What makes a role model?

For a long time now, my partner, Candace, and I have had a debate going on.  While I agree with her on the surface I have serious issues at the internal level.  What I’m talking about is the impact I have on other women and young girls, and even men to a great degree, just by merely living my life as I do.  Candace contends that I am a positive role model for what a “strong woman” can be and that by living my life as this “strong, masculine woman”, I am pushing the limits for what other females can see themselves doing in the future.  Also, it opens up many men’s eyes to the fact that some women are capable of breaking into male dominated areas.

On the surface, this seems great.  Yes, I have always pushed hard to get to do what I really wanted to do no matter what anyone said about it.  I have a habit of being interested in and wanting to do things that are traditionally male dominated.  My jobs and hobbies have always been things that mostly men do.  I can’t really help this; it’s in my nature.  Everything about me tends towards the masculine.  My interests, attitudes, behaviors, fashion, mannerisms, are all masculine.  On the surface I appear to be a masculine woman.  But at my core I am male.  I now know myself to be transgender.

So what does this mean as far as my “role modeling” for the young girls and women out there?  Isn’t it a bit of a sham, a lie?  Not an intentional one, mind you, but a sham nevertheless?  I’m reminded of my high school trumpet section.  By the time I was a senior we had a majority of girls in the section and I was the section leader.  Today, I am in contact with most of those women and they are so proud of our predominantly female trumpet section of 30 years ago.  It was quite an awesome thing in those days to have so many competent females playing a male dominated instrument.  They all look up to me still.  I was their leader then and I still am in their minds.  But, now that I know who I really am, my feelings around this have changed a bit.  I wonder, if they knew that I really was male all of that time how would that change their perspective on their history.  Would they still be so proud and look up to me so much?

And, today, I own my own business.  Many people look up to me for what I’ve achieved with it.  I am proud too.  It’s been hard and taken a lot of dedication and long hours to get where I am.  A while ago a lady brought her daughter into my shop to meet me to show her that a woman can be good in business just like a man.  I was honored but I also felt the twinge of pain that goes along with not being completely authentic.  I knew that it was important for that woman to show her daughter that she could do anything if she put her mind to it and for her to see a living example of this.

Candace uses these examples of why it is important for me to stay in my female form.  Why it’s important to be a role model of a strong woman.  But the problem is that I don’t feel like I’m a good role model of what a strong woman can be.  When I think of positive female role models I think of women like Oprah Winfrey, Amelia Earhart, Rosa Parks, Ellen Degeneres, Melissa Etheridge, Eleanor Roosevelt, Maya Angelou, Sally Ride, Candace’s mother and step-mother, Candace and so many many more amazing women.  I could name great female role models all day but the thing that makes them different from me, to my knowledge, is that they all identified as WOMEN.  I don’t.  I am a transgender man.  I may not look like a man yet, but that is who I am at my core.

So, I ask myself, and Candace too, am I REALLY a good role model for young women?  And, by merely living my life the only way I know how am I somehow responsible for maintaining this image, false as it may be?  I think not.  Candace thinks that I do have an obligation to continue.  She thinks it’s more important than being true to myself.  I can’t agree with that.

I think it’s wonderful that so many women look up to me.  That’s cool.  But what would really make me proud of myself is to live my authentic life and not be a role model for just women but to all of the people out there who don’t fit into any of society’s boxes.  How about all of those trans kids out there who don’t have role models?  While there are certainly less of them, that doesn’t make them less important.  And how about men who are taught that there is only one way to be a man?  How could I impact them by being a sensitive, caring man?  I think there are lots of ways to be a role model.

So, when a mother brings her daughter in to see me as a role model I wonder whether that little girl can see herself in me.  Am I really role modeling for her what she wants to grow up to be like?  I doubt it.  Strong, assertive, confident?   Yes.  Transgender male?  Probably not.  Masculine?  Doubtful.  But am I not strong, assertive and confident because I have a male brain?  Would that strength, assertiveness and confidence play out differently if I had a female brain?  I think so.  I often observe Candace, who is also all of those things, and we are very different in how we express those qualities.

I feel a lot of guilt about how my transition will effect those around me already.  I don’t need more guilt over the little girls that I’m letting down by “turning into a man” and how I’m “selling out”.  I don’t think she’s trying to be hurtful by bringing these things up to me and probably thinks that I don’t give myself enough credit.  Believe me, I’m very aware of how the world sees me and what that means.  I am proud.  And I would be even more proud if I could do these things not as a woman but as a transgender man.  Now THAT would make me proud!