity for sure.

Stern: Did you have any friends/family who thought they could change you to be “normal”?

Combs: no.  this interview is set up to point out to people with cismale privilege how little they have to think about their gender identity and how infrequently it’s challenged and i hope that me trying to answer the questions sincerely hasn’t come across as oblivious to that.  this question though was a real poignant one in that regard.  i have enough privilege that no one would ever try to change me to “normal”, because when i’m read as a straight white male (regardless of my identity) or close enough, those things are coded as “neutral,” “objective,” “normal.”  and that’s really disgusting.

Stern: How has being a male affected your romantic relationships?

Combs: most of my female partners have told me at one point or another that they didn’t think of me as being masculine in the same way as they did other men they’d been with.  in some instances i think my partners understood my gender better than i did at the time.  even when i identified as cis it was always comforting when other people identified me as feminine.  i’ve dated a lot of queer women and whether it was explicitly stated or i just thought about it privately, i’ve understood many of my relationships with women to be queer relationships.  conversely i sometimes feel most at home with my masculinity when it’s been the source of desire from other men.  queer male attraction is one of the spaces that i feel most at home with a masculine identity.

Stern: How has being a male impacted you negatively?

Combs: hegemonic masculinity teaches us that vulnerability is weakness.  and weakness is antithetical to manhood.  so we shut down our emotions to avoid any appearance of vulnerability and we alienate ourselves from ourselves.  i wouldn’t underemphasize what a damaging effect this has on the world. but also it’s a relatively small thing compared to the ways that patriarchy negatively impacts people without male privilege.  our culture’s misogynist status quo economically, socially and politically disadvantages non-cismale people to the point that people are basically psychologically tortured and even murdered for not having male privilege.  

Stern: How safe do you feel at school/work/public (and why)?

Combs: generally pretty safe.  i mean we could talk about the various factors that might make me feel safe in one neighborhood in versus another.  but basically my privilege allows to walk around without the general fear that any given person might stalk me, attack me, or sexually assault me for not being male; that any given person might be looking for some opportunity to take advantage of me sexually, etc.  not that i haven’t experienced that fear at all, but it doesn’t present itself to me the same omnipresent way that it does to people without male privilege.

Stern: Have you faced any hindrances functioning within the system (like school) because of your gender?

Combs: no, but i don’t do school or have a traditional professional life either.

Stern: Have you ever been a victim of a hate crime?

Combs: no.

Stern: Have you ever been forced by friends/family into mental health treatment for your gender identity?

Combs: no.

Stern: If your family had to raise you all over again, what advice would you give them so that your life gender experience would have been different?

Combs: i might have asked my mom to raise me with the same baseline of criticism and disdain for the gender binary as she did for sexism, racism, and homophobia.  i might still have been indoctrinated into those ways of thinking from all the shit we absorb from media and the dominant culture, but i might have had a little easier time with self understanding as an adult if i’d been exposed to a critique of the gender binary sooner.

Stern: What was the best advice you received as a young person?

Combs: be yourself.

Stern: If your own child were to declare themselves male, what advice would you give them to help them survive the world they may have to face?

Combs: be yourself.  and beware the way our culture trains boys to think like male supremacist sociopaths.

Stern: Do you have any fears about the future and how living as a male could hinder pursuits in the realms of family and children?

Combs: no.  but i’m also not making any plans to have children.

Stern: What do you see as the main issue facing male people today and what do you see as a possible solution to this problem?

Combs: overwhelming male complicity in rape culture.  i think teaching consent and comprehensive sex education to young people might go a long way.

Stern: Do you feel like any health disparities you face are directly related to your gender identity and expression?

Combs: no.

Stern: Have you ever felt that you have been denied proper medical treatment or questioned inappropriately while seeking medical treatment?

Combs: no.

Stern: What changes would you make in healthcare in order to receive better care oriented towards males?

Combs: health care is already unfairly oriented towards men.  there are all kinds of changes we could make to health care that would make it better for all humans (including men) but yeah, not being oriented towards men isn’t really the problem.

Stern: What do you think society could do to better understand people who are male and their needs?

Combs: offer young people education around the ways that gender is constructed.

Stern: How could society change to be more accepting or emotionally better for you?

Combs: the dissolution of the gender binary, patriarchy, heteronormativity, capitalism, white supremacy, imperialism, colonialism, ableism, etc.  :)

March 7, 2014
Interview with JBS (Part One)

This interview was with an 82 year old man who wishes to remain anonymous. He is a rabbi and retired professor, born in Jerusalem, Palestine. He now lives in Newton, Massachusetts. The interview was conducted in person on 22 February 2014.

Stern: What is your gender identity?

JBS: Male.

Stern: At what age did you identify that way?

JBS: The moment I remember myself. As a child, I knew I was a boy.

Stern: How did you know?

JBS: Uh, that’s a nice question. I guess being in a, I was, that’s an interesting question. I was, we don’t have kindergartens at my time. We had what they call ‘cheider.’ Pre-school. Schoolhouse. And at age three, my parents enrolled me. It was all boys. Girls went to another place or they did not go. So I knew I knew that I was in that school, and everybody was a boy, so I was a boy. And by the age of four, I already learned to read and write. Okay? In that schoolhouse, called ‘cheider.’

Stern: How do you spell that?

JBS: “Cheider,” it’s a Hebrew word for room, meaning school room, okay, and it is the oldest educational institution in the Jewish history, in European Jewish history. With sending the kids very early, and boys. Going back to what I said before, because they could not afford to send girls. So, boys were preferred for intensive education, and girls had other accommodations, but not schooling. Alright? So now, already been defined as a boy by knowing that I was sent by my parents to that cheider, and I only had sisters much later. Rivka was much later.

Stern: How does identifying as male make you feel?

JBS: Ah! I don’t know. I guess, as a child, it made me feel that, pride, able to achieve the things that a boy could do. Learning to read, learning to recite text, that you didn’t expect others to do until age six or seven, alright, so I was a very early. So, that’s, I guess, pride. Pride in my boyhood education.

Stern: Do you sometimes feel trapped by your identity?

JBS: Never. I never, I never felt in any way trapped. It never occurred to me to question it. Not in the context of my upbringing. Never, gender identity was never an issue.

Stern: What made you decide to dress as your gender?

JBS: 'To dress as your gender.' I guess emulating adult models. Okay, so, wearing a jacket, wearing the proper pants, and then going out to a party, or a wedding, they'll put a tie on me. So, it was all the male model. But there was never an issue of doubting my gender.

Stern: How did you realize that you were ready to transition into being a male?

JBS: That never entered my mind. That was not an issue that occurred to me as a young boy and not as a teenager and not when I was dating and not when I was in college. It was never an issue with me. My maleness was accepted for what I am.

Stern: How long did it take you to “pass” as a male?

JBS: This question is very strange. If I felt male, I didn’t have to pass as a male. That was natural. Wherever I went, I went as a young man, as a boy, as a young man. And then, I told you, at age 13, suddenly I am embraced as part of the community, as part of the synagogue. I can be counted as a tenth person. Alright? Without me, they couldn’t start the services. In other words, when you have a small quorum, tenth is a quorum, alright, so here I am, a young boy, counted as a man. That was very important. But not girls. Okay? So that gives you an extra sense of pride.

Stern: Do you ever feel completely at home with your developed voice?

JBS: 'With my develop voice?' Yes, I was very proud of my voice. Everybody was complimenting for my beautiful voice. My singing, they were crazy about my singing, all my relatives, my cousins. And I kept that talent, or that capacity to sing, uh, throughout my life. I was very happy. And Monique says she fell in love with me because of my singing. Okay?

Stern: Do you ever have second thoughts about being male?

JBS: Never.

Stern: Can you tell me more about what it is like for you as an individual to function within our society’s gender binary?

JBS: ‘To function society as what?’

Stern: [Repeats question]

JBS: Means, ‘Do I understand the problems?’ What is the question?

Stern: Do you know what a gender binary is?

JBS: Yeah, male female, roles. Well, if you know me by now, after being my [grandchild], you know that I started my life very early believing in absolute equality with women. In other words, Monique will tell you that traditional, the tradition in our family is that, when a young scholar marries, he gives a dissertation, speech at the wedding night. That was expected of young rabbis, of young scholars. And my father expected, and I, at the night of the wedding, I gave my dissertation, or my thesis. And we’re talking, we got married in 1963, and at that time, my thesis was all about striking a complete new ground, why women should be equal to men, and what is the role of husbands to make sure that the intellectual properties of women are enhanced, preserved and enhanced and advanced. That was my speech at my wedding night. In other words, I was thoroughly committed 30 years before my time, before it came out about feminism and all that, about the equality of men and women. And we ought to change the role models of the male dominant, the male dominant role model to a shared model in marriage.

And I remember, when we got engaged, my mother looked at Monique with her beautiful, the same suit that she has here [gets up to show me pictures] the Chanel suit, absolutely, this is the suit she wore. You can see it here. This is the suit. This is a Chanel suit Jacqueline Kennedy wore when her husband was assassinated. Okay. And she came, yeah, this was the suit she had, exactly the suit, here, this is the suit she wore. She had three suits like that. Uh, and my mother looked at her beautiful nails, she had gorgeous nails, fingers, beautiful nails, she was slim like a four and a half or five, and my mother looks at me and says, ‘With this nails,’ in Hebrew, ‘she’ll never be able to wash dishes. And with this figure, how would she have children?’ So I told Ima [Hebrew for Mom] ‘I’m not marrying her cause I need her to wash dishes. I’m marrying her because of her mind.’ Okay? So that already set me apart from the rest of my contemporaries. I believed already then, that’s why I married. I have six, I have five brothers and sisters. I had six. One of them died. I married the last. Everybody married before me. And the reason being because I was not satisfied with the type of women that I met. Monique was the one that I, that I really felt, and she was, in a way, realizing or confirming, confirming my philosophical outlook that women should be treated and respected and on equal basis as male. So, that notion of equality started very early with me. Okay?

Stern: When did you learn about the different gender pronouns used?

JBS: What is the word?

Stern: Pronouns.

JBS: 'Gender pronouns?' Meaning what?

Stern: Meaning ‘he,’ ‘she,’ ‘they.’

JBS: That’s an interesting question. Uh, gender pronoun, you have to understand, is very, very rooted in our language. Our whole grammar is structured around that. Okay? In other words, I write, you write, he writes, and so on, she writes, or I am writing now. Hebrew is definitely, that goes back to Biblical times, is gender, is governed by gender. Okay. I write, ah nee ko tev, if I am a male, I say, ah nee ko tev. If you are a female, you will say ah nee ko tevet. Alright? That’s in most Semitic languages. So, in other words, the gender differentiation is already in your grammar. That’s how you grow up with. Whether it’s in the past tense, present tense, or future tense, is always the feminine and the masculine. I think, in some degrees, in French, too. You add ‘ES’ or whatever. So, the gender difference is very clear in the language. Okay? So, you grew up with that, and most people in the European culture or Middle East cultures and tradition and languages grow up with that gender differentiation. My philosophical problem started in college sometime when I was questioning all the prayer books that we recite our prayers, alright, like last night I made a prayer, right? Say, ‘Baruch atah Adonai,’ blessed you, atah is male for ‘you.’ If I tell you ‘at,’ it’s not ‘atah;’ it’s ‘at.’ Woman. Alright? And my philosophical, theological question is, ‘Why do I refer to God as atah?’ Should be a neutral. So, I had a philosophical issue about referring to God, to the deity in a male, in the male gender. And, throughout the prayer book, all the prayers are written in the masculine. So, that was my philosophical problem, and I haven’t resolved it til, I don’t think it’s a resolved question. Except you accepted that this was the way old literature were written. They always used the masculine gender. So, that’s a big issue for you in Gender Studies, in most languages. In English, too; the way they describe God is male gender. ‘He’ – very rarely ‘she.’ The question is, is there a neutral word that we can introduce to designate that God is not a he or a she. That’s a philosophical, theological issue, and I wrestle with that, long time ago. You have to understand the problem of it. The problem is that our designations of God are always in a masculine form, not in a feminine form. Why is it so? Can we accept it? Should we change it?

Stern: Do you feel the need to conform to what society asks of you, in terms of your gender?

JBS: Well, I’m not a non-conformist, so I feel free to do whatever I want, but there is certain expectations based on my culture, what a male do or can do. Alright? Uh, in other words, I automatically assume that I can carry burdens more than my wife. So, I always tell her I’ll carry the laundry down or up. Alright? I’ll do the hard work, the physical work. That is culturally – not imposed, but it’s not a question of being gentlemanly or being considerate – it’s just that I knew that a man can do, and can be assigned to heavier tasks than women. Okay? But that is really an ongoing issue in society. The issue in Israel, when they started about, oh, long time ago, thirty, more years ago, to give equal tasks to women in the military. And the issue today is debated in America. Today. Whether women can be in the Marines, whether they can be in the front, whether they can do the males’ type of work. That is an ongoing issue. So, I was involved in this thing that women can do all these things that males can do. However, we have to defer to certain limitations. Okay? And we have to respect those limitations. And respecting those limitations is I would carry the load upstairs and not Monique. And I expect others to do the same. Alright? And that’s basically what you, what’s the answer to your question.

Stern: Do you think gender is merely a social construction? Why or why not?

JBS: It is a social construction, but it is a biological construction. Can’t call it a social construction. It’s the way we evolved as a human society. The way all the animal kingdom evolved, where you have a procreating, at least in our species, where you have male and female. So, this is a biological construct. Alright? We have the male, the procreating male, and you have the female. And we grew up like that; we evolved that way. So, it is part of our nature, and the problem is, we have it among the animal, some animal, I forgot the, I used to know them, in insects and in some animals, there is no differentiation of gender. Okay? But the way we are constructed as a biological beings, that has been since the time we are born. We have been defined by our gender. But if mere fact that, whether physical appearance, physical prowerness, agility, all sort of skills, that was attributed to, that was at least assumed that the male gender can fulfill those tasks better than women. Like hunting, alright? Like fighting. And women is the protected one because she had children to bear and she had to protect her youngs.

So, the male role was to protect the woman, and to protect the house, and to protect from other prowlers, and because, in ancient societies, women were subjected to being snatched, being taken away by other tribes, and the male role was to defend that woman. Okay? So, there was always warfare about protecting the woman property, or the woman home, the woman’s nest. So, there is a biological construct to it that we cannot escape that. And it’s true that, as we grew to understand gender differences, that some people fall in between. In other words, some people, for, now we know more because we know more about our genome, we know more about our brain, we know that some individuals have not developed biologically that absolute differentiation. There is a, there is sort of a confusion of boundaries. Okay? But it’s not confusion; it’s just the way we are, alright? It’s a question of, for instance, they found a certain part of the brain that, uh, that with gay people, there are different responses than straight people. But it’s a question of brain development. Okay?

Stern: Do you think of gender as a thing you would like to undo? Please explain.

JBS: I never thought of that. I accepted my role.

Stern: If gender did not exist, do you think you would still have the desire to live as a male?

JBS: That’s a theoretical question that I cannot deal with. In other words, we are, as I said before, we are biological constructs going back millions of years of human evolution. And that’s how human evolution evolved, where you have gender differentiation. That’s how it evolved. Those who were, I’m sure there were people in million years ago whatever, they were transsexual or, but they did not survive because they did not procreate. So, in terms of human evolution, it really forced the gender differentiation. Because, otherwise, by the laws of evolution, right? Those who were, with that kind of boundaries between the gender, not really knowing where to, where their brain let them be, they have not survived because they have not procreated.

Stern: Some transsexuals procreate.

JBS: Probably, but, yes, they do. A lot of gay men have marriages.

Stern: Yeah, well, gay is different than transgender.

JBS: Yeah, a lot of them created progenies, alright, but the question is, what happened to the brain development? Okay? And, is it a recessive gene, is it a dominant gene? What happens when the gene in the next generation mixed with another gene? I don’t know. But the point is that the human condition is such that the differentiation, gender differentiation has been imprinted in our biological evolution. Okay?

Stern: If you could choose to be transgender, would you?

JBS: Say it again?

Stern: [Repeats question]

JBS: No, not at my age, and not before. I don’t think I ever, no, I never wanted to be something else than I am. I never had a problem of thinking that way. I don’t remember myself thinking that way as a young man or as a young boy. No.

Stern: If you were unable to live as a male, what would that mean for you?

JBS: That question never occurred to me. It never came up in my life. In other words, it was, it’s again, it’s the human condition. You take it for granted. I’m a male. There certain expectations, okay? And I tried to fill the social, anthropological, whatever, expectations as a male. So, I never thought, what would I have? It never entered my mind, what would I been able to accomplish had I been a woman? That never entered my mind. In other words, I didn’t feel that I missed something in life not being a male – not being a woman.

Stern: Do you think there’s a place for transgender people in the Jewish community?

JBS: Again, we’re talking about, we have to go back. The way I grew up, as a mature, thinking man. In all my life, I was, I was committed to law and ethics, right? The underline of the law, the philosophy of law, the basis of law, and morality. So, the central feature of my thinking is that every human being – that is the first few sentences, verses in the Bible – every human being is in the image of God. The imprint of the divine, okay? You can spend years trying to figure out what it means. The Hebrew is ‘sellomello im.’ ‘Sello’ means ‘image of.’ Okay. So, if you are an image of God, and he is an image of God, Monique is the image of God, right? And billion other people are the image of God, but they do not all look alike, do they? Meaning, philosophically that you and I and everyone else around us is not, is not the same copy you get on a Xerox machine, on a copy machine, they all look the same. Everyone has its own unique genes, all unique, okay? What makes him unique? And everyone is the image of God. So, philosophically, you think, “Aha. So, God has infinite, infinite manifestations.’ Right? And his infinite manifestations is projected on Charlie, on [me], on Jake, on billion, billions of other human beings, past, present, and future, and everyone is different. Therefore, that applies to a transgender. He is in the image of God, so he is a human being, and I am obligated to care about him, to save him, to care for him, as any other human because he is the image of God. He has his own worth, whatever it is. Okay? So, that is the humanity, at least where I come from, my social, my ethical, legal philosophy.

Stern: Do you have many friends/family who are also male?

JBS: 'Who are also male?' What does it mean 'also male'?

Stern: Male like you.

JBS: Most, I have many many, I have two brothers and hundreds of cousins, and they all seem to be, unless, they all seem to be in similar mode of thinking and behaving. I haven’t seen any difference from what I know. Many of my cousins and relatives. No one in my immediate family had any gender issues that I know of.

Stern: Do you find that your relationships with people in the male community are different from your relationships with people outside the male community?

JBS: ‘Outside the male community’ means my relationship with females?

Stern: Yes, and people who are neither male nor female.

JBS: Well, you have to put yourself thinking about how you were as a young man. So, the things that you can say or do and act among your male friends and things that you were restricted from doing, not daring to do when you were female presence. So, that is a social construct. It’s a question of etiquettes, it’s a question of manners, uh, these have changed. Young people today can say anything that comes to the mind, never thinking that may offend women or saying things that usually we say it among male, especially if you’re in the military establishment or any working establishment. Alright? People tend to be more reserved with a female in the midst. And male tend to be less ruly and less inhibited when they are with their own kind. That’s what I experienced all my life. But definitely, even today, if I’m sitting with women, it’s different than sitting with men, because with women, there are issues of sexual attraction. You have fantasies, real or that, but there are issues with women, especially with mature women, adult women, not talking as children, okay? And these issues, so you have to be very careful.

In other words, as a professor, I made it my business, I worked on it a lot; I never complimented a woman, a student, and I had many students, on her beautiful hair, or when she came with a different hairdo, like you had with different colors. Or dress, manner of dress. ‘Oh, what a beautiful dress, what a beautiful scarf, what great shoes, oh, it’s so beautiful.’ Never in my life. Even though I would like to say it, but I never did it. And the same policy applied to male. Each time Monique meets a friend, ‘Oh, what a, who’s your hairdresser? Where did you get your haircut? It’s beautiful. Where do you get the dress? And, it’s beautiful. Oh, the shoes are adorable.’ That’s what they do in France, okay? That’s what they do in all over. I never engage with that. Okay? So, I made it into my, as a teacher, and I think it influenced my way I’m working with women. Okay, so, there are certain things I couldn’t do in front of women, right? There are certain words you couldn’t, gestures, because there is always the question, ‘Is he making a pass on me? Is he sexually attracted to me,’ or the other way around. So, that’s the issue of the tension between male and female, which has been always. That’s part of our social environment. So, you have to be aware of the different roles and what people may make out of if you make the wrong comment or the wrong gesture, or the right gesture, okay? So, we are not as free. So, this is, I would say, social constructs. Very much social constructs.

The expectations is, let’s say you are with a female, and you feel that she attracts you, are you going to tell her that? That’s the question. So, you have to always hold on. After all, she’s married to my neighbor, to my friend. You may have a fantasy about her, but… So, that’s where the social morality walks in. I mean, social morality is a whole system of cues for what you do and you don’t do with the opposite sex. Okay? So, people who are cultured, people who are more aware of that, know what are the cues – what they call proper and improper. Okay? What are the things that you project that may be out of line. And where do you have to have self-discipline. And a lot of male don’t know how to exercise their self-discipline, even though they… they would like to, they do express their fantasies, okay? ‘Ah, what a beautiful. Oh, you are a great, you are a great,’ you know, ‘you have great boobs,’ or, ‘It will be nice to have a, to, uh, to have an evening.’ Okay, I don’t want to use words, okay? ‘It would be nice to fuck you.’ Okay? That’s what they use all the time. I have been constrained by that because of my philosophy. Respect of women, respect of – and knowing that there is a sexual tension, so you have to be respectful of that.

February 18, 2014
Interview with Patrick Schneeweis (Part Two)

This interview was with Patrick “Pat The Bunny” Schneeweis, 26, who grew up in Vermont, but now lives in Tucson, Arizona. The interview was conducted via Gmail chat, on Tuesday, 18 February 2014.

Stern: Do you want to start with the question we left off with last time?

Schneeweis: Sure thing.

Stern: Okay. Do you feel the need to conform to what society asks of you, in terms of your gender?

Schneeweis:I probably feel the need to conform to prescribed gender roles much less than most people due to my particular circumstances. My mother is a feminist who has discussed gender as a form of hierarchy since I can remember, with support and reinforcement from my father. Most of my social life centers around a subcultural milieu that takes for granted familiarity with feminist, queer, and trans critiques of mainstream gender norms. When outside the context of family and friends, I do experience fear of consequences—both social and physical—that might result from me refusing to “play along” with behaviors expected of men that I consider oppressive or misogynist. So I guess the most pressure I feel is related to which battles to pick, when to speak up, and so on. The short answer is that I do what I feel capable of at the moment I am confronted with that kind of situation. Maybe I don’t do enough; maybe doing enough is not possible. I don’t know.

Stern: Do you think gender is merely a social construction? Why or why not?

Schneeweis: Gender is certainly a social construction. That’s true of every means that people use to relate to one another. It’s also very clear that the specific content of gender as a social construction is radically different in distinct cultural contexts. Even if there were inherent, biologically-based personality differences between people assigned different gender categories, we could never know what they are because there is not a culture anywhere that provides a neutral environment for the expression of that “inherent nature,” uncontaminated by the peculiarities of specific local socialization processes.

Stern: Do you think of gender as a thing you would like to undo?

Schneeweis: Binary gender is something that should be undone as a social construct. Discussing the abolition of gender per se is much more complicated, and not something I feel capable of going into with enough depth right now.

Stern: If gender did not exist, do you think you would still have the desire to live as a male?

Schneeweis: I don’t think so.

Maybe one more question?

Stern: Okay.

If you could choose to be transgender, would you?

Schneeweis: No.

And I’ve gotta go about now.

Thanks again for including me in the project!

Have a good night and I’ll talk to you later.

Stern: Have a good night! Thank you for answering my questions.

Here’s Part One: http://questioningmasculinity.tumblr.com/post/75102684434/an-interview-with-patrick-schneeweis-part-one

February 9, 2014
A fat feminist walks into a strip club...

whereiscarolinenow:

No. This isn’t the beginning to a bad, sexist joke. Two nights ago, I went to a fully nude gentleman’s club in the heart of Washington, DC.

Now—before you judge, you must understand that I did this so I could experience the institution before I could make an accurate assessment. In my short 23…

Awesome feminist writing on the patriarchy and strip clubs.

February 7, 2014
Everyone Is Going To Misgender Me At My Funeral

wakingfromnapping:

If I die violently,
The news will say,
“One female dead in gruesome homicide/
Gruesome car accident/
Gruesome lion attack.”
The paramedics will cut open my clothes
And judge my vulva
Without giving him the opportunity
To introduce himself.

My parents will dress me up
In a green cotton dress
That…

I also do poetry. Here’s my latest piece.

February 6, 2014
Interview with Ronald Gerlock

This interview was with my maternal grandfather, Ronald Gerlock, 71, a retired engineer who grew up in Buffalo, New York, but now lives in Salisbury, North Carolina. The interview was conducted in person, on Monday, 3 February 2014.

A note about the interview to follow: The views presented here are not my own, and I do not endorse them. I am not entirely confident in my idea to post the interview, as it may upset some people (some of it definitely upsets me), but I figure it might be productive to shed light on views that are not as progressive as we’d like them to be. In good news, Gerlock and I both found the exercise useful, as he hadn’t been asked to think critically about his gender before this.

Stern: What is your gender identity?

Gerlock: You mean my manliness? Um, probably when I was younger, it was more the attention that females gave me and the reaction I got, etc.

Stern: At what age did you identify that way?

Gerlock: Uh, That’s I don’t think it came, it came over a period of time. You know you’re a boy, but you don’t know that you, you’re still not pubically adult, and once you get to the point where I guess, being able to ejaculate, talk about things like that, things that we didn’t know about, or the older kids knew but they never really passed it along, and you had to learn it by yourself, at least when I was growing up.

Stern: How does identifying as male make you feel?

Gerlock: Manly. No, I feel in control of myself. I feel that I can solve just about any situation within reason.

Stern: Do you sometimes feel trapped by your identity?

Gerlock: Um, yeah, I think I get a little embarrassed when I show too much emotion. Men aren’t supposed to have emotion. Crying, uh, certain things bring you to tears. It’s funny, whenever I hear the National Anthem, I get a tear in my eye. And I think of that as, I don’t know, I guess it’s manly. A lot of other men do it.

Stern: What made you decide to dress as your gender?

Gerlock: Haha, probably the hand-me-downs that I got from my brothers, more than anything. It wasn’t some stupendous awakening that “Oh gosh, look at me, I’m dressed like a man.” It was probably as much my parents and siblings. We dressed like boys because we were boys. That’s about it.

Stern: How did you realize that you were ready to transition into being a male?

Gerlock: Again, I don’t think it was this awakening that uh, one day I was a boy and the next day I was a man. I think as I encountered some difficult problems and was able to work through it, I considered myself an adult. And since I had already identified as a male, a male adult, that’s manhood. That’s the way I approached it.

Stern: Were you pressured by your peers about this decision?

Gerlock: Oh no. No, they’re, I played sports, but I was also in Math Club and Latin Club and things that were, the so-called jocks would consider not masculine, but you’re educating yourself and trying to make as big of, as broad a base as possible. There were 220-some-odd kids in my class I graduated in and I probably knew every one of them on a first name basis and uh I identified with just about anybody. There were kids I can tell you, I don’t recall, and it never was a subject at the time, I don’t remember, I’m sure there were gay kids in school, but when I was growing up, nobody talked about it. Oh, and you might use the, uh, a couple of the terms to yell at one of the guys, you know, in the locker room type stuff. It really wasn’t an issue. It wasn’t a subject anybody broached.

Stern: How long did it take you to “pass” as a male?

Gerlock: I don’t know, I never, I always felt like I was masculine, and um, the reaction of the girls and stuff like that fortified that. They made me feel like masculine, so I never gave it much positive thought. It was probably in the back of my mind, but it wasn’t anything profound.

Stern: Do you ever feel completely at home with your developed voice?

Gerlock: Yeah. Yeah, I know several guys that have the higher-pitched voice and um they live with it as far as I know. I don’t think they, they’re – I guess they get, they had their people make fun of them at times. I remember one of those, I didn’t think that that was right to label somebody. Words like queer, fag, or something like that, would be used jokingly to tell somebody, one of the football players, “You’re a fag” jokingly. They were never meant to demean somebody, although I guess it was a demeaning term. It was just words.

Stern: Do you ever have second thoughts about being male?

Gerlock: No, never. I’ve always, from the time I was 14 or 15 years of age, I’ve always liked to be around women, and I often joke that I have two female horses, a couple female dogs, my wife, and two girls, so I found my way of being surrounded by women. No, my masculinity was never in question as far as I was concerned.

Stern: Can you tell me more about what it is like for you as an individual to function within our society’s gender binary?

Gerlock: Say that again?

Um, I have, it never really was a big issue with me. I always figured for somebody, if they have a gender issue, they’d take care of it themselves. Um, as far as worrying about somebody being, somebody sitting next to me, being a, you’ll have to forgive me; I’m looking for the right words. I never looked at it as a threat to my masculinity or anything like that. We have acquaintances and friends that, now we know, you kinda guessed that they were, we know them as gays and we all talk about it. We don’t like, and when I say “we,” I’m talking about your grandma and I, we don’t like the exhibitionists and the parades and stuff, showing their affection to each other. We wouldn’t do that ourselves, as a heterosexual. We don’t think that, I think that people who do that are really, um, they’re trying to identify themselves and they’re doing it through almost a skit play. They don’t have to do that to be accepted as a person. They just have to be like you and I. Knowing their sexual persuasion doesn’t matter to me. They’ve got their way of doing things and we’ve got ours.

Stern: When did you learn about the different gender pronouns used?

Gerlock: I can truthfully say I didn’t know the difference between girls and boys at least til I was 10 or 11 years old, cause I never had sisters. And, um, we would make fun of, not make fun, play, the boys; I grew up on a street where there were 12 or 13 boys, all in the same age group, and we’d play guns or war, Indians and Cowboys, or apple fights, throwing apples at each other. I never really had exposure to a female, especially physical. So I didn’t really know that men’s genitals were different from women’s until I was in early high school, and that was a shock, but I learned to cope with it, haha.

Stern: Have you ever heard of someone going by the pronoun “they,” instead of “she” or “he”?

Gerlock: No, I don’t, I don’t really anything like that. You mean separating them out, away from the general group?

Stern: Someone who doesn’t want to be called “she” or “he,” they use “they” as a more gender-neutral pronoun.

Gerlock: No, I’ve never really thought of the word “they” in that respect.

Stern: Do you feel the need to conform to what society asks of you, in terms of your gender?

Gerlock: Yeah. Yeah, I think that, uh, I feel if I have to do something, I’ll do it. If I have to expose myself to something difficult, I’ll do it if I’m the only person that’s capable of doing it. I mean, you don’t want to stand up and be the target, but if, and you know, you often wonder how you’d react in a situation, but uh, I think I would take on the role of the typical man, getting the group out or saving, having Lassie come tell me Timmy’s in the well. But I think I would. I haven’t been in situations where I have to stand up and be the fall guy so the rest of the people can get out safely type.

Stern: Do you think gender is merely a social construction? Why or why not?

Gerlock: [Long pause] No. I think it’s overplayed too often. People use it as an escape, they use it as an excuse, instead of standing up and being what you are and being proud of it and not being afraid of what other people say about you. That’s true about heterosexuals as well as homosexuals.

Stern: Well, gender is different than sexuality. There’s a distinction there.

Gerlock: Okay. I never gave that much thought to it.

Stern: Do you think of gender as a thing you would like to undo? Please explain.

Gerlock: ‘Undo?’

Stern: Would you like to abolish gender?

Gerlock: I don’t see any reason to. As long as, I think, if you look at society today versus ten, twenty, thirty, forty years ago, it’s completely changed. The acceptance of, acceptance as a whole is a lot more open and nobody really worries about it. I mean, there might be a yahoo in down, down in some valley in the mountains someplace, and there, there’s people that they don’t like people being gendered. I don’t think there’s that. I think a lot of people have overblown the situation. It’s kind of like, I liken it to any other cause. If you just get the leaders out of the way, the cause would suddenly take care of itself. Like Jesse Jackson, he’s got a job, his job is to activate people, even though he can’t come out and say, ‘Everything’s solved, there’s no more racial divide or tensions,’ he’s out of a job if he says something like that, so he’s protecting his job by being a racial activist. And the same is true about the homosexual community. I think they use, to much emphasis is put on, if they could just sit down and live life, one step at a time, they’re fine.

Stern: If gender did not exist, do you think you would still have the desire to live as a male?

Gerlock: Yeah, I kinda like it. There’s, you have, I wouldn’t call myself a Renaissance man by any means, but I enjoy ballet, I enjoy opera, I enjoy unusual foods and traveling different places, things that the so-called he-man would consider ‘sissy.’ I like it. If I like something, I don’t mind saying that I do. If I like a type of beverage and it’s normally served to women, like a whiskey sour or something like that, I like it. Doesn’t make me any more feminine or masculine, just because you like. So you have, I’m not afraid of being, doing things that might be considered feminine.

Stern: If you could choose to be transgender, would you?

Gerlock: [Exhales] I guess it would be interesting, but it’s hard to say. I mean, I’ve spent 71 years on the earth and it’s always been masculine, so whether I would like it or want to do it, I don’t know. I really can’t answer that question.

Stern: If you were unable to live as a male, what would that mean for you?

Gerlock: I’d live life as a woman. You have to live somehow and you have to get through life somehow, and everyone has their own way of dealing with it. If I couldn’t do it as a man, I’d do it as a woman.

Stern: What is your relationship to the male community?

Gerlock: Um, yesterday was the first Super Bowl I watched in over 20 years. I don’t read the sports page in the newspaper. By the same token, I don’t like people that use their situation to get out of something. ‘Oh, I can’t do that because I’m female or male.” If you’re asked to do something that’s within your realm, that’s not illegal, you do it, and worry about what somebody says afterwards.

Stern: Do you find that your relationships with people in the male community are different from your relationships with people outside the male community?

Gerlock: By ‘outside the male community,’ you mean…

Stern: People who are not men.

Gerlock: Okay. I would say, yeah, it would have to be different. When I’m with the guys or something, I will, if they want to talk, broach the subject of baseball, I don’t know a damn thing about baseball, but I can talk to them as though I do. Golf, never golfed a day in my life, but I know what golf is about. And by the same token, I can stand in a room with a dozen women and talk about this great recipe that we have for such and such, and ‘Have you ever tried this drink before? What do you think of some worldly thing that has happened?’ I feel at home with either gender, but I change my discussions and my tactics and how much more I listen to women talk than I listen to men talk on different subject matters, but it’s all interesting.

Stern: Have you ever felt excluded from the male community because you weren’t “male enough”?

Gerlock: No.

Stern: Have you had any role models influence your gender, “teaching” you how to be male? Please explain.

Gerlock: My father. He was very, very, what’s the word I’m trying, he was masculine. He had to be tough. He grew up, and his father died, and he had to leave school in 8th grade and, back then they didn’t have welfare or Medicaid or Medicare or anything like that. If you didn’t have money, you didn’t get it done. So, he and his brothers and sisters all went out and made money, shoveling sidewalks, cleaning things. These were little kids, 12, 14 years old, so he had a difficult life, but he found a time to raise four boys and make them active members of the community, and how do you, how do you thank somebody like that? He wouldn’t accept it if you tried to thank him for doing something, so I looked up to him as a real man.

Stern: What kind of support for being a male do you have?

Gerlock: I’m not sure. Internal or external?

Stern: External. Do you have people who support you?

Gerlock: Oh yeah. I’ve never, my masculinity has never really been questioned, at least, not to my face, and, uh, I think I accept myself for what I am. Everything’s fine, as far as I’m concerned.

Stern: How does your family feel about you being a male?

Gerlock: Haha. My poor mother would say ‘I wish I had a girl,” but she had four boys. My dad loved having four boys cause he had fun with us. We went hunting, the typical things you can picture a man and his son doing. Some of the stuff was not typical. We got disciplined as boys, not ‘Go and stand in the corner for 15 minutes and that’s your punishment.’ Our punishment was ‘Wait til your father gets home,’ and when he got home, he took a leather switch to us to make sure we didn’t do it again. But I never held it against him. He was the authority figure and if we did something wrong, we didn’t think at the time we were gonna, we didn’t think about the consequences at the time, but around 6 pm, if we did something wrong, my dad would take a strap to us.

Stern: Have you run into any problems with religion, in regards to your gender identity?

Gerlock: No, we’re Roman Catholic. For the most part, we’re not, I would have to say, I’d be lying if I said we were 100% Roman Catholic and do whatever the Catholic church says. We don’t, again I’m using ‘we,’ talking about Grandma and I, we both feel that gay and lesbians are just people like us and don’t worry about it too much. Abortion? We have mixed feelings about that. I guess it depends on the situation. It’s not anything that can be taken lightly. By the same token, there are certain times when something like that has to occur. So, we really don’t talk about it. We both feel that it’s, the Catholic religion is what we want to be, most like what we, our thoughts and activities and everything are. So, if there’s a couple of things we don’t agree with, with the church, we’re just gonna have to disagree.

Stern: Did you have any friends/family who thought they could change you to be “normal”?

Gerlock: Haha, no. I don’t know what ‘normal’ is. Like I said before, we know people that are homosexuals. That doesn’t really bother me one, I don’t think about it. And, in fact, most of the time, I’m impressed with, especially gay men, they have so many things that could go against them, and yet they’re always, at least they have, they, I’m searching for words; this Parkinson’s disease kinda screws me up and I can’t find the words. They usually have it all together, they are very astute on different things, and I’m impressed with a lot of people that are gay because they do have a very broad base, most of them. There are some that have a chip on their shoulder and they gotta get through that themselves, but for the most part, I’m impressed with the way that they’ve advanced themselves.

Stern: How has being a male affected your romantic relationships?

Gerlock: My romantic, my latest one is 40 years old, so. I think I was, I’ve always enjoyed being around women and girls in high school and all that, and it’s something I’ve enjoyed. I’d just as soon sit in a room full of women and admire a good-looking woman, even at my age, ha, but I think my masculinity has helped me there because I was always, not aggressive, but assertive, I come across as being intelligent. Feelings. Women like guys with feelings. I always made sure they knew I had feelings. So, yeah, in the distant past, when I was dating and all, that was important.

Stern: How has being a male impacted you negatively?

Gerlock: Hmm. HMM. I guess, at certain times, things are expected of you that you really didn’t want to do, but you had to do it, and since you were a man, or male, you were expected to do it, and you went through with that. And most of the time, it wasn’t as bad as you thought it was going to be, and or everybody forgot about it six months later. So, in hindsight, it wasn’t all that bad. But that was the difficult part, is when someone expected something from you because you were male.

Stern: How safe do you feel at school/work/public (and why)?

Gerlock: That has changed over the years. I think, when I was in high school or college, even when I, early marriage, we never had the violence that we have today. It’s not violence against you, Ron Gerlock, it’s against you because you’re a person that they don’t agree with. Some of the senseless shooting that now seems to be the, I keep hoping that it’s getting better instead of worse. But I think that’s the biggest thing, is worrying about your family being hurt by someone they don’t even know, just a random murder or shooting or stabbing. Doesn’t matter what the weapon is, it’s the weapon between their two ears that you have to be frightened of. And you see people committing heinous crimes for no reason at all, and that’s kind of scary.

Stern: Have you ever been a victim of a hate crime?

Gerlock: [Long pause] I can’t think of any. I’m trying to think. I guess no, I can’t think of anything where I was the victim. No, I’m at a loss.

Stern: Have you ever been forced by friends/family into mental health treatment for your gender identity?

Gerlock: No.

Stern: If your family had to raise you all over again, what advice would you give them so that your life gender experience would have been different?

Gerlock: I don’t know that I’d want it to be different. I’m perfectly happy with the way my life has gone as a male. I don’t, I’m very happy to be a man, and I don’t feel the need to change it.

Stern: Now that you’re out as a male, what would you have said to a younger version of yourself?

Gerlock: Haha. Study harder. Go to class more often.

Stern: What was the best advice you received as a young person?

Gerlock: 'You can't have everything, and everybody is not happy all the time.'

Stern: If your own child were to declare themselves male, what advice would you give them to help them survive the world they may have to face?

Gerlock: ‘Live up to your responsibilities. Discipline yourself, and show respect to everybody.’

Stern: What do you see as the main issue facing male people today and what do you see as a possible solution to this problem?

Gerlock: I think men today are becoming wusses. They’re afraid to admit that they enjoy doing something, or they’re afraid to stand up for their principles. There’s a general feeling that they have to do everything to satisfy their female counterparts. It’s not wrong to be a man. It’s not wrong to have an opinion or an idea different from the other gender. So, just stand up and be a man. Don’t be afraid of it.

Stern: What is the hardest part about being a man?

Gerlock: Being a man. Not being caught up in this world of political correctness. If you’re a man and something comes to and you feel the need to do something, be active about it, do it. Worry about the consequences later.

Stern: Do you feel like any health disparities you face are directly related to your gender identity and expression?

Gerlock: Well, I have three brothers and all three have prostate cancer, so, and I’m going next Thursday to a urologist just as a precaution because, if the three have it, I’m due for it sooner or later. As far as I know, there aren’t any women with a prostate. I would say it’s gender-specific.

Stern: Have you ever felt that you have been denied proper medical treatment or questioned inappropriately while seeking medical treatment?

Gerlock: No. I don’t think I’ve ever had a problem with that.

Stern: What changes would you make in healthcare in order to receive better care oriented towards males?

Gerlock: For the longest time, it was geared towards men and women were more or less forgotten about, and just in the last, I’m gonna say, 20 to 25 years, it has shifted almost completely to women, healthcare for women, and men are kind of left out. Looking at, women have done a great job of identifying breast cancers as a cause, and a lot of things your grandma didn’t know about, today’s revelations would have made it a lot easier on her. Such things like menopause was very difficult on her because most of the doctors are male, most of them ‘Oh, that’s just a women’s thing,’ and there was no really medications to give women during menopause, so she suffered because of that, and I suffered because she suffered.

Stern: What do you think society could do to better understand people who are male and their needs?

Gerlock: Well, I’m afraid society has done a good job on television advertising and stuff, showing the man as a complete idiot or a wuss or both. And it would take equal amount of time to, and someone would have to take up the cause to find men, problems that men have.

Stern: How could society change to be more accepting or emotionally better for you?

Gerlock: I always, I think that getting rid of this political correctness. It’s wrong. Kids are being raised being afraid to say anything, do anything that says you’re masculine. This common, there’s no common sense left in the administration departments of public schools. There’s just nobody there that knows what they’re doing, as far as I’m concerned. I’m sure there are a lot of good people, but it drives me nuts every time I see somebody defending a totally illogical act, kicking a kid out of school because he made a sign like a gun or like they did yesterday, the day before, taking lunches away from the schoolkids and dumping it because the parents hadn’t paid up the lunch vouchers. Stupid. That’s it.

Stern: That was my last question, so thank you.

Gerlock: You’re very welcome. It’s something that I never really gave a lot of thought to, but it’s a lot of subconscious. So, thank you.

January 30, 2014
An Interview with Patrick Schneeweis (Part One)

This interview was with Patrick “Pat The Bunny” Schneeweis, 26, who grew up in Vermont, but now lives in Tucson, Arizona. The interview was conducted via Gmail chat, on Thursday, 30 January 2014.

Stern: First up: What is your gender identity?

Schneeweis: Cis male.

Stern: At what age did you start identifying that way?

Schneeweis: I’ve identified as male for as long as I can remember. I don’t remember being taught what “cis” was growing up, so I have only identified as a cis male in my adult life.

Stern: How does identifying as male make you feel?

Schneeweis: I have mixed emotions about my male identity in a patriarchal society. It obviously affords me a multitude of privileges; it also means that my relationships with others inherit dynamics of power based on gender that obstruct the sort of equality I believe is a prerequisite to having the most fulfilling relationships with other people. These are dynamics that can and should be interrogated and undermined in the context of specific interpersonal relationships, but having that baggage built-in to the interactions I will have with others on a daily basis is also painful, frustrating, and limiting to my development as a social being.

Stern: What made you decide to dress as your gender?

Schneeweis: I wouldn’t say it was a conscious decision when I was a child. When I was thirteen and fourteen I would sometimes wear dresses and carry purses in public. I think I decided to stop doing that because my motivation for it came from a place of “freaking out the squares,” rather than expressing something about my gender identity, and this didn’t sit so well with me anymore after I became more aware of trans* identities. It became clear that I was “playing” at something that was very serious, and often dangerous, for other people.

Stern: How did you realize that you were ready to transition into being a male?

Schneeweis: I have not ever had to realize that I was ready to transition into being a male, because the society that I live in treats cis identity as normative (to the exclusion of other gender identities).

Stern: How long did it take you to “pass” as a male?

Schneeweis: I have “passed” as male for as long as I can remember.

Stern: Do you ever feel completely at home with your developed voice?

Schneeweis: I always feel at home with my developed voice.

Stern: Can you tell me more about what it is like for you as an individual to function within our society’s gender binary?

Schneeweis: I obviously have the easier end of the deal, with the side of the binary that I got assigned. But I am continually trying to feel out, clumsily and unevenly, where I might be dominating women and trans* people in my life. And there are real challenges involved with that. For example, it’s often difficult to figure until after the fact whether I am successfully making space for other people, and when I am unintentionally condescending to them by treating them as if they weren’t capable of identifying and acting upon their own desires and initiatives. Similar actions can prove to hold radically different significance in the context of different individual relationships; there isn’t “a way” of behaving that I can learn and then apply as a formula to the complex differences between people. So that’s a part of my individual experience.

Stern: When did you learn about the different gender pronouns used?

Schneeweis: I probably started reading about that in zines and stuff at punk shows when I was fifteen or so. It became a more significant part of my personal life and social circles when I was eighteen or nineteen.

[…]

If any of my answers are ignorant and offensive and you feel up to letting me know about it, I always appreciate the chance to develop my understanding of things.

Stern: So far your answers have been really great. It’s clear that you’ve really thought about your gender and your place in the world, and that’s really awesome. I appreciate that.

Do you feel the need to conform to what society asks of you, in terms of your gender?

Schneeweis: I’m sorry, I have started answering this question a number of times and had to start over. I think that I’ve done about as much as I can right now.

January 27, 2014
An Interview with Christian Holden

My first interview was with Christian Holden, 22, who grew up in Charlton, Massachusetts, but now lives in Worcester, Mass. The interview was conducted via Facebook chat, on Sunday, 26 January 2014.

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Charlie Stern: Here we go: What is your gender identity?

Christian Holden: cisgender male

Stern: At what age did you identify that way?

Holden: does it matter that i didn’t know the word cisgender until i was 17?

uhm

i don’t really know

either 15 or like forever

depends on if we are considering when i realize i had a choice in how identified

Stern: Any direction you choose to answer this in is fine.

Holden: 15

uhm

all my life actually

Stern: How does identifying as male make you feel?

Holden: incomplete and confused

Stern: Do you sometimes feel trapped by your identity?

Holden: yes

Stern: What made you decide to dress as your gender?

Holden: external pressure and how i was dressed when i was younger

Stern: How did you realize that you were ready to transition into being a male?

Holden: i don’t know

Stern: Were you pressured by your peers about this decision?

Holden: pass?

Stern: Okay.

Holden: as in i don’t know

how to answer

because i never transitioned

into male i feel

Stern: What about transitioning from boy to man?

Holden: uhm

i was not

Stern: How long did it take you to “pass” as a male?

Holden: i never had a problem with “passing” as a male

Stern: Do you ever feel completely at home with your developed voice?

Holden: yes

Stern: Do you ever have second thoughts about being male?

Holden: yeah. i feel like the way that i relate to and experience my gender is something that is always on my mind

Stern: Can you tell me more about what it is like for you as an individual to function within our society’s gender binary?

Holden: uhm. like the only pressure i have is to present in control

like

if i act comfortably, I have a slightly feminine presence that I feel like needs to be sharpened or harder in order to stay on guard

or like to make people not question it

which often puts people off because it comes off as distrusting

but like

it boils down to that my issues are building trust with the people around me

i have no trouble with finding people to give support

that’s about as much as i can think to say right now

Stern: That was a really good answer.

When did you learn about the different gender pronouns used?

Holden: i think my senior year of highschool

Stern: Do you feel the need to conform to what society asks of you, in terms of your gender?

Holden: yes

Stern: Please explain.

Holden: i mean

in certain situations i “man up” and would halt myself from presenting in more feminine ways

especially with friends I come out as queer to

because i don’t want people to associate my gender with my sexuality

when people say something i do is “strange” or indicate that it was unexpected of my character that is in relation to my gender expression, i feel really put off and uncomfortable

Stern: Do you think gender is merely a social construction? Why or why not?

Holden: I don’t

but like

i have no real evidence why

except for my basic thought that nothing is only socially constructed

I just feel like gender is too confusing to simplify down to “its just socially constructed

yeah that’s it

Stern: Do you think of gender as a thing you would like to undo? Please explain.

Holden: gender as a concept?

or my own?

to deconstruct?

Stern: Whatever direction you’d like.

Holden: Gender as a concept no. I feel like its a lot more important to a lot of people than it is to me. My own gender, yes. I feel like I want to understand how I work. And my gender was something so deeply engrained in everything i do that i can’t help but deconstruct it

Stern: If gender were not a factor, do you think you would still have the desire to live as a male?

Holden: what do you mean by gender not a factor?

Stern: Like if gender didn’t matter or didn’t exist.

Holden: no

Stern: If you could choose to be transgender, would you?

Holden: i don’t know

Stern: If you were unable to live as a male, what would that mean for you?

Holden: i really don’t know

Stern: Do you have many friends/family who are also male?

Holden: yes

Stern: What is your relationship to the male community?

Holden: i benefit from its privileges, while feeling disconnected and distrustful

Stern: Do you find that your relationships with people in the male community are different from your relationships with people outside the male community?

Holden: yes

i feel far more comfortable in my skin outside of the male community

Stern: Have you ever felt excluded from the male community because you weren’t “male enough”?

Holden: yes

uhm

yes

uhm

no

uhm

yes

yes

Stern: Have you had any role models influence your gender, “teaching” you how to be male?

Holden: yes many

Stern: Please explain.

Holden: uhm

How to be male in a way that related to me

i was taught how to be strong in who i am

like

i have many male role models that were really positive for me

in that they didn’t make me completely disenchanted with identifying as male

showing me mostly they right balance of being gentle and strong

actually

i was never taught how to be gentle through men

just how to continually protect myself

Stern: What kind of support for being a male do you have?

Holden: financial in the support of my band, outside of that is protection from violence mostly

wait

i mis read

i read as what support from males do you have

most all of my needs

at least a little

Stern: What do you mean?

Holden: all resources i would need in support of being male is readily available

Stern: Oh, I see.

How does your family feel about you being a male?

Holden: fine

it is expected

Stern: Have you run into any problems with religion, in regards to your gender identity?

Holden: nope

Stern: Did you have any friends/family who thought they could change you to be “normal”?

Holden: nope

Stern: How has being a male affected your romantic relationships?

Holden: barely at all

Stern: How has being a male impacted you negatively?

Holden: only in that it is hard to find people of my gender to connect in deep meaningful ways that challenge gender binarism. but that is also a problem of people living in the current times

usually others of my gender are kind of isolated from social situations

before they learn how to challenge it in open ways

i feel

Stern: How safe do you feel at school/work/public (and why)?

Holden: to add to my answer from before. most people have to actually seek out others that are similar to their experience

as far as gender is concerned

at school i felt really hostile because under the climate its almost like gender expression and violence is heightened. work i feel safer because my work was just to play with kids on bouncy things. Public is fine because i don’t even have to worry about interacting

Stern: Related: Have you faced any hindrances functioning within the system (like school) because of your gender?

Holden: not that aren’t experienced equally or moreso than people of other genders

Stern: Have you ever been a victim of a hate crime?

Holden: no

Stern: Have you ever been forced by friends/family into mental health treatment for your gender identity?

Holden: no

Stern: If your family had to raise you all over again, what advice would you give them so that your life gender experience would have been different?

Holden: “educate yourselves and keep up with gender theory and raise me gender neutral.”

Stern: Now that you’re out as a male, what would you have said to a younger version of yourself?

Holden: nothing that i would have really SAID. more just like, i’d interact with myself in a way that won’t discourage deviating from my assigned gender

also

to this and the last question

i would have told my parents to unschool me

because i do feel school had a strong effect on how i experience gender

more than anything else

Stern: What was the best advice you received as a young person?

Holden: honestly

"hit’m where it hurts"

Stern: If your own child were to declare themselves male, what advice would you give them to help them survive the world they may have to face?

Holden: don’t accept anybody’s truth that doesn’t resonate with you

Stern: Wow, that’s good.

Holden: thank you

Stern: Do you have any fears about the future and how living as a male could hinder pursuits in the realms of family and children?

Holden: I fear that if I decide to have children, I won’t be able to give helpful advice to my children since as a male i don’t have the best lived experience to share with them in regards to gender

but in the same way

i am who i am and I should have an accurate view of my own experience with gender to be of any help to anyone

Stern: What do you see as the main issue facing male people today and what do you see as a possible solution to this problem?

Holden: their inability to connect to themselves and others. and a possible solution could be normalizing queerness in education

since that is what helped me

and teaching from a feminist perspective

or at least making a feminist perspective more available

Stern: What is the hardest part about being cisgender?

Holden: hahah

uhm

not being trusted by default by trans folk

Stern: Do you feel like any health disparities you face are directly related to your gender identity and expression?

Holden: no

Stern: Have you ever felt that you have been denied proper medical treatment or questioned inappropriately while seeking medical treatment?

Holden: not because of my gender no

Stern: What changes would you make in healthcare in order to receive better care oriented towards males?

Holden: no

cisgender males right?

Stern: Yeah.

Holden: uhm

i can’t think of any

Stern: What do you think society could do to better understand people who are male and their needs?

Holden: encourage them to be gentle

Stern: How could society change to be more accepting or emotionally better for you?

Holden: equal representation in positions of power for people of all genders

as in

the problems that men experience as far as acceptance and emotional support could be solved with and environment where power isn’t assigned to you based differently because of your gender

Stern: Thank you! That was the last question. Wow, thank you so much for your time.

January 27, 2014
Welcome to my project.

Hello there,

I’m Charlie Stern. I talk to cis men about their gender and record their responses. I got the idea from an assignment I had to do for a Sociology of Gender class in May 2013, in which I had to ask cisgender people the kinds of questions transgender people get asked all the time. It flipped the script on what is acceptable, in terms of questioning people’s genders, something so core to many people. I am using most of the same questions from that assignment for now.

What I need from you, the readers, is feedback. What questions should I use? What should I eliminate? What am I doing right and wrong? Let me know in the Ask box.

Thank you, and happy reading.

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