As hopelessly romantic and horny as I am (even with drug-induced low sexual performance), this is not gonna be about my love life. It’s about me entering and/or exploring manhood. I’m in the last couple of weeks of the second decade in my life and, assuming the average life span of a human being to be about 80 (an apparent overstatement), a quarter of my life is over. I guess I lived it well, though not exceedingly. During the next quarter though, I need some serious stuff to happen and for that, I need to become an adult. And as much as I’ve tried to blur the gender boundaries, I am still very much male and society will see me as a man – unless I explicitly identify myself otherwise and my identification fits well with societal expectations of what the “otherwise” is. So I need to become a man.
Here are some serious questions:
- But what exactly is manhood, as differentiated from adulthood?
- Is it necessarily related to boyhood, and if so, how?
- Are they mutually exclusive? Am I supposed to be just one of them? Or can I be both at the same time or at different times?
Before I jot down my thoughts on manhood, I’d like to go over boyhood first. Gosh, I love being a boy. I love being a boy so much! And the odd thing is: it’s a new found love. Growing up, I don’t think I ever got to identify as a boy. I wasn’t into sports or video games, but I was into artsy-fartsy things. I was supposed to be kept away from dolls and other “girl” stuff but I had access to them, but I didn’t particularly enjoy them. I sketched a lot in my leisure but never doodled in class. I loved seeking general knowledge and enjoyed intellectual conversation. And I never complained about having to study or do homework. But I always earned the love and respect of others – both my peers and elders – not as a child but as a little adult. I loved dressing up as a child also but I was put in dress pants and tucked-in button-down shirts. Back then, it was no sort of fabulous but rather matching my attire to my behavioural and intellectual maturity. But still, as much as no one admitted, I was still a kid. When I behaved like a child from time to time, I wasn’t dismissed as being myself or acting my age but rather criticized as a failed adult. I took it well and didn’t complain, but I don’t think it had a very positive effect on me.
My discovery of boyhood was actually this past spring semester. I finally accepted that it is perfectly ok to be a child, to be a boy. After I came out, I went all-out with behaviour, language and dress-code. And it wasn’t long till I started wearing heels and painting my nails and stuff. I’ve actually come to prefer heels to flats because they bring out the shape of my legs – the calves of which are the favourite parts of my body – and I feel powerful. It’s painful to wear them but they draw attention and I carry myself with more elegance, if I may say so. In the late winter, around early February I think, I decided to get a pair of new shoes for casual wear. I hated the shape of my running shoes and the other pair of casual wear was starting to wear out. And I randomly decided to go for a pair of flat lace-ups. Navy blue, grey and white rubber soles, white laces and only 17 bucks. The day I first wore them, oh my god, it was a whole fresh new feeling. I just wanted to run and jump and dance and frolic all over campus – although it was cold, dry and grey as hell (if hell could be cold, dry and grey). That was a good day – and I hadn’t started my meds yet! A different type of power – or energy – was coming from my footwear. It was the taste of boyhood – curious, playful, fun, carefree, adventurous, oblivious of surroundings … with a rough edge, which makes things boyish (stereotypically). What made me feel more like a boy than a child was the masturbation. I love playing with my penis, awwwww yis! When you add masturbation to all the boy-energy I’d been feeling all day, it was like discovering it all over again. Taking care of myself became a guilty pleasure again – when my roommate was in the shower, when he was fast asleep, when he goes out for a meal and I’m still in the room, etc. FUN!
And that is boyhood. Now to talk about manhood in contrast to that, I am at a complete loss. I associate responsibility, accountability, etiquettes and maturity very closely with adulthood and I can possibly take away the playful and carefree from the set of descriptors. But the thing I most value in human conduct is missing from both – integrity. You may be good, you may be bad, but let the world see it. No hiding, no deceit! That’s why I can respect the Joker more than the Batman, you see. But that’s personal shenanigans and that’s not the point, so let’s get back to the main story.
I don’t think I can quite live up to the societal standards of manhood. First of all, I’m gay and that knocks out a lot of the stuff. Yes, there are macho-macho gay men but I’m not one of them. I’m not comfortable being strictly the man of the house and such traditional stuff. So I’ll define manhood by conveniently adding the male sex and/or gender identification to the meaning of adulthood. That also allows me the freedom of incorporating the elements of boyhood to adult life – like being curious, fun and playful (and masturbating like crazy). And that male sex+gender identification makes a whole lot of difference because maleness, by definition, holds a lot of power for multiple ridiculous reasons – the most prominent one being cultural phallogocentrism (in other words, penis-worship). Yes, just because you have something that dangles between your legs you are granted so much power. Thus, I’ll happily add power redistribution and privilege checks to the responsibilities of manhood. These two basically go hand in hand; privilege check, then power redistribution.
Ok, we men have taken-for-granted power in society and that power gives us a lot of privilege in many different areas of life. We simply need to realize that that power is meaningless and give others agency. Women are perfectly capable of doing tasks men claim are strictly theirs. The only biological/physical advantage men have over women is probably not having to go through periods, pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. We need to tend to their reproductive needs. We need to treat sex, which is the initiation act in the process of reproduction – or making babies – very seriously. Birth control, contraceptives, maternity care, etc. are to be provided for with utmost care and attention. After all, babies are important and they ought not to be made capriciously (unprotected casual sex) or forcefully (rape). The reproductive process is a very fine example of realizing privilege and redistributing power. Because we men don’t have to go through the process of childbearing, we should be able to assist women in the process. Also, in cases like the glass ceiling in the work space, just forget about it. The age-old concept that women should stay at home never really worked anyway and we’ve seen how much they can contribute to the workforce. Just let them climb up the corporate ladder as long as they have the qualifications. Also, fucking give them equal payment, because simply put, they worked for it and they deserve it.
So far I’ve been distinguishing men only in contrast to women. When it comes to interactions between men or in homosexual relationships, there’s really no need to man up. It’s really a sad thing how masculinity has come to be associated with insensitivity, sterness, brutality, dominance and such forces. The concept of the “brotherhood of men” should take charge instead. Everyone’s an equal. We all have different skills and abilities and we compliment each other. It’s not a competition to be the alpha. We’re not animals, dammit!
Going back to men in relation to women and men in relation to other men, another interesting path to privilege check and power redistribution can be to explore femininity – or more simply, to put ourselves in women’s shoes, literally and figuratively. Remember how the “Walk A Mile In Your Sister’s Shoes” event changed my life? Try out activities that are mainly associated with women and see what they go through and how you like it for yourself. You might just find out how shaving is unnecessary and how shopping can be fun. You’d easily realize how some societal expectations of gender roles are unnecessary and ridiculous and you’d open up a world of opportunities for yourself, too.
Apologies to the non-binary sexs and genders here, because I’m failing to mention you on the spectrum here. One thing I can say: once men and women come to understand why and how gender restrictions are more inconvenient than necessary, they will naturally open up to accept identifications from outside the binary and their identifications may as well become fluid.
On the sidelines, concerning gender expectations and stereotypes and stuff: I once met a gay trans* man at a conference. This is what he told me (slightly paraphrased):
I was born a girl but I realized I was a boy, so I became a boy. But then I’m gay so I can’t be grabbing my crotch and spitting on the ground. How do I show people I’m a guy and I’m gay?
Tying it all back to the title … I still cannot tell for sure what manhood’s going to be like although I’ve decided how I want mine to be. It’d be nice to have a mentor or someone to look up to though. I never had a man I could look up to growing up. A lot of people lived up to the traditional “good man” status but I’d always been defiant, both consciously and unconsciously, of the expectations and standards. My father is a good man. He let go of the rich daddy’s little boy status to marry my crippled mother and helped her a lot in child rearing, but he still feels the need to show dominance in the family when it comes to decision making. Besides him, I don’t think I ever got to know a man up close. My mother’s sisters keep telling her I became gay because I lacked a proper man to look up to. I wish they would shut up. I have never dated a guy so I haven’t had the chance to get to know a male person through a relationship, and I don’t know if I’d get to date a boy or a man. It’d be nice to get to know a man up close and person though, a man who shares a similar view of manhood as I do and has achieved it.
CREDITS: This post was inspired by Colin Stoke’s TED talk “How Movies Teach Manhood” and my upcoming 20th birthday.
NOTE: My birthday’s on Jun 11th; send me cards, flowers and presents!