This is the first part of an ongoing series detailing my observations from behind the lines of male culture. In spite of my tenure “in the culture” but not “of the culture”, these observations are intended to reflect no bias whatsoever in regards to favor for or prejudice against this phallocentric demographic. Far be it from me to step on the wee feelings of, or incur the wrath of these fine representative gentlemen, filthy animals that they are.
Some things just cause the senses to prick up when a condition in the environment just gives a vibe of being not quite right. Toddlers dressed like Seventh Avenue hookers. The calculator at the dollar store with two eights on the keypad. A mouse happily swimming across the top of the lobby tank at Red Lobster. Just tiny fingers raised at the universe that make you say, “Yeah. That shouldn’t be.” I got that same feeling at a meeting filled exclusively with individuals who purported to be women. It was a trans female gathering awash with support and gentle humor, and then a round a genuine ball busting broke out and I was instantly reminded of that brave little rodent, clinging to life, destined to become the surprise filling in my expensive crustacean dinner. Just not right.
One of the problems that faces a trans individual is that we are placed very early on in socialization groups as determined by our genitalia and not our personalities. That in itself is just going to be the way of it until science advances so far as to be able to tell from birth. “Congratulations Mrs Delveccio, it’s a healthy baby girl! She does, however, have quite the little penis on her. Relax. We can fix that. We have the technology.” It’s a beautiful dream for sure, but maybe in a few generations. In the mean time we have some societal mores to overcome.
Something I noticed when stuck in boy culture is that males engage in constant tests of masculinity. The most common test is known as ‘ball busting’ and it serves a purpose for both the buster and the busted, who will repeatedly exchange places in lieu of a reach around. The man playing the buster role will make his best attempt to find the most crude, insulting, demoralizing, and downright nasty thing to say for the sole purpose of trying to make the other guy cry. The busted is expected to absorb without so much as a change of expression anything and everything hurled his way while everyone laughs. Expressing even the tiniest crack of caring is bad and an invitation to pile on.
The best topics for ball busting should be aimed at the other mans’ sense of his own masculinity. A good way to get at that is to find a clever spin to indicate that he is homosexual, or worse yet, female. These can be based on behavior – real or imagined -, apparel, or a self deprecating story he shared when drunk he now deeply regrets telling you. It might surprise you to find out that the man’s actual penis will never be called out in this ritual. Men as a rule do not share details about their genitalia with other men unless it is some clearly understood exaggeration of size. Sharing makes them intensely uncomfortable, so they just don’t do it.
Secondary topics for ball busting include former sexual partners the man has already denounced, his mom, his car, his job, or visible bodily attributes like hairline or Dumbo ears. Bad topics include intelligence, social consciousness, and soft skills. These are not things a man links to his masculinity, so the chances of making him care are far diminished. Surprisingly, there are forbidden topics such as his current squeeze and his children. If the man being busted is supposed to respond to the insult with overprotective violence, it is just going to be a bad time for everyone.
Ball busting in and of itself is not a bad thing in the appropriate setting; it is just something men do to feel comfortable with each other. Variations do occur based on age, class and other demographics. Form and content might be a little different between say a group of construction workers and bank executives on the golf course, but the intention is the same – try to make someone feel really bad and approve when he doesn’t.
This behavior does occur in mixed gender environments as well, though it is usually toned down considerably. The buster doesn’t want to seem too mean in front of women, and everyone wants to save the busted the shame of having a woman jump in to his defense. That is emasculating for all. Consider the display to be akin to when people try their best to disable the padded suit guy at a rape prevention class. It’s fun and funny to watch because you know he’s not really being injured. Men have about the same level of sensation regarding their feelings and makes this OK, or even fun.
Being raised in a ball busting culture, trans women can easily get into trouble. It is a wonderful thing to be invited to a female only gathering and being accepted as a woman. At the same time it can be nerve wracking as well. Think of eating in an army mess hall for many years and suddenly being invited to dine with the Rockefellers. You have no idea what to wear or what the 19 different eating utensils are for. Often times when people get anxious they revert to paradigms they are familiar with, even if it’s “not really them”. This can come out in the form of cracking wise at any or all of the ladies present. This is not good. The women present will assume they have a real jerk in their presence, or worse, a man, and want to exclude. If eating with the Rockefellers, it is much better to ask what you eat with the dental tool looking thing or not using it all rather eating with fingers like a baboon. Same goes here. If unsure how to act, a person should find a way to ask someone quietly what is appropriate, or at the very least just shut the fuck up. Never, ever rag on Donnas’ ridiculous shoes at least until she goes to the ladies room.
The take away from this is that ball busting is something men do and we don’t. It is socially acceptable amongst their own kind for some reason, they seem to like it, and that makes it ok. If having testicles is something antithetical to your self-conception, you should not be doing this, and especially to others who are also highly unlikely to hang big rubber scrotal sacs from the back of their truck. It’s bad enough when men cross the line and pull this shit on us, so have the decency to wait until she’s out of ear shot to be a royal bitch.