On Masculinity

I have never truly been comfortable with masculinity, with my own masculinity. For most of my adults life I have struggled with the notion of masculinity and what it is to be a “man” and what it is to act like a “man.”

Leonardo_man_2

(Interestingly Wikipedia has a define of masculinity here).

As a young child I was far from the typical ideal “man-child,” leagues from the usual boy. I was constantly reminded about this given that I had 2 older stepbrothers who were “boys” in every sense of the word (noun, verb and adjective). Where they were athletic and fearless, I was (am) bookish and timid. My head was buried in books while they caused havoc every time they came and stayed at our house. I was also fat and asthmatic. Which meant than even when I did grow the courage to get up and participate in any of their makeshift ball games I would invariably get weezy and not really contribute much (The only time I was ever selected to join a school sports team was when I was in year 6, and it was the boys’ softball team. The only reason why I was selected was because the number of boys that tried out for the team were the exact number of boys needed to field the team).  Compared to them I was a pansy and a nerd. While they excelled on every sports field imaginable, I was academic and creative. I wanted to do drama and dance. This unavoidably caused quite a lot of tension between my stepfather and I.

The struggle with manhood and man-ness only continued and became a full-blown war while at high school as it became apparent that I was a massive homosexual.

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 I recall sometime in year 10 or 11 (I would have been 15 or 16) that I became acutely conscious of my body, the space that I occupied while on this earth.  By this point I was about 85% accepting of my homosexuality. Having been quite unfit and fat up to that point, one day looking at myself in the bathroom mirror I told myself – life is already going to be difficult being a homo, don’t make it harder for yourself by being a fat gay.

 So I decide then and there that I would have the body of a “typical” gay man. That sort of commenced the inextricable link between my notions of self worth masculinity and my body. The battle that had been waged up until this point with the gendered expectations from my parents, and the taunts from my peers during high school, I now waged with my body.

 It’s a battle that I have fought in for the most part of the past decade. At times I have been ‘hands up’ about the whole thing and pretty much said ‘fuck it’ and not worried about how my body fits into the accepted norms of masculinity. Those have been moments when I have found (misplaced perhaps) courage so as to

not be dictated to on how I should act or be. At other times I have waged war like a true warrior, standing my ground against my body, beating into line, con

manlylogo

forming with the ideals of man and masculinity, going to the gym, wearing the right clothing, eating the right things etc. However, despite my apt engagement in the war, at times,  deep somewhere in my very being, something told me that I could never really win the fight, that I could never really conform, that I could never really embody the ideal “man”.

What is most frustrating about all of this is the fact that I studied gender. From an academic standpoint, I understand gender to be a social construct. Masculinity therefore is what I make it, it means what I want it to mean. Furthermore, as a homosexual I have completely transgressed society’s traditional notions of what it is to be man. In this transgression I have also transcended the very ideal of what it is to be man. So technically this transgression/transcendence has liberated me (and every other gay) to be whatever I want and what I deem to be masculine.

 Rationally I get this.

Rationally I totally understand.

Yet in practice I completely fail in its application.

masculinityThese traditional norms and expectations of masculinity are alluring, all permeating. As a man that desires other men, these expectations take on another level of meaning. Since to be desired by other men I must be desirable to those other men. Those other men desire masculinity. So I aspire to be embody those norms, as foreign they may be.  As gay men we place these traditional ideas of what it is to be masculine on a pedestal, despite these ideas being the very same ideas that make us feel inadequate and not men.

Vasa Nestorovic Photographed by Rodolofo Martinez

Vasa Nestorovic
Photographed by Rodolofo Martinez

Living in Sydney with such a large gay culture there is this overwhelming pressure to be a certain type of gay. At least I feel it to be so. So much of it is connected with our outward appearance. We’re constantly bombarded by these images of the male body that are completely unattainable unless you won out in the genetic lottery. I’m sure that heterosexual men also feel this pressure but I feel that they at the very least have the safety net of being heterosexual and hence “men” no matter what they do and what they look like. As heterosexual men they walk the path that has been walked by million of men before them and have the security of the cultural script that is provided them.

Sometimes I feel as if the expectations on me to be a certain type of  man are so great that I cannot possibly carry the weight upon my shoulders, and all I want to do is run and hide, return to the primordial cave from which my ancestors crept out of so many eons ago.

Sometimes the world feel so big, and I so small.

So why am I writing about this anxiety (for lack of a better label) on a blog that I have dedicated to the Gods that I keep? Partially because this is meant to be a work that reveals all parts of me, and this anxiety is clearly something that is deeply ingrained in me. As a gay pagan male I am trying to come to terms with this aspect of my being. While my battle rages between what I am (in an existential sense) and these traditional norms, I also I feel as if this anxiety has began to dull, taking on a different shape. Perhaps it is to do with my maturing, moving beyond my recent “Saturn Return.” Whatever it may be, I  feel it is time to explore the “masculine” in a different way, and by this I mean exploring the divine masculine.

I don’t think I would be speaking a heresy if I said that within the neo-pagan et.al movement, there has been a lot of attention on the divine feminine. I think this is great! For too long our society and institutions have attempted to keep women down, rather than raising them to a position worthy of their inherent power. I want to resist saying ‘equal-to’ men because that implies that the measuring stick is the male norm, which I think it is not.

At the same time, however the divine masculine has not received as much attention. Obviously this is a direct result of having a warped idea of God (an angry and vengeful god) for the past 2 millennia. The monolithic, monotheistic religions have had a monopoly of what and who God is and how God is experienced. Obviously I speak only through the experiences I have had growing up in a western Judaeo-Christian society, and dare not speak of the experiences of God within other cultures and traditions. As pagans, as much as we try to distance ourselves from our Christian surroundings, we are seeped in it, and personally my failure to make a connection with the divine masculine is partially because of my hang ups about this Christian God. But also perhaps precisely because of my anxiety surroundings masculinity and being a man, I have been unable to make this connection.

Masculine Divine by Christy "Goldenwolf" Grandjean. To see more of her beautiful artwork go to http://www.goldenwolfen.com

Masculine Divine by Christy “Goldenwolf” Grandjean. To see more of her beautiful artwork go to http://www.goldenwolfen.com

I yearn for balance and acceptance of both sides of my nature, the masculine and feminine, whatever these may be and mean.

And so the war wages on, taking on a different form.

What that form is, I am not exactly sure, but I am armed ready, and standing my ground.

Blessings.

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8 Responses to On Masculinity

  1. Mavellian says:

    The moment you started liking your own kind. Is the moment confusion crept in. However, manliness is an expression of virtue. It has nothing to do with athleticism, sexual conquest, etc. It has to do with morality which in turn makes you strong minded, courageous, confident etc. Morals also have nothing to do with religion but it is one of its vehicles. The fact you are or became homosexual(whatever you define it) threw you off from a moral standpoint and into a path of confusion. Usually men who participate in those acts are very confused about their identity as a male. Hence;transexuals, bisexuals, and flamboyant effeminate males. If we are to be honest without religion, science favored positions, or any other assent. Can we as rational beings conclude, that our male orgams was intended to be inserted into a male rectum, natural? With that logic, no. Then it becomes solely based on pleasure and not all pleasure is good, therefore not commended by nature. If you seek to know who you are and grow you have to start being hoonest. Especially,to remove error. If not, continue in your confusion.

    • isidorus84 says:

      Hi there!
      Thanks for your comment.
      I definitely agree with you that manliness is an expression of virtue and that it has nothing to do with athleticism or sexual conquest, but rather with morality, integrity, fairness being true to your word, and so on. Beyond masculinity however, these virtues are simply expression of being a decent human being, and are not essential to being a man but can be displayed by both men and women. I think my frustration stems from the fact that for the most part, the examples par excellence of masculinity are not of those virtues that we agree on, but rather are primarily based on the physical, athletic components on masculinity. These superficial aspects of masculinity are but only the tip of the iceberg of what a lived masculinity is. My frustration and anxiety stemmed from the fact that my lived masculinity, which is as valid as those superficial masculinities is not validated by the mass media and society’s at large accepted traditional notions of masculinity. In reality however, as I have plainly stated above, my lived experience of masculinity is as valid as the limited expression of masculinity that we’re bombarded with on a daily basis.

      Where I disagree with you and see a flaw in your argument is you one to one causal connection between ‘my confusion’ and my homosexuality. My homosexuality in itself does not bring on feelings of confusion, but rather it is the outward expression of that homosexuality and its reception by society as a whole that brings on that confusion and anxiety. There is no confusion about it. As a homosexual I am acutely aware that I transgress the tradition ideals of masculinity (as I mentioned in my post), but in doing so I have also freed myself from the shackles of the restrictive notions of masculinity. In that way I am able to transcend the traditional notions of masculinity, tackling them on my own terms, experimenting with masculinity’s boundaries (if there be any).

      Your comment seems to suggest that you are of the belief that homosexual, bisexual, and transgendered men cannot express the virtues which you extol, by reason of their sexual preference. This seems to be a reductionist and simplistic argument. History for one has shown that men that ‘participate in those acts’ are very capable of exuding those virtues that you restrict only to heterosexual men. Take Alexander the Great for example. One of the, if not the best military commander the Western world has ever seen. He was also bisexual, his love for Hephaistion being renowned in the ancient world. Furthermore heterosexual/homosexual binary is a fairly new one (if my memory serves me correctly the term ‘homosexual was coined in 1892, thus only being just over 120 years old), and laden with western cultural baggage. It would be a disservice to the men that came before the binary classification came into being, if we were to judge by our ideas of what it is to be ‘masculine.’

      Secondly you make a direct one to one direction with homosexuality and the act of anal penetration, which again is a reductionist and quite simplistic. You fail to account for the many other ways that sexuality is expressed, both sexual and non sexual. You have taken view of homosexuality from a standpoint of heterosexuality, where sexual penetration of a woman by man is paramount. This is not the case in homosexuality (nor should it be arguably in heterosexuality either). Moreover by your logic it would seem that every heterosexual act that is not engaged in for the purpose of creating off spring (could potentially) be wrong and therefore also not be commended by nature. Science and logic like to categorise and bifurcate – which is great! However I don’t think logic nor science can be successfully applied to the desire and pleasure of humankind.

      • Mavellian says:

        I appreciate your response. It is hard to discuss about human nature with all its variables. My study of human nature, I believe will be infinite. What I can say is you`re right as far as homosexuality, I speak from a heterosexual viewpoint. Like women, I don`t think I will ever understand gays.

      • isidorus84 says:

        I think there is a lesson for both of us in your comment…”it is hard to discuss human nature with all its variables.” Perhaps you and I have been too caught up on the idea of ‘masculinity’ in the singular, when really we should be talking about “masculinities” in the plural, and its presence in human nature with all its variables. Perhaps the real masculinity, is that which we as men (gay, straight, or anything along the spectrum) live on a daily basis. That which reveals itself in our interactions we other humans, and the planet itself.

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