• I distinctly remember my father cooking our meals, combining spices without hesitance like it was an ancient alchemy. (Photo on Right by Katie Rasch.) (Instagram/naavikaran)Source: Instagram/naavikaran
Reflecting on the relationship that I have had with my father has helped me navigate my own journey as a trans woman.
By
Naavikaran

19 Nov 2020 - 9:11 AM  UPDATED 26 Nov 2020 - 1:15 PM

Growing up, my household operated differently to the rest. We were raised in India and my mother worked and earned money for us while my father was the homemaker, taking care of my brother and I. Their joint efforts were poured into raising us as professional swimmers.  

I distinctly remember my father cooking our meals, combining spices without hesitance like it was an ancient alchemy. My father cared for our home, tended to the plants, took us to school and the swimming pool, always on time — role-modelling a different way to be male whilst also a parent. My brother and I watched him tend to the roles that were often left to mothers in India. My mother, on the other hand, taught at the local school during the day. Then both my parents ran an academic tutorial center where they worked just as hard. When my mother returned home in the evening and my brother and I had returned home from the swimming pool, we would dine together as some TV soap opera hummed in the background. 

By today’s standards, this sort of household situation would probably be described as a ‘role-reversal’ and one that isn’t overly unusual by western standards. Some might even call it a feminist set up. But back then, it was nothing more than the dynamics of survival. It was an arrangement that worked for us.

This form of upbringing had a huge role to play later on in my life when I began to navigate what it meant to feel affirmed as a transgender person.  Typically, when you realise you’re different, you begin the process of leaving behind the gender you were assigned at birth. You start recognising the traits that came to define you as a certain ‘gendered’ person, and then you begin unlearning the norms you were taught and start shaping a different you. A new you.

But for me it didn’t quite work that way. Despite my father’s role modelling, I was still conditioned and required to be ‘masculine’ by him and the world at large. I was taught the ‘male urge' of needing to be tough and to seek power and control in relationships, avoid emotions and to lean on this toxic kind of independence which only led me to be more socially isolated, confused and largely impacting my mental health.

At first, when I realised that I was conditioned to be a toxic young man, I created my trans-identity purely out of anger, frustration and fear and denied my maleness to protect myself from the pain it caused to deal with challenges of being man-enough.

But as the years passed, I allowed myself to interact and learn from men, in particular men of colour, to review and understand masculinity. My first lesson? There’s a world of difference between masculinity and the traits associated with masculinity. My mind was blown.

At first, when I realised that I was conditioned to be a toxic young man, I created my trans-identity purely out of anger, frustration and fear and denied my maleness to protect myself from the pain it caused to deal with challenges of being man-enough.

The behaviours that are expected of boys and men to be tough and all powerful are in fact traits that do not have anything to do with masculinity. Moreover, anyone even attempting to break away from these rigid expectations of masculine behaviours are seen as fragile, weak and will have their maleness questioned and therefore positioned to be the “opposite” of a man or masculine. That is: a “woman” or feminine.

Queer men or masculine folk often feel this on a whole different level who are often led to believe that their queerness therefore prevents them from being man or masculine enough. That struggle can further cause trauma due to the constant (and often obsessive) need to fit in within a structure that intends to define masculinity as just one thing.

The unlearning is slow. It took a lot of grief and compassion to process and question my own masculinity. I learnt that if I went down the easier path of denying my masculinity, rather than gaining a true understanding of it, I would be protecting the very same toxic traits instead of healing from them.

What we teach boys and men needs to change. Masculinity is beautiful and tender. It has abundant room to share unconditional love and healing. Kissing boys, showing emotions, experimenting with clothing, engaging in an unusual form of occupation and hobbies, having an uncommon type or kind of body, exploring your gender and sexuality and the countless number of ways you could spend your life does not take away from our masculinity. The only impact on your masculinity are the ones society and communities push on us, which needs to change. One form of masculinity or maleness can look entirely different to another.

Regardless of whether you’re queer or not, pushing oneself and others to fit within a certain gendered expectation leaves little room for growth, healthy communication and mental wellbeing.

Men need to lead this conversation. Regardless of whether you’re queer or not, pushing oneself and others to fit within a certain gendered expectation leaves little room for growth, healthy communication and mental wellbeing. And if left unchecked, we risk passing these damaging expectations to our loved ones and children. We’re already witnessing high rates of domestic and sexual violence perpetrated by men who are themselves victims of toxic masculinity, not to mention the crucially high rate of men dying by suicide across the world.

Having experienced masculine traits in many of its forms - from the violent and systemic, to the kind, nurturing and unsettling, I know that there is so much room for us to grow, heal, learn and unlearn. Reflecting on the relationship that I have had with my father has helped me navigate my own journey as a trans woman and realise some of my father’s own struggles in navigating rigid societal roles as a man. Understanding him has affirmed my own masculinity - and that it is one of the many ways in which I exist.

Naavikaran is a spoken word artist, dancer and community activist, you can find them on all social media platforms @Naavikaran.

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