Published in Elephant Journal on July 5, 2017
The beginning of being a man is simple, a matter of a Y chromosome.
Over that, we have no influence.
But, biology is never and will never be the sole basis of manhood. As I look back on my boyhood, I see that society molded, and warped, my idea of what it means to be a man.
As a child, I was teased and laughed at for being a “sissy” because I cry and often prefer not to join any outdoor games. Those who teased me did not know I was asthmatic. They did not know I needed to keep out of the sun and avoid intense sweating because of my sensitive skin.
I felt, and still feel, victimized by these societal prescriptions, mainly because I’m still implicitly forced to conform, even though I have recognized many of these stereotypical expectations as wrong.
If people were colors, then when I was a boy my color would’ve been blue. Green was acceptable and so was orange, but my parents did not want me to look too vibrant or merry or sweet. Cars and balls and guns only, even if they could kill. So, “No dolls, darling,” went almost without saying. As I boy, I was expected to be suntanned and soaking wet from all my time outdoors, bruised from falling and wrestling, bleeding from tripping as I ran around. But no one was supposed to see me cry. Implicitly, I got the rule: Boys can’t cry.
As I grew into my adolescence, I was not expected to help at home. They said I shouldn’t worry. I did not have to wash the dishes or cook food or watch over my younger sibling. But still, I ran errands on a bicycle and helped dad wash the family car. When I hit puberty, I started to develop feelings for the opposite sex. That was always clear to me, despite my “bad” habits of crying and staying indoors suggesting the opposite to others. My circle of friends was a composite of similarly, strictly straight, varsity jacket-wearing teenage guys.
But everything changed when I got into college. Before I applied for admission to a university, I was told I should study to be an engineer, doctor, astronomer, mathematician, businessman, lawyer…or nothing at all. That I should marry and have a beautiful family. Then, when my first son is born, that I should teach him what I was taught and he should become what I have been. My son should grow to be a strong, willful man, just like me (or at least me as I should be). Then, he should also have a family like ours, with a stay-at-home wife and a handful of children.
The sons should be as the fathers have been, in an endless cycle of male prototypes.
However, I did not take any of the degrees I was told to. I applied for what I love—Linguistics—without telling anyone. Because if I had, they would have tried to change my mind. I don’t regret it or any of the things I have chosen since. For the first time, I believe I have taken to heart what I was always told when I was younger: “Man up!”
With the current resounding movements against sexism, I have seen, and I think we should remember, that not only do women and girls suffer from this, but men are also caught and torn up in these biases. Society has all the acceptable roads signposted for each of us to travel down and anyone who chooses a different path is labeled “unacceptable” and is liable to become an outcast of “acceptable” society. But, sometimes, being an outcast isn’t that bad after all, if it is grounded in self-discovery and self-awareness.
Because it is okay for a man to be sad, to cry, to feel lost, to be emotional, to be bad at sports, and to not have the perfect body.
To be a man of dignity and honesty is much better than to be a man of charm and strength. Just because I can’t meet all of society’s expectations of me, does not mean I am less of a man. And this realization is what has finally made me whole.