What is Masculinity and Feminity?
For me, masculinity and feminity are not seperate. They are shaded portions upon a continuum. By shaded I mean within any point of the gender continuum there are tones and shadows, down to the point of individual interpretation. This has been realised in different cultures at different times. The western post-industrial world is currently going through a renewal of understanding of Gender.
Masculinity and feminity are nouns. They name practices or attributes. Both are collective and variable. This means the terms group things and ideas together and these things and ideas have different meanings for different people. They are contended terms, but if they are examined historically, socially or culturally (as broader contexts) then it is not difficult to understand how influential masculinity and feminity are on people's lives and on human history. For example, sexuality is often closely aligned with both.
I grew up in a very traditional society with Anglo colonial values. My own family did not reflect these values. For that I am thankful. I have identified as male since I was a child. But the culture around me in rural Australia was very macho. Physical strength and skill with violence were valued parts of masculinity. I rejected this pretty early in life but I was not afraid to respond when I was threatened by macho dickheads. This led to violence and injury both for me and them. I soon realised that violence itself is a zero sum game.
When I was young in rural Australia I was often harrased for not appearing sufficiently masculine ( even though I was large and physically strong). The automatic response to me was usually that I must be a "poofta" (i.e. homosexual). My reaction was that it didn't matter if I was, you're a fuckwit. The harassment simply convinced me further that the species of masculinity that dominated my surroundings was deeply flawed. I moved to Sydney when I was 22. There I found men who were more relaxed, creative and genuine about how they felt.
Between the ages of 13 and 16 I had a single breast. It disturbed me greatly. I lived with what could be called body dismorphia for three years before having a mastectomy under my own volition at 16 (I still have the scar). My mother had a phobia about doctors, so it was left unattended amid the chaos of my early teenage years. This had a profound and ultimately informative effect on me regarding my masculinity. I have come to accept what was a traumatic experience at the time (I was a competitive swimmer, and my embarrassment ended that). Our bodies mean a lot to us and to others. We identify ourselves based on our physical self. But none of us are just one thing when it comes to gender. There are many nuances.
Another major turn for me in terms of masculinity was my first trip to India in 1989. It was there I found out about Sadhus. These wandering aesthetics were most often men (although not always). I had never encountered anything like the masculine spirit of Sadhus before. It changed my entire understanding of what a man can be. Whilst the Sadhus were often tough and capable of living with great deprivation and simplicity, they were in no way aggressive or displaying any sort of physical strength or power. They consistently had a gentleness about them. I was very impressed.
Gender is a living code. It can be coded and decoded various ways, depending on context, perspective, history, culture and social groupings. Within gender is encoded power, identity, love, sex and secondarily economy, representation and class. But the practice of gender is rarely deliberate. People feel before they think. Therefore the expression of gender is about how one feels, then these feelings are considered and expressed cognitively. From that point it is sadly necessary to negotiate society and all its elements.
Regarding feminity, I am a fan of it. I can barely describe it. I enjoy irregular and nonconformist interpretations of feminity. I love brave and outspoken women. I like strange and unusual expressions of feminity. I fully support transgendered rights and visibility. I believe gender multiplicity is part of human evolution.