Tough Questions: Am I A Real Man

This Dispatch is part of the Tough Questions series. You can sign-up for Free Daily Dispatches to receive them all.

My grandfather played semi-professional, my father was a varsity kicker before sustaining an injury that ended his ability to compete. My cousins played basketball, baseball, football.

I was in Boy Scouts and had a chemistry set.

I played sports. Basketball, baseball, roller hockey, football. I was playing tennis competitively by middle school and was a varsity high jumper in high school. Two years ago, on the spur of the moment, I entered a 5-mile race and finished 37:59.

What is different, then, between me and my cousins? Why am I followed by this nagging feeling that I’m just not … enough?

I ask myself over and over again Am I real a man?

Does this… this… gayness, queerness, this thing make me less of a man?

I was catching up with an old friend and he shared with me,

I’m fine being gay. It’s who I am and I love it. And we’re gay. And it’s great. That doesn’t bother me at all. But when I think about other people looking at me, watching me—I just can’t imagine that they find this, me, attractive. I imagine myself to be… unattractive… from an outside perspective.

Where does that come from? Why is it that (a) gay men are portrayed to be “less masculine” and then (b) why is that a bad thing? Why doesn’t Matthew Mitcham, the gold medalist diver, or Bayard Rustin, the civil rights organizer, come to mind when we think of gay men. And, for that matter, why can’t the over-the-top effeminate gay man Jack from Will & Grace be just as desirable and attractive? Why can’t that be manly too?

It can of course.

I don’t want to deny the real sense of gender that our culture instills in us. To imagine that I can simply ignore or avoid it disingenuous. But I can overcome it. I can recognize it and call it out for what it is: a construct.

And then I can create my own self, a self that lifts weights and sings along to show tunes. A self with scented candles that knows how to build a fire, shoot a rifle, and fix the plumbing. A self that likes all sorts of genders. I am a real man not because I am any one way, but because I am my own man.

Question yourself

As part of this Tough Questions series, would you consider responding to this prompt? Post it to your blog or social network. Write it in a journal or an email. I’ll be enriched by your response, and I bet someone else will be too.

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