We like to think that masculinity is something that is fixed and concrete. But it isn’t.
And even when some of us have been privileged enough to have men in our lives to serve as an example, life will show us that they are simply one version and form that masculinity can take.
For Terrence, the example had always been his father. But it wasn’t until he was brave enough to venture out a bit more and discover who he was that he realized an important lesson: masculinity is more than the clothes you wear.
Growing up, the standard of what it meant to be a man was my father. He had a wife and a family. He was somebody who did what he had to do to take care of the family. If it meant that he wasn’t able to be present because he had to work two jobs, then that’s just what it was.
A man was someone who meant what he said, and said what he meant. His voice and words have power, so when he spoke, you listened. I learned that from my father as well. I’m nearly 40 years old, and if my dad gets too stern or loud with me, sometimes I still jump.
Men can embody masculinity on their own terms, they can find a way to stay true to themselves, without losing who they are or sacrificing themselves based on what others think.
That’s something that’s never changed about him. Yet he also still manages to be a jokester, the life of the party, and someone who likes to have fun and is well respected by everyone. But if a man is all those things, the opposite is often considered a gay man because I once believed he is expected to be more feminine.
The first guy I met who was gay was when I was in college. He was very flamboyant. He was black, tall, skinny and really into fashion. Later on in life, when I went to a gay club in Baltimore, I remember expecting that all of the men who were gay would fit that mold and stereotype. That’s when I learned that the most common terminology for gay men (at that time) who were considered more masculine was “trade.”
Those were the men who you often saw wearing Timberland boots, a ribbed tank, and a du rag, versus the feminine guys carrying a purse and wearing heels. I used to think it was that simple–either someone was masculine or they were feminine–when I first got in the gay scene.
At the end of the day, I believe being masculine or a man is more than a look or the clothes you’re wearing….It’s about about how you see yourself in the world. It evolves and changes, just like we do.
But I quickly realized there was more to it. In the club in Baltimore, I was shocked by what I saw: men of all types, sizes, and mannerisms, some who didn’t even appear to have a specific role or look. That’s when I learned that all gay men don’t vogue or carry purses in the club. Some do, but there are some who don’t.
That’s also what made me believe masculinity was more internal than external. It showed me that you can be whatever you wanted to be. Just as the rainbow represents the gay culture, it represents the different ways men (and LGBTQ people) can embody masculinity, manhood, and/or any aspect of their identity. And because of the fact that men can embody masculinity on their own terms, they can find a way to stay true to themselves, without losing who they are or sacrificing themselves based on what others think.
At the end of the day, I believe being masculine or a man is more than a look or the clothes you’re wearing, it’s a mentality. It’s someone who can be strong in times of crisis and distress; someone who can navigate the tough times and support and inspire those around him. It’s about about how you see yourself in the world. It evolves and changes, just like we do.