I was assigned male at birth. I was socialized as male. And therefore, I was imbued with toxic masculinity from a very young age. Almost every body assigned male at birth in American society has a similar socialization experience and process, which essentially involves the internalization of toxic masculinity, policing other men (at least, those who are perceived as men) to meet its toxic and fragile expectations, as well as being policed by others (especially men) to meet its toxic and fragile expectations.
This was the path I was on as a presumed-to-be-heterosexual boy. This meant that when I expressed my love for sparkly clothing and bright colors in my childhood that my desires were suppressed and corrected to the drab blues and grays for “boys.” When I was drawn to women’s apparel, it was made apparent that the clothing wasn’t for me. When I didn’t want to be with the other boys in school, I was forced into their group categorization. Of course, these were all relatively subtle occurrences in my childhood, yet my seemingly unconnected internal feelings developed into continuous trends that prevailed throughout my adolescence, or the period in which gender policing (especially among peers) often accelerates tremendously.
As a pre-pubescent boy (especially younger), expressing desire to wear or actually wearing apparel societally designated as only acceptable for girls or women, such as high-heeled shoes or a sparkly outfit (material objects that are societally-marked as “feminine”), has the potentiality to be perceived as “childhood innocence” (although this is not always the case, especially in spaces dominated by hypermasculinity) or as a “fault” of the parents. Most adults (not all) will not “blame” the child they perceive as a boy for their nonconformity. An adolescent boy doing the same is more apt to produce a more extreme reaction, as with age comes the perception that they “know better.” If gendered expectations for boys are solidified in childhood to be masculine, they become as rigid as a dagger for adolescent boys.
This is because adolescent boys are closer to manhood, and therefore, adult men (and also women to a lesser extent) have a greater stake in policing the masculinity of adolescent boys who are not conforming to the expectations of toxic masculinity. This is especially true for male family members or peers, who will frequently police the gender of other boys or men because of their fragility or fear in their own gender and sexuality, entwined most often with a heterosexual strain of toxic masculinity, being called into question through association. Within a system dominated by toxic masculinity, nobody wants to be associated with a boy or man who does not conform to the expectations of toxic masculinity, especially in such an overt manner as dress, where “concealment” is effectively impossible.
Although my desire for a more colorful gender expression (literally and figuratively) was evident to me at this time, I put my head down as instructed and conformed to the standards of toxic masculinity (I still do this today, largely), and I did (at least, attempted to do so, very poorly I may add) for many years of my life, but never felt comfortable living within its confines. I never felt wholly like a boy or a man. Still, at the same time, I never felt wholly separated from being a boy or a man either. I knew that I’d rather not be referred to as a man. I felt an internal cringe whenever I was. At the same time, I felt indifferent to being societally “read” as a man. I also knew that my preferred pronoun was They, yet also understood that most people would refer to me as He, and was not deeply bothered by that.
All of this culminated into my discovery of the demiguy identity earlier this year, which came about from a casual Google search. When I first read the following description of the identity, it felt like a natural fit:
“Demiguy can be used to describe someone assigned male at birth who feels barely connected or disconnected to that identification, but does not experience a significant enough dissociation to create real physical discomfort or dysphoria.” (Source)
While my disassociation from manhood was evident, my discomfort or dysphoria was rather minimal. While I felt some minimal internal conflicts with being “read” or referred to as a man or a He, it was not enough to make me feel significant levels of dysphoria with my body.
Yet, I questioned the role of toxic masculinity in potentially shaping my connection to the demiguy identity. Did toxic masculinity in my life push me to see myself as mostly separate from being a man? In other words, should I understand my demiguy identity as a product of toxic masculinity itself? Has the intense policing of masculinity in my life pushed me to the demiguy identity? And if so, is my identity as a demiguy still valid? If masculinity was deconstructed, and the category of “man” no longer existed by the definitions of toxic masculinity, as it does today, would I still be a demiguy? These are difficult questions to answer.
As a demiguy today, I feel mostly non-binary, along with a minimal connection to being a man. I frequently seek to express my gender identity outside of what would be societally acceptable for a man. On most days, I really feel a desire to identify or express my gender in a non-binary or more feminine manner (although this currently remains entirely unfulfilled due to the prevailing force of toxic masculinity in my life), but sometimes I still do feel like presenting in masculine ways. I feel my gender identity oscillating throughout these fields of expression and identity, and ultimately see the demiguy identity as a point of centrality within them, denoting where I most often fall on the spectrum of gender expression and identity.
However, because of forces of toxic masculinity and since my body is still “read” as male (as a demiguy who was assigned male at birth), my behavior and expressions are still heavily policed as a man’s would be within this system, just as I have been throughout my entire life. As a result, my opportunities to realize my gender expression without the constraints of toxic masculinity remain unfulfilled and completely unrealized. This means that as a demiguy assigned male at birth, I still have male privilege, even though I don’t identify fully as a man. Toxic masculinity is therefore still shaping how I see myself (as a demiguy who was assigned male at birth) and how others see me (as a man). Navigating through toxic masculinity remains an immensely difficult process, and my journey navigating through it has only begun, at this point producing more questions than answers.
Toxic masculinity is thus still clouding my gender vision. I feel in my soul that I am a demiguy (or at least, definitely non-binary), but I cannot deny that this conclusion remains constrained, pushed and pulled by the toxic masculinity that has always surrounded and regulated my life. Once I am able to remove myself, physically and financially, from those who subscribe to toxic masculinity in my immediate life, will this all change? Of course, toxic masculinity will always surround me societally, but is it only the immediate presence of it that is mostly constricting me? All of this remains to be seen. I’m still waiting for the day.
Michael Paramo is an asexual Latinx demiguy located in southern California. They are currently a graduate student who has been selected to present their research at national conferences, such as by the International Association for the Study of Popular Music's U.S. branch, the Popular Culture Association, as well as the National Women's Studies Association. They are the founder of The Asexual and the Editor-in-Chief of The Asexual journal. Twitter: @Michael_Paramo