2nd International Symposium on Men and Masculinities

A Review: 2nd International Symposium on Men and Masculinities

Masculinities: Challenges and Possibilities in Troubling Times - 12-14 September 2019

Lukka Alp Akarçay

The 2nd International Symposium on Men and Masculinities took place between the 12th and 14th of September in Istanbul at Şişli Nazım Hikmet Culture Center. Organized by the Initiative for Critical Studies of Masculinities (ICSM) in collaboration with Özyeğin University, Raoul Wallenberg Institute, and Research Worldwide Istanbul, the symposium provided a platform to discuss how the current global sociopolitical environment impacts studies and discussions on men and masculinities. With the theme Challenges and Possibilities in Troubling Times, the symposium brought forth the question of how the studies on men and masculinities could help us better understand the increasing precarious sociopolitical climate around the world and its impact on gender equality. I offer a review of the first day sessions I attended as a participant and as one of the speakers in a panel about trans masculinity experiences.

In his opening speech, ‘Men and Masculinities in Lurking Doom? The Personal-Political-Theoretical,’ Prof. Jeff Hearn spoke about the changes in the past twenty-five years in the study of men and masculinities drawing on the links between his personal motivation and the political context of the past. Prof. Hearn included forms of capitalism, the growth of inequalities, the planet, information technology, racism, the increasing visibility of the LGBT+ movement, and the problematizing of gender as some of the changes impacting studies on men and masculinities. He stated that to critically study men and masculinities means to examine social justice privileges, the symmetry of power and to utilize intersectionality.

Raewyn Connell, in the beginning of her video recorded keynote speech pointed out that world politics today revolves around the defense of social equality, that one of the most disturbing features of governments is state violence whether it is directly perpetuated or whether they enable violence. Connell added that the surge of global nationalist ideals reflects a dominant masculinity, that behind these regimes there is a celebration of a masculinized leadership, and how patriarchal nostalgia and homophobia are associated with these kinds of politics. She mentioned that discourse around toxic masculinity point to important issues but mistakenly identify masculinity with hegemony and that if hegemony is working well, there is no need for it to resort to violence in order to consolidate its position. She further stated that some displays of masculinity are exaggerated. Resulting from insecurity, they demonstrate a compensatory tone, one that we could associate with hegemony. She said that traditional forms of masculinity and gender relations are “all a lie” and that these regimes have created social anger and insecurity. In her conclusion, she focused our attention on the work that needs to be done by knowledge workers such as the people attending the conference and that intellectual workers should be utopian. Connell reminded us that what needs to happen is not about the creation of an ideal masculinity, but about a survival or good enough masculinity, a solidarity between men and women that is sustainable and offers long term positive gender relations for men.

I spoke as part of a panel of speakers focusing on trans masculine experiences which was scheduled for the morning of the first day of the symposium. The panel included R. Aslı Koruyucu who presented her study titled Trans Masculinities in Turkey: Negotiating Heteronormativity and the Medico-Legal Realm; Sofia Aboim and Pedro Vascencelos who presented their study, Trans Men and the Materiality of Masculinity. I presented my study on trans men titled An Analysis of Trans Men’s Conceptions and Navigation of Masculinity. 

R. Aslı Koruyucu shared findings from her research that explored the diversity and complexity of trans masculine expression within transition procedures and the struggles faced by trans men in state governed gender transition processes in Turkey. Focusing on the experiences of trans men, lawyers and psychiatrists, Koruyucu discussed how trans men negotiate medical and legal regulations and challenge the heteronormativity of these institutions. Through interview narratives, Koruyucu illustrated some ways through which trans men negotiate their identity and masculinity. Koruyucu talked about an identity in interruption, the impact of ally solidarities between trans men, psychiatrists and lawyers in trans men’s challenges in, and resistance to, institutional and compulsory transition procedures.     

Assistant Professors Sofia Aboim and Pedro Vasconcelos shared the findings from research they conducted with trans men in Portugal and the United Kingdom looking at how trans men construct their masculinity. In light of fieldwork they conducted in many European countries with trans men, Prof. Aboim and Prof. Vasconcelos expressed the importance of building connections between different areas of critical gender studies, arguing that transition and affirmation stories told by trans men play a significant role in enhancing our understanding of masculinity. They posed the questions whether masculinity could be enacted by trans individuals; whether it is always powerful and how it is constructed. Aboim and Vasconcelos discussed trans men’s masculinity as being non linear in relation to practice and place; trans men’s constructions of masculinity as practice before location whereby trans men occupy social positions as men. Describing pre-transition as “metamorphosis,” Aboim and Vasconcelos stated that, as interpreted by the self and others, being in that place of doing and comfort with masculinity can transform trans men’s masculinity.

As one of the speakers, I shared findings from my study, An Analysis of Trans Men’s Conceptions and Navigation of Masculinity, conducted with trans men of different age groups. I began with a brief introduction to the focus of the study and a note on the methodology, delineating that the paper explores the specific social and affective factors that impact trans men’s definitions, performance and navigation of their own masculinity. I continued with a section on trans men’s self-identification practices, sharing interview excerpts as to the choices and reasons for these practices in order to show how self-identification can be one factor in how trans men exercise their own conceptions of masculinity. In the next section, I focused on trans men’s perceptions, definitions, performance and navigation of masculinity with selected interview excerpts illustrating how trans men relate to masculinity both in themselves and in society; how their understandings of masculinity compare or correlate with sociocultural constructs of masculinity; and the complexity between the embodiment and navigation of masculinity. In the section that followed, I talked about social and affective aspects related to trans men’s exertions and assertions of their own masculinity such as the impact of context on expressions of and shifts in one’s masculinity. 

The panel ended with questions and comments from a very engaged audience. The limited amount of time given to each speaker made selecting and discarding components a challenge. On the whole, to be a part of a panel that discussed trans masculinities and to have had the opportunity to present my study on trans men in a symposium on men and masculinities was certainly exciting not only because this was a good platform to discuss trans men’s issues and experiences of masculinity, but also because this offered an avenue to contemplate queer bodies, expressions and subjectivities of masculinity that have largely been ignored in discussions of masculinity.