Don’t tell me that “all men are trash.” And no, it doesn’t help to caveat this phrase with “no offense.”
I understand why people say this. I’d be a hypocrite to say I haven’t perpetuated similar sentiments. Men disproportionately sexually harass people. Men are frequently granted grace. Men often dehumanize others without imagining or understanding the consequences. Men sometimes subscribe to Andrew Tate. Men can feel entitled to the subordination of women.
Men catcall and bludgeon and rape and murder. No, it’s not all men, but one Mr. Rogers doesn’t exactly tip the scale.
However, any time I’ve ever heard a friend of mine say that “all men are trash,” the phrase is caveated with, “but not you, Jamie.” The person is trying to affirm their statement while also affirming my validity as a man. They want to portray me in contrast to the overwhelming scum. I don’t need the assurance, but I appreciate the compliment as it was intended. I’m not one to speak up during these conversations. When my friends complain about institutional, social and structural oppression, they need to vent. That’s valid. I’m mad about men too.
This conflict was something I struggled with while understanding my identity. How does a person define masculinity? How can I think about masculinity without basing the conversation around toxic masculinity? How can I be a good man? The bar is subterranean.
These are the questions with which I began my senior capstone. I have conducted interviews with other undergraduate transgender men at Ohio University during the Fall Semester of 2023. To each, I asked the question: what does being a man mean to you?
“Being vulnerable with my friends, having emotional conversations; I never thought about sacrificing these things in the pursuit of becoming some image of a man,” said one.
Another man concurred: “I can wear jewelry, and it doesn’t impact my ability to be a guy. Feminine guys are just as valid as masculine ones. Besides, I know that wearing jewelry doesn’t compromise the validity of my gender.”
This idea was echoed in all the interviews that I conducted. None of the men felt their role models embodied gender in ways that were completely authentic to the individual. Another interviewee critiqued his father, a man with whom he is close.
“My dad has told me before that he doesn’t like the taste of whiskey. But he drinks it because he wants his friends to think he’s cool. That’s dumb. I’m not doing that.”
Each man held their unique interpretations of gender identity, expression and performance. For one person, masculinity might be best embodied in Tractor Supply Co.’s straight-cut jeans. For another person, masculinity might be best embodied in going to the gym to get big muscles. Manliness can mean different things, as described by my interview subjects.
Of course, trans men aren’t immune to the socialization of young men and boys. Any man can emulate misogynistic behaviors. But, again, the bar is subterranean. Hugging my friends, engaging with my loved ones, talking about my emotions: these things aren’t innately feminine. They’re just human. I’m not exceptional for doing the bare minimum.
Can’t we hold men to the same standard we hold everyone else?
Jamie Miller is a senior at Ohio University studying journalism and women’s, gender and sexuality studies. Please note that the views expressed in this column do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk to Jamie about his article? Email him at email@example.com