So I was at the gym last week. I was in the locker room. And two guys who I see there a lot were having a conversation about women. This usually doesn’t end too well in terms of tolerance.
So there they were, mostly naked. And the thesis of their extremely convincing argument (oh shit, there’s the sarcasm again) was this: many things that women do are socially acceptable for platonic female friends but would be considered homoerotic if male friends chose to do it. Or, to put it in their words, “Women dance up on each other at the club, that shit is lesbian.” And so on. Other examples: going to the bathroom together; underwear shopping; something to do with menstruation (I had tuned them out by this point). It was like hacky 80s standup resurrected from the grave.
And this wasn’t the first time the gayness had come up in that locker room (which, I ought to point out, is in Manhattan; I can bet you that at least one openly gay person had to listen to their hateful bullshit. Anyway). A few weeks earlier, they were talking to one of the gym’s staff, a jovial guy from the West Indies. And this time their conversation was about the fact that, see, so many television shows were too open about their tolerance for homosexual or homosexual-like behavior. Or, as they said, “There’s too much gay shit on TV.” Their main argument was Stewie Griffin. And so on.
Sadly, I didn’t get in their face (the guys were huge, and it’s never all that wise to antagonize someone who performs a service you need; excuses, excuses). So here I am passive-aggressively writing about it in a place where they’ll never see it. I’m such a hero.
It occurred to me after I listened to their nonsense that these three guys (who were all black… sigh) would be considered the epitome of manliness. Muscular, tall, above drinking age, etc. And in a place where they often complimented each others’ physiques (which I find funny when juxtaposed with their other bullshit), they felt the need to disparage several other groups at once. It’s the manly thing to do, see.
Well, there have been many books about what it means to be a man. Even Steve Harvey wrote one, for some reason.
I prefer Mulan’s definition, though. (Oh, and that’s Donny Osmond singing. Which cracks me up.)
Anyway, as a man, I’m curious about what that means. I write it at a time when gender roles are shifting, and one can opt out of the gender (or the sex, which isn’t the same thing), or opt in. Is it merely hairstyle, pitch of voice? Is it the biology of not being able to bear children, etc? It’s a lot of things to be a man.
But I’m clear about a few things.
To be a man, you do NOT have to disrespect women.
To be a man, you do NOT have to disrespect LGBT individuals.
To be a man, you do NOT have to resort to violence before diplomacy.
(And of course you could make a corresponding list for being a woman.)
To me, it seems that, far too often, we make a distinction between being a man and being a woman, as if the latter is poisonous. Personally, I have no particular desire to distance myself from femininity. You all know I’m secure enough to put on a skirt or sing the female part in a duet at karaoke.
What I know don’t want to be is a boy. A child. A creature with little life-knowledge. I’m always learning more about myself and the world, but I remember what it’s like to be a kid, and I remember what it’s like to care so much about how you’re perceived that you’ll put down this or that group of people to be more like the guys around you. It makes sense at 12, even though it’s unfortunate. (And girls do this too.)
But when you hit your twenties, and every woman is still a “bitch,” and not liking football still makes someone a “faggot,” and you bristle at the thought of having a lady as a boss, you’re not any more of a man than someone who likes (insert effeminate stereotype, but I’ll go with:) pink. If you feel the need to assert your massive manliness all over the damn place, you’re really just a little boy. And it’s time that a lot of people learned how to cut that shit out and turn themselves into men.
As I said above, I don’t know exactly what it means to be a man. But I know what it means to be a boy. And there are far too many of those running around out there mistreating people because they feel that’s what they need to do.
Boys: grow the fuck up. Men: show them how it’s done. And everyone: If you’re close to (or dating) a boy, and not a man, tell them what's up. There’s no need to validate their bullshit.
Peace and love,