Dealing with my Masculinity

All my life, I’ve had a father who looks like the image that pops up when you Google “masculine man.” His jet black, wooly mane drops down the sides to his chin. His mustache appears to be a long continuation of his scruffy beard. His right eye, bloodshot, is not completely in sync with his left. His broad shoulders complement his wide body perfectly. Having a father with extremely manly features influenced my perception of masculinity, particularly since his appearance seemed to completely contradict my baby-face and slim figure.

I still remember the night when I saw him cry for the first and last time. The cold rural, mountainside weather in Ecuador, where we were visiting family, made it unbearable to walk around at night without a thick sweater and slippers. My bare feet shook as I walked down the chilly wooden stairs. As I reached the end of the staircase, I heard voices coming from the kitchen. I was startled by what I heard. “Me quemaron,” my dad cried out, trying to hold his voice together. They burned me.

My dad was born with a mild case of vitiligo, which would later spread all over his body once he was diagnosed with cancer. Since there is no cure for vitiligo, my grandparents, with their conservative religious beliefs, assumed that the light spots on his body must be the wrong-doing of the devil. They did everything in their power to remove those spots; they burned him with dry ice and fire, they even tried scraping them off. When he cried from pain, he was told that this was the only way get rid of the devils’ markings.

Before that night in Ecuador, I hadn’t known what my dad gone through as a child. Through the burnings, he had learned to keep to himself when suffering, and he became emotionally closed off. I always perceived my father as masculine, but in reality, it was his emotional disconnection that I picked up on. We never exchanged “I love you’s.” I knew other families said those things, but they never became explicit in mine. Since my father was the only male figure in my life, I felt like I had to be just like him.

Growing up, I didn’t share my emotions with people close to me, not even my parents. In my mind, I couldn’t afford to show emotions for fear of appearing less manly (or more feminine). When my closest friends invited me to birthday parties, they didn’t know that the reason I had to stay home was because I had to care for my sister while my parents worked late shifts. To others at school, I was just another face in the crowd. People knew of me, but not about me.

Seeing my father cry in Ecuador helped me realize that masculinity doesn’t mean that you have to close yourself off. Masculinity doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to cry. My ideas were shattered, and a sense of relief flourished. I was released from the shackles of my broken idea of masculinity.

Now, it’d be naïve of me to attribute my old notions of masculinity to one cause/person; it is way more complex than that. But my father’s presence in my childhood has had a big impact on my masculinity, and this experience in particular really make me think twice.

But in today’s society, men and their perception of masculinity are constantly being reinforced by the media and the unrealistic standards they portray. All of us at some point in our life have seen a TV ad or magazine cover where a man with rock hard abs and a chiseled jaw line are modeled. Men continue to constantly seem to put themselves down for not looking like an Abercrombie and Fitch model.

Now I say, to the media and any standards or notions that society seems to reinforce: fuck you. Fuck you for persistently telling men how we’re supposed to feel, act, look. Fuck you for caring more about selling your products to “improve” someone’s appearance rather than a person’s mental health. Fuck you for making me question my own masculinity. Fuck hyper masculinity.

Now to all male-identifying people, recognize the unfeasible standards society attempts to conform us to and love yourself. Realize that you’re already all the man you need to be.