No matter how we feel about it, masculinity is ever-present. It presents itself in ways we recognize: brute strength, discipline, firmness, size, and grit. We catch its air, the embodiment of a long, confident stride with a steady gaze, broad shoulders, inviting others for the privilege to be conquered.
But Eric sees it differently.
His first example of it was in the uncle who raised is older brother and sister. A disciplinarian who worked at a juvenile detention center, he was a firm, steady, protector. But that’s not what made him masculine.
As Eric explains, “He wasn’t rugged or feminine. Anytime I think of him, I just think ‘love.’ I saw him loving people, and that’s what I saw masculinity as.” And that changed the way Eric would see himself and the other men in his life forever.
Someone I can remember as a kid who I would always think, “Wow, he’s a dad,” was my uncle who raised my younger brother and older sister. For a lot of reasons, people were intimidated by him. He was a disciplinarian and worked at a juvenile detention center. But he also had a positive energy around him.
When he was around, you knew shit wasn’t goin’ down. I always loved being around him. He was what I would associate with masculinity. He wasn’t some rugged, overbearing figure. I watched him take care of the people he loved and be gentle. Anytime I think of him, I just think “love.” I saw him loving people so purely, and that’s what I saw masculinity as.
When I shifted into a family structure and was living with my aunt and other uncle, I saw pieces of that in my uncle. They had two kids of their own already and our families were close, so we did everything with each other. He would always give love to me.
I remember at a really young age going up to my parents and asking them if I could call them mom and dad because I had never been able to say it. I didn’t have that. It was strange, but that meant the world to me to have a semblance of a family structure and someone I could go to and say, “Hey, dad. I have this question about…”
[My uncle] wasn’t some rugged, overbearing figure. I watched him take care of the people he loved and be gentle. Anytime I think of him, I just think “love”…and that’s what I saw masculinity as.
I’m torn when I have to talk about my dad. I saw him do a lot of things I would consider being a man, like allowing me to call him dad, and taking on another person’s responsibility as a father to take care of me. I commend that. That in and of itself is a man who takes care of the people around him. I saw him do that. But it’s hard because now knowing who my dad really was, and some of the things he did in his lifetime, disrupts how I feel about him as a man. I had a very particular idea of what fatherhood was and he didn’t live up to that.
I didn’t get a lot of support in college and I felt abandoned. I thought my dad would be my biggest supporter since I was his only child that even went to college. But even before college I wasn’t protected when it came down to the facts of what happened to me as a child.
As a foster child I ended up feeling like a small piece of income and an obligation instead of a true part of the family. There were a lot of situations that were lied about or flat out ignored, leaving me to bare it on my own. I didn’t see him stand up for me then. I didn’t see him stand up for my mother, especially finding out about how he treated her. He lived a double life, had multiple kids, and a lot of other stuff. These things diminished the goodness that I saw in what he was doing. It all felt like a lie at the end of the day.
Much like beauty, I think a man and masculinity is subjective. There are a lot of different ways to do that. I’ve seen single mothers be the “man of the household.” I’ve seen men hold the family together. I’ve seen men destroy it. It’s what you make it.
At this point, I think being a man or even masculine is taking ownership in everything that you are. The way you love, show emotion, protect, fail, and make mistakes. It’s not perfect. Sometimes being a man should be being feminine. There’s nothing wrong with a man crying or showing love. There’s nothing wrong with a man just being true to his own energy. I think that’s been powerful to realize and tap into my awareness of myself, accepting all the pieces of me as important, valid.
I’m torn when I have to talk about my dad. I saw him do a lot of things I would consider being a man, like taking on another person’s responsibility as a father to take care of me…But [other] things diminished the goodness that I saw in what he was doing.
Whether it’s beauty, masculinity, or whatever, it is a part of me. I think men need to stop fearing themselves in that regard. What sets masculinity and femininity in society apart is emotion, and men are taught to keep it all bottled in. I used to think that way. But now I realize it’s okay to break down, fall, fail, and be a mess, and still be a man. I’m okay with having a boyfriend. I’m okay with having a girlfriend. It’s all okay. It’s just about loving yourself.
Men have all of these notions about masculinity because they are trying to protect themselves from everything they experience in the world. But that closes you off, and if we drop those limitations of masculinity as a man as only a provider, strong in a certain way, we’ll realize masculinity is so many different colors.
Figuring out what it means to be a man myself has been the hardest struggle for me. Hyper masculinity, toxic masculinity, always having to be strong and this unmovable force. I know none of that has ever been me. I’ve always been slim and tall, I’ve always had long hair, I’ve always had an aesthetic that didn’t align with what most consider masculine. I am sensitive, you’ll never hear or see me objectifying or disrespecting a woman. I think with my heart. I have compassion. I lead with love.
I embrace all the things that I see society and culture tell men, especially black men, to run away from. I’ve tried not to fall into the common cliches. I fight against that kind of stuff all the time. I think a lot of that is destructive for growth. A lot of that is too much to try to live up to every day of your life. At some point you have to divorce yourself from the construct of what masculinity is.
When you look back in history, it’s been men and their pitfalls and egos that have destroyed the world. It wasn’t women in power making those decisions. Men did. That’s just destructive to me. And as an artist, I examine it and see it, but I don’t want to be a part of that. I shape my life based on how I give love and the impact I have on others. I think that’s what “real” men should be able to do, like lead people at a whisper, feel empathy for any and everyone, cry and laugh when they need to. It’s not just this box you have to fit into.
And when you take it to black masculinity, that’s a whole different fence to climb. A lot of the black men you see now have been raised by women. I feel like at some point there’s going to be a masculine and feminine box, but that’s not important. I view masculinity and femininity much like I view race, gender, and sexuality, the labels are unnecessary and that’s what’s destroying society.
I’m the guy that will go up and hug everyone in the room, even if it’s my first time meeting you. People wouldn’t assume that’s a masculine thing to do, but it is because that’s love.
It’s best just to stay open to the world. I think when we start getting into all this shit about what a man is and what he’s supposed to be, you start cutting yourself off from being able to figure it out yourself. I’m creating and figuring out who I am in every step that I take.
Every step that I take is determined by me. If everyone thought on that level, we wouldn’t have a Donald Trump as president or these issues of patriarchy, or even masculinity versus femininity and these huge divisions in the gay community–things that separate us from one another.
If you live your life and try to discover you while walking your own path, there’s an awareness that happens that will change your life. I think we get so caught up in trying to aspire to be the Jay-Z’s of the world or whoever we look up to, that we forget that we are people on our own, and we have to figure out who the hell we are for ourselves. So many families are lost for the simple fact that we don’t take the time to figure ourselves out. We rush through everything. We glorify the things we aren’t supposed to in these constructs of humanity.
I’m much comfortable with myself. I love myself. And I’m not afraid to show that and say that to myself. I’m the guy that will go up and hug everyone in the room, even if it’s my first time meeting you. People wouldn’t assume that’s a masculine thing to do, but it is because that’s love. For me, that’s how I give my energy and love to the world. It’s me owning and loving who I am. I think we should all figure out what that looks like to us and own it for ourselves.
At this point, I think being a man or even masculine is taking ownership in everything that you are. The way you love, show emotion, protect. It’s not perfect.