"The women of Bikini Kill let guitarist Billy Karren be in their feminist punk band, but only if he's willing to just "do some shit." Being a feminist dude is like that. We may ask you to "do some shit" for the band, but you don't get to be Kathleen Hannah."--@heatherurehere

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Complex Masculinity Policing

I've been aware of the not-so-suble policing of masculinity for quite a while now--from adolescence on, men (and women) are taught to police men's masculinity in myriad ways. This sort of policing of masculinity includes anything from being ridiculued for one's haircut by bullies (I'm looking at you, Mitt Romney) to the looks and questions I get about my pink bike. Some of this policing is really overtly violent, either verbally or physically, or both, but much of it is more subtle. A glance, a snicker, folks staring when you don't match up with what they think masculinity should look like. And men are taught to police themselves in this regard almost constantly.

So it was kind of fascinating when I found myself having my masculinity policed in what was a fairly subtle, interesting way the other day. I was having dinner with my partner and some of her friends. Most of us at the table were cisgendered (look it up if you don't know what it means), but as is the case in my social circles recently, not everyone was cisgendered. An acquaintence of mine who is a transguy was there, and he was in a goofy mood; I found myself on the recieving end of some teasing by him--he was teasing me because my sideburns were mismatched. He, of course, had immaculate facial hair, including cute, well-matched sideburns. Little did he know that this version of policing masculinity was/is a button for me, and I wasn't able to play along and take it in the humorous way that I'm pretty sure he intended it. Of course, as with a lot of the more subtle forms of policing masculinity, "jokes" are often a way to make cruel statements socially acceptable, so the grey areas around such comments can be treacherous.

One of the reasons it really got to me, I think, was that I don't tend to hang out with guys who joke in this way--or, at least, I don't hang out with acquaintances who joke in this way. Close friends can tease me like this and it doesn't seem to affect me much, because they know me, know my complex relationship(s) to masculinity, and are often joking "ironically" with me in a way that actually makes me feel accepted. Acquaintances who make jokes about masculinity in this way just don't tend to stay acquaintances with me for long--the spaces I hang out in simply aren't full of men who police masculinity in this way. So when I ran into it, it hit me hard. On the one hand, I have a sort of flip emotional response to it, which can be summed up by something like, "Hey, man, you'll get bored with facial hair after 25 years, too." The same part of me that feels this flip response also wants to say, "Hey, way to go. You can now be recognized as having joined the ranks of men-who-police-other-men's-masculinity!" But I'm also just fascinated by the fact that, clearly, policing masculinity as a man is learned behavior--it's not something that we have to do, it's not something we do because it's "innate"; rather, it's something that we learn to do as we grow into men, just as my acquaintance has learned to do as he has grown into a man.

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