There are two factors young men are taught to determine what a “real man” is: pain and strength.
When it comes to pain, it is about how much you can take. With strength, it is being the toughest with an indomitable will and never showing vulnerability or allowing others to break you.
As Bevin explains, there is more to being a man. But if surviving pain is the epitome of masculinity, then openly gay men are the standard, not the exception.
My grandfather was Puerto Rican and we would do a lot of outdoor activities. I actually liked it, but I wouldn’t do certain things like remove the hook from the fish’s mouth because it was nasty and I was a little afraid to do so since the fish was still alive. He seemed okay with that even though he would insinuate that I should toughen up and do it anyways . I enjoyed the bonding more than anything. It wasn’t like that with my dad; he was a lot tougher.
Whereas my grandfather just wanted to have a good time, my dad had realized I was interested in playing with people’s hair and with dolls, and that bothered him. So, when I would go to his house on the weekends, he would put this hyper-masculinity to play in an effort to change me or toughen me up.
It was as if [our father] wanted to inflict pain, thinking it would make us tougher–more of a man.
To do that, he would have me and my brothers fight each other or clean restrooms with toothbrushes. There was absolutely no tenderness. For example, when our baby teeth were almost to the point of wiggling, he wouldn’t wait until they got loose. He’d pull them out by hand right then and there. It was like he wanted to inflict pain, thinking it would make us tougher–more of a man.
There were times it was even more extreme. For example, one night he forced me to eat a lot–to the point that I would vomit. He would then make me continue eating with the vomit on my plate. When I kept vomiting, he asked if I wanted to either start all over with a new plate or get a whipping. When I chose the whipping, he got so mad he broke a two-inch-thick wooden paddle on my head. I still have the dent from where he hit me.
If we really believe that pain and hurt should be the basis for turning a boy into a man, then I feel gay boys are the toughest.
Looking back, I understand what my father was trying to do and I realize it was based on what he knew. But his approach was wrong. I feel like that’s the case with a lot of men. They feel that as a father and a man, you must be strong; you can’t cry or show vulnerability. It’s important to teach that men can show emotion, too. That it’s a strength, not a weakness.
Strength is important, but the definition of manhood is different for each person. Where some might consider playing basketball and other sports as masculine, others might consider dedication of doing a person’s hair for hours on end to be their own display of masculine strength. Considering the struggle that entails depending on the client’s hair.
After I got older, I realized that masculinity, like sexuality, is accepting and learning yourself.
And if we really believe that pain and hurt should be the basis for turning a boy into a man, then I feel gay boys are the toughest. Unlike their straight peers, openly gay men have to get up every day, knowing that when they go outside they are going to be ridiculed. They are constantly subjected to emotional and mental pain, yet they keep on going. That’s strength.
Over the years, my own definition of masculinity has changed quite a bit because when you know better, you do better. It wasn’t about how I carried myself or the mannerisms, it was my mental awareness and consciousness.
After I got older, I realized that masculinity, like sexuality, is accepting and learning yourself. As a man, you have the power to determine who you are and what you want to be. The same goes for determining what you believe is masculine and/or feminine. And once you decide on your own definition, you can use that to question what society believes.