I mostly just want to talk about this one Mountain Goats song. It came out pretty recently, but I’ve listened to it a hundred times because I think my gender is just that song. I told my evening manager at the Taco Bell about it when we were closing the other night. “There’s this line, it goes ‘Stay independent, make adjustments as needed, it’s losers all the way down, you stay undefeated.’ Such an asshole thing to say, and I love it so much. Am I just another toxic man?”
She shrugged as she counted cash. “Do you think you are?”
“If I knew, I wouldn’t have to ask you.”
“You’re not a man. I don’t think you can be a toxic man if you aren’t a man in the first place, right?”
She was right, but it still worried me. Was there such a thing as nonbinary toxicity? “Do you think I should cut my hair?”
“Do you think you should?”
I threw a rag at her. “It’s like you don’t get the point of me asking you questions.”
“Jesus, it’s your hair. Do what you want.”
My apartment is terrible, so I figured it wouldn’t matter too much if I cut my hair in the bathroom. My roommate disagreed when he saw all of my coarse bleached hair coating the tile. “Are you using my razor?” he asked in disbelief.
“Yeah. Sorry. I didn’t think you’d mind.”
“You should have asked. It’s two in the fucking morning. Can’t you go to sleep?”
“Gender waits for no man.” I turned my newly shorn head around, trying to see every angle. “Can you fix the back?”
He’s a pushover, which I knew when we moved in together. I haven’t had to clean the toliet once in six months. He took the razor and cleaned up the back of my head. “I have a history exam tomorrow,” he muttered. “Can’t we at least listen to a different song?”
The next day I returned to my workplace and my evening manager raised her eyebrows. “Glad to see you can make a decision on your own. Looks good.”
It didn’t, actually, but it did make me feel good, which I guess matters almost as much. A few queer customers throughout the evening smiled at me, that secret look we give each other that is really nothing more than an acknowledgment of existence. But that matters.
“Can I play you the song?” I asked my evening manager when it was eleven-thirty and we were getting ready to close.
I played it anyway, right before we parted ways for the night. She didn’t like it nearly as much as I did. I got home at one in the morning and did my homework for an hour. When I turned in my Statistics problem set the next day, the TA looked at me in shock. “Oh. Thanks.” She didn’t have to say that she’d given up on me ever doing my homework.
That night I worked with the alternate manager, who actually is a toxic man, and for some reason I couldn’t stop making self-deprecating jokes just to get him to laugh at me. “You’re funny, for a girl,” he said before he got into his car. I opened my mouth to correct him, but just grinned instead.
My roommate was cuddling on the couch with his partner when I got home, both of them actually drunk, and he invited me to join them. I like her well enough, and she’s my only trans friend. I don’t have many friends in the first place. I sat next to her and put my head on her shoulder. “So what is masculinity?” I asked them. “Can it be separated from all the bad stuff?”
My roommate giggled. “No. I don’t think so. Maybe you’re an asshole because you’re transmasc.”
His partner elbowed him. “Jesus, don’t be a dick. They’re not an asshole.” To me, she said, “Gender is just a collection of aesthetics and feelings. There’s some kind of masculinity outside of the toxic kind, I think. I know tons of men who are fine. Some who are great.”
“But are they masculine?” I pushed. “Or are they fine because they’re not masculine? What if all I want is power?”
“Do you want power?” she asked.
“How come no one understands how questions work?”
My roommate spoke up, and his voice reflected the several empty wine cooler bottles on the floor. “I hate being a man. I’m fine looking like one, but I can’t stand being one.”
“Maybe you aren’t one,” I told him.
His partner winked at me. “We’re working on it.”
I didn’t work the next night, but I ended up at work anyway, after a very good date. My evening manager was behind the register, and she raised her eyebrows at me. “What are you doing here?”
“Getting burritos,” I grinned. I was arm in arm with my date, who was as tipsy as I was. We looked at each other and laughed. “Just one, actually. We’ll split it.”
My date, as he told me, had been on T for four years. He had several earrings and a respectable beard, both of which I envied. I asked him what he thought masculinity meant, and he shrugged.
“It’s nice to feel like I can live in my skin,” he said. “Does that make sense? I don’t think of it much beyond that.”
“Let me play you this song I’ve been obsessed with.” He didn’t get it, and I figured maybe I’m doomed, but it felt good when he kissed me in the parking lot.