»One is not born, but rather becomes a woman«, wrote Simone de Beauvoir. »It is civilisation as a whole that produces such a creature«. I conclude that men are as much imprisoned by gender norms, and are themselves victims of the doomed quest for mythical masculine certainties. Lately, I’ve been considering if I’d ever make an ode to masculinity. But where Cock, Cock... Who’s There? celebrated womanhood and insisted on making no excuses for it, such an approach is unconscionable with masculinity, as it is rife with toxic traps. No matter how hopeful you are about being a better man, you are bound to fall into some. And while Seek Bromance is in part an exploration of the kind of man each of us wanted to be, in the end, we realise the inherent failure in the pursuit of manliness.Not only because »traditional« masculine traits are linked to aggression, misogyny, etc. or because masculinity is missing a good role model. But because society shows me that masculinity is an unfulfillable ideal, a hallucination of command and control, and an illusion of mastery. I realised this experience, the absurd but crippling fear that one has not been man enough, or femme enough, or queer enough, that uncertain vulnerability, is something all people share. And the idea of masculine power will remain elusive for all men, whether you were assigned at birth or not.
SA: In Seek Bromance, we follow the story about a relationship between you and your filmpartner and collaborator Cade Moga. They are a brasilian artist who have been identifying as transmasculine at the beginning of the shooting and now identify as nonbinary, using they/them pronouns. »How do you experience men?«, is a question you’re asking Cade at one point. How would you answer this question?
SE: I’m sceptical of the idea of character types. But there is definitely a self-defeating model for being a man, a seemingly unresolvable crisis of masculinity. I did spend 10 years of my life filming men, on and off. And there is a soft place in my heart for them, hopeful and amused. I have often felt like a confidant to men.
Cause when a woman shares something very personal, you know she has probably shared it with other friends too, but when a man confides in you he is often hearing him self saying these things for the first time. That was always something very precious to me, to be that witness to things that come to the world for the first time. It made me see men have neither the space nor the language for these things.
When I first spoke with my friend about my transition, she said, »Isn’t it a bit fucked up to become a man now? Isn’t it revolutionary?« I replied, »Because you can become the man you wish existed.« To which she said, »Yeah, but you don’t want to live your life as an example. Don’t dedicate your existence to being a role model.«
I see myself more as a transmasculine entity than as a man, though. And even stepping into that form of masculinity carries a lot of responsibility. Cis men are usually bad examples of masculinity, they’ll appear a bit hopeless or ridiculous and unwilling to progress, so as a transmasculine I feel the burden is on me to be better while their crisis awaits its revolution.Like, what even is credible masculinity in 2022? I do think of men as being at a crossroads, there is certainly no good role model of masculinity. Still, everything I kind of believed about men I don’t believe any more. I definitely started understanding them more while doing testosterone.
As I’ve found transmasculines are not immune to toxic masculinity, it’s actually easy, dare I say tempting, to adopt that role, which can feel almost like a caricature when you do. I should clarify testosterone does not make one toxic, but the pressure to perform stereotypical masculinity might. When they are expected to »pass«, the most direct route is to perform cliched tropes, which are mostly pathetic and embarrassing displays of faux dominance.
At its best, trans masculinity can envision the future of masculinity. And at its worst, it mimics the failings of it, repeating harmful patterns, in a misguided need for legitimacy.
SA: One thing we did not speak about yet and which interests me very much is the aspect of self-inventing, body modification through technological progress, bioengineering. Cade calls it at one point a game of becoming one's own avatar. Can you say more about this?
SE: I like to approach this notion of self-design like scriptwriting, cause you are in control of what you want your »authentic« self to be. But while I very much believe biology is not destiny, we can’t escape the fact we are essentially a chemical concoction. Our bodies, thoughts and selves are almost entirely slave to the balance we strike. And if you change the chemistry, you change the person. Society created the idea of a non-intoxicated body, but that is fiction, it is always imbalanced, we are never neutral.
That’s why I started lowering my dose after the first year, to know how much of this change in mind and character is due to the substance, and how much of it is my environment and my new place in it. Because a big part of transitioning is social transitioning. And if you are alone in lockdown, taking hormones in your sweatpants, how much can actually change? The reflection of ourselves we see in others informs our sense of self to a much higher degree than people realise.
A term I’ve been drawn to is psychologically androgynous – I like it much. It pulls the notion out of the physical world of »presenting«, and into the meta world of »being«. I believe that term is the most accurate way to view myself. Or »custom gender«, which I find much more appropriate than non-binary. It gives creative power to the person: instead of saying »this is just who I am«. you’re saying »this is who I’m designing myself to be«. I often wonder if the term nonbinary will seem archaic at some point. Like, as soon as we recognised there are more than just the two, it meant nobody is binary, but just one of the many options available. And it’s completely appropriate you would assign your own labels. The experiences couldn’t be more subjective.Seeing representational systems collapse is very satisfying, as if, on a grander scale, these are growing pains of societal dissonance. Individuals wake to the notion that we can be more than the system has allowed, that our consciousness allows for evolutions far beyond what we are born into. The act of self-destruction is inexorably tied to the idea of becoming something new. It is a very universal metaphor, the idea that human beings are engaged in a constant process of destroying their old selves and creating new iterations and possibilities.