I’ve been thinking about the trans male whose rage at being called “Sir” instead of “Ma’am” by a store clerk has been on display all over Twitter. I wonder how it must feel to spend thousands of dollars on multiple surgeries, to have oneself castrated, and still to be seen for what one is — a man.
Surgery is an assault on the body, and since the consciousness (that non-material aspect of self) is intermingled with the body, surgery is also an assault on consciousness. What must it feel like to subject yourself multiple times to this invasion, and still have people see you for what you are — a man?
Trans males are showing how they feel by lashing out in rage.
But anger, rage, is a “cover” emotion. It’s the easiest of the emotions to feel, especially for men, because it’s associated with power. An angry man might just kill someone; if he’s angry enough he can do it with his bare hands or with his boots.
But anger is almost always hiding another, much less palatable emotion. In the stages of grief, anger is the first emotion after denial. And I think anger and denial are often tangled up with each other. Anger is a defense against the truth.
One of the most destructive consequences of the demands of patriarchy is male rage, which has become the only emotion men are allowed to feel. Without permission to feel what’s underneath, men can never get beyond the anger.
What’s under anger is often, if not usually, a cluster of emotions associated with helplessness — sadness, despair, emotional pain, grief. I think anyone who has allowed themselves to experience grief itself, the stark searing pure unadulterated pain of it, knows that it is a “clearing” emotion. It is rock-bottom. It is bedrock. Once you hit it, you are ready to let go of something.
What we have to let go of is almost always some kind of want. We realize we can’t have what we want (that may be life itself, if we’re grieving the loss of a loved one’s life, or the impending loss of our own). In this way we are helpless. Human life is driven by want, by desire, and yet we are all helpless to make the world give us what we want.
To grieve is to recognize and accept the limitations of our human ability. It is to stop striving for something we can’t have. But it is also to be face to face with truth. And that can be like facing god. It is so rare that it is revelatory.
It seems to me that the truth for trans males is that they can’t become women, and most of the time they can’t even be (mis)perceived as women. If they could get under their own anger, they could experience the “clearing” power of grief and arrive at acceptance of the truth. Then they could actually become “real men”, which is to say they could become more fully human, less trapped in their learned masculinity, more open to the femininity which is so much more than a costume.
In a related vein, a recent article in Quillette by Geoff Dench (published posthumously) made the point that with gains in women’s rights and liberties, many men are feeling dispensable and are responding by refusing to grow up. The author felt the solution was to bind women back to men. Families, he pompously opined, are what give men a sense of purpose and meaning. So strengthen them by depriving women of the ability to support themselves and any children they may have on their own.
I think this is another example of male denial of the truth, which is that men are actually dispensable. Yes, they are. Like males of any mammalian species, they have only one and a half purposes. The one is to participate in procreation. The half is to defend females. I call it only a “half” because they need to protect females only from other males.
Women are also dispensable, once their children have reached maturity. Women have to deal with this, and so we see lots of middle-aged women re-evaluating the purpose and direction of their lives. No one is indispensable. Once we face this stark truth, we can try to find ways to make our lives meaningful to ourselves. Personally I think that’s the point of life. How might men’s choices change if they could accept that the only person to whom they are indispensable is themselves?