Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
This research explores the relationship between testosterone and conceptions of masculinity and maleness in North America. The purpose of this study was to discover how men's experiences and enactments of their own masculinity and maleness add dimensions to cultural tropes of masculinity. Aging men (ages 39-75) and transgender men (male-identified, though not born biological men), illuminate the extent to which masculinity and maleness are a cultural achievement, enacted in concert with both cultural mores and individual desires. The research is based on over 27 months of fieldwork, in and around Boston, Massachusetts, using the methods of participant observation, semi-structured interviewing, and discourse analysis. I interviewed of 21 aging men and 24 transgender men. Men responded to semi-structured questions on their identity, experiences of living within their bodies, and understandings of testosterone as an object, commodity, and metaphor. Part commodity, part multi-faceted symbol, testosterone at once establishes, maintains, and enforces a coherently embodied gender.
This comparative research suggests that we cannot fully understand the complexity of experiential gender identity without first unpacking the multiple elements of identity (e.g., cultural ideals, individual performances, and biological bodies) which come together in a single human being. This dissertation exposes cultural ideals of masculinity, and shows how men work with, and against, these ideals in constructing their own identities. This research shows that men have enduring and particularistic relationships with their own bodies which both reflect and challenge dominant stereotypes of the male body. I articulate strategies for aging men and transgender men to simultaneously identify and disidentify with cultural masculinity, demonstrating the shifting relevance of cultural masculinity in men's actual gendered lives. This work coins the term "maskulinity," the act of men utilizing cultural notions of masculinity to pass as men at will. I argue that in their acceptance and rejection of cultural masculinity, men in turn modify U.S. understandings of masculinity. This dissertation illuminates striking similarities between aging men and transgender men, showing how these men live in and through their bodies.
Copyright 2009 Alexis Ruth Matza