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Unleashed, The Boys of War

FightI 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.

About michellelianna

I'm a transgender woman now in the maintenance stages of transition having all the electrolysis and surgery one can reasonably be expected to undertake. While busy exploring my new world, I took to blogging about it with dubiously popular results. I don't have quite as much to say as I used to, but I'm not quite done yet either.

6 responses »

  1. Trans man here, and I can tell you that I most definitely was a wrestler as a kid. My brother and I used to brawl in our living room, which gave my mom a heart attack. He always won, because despite my eagerness, my skill levels were considerably lower. I think I would’ve been even more of a brawler had I lived in an area where it was more accepted, but unfortunately I lived in suburbia where moms sheltered their kids to the point of absurdity. Hell, I’m still a bit of a “play fighter” these days, depending on what my BAC is. Sometimes, it’s just fun to get the piss taken out of you.

  2. Michelle, I wasn’t like those boys either, as a child, with a few exceptions, of course. I had two guy strangers start a fight over me at an Arby’s, which was fun to watch, and from how I feel now inside after my HRT, makes me want to conclude that it’s simply the testosterone. By the way, did you read my girlish run-at-the-mouth exposé on testosterone-induced stupidity called “Hey la day la, my Mojo’s back?”
    Thanks again for the laugh, Michelle, especially the last sentence. Deanna Joy

  3. I did play with both boys and girls growing up in the 70s and 80s, so yeah I probably played with dolls as much as I played army, etc.

    It doesn’t surprise me that I now identify as a tomboy given my childhood. I don’t know if that part of me would have been different had I been cis.

  4. It didn’t really work this way with me.

    I didn’t play like a boy or a girl.

    I taught myself to read (and started reading encyclopedias as a young child), and I explored outdoors for hours at a time. I did science things, reasoned abstractly, felt deeply, and I daydreamt and sang constantly.

    I didn’t play with dolls and house: I cared for my brother and sister and helped keep our house, and then (even as a young child) helped with other parents children and help clean their homes too, and I conversed with adults or children much younger than me.

    Still I also wanted some adventure, but not the hurting, fighting, killing kind, rather the discovering new things kind.

    All this helped protect me because much of my childhood was hellish outside the home.

    I never developed a “male persona,” but was always me, even if I had to hide major parts of my emotional being, even from myself.

    I did not realize until I started working through my gender issues in middle age (when it was finally *safe*) that I caught-hell *because* I was gender variant. And it really was not until recently that I realized *why* I was perceived as a girl when I did not appear that way; now I realize that I “vibe-female,” constantly, unconsciously, and it is not something I can hide or even suppress much. And it wasn’t even the stereotypical “weak” things about girls that I vibe; it’s the nurturing, gentleness and emotional vulnerability. (It may have been these qualities that made me an easy target for my rapes?)

    Nobody really “got” me, and my parents tried to “masculinize” me by involving me in scouting (where I earned Eagle) and swimming, biking, hiking, et cetera, but these ways in which they encouraged me did not shape me as a man, they actually strengthened me to be the woman I am becoming now.

    How odd is all that??

  5. From whence come aggressive tendencies? We seem to believe that A type and B type personalities are not gender specific; we all know powerful women, and less than powerful men. But where does that really leave the ties of a naturally edgy attitude in relation to gender? Don’t we seem to associate a strong woman with a more masculine nature? To the opposite side, do we not tend to view a man who is gentle and passive as somewhat effeminate?

    For myself, I was the gentle type. Having been blessed with the developmental shortcomings of Asperger’s, I never really understood what being social meant, and I suppose that it not only affected my learning to connect with people in a friendly way, it also left me bereft of the compunction to be aggressive toward anyone. Quite the opposite, I was extremely attracted to the notions of romance even before attending kindergarden. Dressing in mother’s satins and latex seemed so natural to me at that very young age, and my interests were directed toward the pretty young girls through my school days. I would imagine kissing them and holding their hands. There was no gender association in my mind with regard to these feelings; I was simply desirous of being in love.

    One cannot always be placed in situations of one’s own design, and so I would be thrown together with the boys often enough, not that it was really pleasant. Nothing most of them were doing as a pastime held any interest for me. On the few occasions I was allowed to join in some sort of neighborhood ball play, it became obvious very quickly that I had no talent for sport. (Later on, I became quite a good bowler, though.) As a result of not fitting in, I became the intruder, the odd one, and I was ostracized to a certain extent. I also endured the aggression, getting beaten up when one or more of them had to get rid of whatever was making them see red. Simply being seen as weak was enough to put the target on your back.

    I did know a few girls who had that same attitude and would pick fights with their peers. (Heck, one even gave me a good beating in the school yard that I never lived down.) They did seem to exude more male attributes, being labelled “tomboy” and other masculine terms. When these girls grew older, did they still retain those elements? Did they become labelled as “dykes” regardless of anything else, simply because they were tough?

    The draft still existed when I was a teen, and with the war in Viet Nam still aboil, I came very close to being thrown into the real Boys of War story. I always tell people that if that had happened, I am sure I would have died in basic training, whether by my own hand, those of my fellow soldiers, or simply from heart failure. I would have never even seen the face of the so-called true enemy. I had enough demons waiting to introduce me to death without that worry.

    To this day, I remain non-confrontational, much of it being from learning through life that I have no “air of authority.” I am not effective except as a person of service. There is nothing about me that says, “Do what I tell you to do.” I’m okay with that. A certain amount of that actually keeps you out of trouble while presenting you with opportunities to make a nice quiet comfortable life for yourself. I am enjoying living more as a woman each day, even though I cannot be 24/7 yet. In my meanderings, I see aggressive behavior among CD/TGs; just the other night I was spending time with one who earlier in the evening had gotten into a fight with a drag performer and was tossed out of the club. The odd thing is, here she was so good looking and, in my opinion, very hard to “make.” When I asked her about her situation, she said she liked doing drag as a fun thing, but really loved being a man. I felt a little more uneasy around her then, as if I were back in the neighborhood surrounded by little boys who were sharpening Popsicle sticks on the curb to make knives they would soon use in their war play. See, I just don’t get it. ARE gentleness and passion gender related?

    • Well, whilst aggression may not be gender related (even though it does appear to be), it is DEFINITELY mediated by hormones with early adrenal androgens contributing to the onset and maintenance of persistent violent and antisocial behaviour (Ramirez, 2003) and Sanchez-Martin et al. (2011) did find that, in children, sex and them testosterone levels were the best and second best predictor of aggressive behaviour respectively.

      This mediation of aggression by hormones can even be seen exclusively in women. (Cashdan, 2003; Denson et al. 2013). The 2nd of these 2 explicitly shows that Cortisol is also an important factor in aggressive behaviour, not just androgens (with the latter still being a factor). This may explain why there are also many males (who obviously have higher average testosterone levels than females) are still not as aggressive – they may have lower levels of cortisol.

      This does at least explain WHY males appear to be more aggressive in general, but also why there may be the many exceptions we see in non-aggressive males.

      So all in all, I’d say it may not be a gender thing, but a sex thing – regulated via hormones.

      Note: I attempted to find any studies on aggression in transgender people which may have been able to clear up if it is a gender thing (i.e. whether our gender identity correlates to aggression) or if it is a biochemical thing, but I could only find studies regarding aggression towards us. Sorry

      Links to studies:
      Ramirez 2003 –

      Sanchez-Martin et al 2011 –

      Cashdan 2003 –;jsessionid=72AFA6079D4E036C2A4607E132EF66A5.d02t01

      Denson et al. 2013 –


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