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.”
(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.
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
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.
These 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.
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.
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.