By Kevin Fong, Contributor, Elemental Partners

Our society holds certain standards that define the measure of a man. Courage, gravitas and swagger are characteristics of manliness exalted by the military, law enforcement, sports, Hollywood, and the corporate world. Such men:

  1. Forge their own path;
  2. Persist, especially in the face of adversity;
  3. Show courage to assert their rights; and
  4. Live in accordance with their principles, even if it means risking their own lives.

Two such examples impressed me during a recent trip to Jackson, MS. I encountered the first at Dillards, a local department store. As I passed the Estee Lauder counter, I witnessed an older man in a John Deere cap waiting for his wife who was sampling hand lotions. Jasmine, the salesperson who was assisting the wife, wore an impeccable black dress, accessories, makeup and hair. It was clear to me, and to the couple, that Jasmine was a gender-assigned male at birth.

Later, at the hotel, I encountered Darryl at the front desk. The 6-foot, 200 pound former football player wore a dark suit and a crisp tie. He also sported burgundy nail polish and long false eyelashes.

Imagine the courage, gravitas and swagger it takes for Jasmine and Darryl to present themselves in such ways, especially in a place like Jackson, MS. While I don't know their stories and motivations, I am certain that they were not performing. They were being their brave and daring selves, living their lives and doing their jobs.

Gender-fluid and transgender men and boys are among the most vilified people in our society. They are harassed, harmed, and even killed because they dare to express themselves outside of the tight confines of conventionally-identified, "cis-gender" male standards.

These standards, while omnipresent, are being challenged more and more. Caitlyn Jenner recently came out as a transgender woman. Buzz Bissinger, author of "Friday Night Lights," the bestselling book about high school football culture in Texas, revealed he is a longtime cross dresser. Alexander Skarsgard, who will be the next Tarzan, showed up at a movie premiere dressed as a woman. Brandon Cohen of BroBible spent an otherwise normal day wearing high heels and recording both his and others reactions.

Caitlyn Jenner Alexander Skarsgard Brandon Cohen

I am encouraged by this reframing definition of manhood. Throughout my life, have struggled with my gender identity and have wondered how I measured up. To this day, I can't throw a ball, hammer a nail, or change a flat tire. I have spent years questioning what kind of man I am, and why I don't, or have to, fit in.

Today, as a self-identified and proud gender-fluid male, I rarely step out of the house without my hair styled and face made up. I am blending my clothes - pairing men's slacks and shirts with women's jackets and shoes - to form my own unique look. I am a more authentic person and am able to contribute my gifts and skills more effectively in the world. I am blessed that my family, friends, colleagues, and clients support and celebrate me for who I am.

How do we measure the qualities of manhood, or perhaps humanhood? If we use these measurements -

  1. Forge their own path;
  2. Persist, especially in the face of adversity;
  3. Show courage to assert their rights; and
  4. Live in accordance with their principles, even if it means risking their own lives,

Jasmine, Darryl, Caitlyn, Buzz, Brandon, Alexander and even I measure up well. In spite of, or perhaps because of our feminine identity and appearance, we possess the gravitas, courage and swagger that rivals that of these conventional heroes.

We are living proof that society can create a space for all types of genders to manifest without threatening the measure of a man.

Questions for reflection and discussion -

  1. Why is our society so obsessed with gender roles and stereotypes? What do we gain from maintaining them?
  2. What is so threatening, to you personally or to society in general, if gender-assigned males identify, behave or express themselves with more feminine characteristics or as female?
  3. If you identify as a cis-gender male, would you ever consider adopting a more feminine expression (e.g. wearing eyeliner, lip gloss, or nail polish) for a day? Why or why not?
  4. What can you do to make your community a safer place for gender fluid and transgender men and boys? What will you do?