I was watching my son playing with another boy and it took all of 10 seconds before they were engaged in a battle of some sort. I was immediately concerned, but took a moment to reflect on what I knew about boys having lived among them for so long like Jane Goodall, but hairier. Yeah, I concluded within a few moments, this is pretty damn typical. So what’s with that anyway?
As a child, even though I gravitated to the bookish types, the nerd herd if you will, there was still a standing social rule that some sort of fighting was expected in nearly every encounter. Even if you were wearing your nice church pants, some light shoving was bound to occur, risk of grass stains a given. I’ll be perfectly honest here. I did participate, but just like President Clinton, I didn’t really enjoy it. Wrestling, boxing, playing war with guns that didn’t shoot anything and the inevitable “I got you!…No you didn’t!” squabbles. Sometimes it was simulated through action figures, sometimes it was snow ball or water balloon fights, and sometimes it was just trying to hit your tennis doubles partner in the back of the head with your serve. Violence always had a role in all play.
When something is that ubiquitous, it gets pretty hard to avoid. This is especially true in the somewhat gender segregated 70’s and 80’s when scheduling play with someone of the opposite gender was just considered weird and looked down upon. In the rare times I did get to play with the girls, usually via my sister or cousin, it was a much nicer time and the games seemed more complex, interesting, and entirely bereft of the salty dogs of war. Most of the time I was stuck with the boys and said dogs were in abundance. I did everything I could to avoid anger based physical confrontation, but simply standing at the bus stop or playing a game of Monopoly somehow erupted into a battle royale. Once in high school I had the opportunity to introduce my two best friends to each other at an art show I was in. After they wrestled it out on the hot asphalt in the parking lot they became closer to each other than either was to me. I hate to think about what life would have been like if I hung with the popular crowd.
Although I lacked understanding of this particular gender specific more, I managed to fake it just well enough to avoid being targeted for yet more. I made it through my year on the basketball team without incurring one foul, but only one basket as well. I joined the Scouts, and strategically spent my time with my dad looking at tress and shit while the rest of them played something called ‘Commando’, crashing through the woods and whooping war cries. When it came time to man up and join the military, I picked the Air Force, electronics backshop, arguably the least likely segment of the military to see combat. Rumor had it if they ever passed out M-16s to our shop, they would come loaded with only one bullet because the outlook was that grim. I attributed this to the DoD wanting to save the State Department huge headaches in negotiating the repatriation of decidedly replaceable personnel.
I never knew if this was ingrained in the male psyche, which I apparently never had, or was culturally learned. When I play with my son with his toys, no matter how hard I try to invent a clever little story with “the guys” (his collective name for action figures), his reaction is to take whichever one he is holding and smash it into mine, or more accurately, my fingers. The go-to move is to have them fight; my cutesy antics of no interest in comparison. So is combat endemic to the male spirit?
I’m very curious to see some commentary on this one, especially from trans women and men. Do trans women as children in a male environment fall happily into line with this, or were you simply trying to get by? Do trans men also have this irresistible urge to flavor any play with a nice dose of war? Speak freely with the knowledge that whatever you say, I’m sure not going to hit you.