Marginal masculinity

Andy Mason reflects on the harm gender binaries can do

GB

I’m Andy, a 22-year old Geography/Indigenous studies student and activist troublemaker. I was raised and socialised under the presumption that I was a straight man. Since coming to university I’ve identified as queer because I don’t fit within the heteronormative world.  I see myself as not having a particular gender identity (agender), not particularly fussed about the genders of my partners (pansexual) and not having all that much interest in sex outside well-developed emotional relationships (demisexual). Sometimes I prefer to think of myself as without any kind of sexuality (asexual), and I’ve come to identify a lot with “Ace” discourse and the Ace community.

Like many queer people, high school was a pretty stressful and confusing time for me. I always got on well with both girls and boys, and I felt confused when social groups became gender-segregated. I was also bullied extensively by many of my male friends for being small, effeminate, bookish, shy and disinterested in sport or pursuing girls. I was always disgusted by the hetero machismo with which my male peers talked about their sexual contests and I wanted nothing to do with it.

When I started dating a girl at a different school I noticed that all the bullying stopped. Things fell apart as I realised I was actually in love with a male best friend. When people found out they started the most sinister bullying yet, no longer involving physical violence but complex psychological violence. One person convinced our social circle that I was a pervert. I was never the same after this, becoming quite socially isolated and developing a reasonably serious alcohol problem for a 17 year old.

New possibilities came at uni as I was exposed to feminist and then queer discourses about gender. New terminology helped me make sense of my experiences and the ability to describe myself properly for the first time. I also found a lot of comfort in a community which understood the fluidity and complexity of gender, where people asked which pronouns I wanted to use, and which encouraged me to express myself.

I used to put more effort into my gender presentation, trying to present in a more deliberately ambiguous way by wearing skirts, makeup and so on, but I don’t have the time, money or inclination to do that anymore. I also used to get harassed and abused in public as a result, and a couple of times I was assaulted. I understood that this wasn’t my fault, that the men who attacked me were responsible for their own behaviour, that I should be able to dress how I liked and be myself. But when I wore my ‘normal’ clothes, ditched the lipstick and let my moustache grow out, people would leave me alone.

For me, being honest about my identity and my experience means two things. First, I am not intrinsically a man and a large part of my social experience has involved being disciplined for being insufficiently masculine. On the other hand, I am usually read as a man and can choose to some extent to opt out of being marginalised because of my gender – that is, to opt in to male privilege. Confusingly, I am both marginalised and protected by masculinity. As a result I’ve always felt that womn’s spaces aren’t for me, but I will always support womn struggling to end a patriarchal system that oppresses not only them, but people like me — on the margins of masculinity, or outside the gender binary altogether. I feel it’s important to acknowledge the privilege that being understood as a man confers, instead of denying it, and to use that privilege in service of feminist struggle.