Learning the steps is half the trouble.
When we wake up in the morning we unknowingly prepare ourselves for the biggest dance of our lives; the societal respectability tango. We’ve got the ‘how’s the weather’ waltz, and the tip-toeing around the elephant in the room two-step. And for many of us these steps come innately, an unconscious thought.
However as Maxine and Aeson point out, this dance is the result of many generations of socialisation. As a young trans couple, they’ve been on both sides of the dance floor. They’ve memorised the steps in and out and have found this dance to be a linguistic game of expression.
”As soon as you engage with the language, people begin to play the game with you.” The game Maxine is referring to is the worldwide ‘game’ of socialisation.
“Cis-people have a lot more in common with trans people than they think…” starts Maxine.
“It’s just not as conscious of a thought for cis-gendered people,” ends Aeson.
The two have been dating since 2019 and have gotten to a sound comfortability where they complete each other’s sentences. Knowing each other since high school, they speak of how they’ve traversed through many milestones; from puberty, to adulthood to what they’ve categorised as a second ‘delayed puberty.’
“When I transitioned I experienced a type of ‘delayed socialisation’ where I Iearned quite quickly that men don’t cry, guys are tough and I have an image to maintain,” says Aeson.
Referencing the age of social media, the two believe that concepts such as masculinity have become curated aesthetics. Where most are playing a clout game of hyper-virility and extreme machismo. Something Aeson said he tried hard to fit into when he first transitioned.
“I thought being a man meant being loud and taking up space. I’ve tried these parts of masculinity and I don’t want them.”
Dealing with a system of expectation, others expectations, Aeson says it wasn’t until they were more confident in themselves did they start to feel less of a need to attract external validation. “What I’ve come to realise is being masculine isn’t about the perception of the self, but the perceptions others have of you.”
Maxine chimes in saying that these projections of the self are most obvious in interactions with transphobes “There’s a video where Ben Shapiro is talking about a Laverne Cox, and he can’t stop gendering her correctly. He always does this nerdy ‘I, I mean HE!’ afterwards. He knows he’s made a mistake, but the steps are in your brain. If someone passes, and they play the steps, you can’t stop yourself from playing along with them.”
“It’s an interesting time to talk about masculinity and gender in general,” she says.
Through shifting paradigms of gender, sex and one’s place in society, Maxine believes masculinity isn’t as innate to men as people think. “The scope of masculinity is so wide if you wanted to define every kind of man––you would have women there too.”
“Think, your butch lesbians and your flamboyant gay men.” This couple sees masculinity as encapsulating a wide range of qualities that should be defined on people’s own terms. These terms can be arbitrary lists, curated alpha male instagram feeds or any form of outward expression.
Outward expression of the self isn’t a phenomenon unique to the trans experience. Cis-gendered people, male and female, grapple with their own version of ‘gender affirming care’ everyday. This is seen particularly in the health and wellness spaces.
Procedures such as hair implants, breast augmentation or the consumption of steroids for muscle gain, once considered extreme, are now encouraged to achieve a better sense of self and personal contentment.
Maxine shares her own experiences with body dysphoria. “Before I transitioned my hair started to thin out, which brought on a lot of dysphoria. It only took me one doctor’s visit to be prescribed hormone altering medicine, which also happened to shrink my prostate. [I was told] oh yeah it might affect your ability to conceive, but I didn’t even have to sign anything; they just gave it to me. When I came to doctors for my transition it took me months of expensive therapy to get any medicine.”
Aeson shares in the sentiments. His experience with the healthcare system also saw a lot of dismissal which he believed stemmed from the infantilization of young girls.
“I wasn’t taken seriously until I started outwardly presenting as masculine. By then I was already committed––I was only taken seriously once I devoted myself to outwardly presenting.”
As society has progressed so have the roles of gender. Something the couple had to challenge themselves at the beginning of their own relationship.
“Initially when I first transitioned, I would still only date guys. I knew I was bisexual, but I felt like I was still in the role of a female in a relationship,” says Aeson; Maxine chimes in “Compulsory heterosexuality, even though I was bi at the time too, I still felt like I had to justify I was doing something masculine. I tried to be the most masculine one in the relationship; almost to say to my friends: look at me guys! I’m doing the expected thing!”
Coming to accept the feminine and masculine within each other, harmony has been at the forefront of their relationship.
“Like any other relationship you get to know a person so well you don’t have to play society’s ‘game’ with them,” says Maxine
“We can talk openly about our daily struggles. Dysphoria, self-doubt or even the unfortunate experience of getting ‘clocked’…Being both trans and autistic we have an unspoken understanding.”
Through the years, expectations and feelings of ‘what ought to be’ dissipated. Both Aeson and Maxine tell us of how what once was a precisely choreographed tango, has become more akin to the liberated white girl dancing most often found in Bar101. It’s messy, shockingly uncoordinated, and sometimes genuinely frightening; but within this chaotic mess is a raw honesty. We’re all dancing to the same song, but it’s up to us how we move with it.