Every once in a while, some well meaning cis guy will offer to teach me about "manhood." The implication, no matter how friendly the intent, always seems to be that I'm doing it wrong; that I shouldn't be wearing skinny jeans or listening earnestly to the problems of my lady friends or, perhaps, even, that I shouldn't be kissing boys. I can't tell you exactly what each individual dude-bro has had in mind, but as you can see, I have a few guesses.
What none of these guys seems to consider is that maybe my less macho attributes are not remnants of my past "feminine" artifacts which I hold onto out of cluelessness as to how a "real" man should behave, that maybe, in fact, I am exactly as masculine as I want to be.
There's this idea in cissexist society that trans people are naïve about gender. It seems people assume that guys like me "don't know how to be women" and therefore "don't know how to be men" either. Trans people are supposed to be tragically caught in between, too clumsy to conform to either socially sanctioned gender.
Pop culture is full of images of trans women who are either hyper feminine or trying and failing to be. Although trans men are less commonly represented, most people assume that we will also conform to some hyper-masculine stereotype. Trans people are portrayed as if we don't have genders of our own, as if the only thing we know how to do is latch onto the most extreme gender role model we can find and then imitate it.
Many people are critical of trans people's supposedly rigid gender roles, without, apparently, even having met any trans people. It's just assumed by society that all trans women want to be Barbie and all trans men want to be Ken. Our genders, apparently, are much less nuanced than those of cis people, who come in many flavors: hipster dude, yuppie dude, punk chick, sporty chick, and so on. Trans people, on the other hand, are only supposed to conform to two types: Manly Man and Womanly Woman.
I've talked before about this double bind, in which therapists, doctors, families and friends, along with the media and all the rest of cis society, try to impose very rigid gender roles on trans people, making compliance with these roles a condition for access to hormones and surgeries and then turn around and criticize trans people for our supposedly unenlightened approach to gender. I've even heard people suggest that a good women's studies course could "cure" a trans man of the need to transition, by elucidating all the options he could have as a "different kind of woman." (Retch.)
It's like cis people don't think we've thought about our genders. We have, trust me. In fact, if you're cis and you're reading this, there's a good chance that I have thought more about my gender than you ever have about yours. Much more. We're talking countless hours, endless angsty journal entries, manifold anguished conversations. Hell, I even went to therapy, just for my gender. A lot of us did. (Those who didn't aren't missing much: just another opportunity to be pathologized and forced to justify their own existence.)
The fact is, cis people are generally the ones who are naïve about gender. They can't explain what makes them men or women without pointing to failed explanations like biology, genitalia, chromosomes, and simplistic notions of "masculine" and "feminine." If you've never thought about what makes you the gender that you are, go ahead, try it. I dare you. Guys, think for a minute about what makes you guys, without resorting to arguments about testosterone, having a Y chromosome, or your dick. Girls, explain why who you are is not reducible to estrogen, lacking a Y chromosome, or what's in your panties.