JoyBell C. explains, “Manhood is defined and decided by the ability to nurture and to protect, by the capability to provide and to sustain.” Such a definition of masculinity seems a bit odd, doesn’t it?
According to society, “nurturing” and “sustaining” don’t fit. Those attributes are so often relegated to women. But according to Timothy, C. JoyBell C. is spot on. Not only did Timothy “learn from the strong women in [his] life and use that to teach [him] what it means to be a man,” at times he outright rejected male role models, them never fully measuring up to his standards of masculinity because they didn’t embody the very qualities discussed above.
And that’s a good thing. Because in his mother and his best friend, Terasia, he got more than enough of an example. So much in fact, he has learned to redefine masculinity and channel his true strength through femininity.
Masculinity comes up a lot for me because I try to be myself as someone who fights for what they want. I think the word “fight” has baggage when it comes to what’s masculine and feminine. My definition of fighting doesn’t really fit in the boxes society would want to put my social and interpersonal fights into. Being a fighter, I learned how to be strong and brave from women in my life.
To be honest, a lot of the men, who could be role models, I’ve rejected anything I’ve seen them model. Their fighting is based on a lot of entitlement and the need for control, whereas the women in my life fight for what they think is right. They fight to take care of the people they care about. I’ve learned from the strong women in my life and used that to teach me what it means to be a man.
With the people I organize protests and marches with, I have a reputation as the one who gets riled up. The one who says things like, “I hope I see a Trump supporter, let one of them come up to me.” People see that as a masculine trait, but that has come from my mom and Terasia, my best friend. Both who are women.
My definition of fighting doesn’t really fit in the boxes society would want to put my social and interpersonal fights into. Being a fighter, I learned how to be strong and brave from women in my life.
A lot of what we do is motivated by wanting to be desired, especially in the LGBTQ+ community. For a lot of us, that’s the core definition of the community, desire’s how you got put into the community. That’s what sets you apart from other people and makes you feel different.
Masculinity plays a role there as well. It’s interesting because I think I have this rough exterior and fighter persona. So, I’m automatically read as masculine. At the gay bar, I feel like there is a preference or privileging for masculine presentation. I feel like making “masc” jokes are a recent phenomenon. People “shit” on feminine men or femme-identified people. So being masculine presenting, it’s tempting to play into that.
Masculinity means getting the reward to be desired but it sacrifices your authenticity. I don’t always want to be the masculine guy in a backward snapback. And that’s me, part of the time. But I hate feeling like I have to drum it up. And I choose to drum it up because we are programmed to be desired. I think it is valuable for people in the LGBTQ+ community to be bullied and asked to turn the other cheek to say you can be angry and call the people out who call you out. But I don’t want to undermine the importance behind being feminine or nurturing. My strength comes from femininity.
I grew up where men were loud, talking over people, and barking. I would compare them to DMX barking at everyone. They sat with their legs wide open, taking up as much room as possible. They drank beer, smoked cigarettes, and didn’t cross their legs. They knew how to work on cars. When I got to school, I encountered another kind of man I thought was different: The man in khakis, the man who talks down to your mom. The man who always wants to tell your mom what she should be doing with her kids. Taking up just as much space as the man with his legs wide open, but in a different way.
Growing up, I hated being around men. They took up so much fuckin’ space. They put you on the hook for what you said, which was positive. I couldn’t say, “just because” or “I don’t know.” If I did, the men would say, “say it” or “spit it out.” But the problem is that when you really say it, if they didn’t like, they wouldn’t help. For example, if you say, “It’s because I’m not feeling well,” they’ll say, “Well, get over it.” Talking to them was more like an inquisition. They wanted to know if you were going to give them the right answer versus the real answer.
I grew up where men were loud, talking over people, and barking….They sat with their legs wide open, taking up as much room as possible. They drank beer, smoked cigarettes, and didn’t cross their legs.
Never feeling comfortable around men, early on, I gave up on fitting in. That was hugely beneficial now because I think it all ties in with the rest of my identity. I never fit in with my mom’s white family or my dad’s Laotian family. I didn’t fit in with the boys. I obviously never fit in with the girls. Because of that, I got to do what I wanted to do when I wanted to. I got to make the art I wanted and draw the fictional worlds in my head. They didn’t have to be peer reviewed because there was no peer group.
I talked about this with the first boy who broke my heart. He’s from a different immigrant community. His parents were well respected and he grew up with their traditions. The older women were always checking in on him and always telling their sons to act like him. But he didn’t feel the same safety to come out about his sexuality because he’s put on such a pedestal.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where you have to choose being materially supported and not being able to live your own truth, or being able to live your truth without a safety net or even someone to watch your back or be your second, if something goes the wrong way. But I never feel disempowered to say it. I never feel like I’m going to lose a connection for saying what I want to say. Luckily, after spending so much time alone, most connections I’ve made have been from me showing my connected self.
At the end of the day, I’ve been able to better understand who I am, and the complexity that comes with me. If I had to describe myself to others I’d say I’m a trouble maker. I have a huge heart but a huge mind. Strategy is really important to me. Using my talents, I want to bring love to the world, but I think the best way for me to do that is to shake things up. Sometimes that requires me to be the elephant in the room, not just bringing up the elephant in the room.
My initial views of masculinity were very negative. And my views on other people’s’ masculinity is still pretty negative: it’s rooted in entitlement and control, not thinking about how you impact other people. But I’ve crafted my own masculinity by taking the pieces I want and saying, “to hell with the rest of it.”
I like being aggressive and unapologetic, but as a choice, not as a state of being. The minute you bring in the world “apology” it’s as if something wrong has happened because it’s not always a source of conflict but doesn’t need to be. But masculinity is permanently rooted in having overcome a conflict. I have taken the masculine traits I’ve seen the strong women use and I’ve re-appropriated them.
If I had to describe myself to others, I’d say I’m a trouble maker. I have a huge heart but a huge mind…Sometimes that requires me to be the elephant in the room, not just bringing up the elephant in the room.
For example, I was in an activist group with my friend Terasia and she was more experienced in activism than me at this point. This one white male kept speaking over her. That was the first time I heard someone say, “Listen, I’m going to fight you.” It was so out of place in college. But her claiming that space and threatening to fight someone, it was subversive, not toxic.
I saw that and I was like, “Terasia is my male role model. I want my masculinity to be and do that. To shake up the status quo.” That white male had been an activist and had a lot of power and his opinion held a lot of weight, even though it had no results. She got a lot of flack and a lot of criticism, but she didn’t give a fuck. I saw that and told myself, “I don’t want to give a fuck either.”
My relationship with my mother has helped changed my perspective of masculinity as well. I’ve encountered more positive males than the ones I’ve grown up with, but I don’t really want to emulate them. They are by the book: a little stoic, sticks in the mud who dot all their I’s and cross all of their T’s.
When I went to college, it was the first time I encountered many people who came from two parent homes. When they would describe their fathers, I didn’t want that. I really wanted two of my mothers. She doesn’t give a fuck. She’ll be goofy when she wants. She’s not lady like: she smokes, drinks, and puts her feet up on the table.
For example, my mom had a really abusive and sadistic boyfriend. He used to beat her really savagely in really twisted ways. Initially, mom cowered before him. But she was a fighter. After she got him evicted from our house, he still harassed her.
One night when she was walking home from work, because he’d slashed her tires, she ran into him in his car and he threatened to run her over. And she turned around and said, “Run me the fuck over, bitch.” I never forgot that.
My mom taught me what it meant to be here, and to stay strong, even if you knew it was a losing battle. She always had her pride. And yes it is dangerous, but you have to play with it and use it to understand it.