Being different can be hard, especially when you’re from a small town where the standard of masculinity is completely different from how you see yourself.
Add to that the penalty of being called gay for anything considered outside of the norm, and you quickly find yourself becoming an adept chameleon, constantly changing to your surroundings.
But as we learn from Sheepy, that process can actually help you figure who you are, and what makes you special.
The standard of masculinity where I grew up was a white guy who wore steel-toed Georgia boots. He liked to go out during the weekends and hang deers from trees, so he could gut them really quickly.
He was someone who liked driving high trucks and was good at drinking a lot of beers. He was kind of fat, but strong–a strongfat. He liked to chew tobacco and fish. And anything that didn’t fit that was considered feminine, automatically.
I never fit that standard, so I grew up feeling like I wasn’t very manly. I also went through a lot of different phases trying to change up my look so I wouldn’t attract the wrong attention or so people wouldn’t make fun of me.
For example, I grew up wearing regular t-shirts with the cargo pants with ten million pockets. In those pockets, I had the things that were useful to me: my Yu-Gi-Oh cards, pencils, and other stuff. I wore regular Nikes and New Balance Sketchers with white socks that were really high.
The standard of masculinity where I grew up was a white guy who wore steel-toed Georgia boots….He liked driving high trucks…was kind of fat, but strong and liked to chew tobacco and fish. Anything that didn’t fit that was considered feminine, automatically.
One day on the bus (the only time I ever rode the bus) in 5th grade, a middle-schooler saw how high my socks were because the pants I wore would hike up accidentally when I sat down. He told me that if I went to his school, and I was wearing those pants and high socks, that people would call me gay. When I asked why, he said they just would. He couldn’t even give me an explanation. It’s just the way it was.
Down there, being called gay was the ultimate insult, even if the person saying it didn’t mean it from a sexual perspective. So I went through what felt like a million transitions in what I wore and how I carried myself because I didn’t want to be called that word. For example, I had long hair growing up.
But a lot of people felt that long hair on boys was gay. To avoid being called gay, I remember every boy with long hair would say the same thing, “No, it isn’t. Jesus had long hair.” And if Jesus wasn’t good enough, they would always insert the name of someone who was considered strong and manly, but who also had long hair.
By the time I made it to high school, I had long locs. However, I didn’t have to worry about being called gay because locs, although very long, were seen differently. So, on one hand, I wasn’t considered a lame-o. But on the other hand, if you have locs, you were considered a hippie and didn’t take care of yourself because you had knotted hair. You just couldn’t win.
Down there, being called gay was the ultimate insult, even if the person saying it didn’t mean it from a sexual perspective. So I went through what felt like a million transitions in what I wore and how I carried myself because I didn’t want to be called that word.
Overall, my own definition of masculinity has changed a little bit. Because in my culture it is considered empowering to be a manly man or a womanly woman. There are specific roles for each, so to take part in certain tasks were points of pride. But because of the community I grew up around, I felt like those roles were wrong.
However, as I got older and discovered my own inner strength, I realized that they were right when it came to me. But more than anything, I’ve grown to believe even more that it’s okay to talk about your feelings, even though you’re a guy.
Growing up, men are made to think being emotional or talking about your feelings means you’re a loser or girly–it’s seen more as a weakness instead of a strength. But guys have emotions, too. I don’t think you can be the ultimate definition of a man unless you are willing to feel.
I’m not saying we should only talk about our feelings and problems all the time–everything in moderation–but there needs to be times where it’s okay to share how we feel and aren’t afraid to be seen as weak. No one is perfect. Acknowledging your imperfection, in my opinion, is an important part of being a man.