I remember the first time I ever felt the need to prove my manliness to someone. It was to my Dad, and Jerry, my barber. I was 13 years old and had just returned from my senior trip. I was recounting my weekend to the two most important men in my life, and this recap was extra special because while there, I met a girl… let’s call her Willow. We met on the first day of the senior trip, and I immediately bagged when I told her that she looked like Brittany Spears (I was young, don’t judge). We ended up spending the entire weekend together. Jerry, my dad, and the various assortment of negroes at the barbershop that day listened with pride and interest as I discussed the activities that Willow and I took part in.
They were amazed that such a “Young Gunna” like me could “Pull a whole ass lily-white girl,” but they were proud. Come to think of it,I don’t think my father has ever been more proud of me than when I told that my barbershop audience that I got to first base with my little girlfriend. The shared joy in that space didn’t last long. My story concluded with a break-up. Willow wanted me to meet her in the woods after dark. I, a black boy from East New York, Brooklyn, was not at all interested in meeting with a white girl in the woods in the middle of the night. Everything I knew about white women and the woods told me that I would be murdered. Willow didn’t take kindly to this and suggested we part ways, I agreed. My father was crushed. I remember feeling a sense of confusion and surprise when suddenly his smile disappeared and was replaced with a scowl. Jerry tried to articulate my father’s disappointment.
“Playa, your daddy is upset, because that white girl was gonna give you some, and you turned it down. Men don’t turn down pussy, what part of the game is that?”
In case anyone has forgotten, I was 13. My barbershop audience erupted in laughing agreement with Jerry, while my father could only shake his head and ask me “why.” It was at this moment that I felt a real urge to save face and prove to him that I was a man. I came up with a lie I had heard on a TV show. saying I didn’t have any condoms and was worried about getting her pregnant (again, I was 13). My dad laughed out loud and said, “Condom, what for? She would have never found you!” More laughter from the playboy audience. At this point, I laughed too. I remember making a mental note that manhood meant something, and there were rules I had to follow. From that moment on, I have gone through serious bouts where I questioned whether I was “manly enough” I would look in the mirror and wonder, “is this what masculinity feels like, am I doing this shit right?” I still feel this way.
Am I alone in at times feeling insecure about this? If so, that’s good, but if we’re being honest, I can’t possibly be the only man to have ever gone through this. Because let’s face it, masculinity, and whatever it actually means is very important in our society, and like it or not, there are some very defined ideas of what masculinity is, and should look like. Masculinity looks like physical strength, it looks like aggression, it looks like boundless confidence, and not even an inkling of insecurity. An insecure nigga is a nigga that ain’t masculine, because masculine men are always confident, even when they have absolutely no reason to be.
A great example of a man who exudes endless and unwarranted confidence is a former supervisor of mine from a couple of jobs ago. We’ll call him Rhett. Rhett went to, but never finished high school because he couldn’t pass the state-required math exams, but somehow was able to secure the role of accountant for a high profile organization. Why do you ask? Well, because he said he could do the job, and believed it with all of his heart. Sure, he thought PEMDAS (please excuse my dear aunt sally) was an STD, and yeah, he became known as the guy who could not actually do his assigned job, but no one ever fired him, and he was always trying to tell people how to do their jobs, even though he couldn’t do his. I guess in hindsight, that confidence was probably fueled by an aggressive lack of self-awareness, so hopefully, he’s seen a therapist.
It is very obvious to me now that Rhett was a manchild, but I used to drive myself crazy wondering why I wasn’t like him, this isn’t just a thing of the past. This morning, my roommate caught me listening to the new Lana Del Rey Album while scrambling eggs, and deeply contemplating life. Without him saying a word, I immediately blamed my girlfriend for “messing up my Tidal Music Preferences.” I did that because I was worried he would wonder why a grown ass black man was singing his heart out to “Norman Fucking Rockwell” at 9 in the morning. According to society’s definition of masculinity, I shouldn’t be listening to Lana Del Rey, she makes music for white women who do Molly and always sound like they’re asking a question when they speak. The funny thing is, he too had been jamming to her album since it came out, and was happy to see another brother enjoying it. So instead of saving face, I missed out on an opportunity to fangirl over my second favorite singing white woman.
That embarrassing moment brings me to the point I probably could have made 200 words ago. If tomorrow I decided to show up to work in 6-inch heels, a pencil skirt, eye shadow, and glossy ass lips, that’s masculine. If I’m lucky, the type of person who just read that last line was taken aback, and probably whispered “no. Homo.” I’m glad you’re reading this, and here are three things you should know; A. Sexuality does not dictate gender or masculinity. B. No Homo is problematic (We can dig deeper on this later) and if an actual “Gay” thing happened (What is a “gay thing?), saying “No Homo” would not cancel it out. Finally, and most importantly, every single idea you have about masculinity is completely made up. There is no firm blueprint for masculinity. And this is something to be excited about. It’s an opportunity to discover different layers of your masculine identity, bond with others, or, just be. Define your own brand of masculinity
So many of us have spent countless hours of our lives trying to live up to an arbitrary standard. Worrying about whether we are meeting these nearly impossible, constraining requirements for manliness. Let’s put an end to that. Masculinity is simple, if you are a man, or identify as a male, whatever you do is masculine. Period.