This is the last of four posts exploring my male identity and the challenges of male gender diversity. Check out 1, 2, and 3.
Since I don’t believe there is an essence of maleness, obviously I cannot give one single reason that I identify as male. In this post, I’ll survey the variety of reasons I have, and assess how these reasons could help my ability to make mental (and social) space for male gender diversity.
I identify as male because it “feels right.” I check off □male on surveys and forms, and it feels right. What feels right is based both on my experience of my own body, but also comfort with my social expectations and social position. At a deep level, I identify as male “because I just do.”
I think this intuition level is important to dwell on, because it’s so personal and can’t be communicated. If I accept that my gender identity is ultimately ineffable, that should help me move past the need to understand that of an Other. If gender is so hard to pin down, my response to a ‘stranger’ should be to widen my understanding, rather than repulse them from a totally vague set of boundaries.
Cismale Biology, Heterosexual Orientation (Cis/Het)
My male identity is not generic—it is specifically a cisgendered, heterosexual male identity. My genitalia are crucial to my male identity. My daily life as a heterosexual male living with a femme female plays a prominent role in my experience of being gendered as male.
I believe my responsibility here is to recognize that cis/het male identity is simply one corner of male space. My particularity as cis/het means that, on many levels, I will find more kinship with other cis/het men. But by recognizing this particular male space as particular, I stop conflating all of masculinity with being cis/het, and open myself (and others) to a wider understanding of maleness.
I act like a guy.
Yes, it’s constructed, and yes it’s essentializing, but still—I feel like a guy when I fulfill male stereotypes. Acting strong, unemotional, protective—these performances make me feel manly, especially when I do them instinctively (AKA I don’t call them performances). As a Jewish male, study, introspection, and the intellectual life is part of my masculinity. When I was religious, praying was part of my masculinity. As a male with the specific male role models I’ve had, making snappy jokes, knowing trivia, and shopping for groceries are all part of my masculinity.
On the other hand, I have occasionally been told (to little avail) to “act like a man,” by people who clearly did not understand or accept my version of masculinity. What I call “acting like a guy” is wrong/unrecognizable to many men. Once again, I find that what I call being a male is actually just my corner of male identity. I find more kinship with people whose traits and behaviors overlap with mine,—but, as in the previous section, this train of thought once again teaches me to stop conflating my masculinity with all masculinity.
I have male privilege and power—and responsibility.
At this point in my life, I am starting to identify more specifically as male but, as an extremely privileged person, I have previously identified simply as human. Lack of oppression has enabled me to avoid feeling like a target based on a specific identity, and so I have (as only a class-privileged, straight, white cismale can) felt one with all humanity. But I’m not. By identifying as male, I recognize my particularity, and can recognize that of others. By identifying as something specific, I allow for Others to emerge, and I become able to acknowledge and respect differences.
I am a specific kind of person with specific privileges in society. I can walk around calling myself “human,” but I benefit from ‘rich’, straight, white, cis, male privileges all the same. I may not oppress anyone directly, but I benefit from an oppressive society—and recognizing that fact motivates me to fight against that inequity. I did not create this system, but I can still take responsibility for it.
This brings me to my last point: I identify as male because, as a feminist, I am specifically a male feminist. In life and within the feminist movement, this has two implications: (1) I have to check my privilege and be receptive to having it checked for me—as a male I have both a unique perspective but also important blind spots; (2) I play a key role in promoting a culture of enthusiastic consent and fighting rape culture, because I can reach out to other men as a man. Ultimately, this is the most inspiring reason I have to identify as a male—by identifying as a male, I can work from within masculinity to fight misogyny, homophobia, and other perversions of human identity/society that hold men (and all people) back.