When you were growing up, what did a real man look like? How did he sound, walk, talk? What did he do? Chances are there are a few people that come to mind.
And even if you were raised only by women, you may think about the people they saw and described as real men. But at any point while growing up, especially in your younger years, did you feel free to embrace who you were? Or were you forced to fall in line and mimic everyone else?
As Jemille shares in his reflection on masculinity, it’s often the latter. But eventually, if we hope to live a life we’re proud of, we’ll have to revisit the basics and rethink everything altogether because perhaps a real man is the product of loving and embracing oneself, first.
From my father to the guy my mom dated who was in a gang, masculinity was the roughness, strength, and power of being male. A man was nothing soft. He was muscular, active, worked out a lot, and had a lot of girls. He smelled very nice and dressed well, had the nice haircuts, fitted hats, even tattoos, in some instances. He was very smooth and flirtatious–not necessarily always a player but definitely someone who could get whatever they wanted when they wanted it because of their attitude. People respected him.
I honestly can’t say that I know what my definition of masculinity is, or what a real man is supposed to be. Growing up, it has always been someone who wasn’t sensitive–emotions weren’t good because guys weren’t supposed to cry, especially men of color. It’s always been if you do any of those things, you are considered a punk or a sissy. You can’t be soft spoken because men are strong, and when they talk, everyone listens because they are dominant, a leader.
From my father to the guy my mom dated who was in a gang, masculinity was the roughness, strength, and power of being male. A man was nothing soft.
I’ve never been any of that. I’ve always been soft spoken and emotional. I’ve tried to change myself into what society–and those around me–say I should be, especially back when I was in high school. For example, I tried to buy and wear the same clothes as all the other guys, but I couldn’t. When I’d buy the relaxed pants or basketball shorts, my butt would be the most prominent thing on my body, which didn’t make me feel comfortable. We were told that only women had curves, so I would wear the baggy jeans and long shirts to hide it.
I used to also have a chest where fat would be stored, so I would tape my chest down because guys would say I had breasts. And no matter what I did, my body has never been hard, tough, and chiseled. I’ve always been soft and curvier. It confuses people because everything that you are is used to make fun of you in front of their friends. But then when I found myself alone with them for whatever reason, they would tell you that they liked those features.
Back then I would always ask myself, “What do I need to do to be taken seriously?” I always wondered how one learns to be a man or masculine, if he is raised by women, especially when the men were always in and out and leaving. In many ways, I learned how to be a man from my mother. But what’s weird is that my younger brothers, who are considered a lot more masculine than I am, learned to be a man from me.
When my dad, who was never around, started to help raise my brothers’ children–my nieces and nephews–even though he wasn’t there for us growing up, I had to really come to terms with the feelings I’d had about his absence. What really bothered me was that he still never contacted me, even though he was now so present in the lives of everyone else. I was so upset because I didn’t understand how he could take care of them and still not appreciate a relationship with his own children, me. Seeing that made me think he might be a different type of man than he was back then, but I still struggled with it.
In many ways, I learned how to be a man from my mother. But what’s weird is that my younger brothers, who are considered a lot more masculine than I am, learned to be a man from me.
I remember telling him it wasn’t fair because I didn’t have a man to teach me, and sometimes I don’t know what I’m doing or what I’m doing wrong. That would only frustrate me more because I would begin asking myself, “How would things be different if he were there when I was younger? Would I be someone different? More of a man?” Even though my father says he is proud of who I am, I can’t help but wonder if things would be different.
This whole masculinity thing also makes sexuality a bit more complicated. To this day, I’m still confused about my sexuality and if it is okay to be vulnerable and feminine or if I need to be more masculine. And that affects my sex life because I don’t feel comfortable letting myself go. To me, being feminine is to be vulnerable, and I don’t want to be that sometimes. Sometimes I wonder if I should be more aggressive more often. When I was younger, it was easier because I didn’t think about it. But as I get older, it gets more confusing–I feel more conflicted.
Part of that is because in the queer community, masculinity and femininity is such a rigid thing. It’s wrong to be feminine and a man, even in the gay community. And in the straight community, it is wrong to be vulnerable, emotional, etc. Yes, there are people who accept it, but most don’t. So, what do those people do who are naturally that way? I’ve struggled with that in my life.
I want to experience the freedom that comes with accepting myself, without judgement…[so] I can be emotionally available, sexually free, and know what it truly means to love and be me.
It always makes me feel like I truly can’t be myself 100% in a relationship because I have to be one thing and try to hide the other part of what I really want or am. After all, you don’t really have a choice, right? Dating in the gay scene or in general, is all about being desirable to future mates. You don’t want to be alone forever. So if you know what people want and like, what are you going to do? You’re going to try to hide it and be something else. But will you really be happy with that choice? I don’t think so. Not in the long run.
That’s what I’m dealing with–finding the strength to not care about everyone else’s opinions. I want to experience the freedom that comes with accepting myself, without judgement. It’s becoming more and more important to me because if I finally do that, I can be emotionally available, sexually free, and know what it truly means to love and be me.