We don’t want to admit it, but we care. Not just about how the world sees us, but how other men see us. From trying our damndest to impress the father that is there to trying to imagine and live up to the one who isn’t, we’re constantly looking for proof that we measure up. Even those who seem to fit the bill and check all the boxes are still plagued with the fear of being less than. No one wants to be the first to give in or say it’s all just too much. So, like Anttoni, we first suffer in silence until we become brave enough to be different.
I grew up in the Bronx. I’m the oldest of seven. I have five other brothers and one sister. So, that alone defined where I was as a man. I wasn’t able to be sensitive or emotional because that’s not what men did. Looking at my relationship with my dad, he was never there emotionally or spiritually. He never showed me what it was to be vulnerable. So the standard of physical toughness I embodied came from him.
For my dad, showing love was feminine; women were the only ones that were allowed to kiss you and hug you–to express love. Men didn’t do that. Men were alphas, tough. Crying and expressing how you feel–or even having an opinion about everything–was considered feminine. All of the men in my family–my uncles–took care of their families, had jobs, and put food on the table. From their example, I saw being a man as making sure everyone in your family was taken care of before you. So, I took that in and put myself to the back.
Because it was all I knew at the time, I portrayed the same to my brothers. There was no crying, sensitivity. Being vulnerable was for women. You had to wear your clothes a certain way, stand, and act like a man. You couldn’t be a bitch. Any kind of emotion made you less of a man. You simply did what you had to do, no complaints.
Growing up, everyone believed you had to be a “thug” to be considered a man. You wore slacks for church, not to work. I accepted and wanted to be that, too. But being gay on top of that was harder because being gay or even pretty compromised–it made you less than a man. And I didn’t like that. so, when I came out, I came out.
I was so gay, it was not even funny. For a while, I thought being gay meant being feminine. So, I wore my shirts tied to the front, I had tattoos on my lower back, and wore my hair long in layers. It took me a while to figure out what all that meant to me. Eventually, I stopped carrying myself that way because it got me into more fights than anything. All those years, I followed what I thought it meant to be gay or a man, but I realized I had to figure it out for me. Now, being a man is being who I am.
I don’t think the baggy jeans, du rag, and portraying yourself as a ‘thug’ makes you a man. Instead, I believe a man is mature, smart, a go-getter, open-minded. A man is comfortable expressing love.
I don’t like the terms “masculine” or “feminine.” I prefer to just be seen as Toni. I see myself as a man because I have control over my life and I make my own decisions. Most importantly, I believe I’m strong, I know what I want, and I’ll get it. I don’t think the baggy jeans, du rag, and portraying yourself as a “thug” makes you a man. Instead, I believe a man is mature, smart, a go-getter, open-minded. A man is comfortable expressing love.
As men, we are taught to act a certain way. But deep down inside, we have emotions and are vulnerable because we’re able to be happy, show love, and even cry. The emotions are there. They are just buried to make society and those around us happy.
I believe when you are fully capable of knowing and loving you, all of those emotions simply make you who you are. So, if you exclude the terms “masculine” and “feminine,” what’s left is you. And if you can’t be you, there’s no point in being. The truth is men have feminine traits and women have masculine traits. We are the same, no matter who or what you are.