Feeling like a man. Many guys struggle with this elusive goal. For trans guys, the process can be even more fraught and confusing. How to grow into a man if you weren’t allowed to be a boy?
I say, before you are a man, be a boy. Let your boy-self emerge in the world. You won’t get to experience all the things most boys do. But you can have some kind of boyhood, perhaps a very queer boyhood, no matter your chronological age.
I was 21 when I really became a boy. I’d had an androgynous childhood in wild hair and overalls. I was raised in an open-minded household that didn’t impose strict gender norms. I developed a more and more masculine presence beginning in my teens. Still, I didn’t get to be a boy until later.
I was young when I transitioned, the last light of childhood still visible on the horizon. In retrospect, it was an amazing opportunity; I got to become a man at the same time as my peers. But for several years there, I felt distinctly behind. My friends were sporting new, fully-fledged beards; I was waiting for my voice to drop. I badly needed the chance to be a boy.
My first intentional forays into masculinity were burdened with an excessive weight of fledgling manliness. It’s no coincidence they were also my first attempts at being an adult. I was 18 and suddenly noticed my friends were growing into young men and women. I realized I didn’t want to be an androgynous teenager in messy dyed hair and a hoodie forever. I felt an enormous pressure to assimilate to the extreme gender binary of the adult world. So I started shaving and combing my hair. I took out the five studs that decorated my ears. I searched thrift-stores for tweed coats. I learned to tie a tie. It was an awkward time.
A few years later, when I started testosterone, I became a boy in earnest. I stopped trying to be a “real man.” I got a mohawk and traded my polos for undershirts. I was very much a boy-version of myself as a teenager. I reveled in the frenetic energy of boyhood. I listened to loud music and I bitched about the system. I sharpied heart-shaped anarchy symbols on desks and walls. My attitude was irreverent and carefree. Alma and I had just gotten together, and the energy of the experiences fed one another. We rode that crazy wave through the first year of our relationship, staying up all night, smoking cigarettes on the way to the bus-stop.
It lasted a couple of years. Then that frenzied boy energy began giving way to the solidity of manhood. Now I inhabit a cool, steady masculinity. I am a young man.
I couldn’t have gotten here without my sojourn as a boy. It was brief and it was wholehearted. It was what I needed. I let myself off the hook for awhile. The length and the timing don’t matter. What matters is that I was my own boy-self, for awhile. I treasure all that I learned in that fleeting time when colors were brighter, rules were suspended, and so much was possible for the first time.
It wasn’t easy to allow myself to be a boy. It was embarrassing and strange. But if I hadn’t done it, if I’d just brushed by boyhood, I would have have been doubly betrayed. First denied a boyhood by my family and community; then denied a boyhood by myself. Transition created a strange portal in which the ordinary laws of time, space and society receded. A kind of spiritual boyhood became possible. By allowing myself to be a boy, I healed some of the great rift of being trans.
This may look really different depending on your age and your life situation. But I think we can give ourselves the gift of boyhood at any time. You can give yourself permission to be a boy, and discover who that boy is. You can embody your own boy-energy. You can inhabit masculinities that are youthful, new, emerging.
Of course, if you feel no need to be a boy, that is perfectly fine. I only urge you not to refuse yourself the chance, if any part of you wants it. That way, when you are ready, you will don the mantle of manhood with confidence, bathed in the glow of endless summers, secure in the happy knowledge that you were a boy once.