others’ opinions do not make the man


today I read an article in the New York Times that discussed the emotional challenges gay teens face that can lead to suicide. The author made the point, though, that any teenager who is different from societal norms is subject to distress and bullying.

One of the more salient points of the article was this:

These later studies find that straight youths are just as much at risk of being bullied if they exhibit atypical behavior…Bullies react to nonconformity and they pick up on people’s weaknesses. “Bullying is less about  sexuality than about gender non-conformity.”

ahhh… so it’s being said outloud. bullying occurs when insecure men/boys pick on other men/boys because they’re doing (or not doing) things that “real” men are supposed to do (or not do). and it’s called “bullying” when someone imposes societal/cultural standards on another human being—straight or gay—and then degrades or humiliates them if they do not meet those standards.

what a ridiculous mindset. and yet we tolerate it generation after generation. (and oh: this happens among grown-ups too! trust me.)

it is time for this outdated mindset to be shelved. but where to start?

well first, I’ll just go out and address my gender head-on: for one thing, I believe some men want to preserve certain stereotypes so they can get women to do everything. so they can preserve their little caveman mentality and avoid having to grow beyond their stunted evolution.

believe it or not, I try to mind my own business when observing people’s lives; but nothing makes me more infuriated to see a man sit on his lazy ass while the wife does everything: cleans, fixes dinner, cares for the children, you know: woman’s work. oh, some men will participate but only after being goaded by her which he’ll eventually turn around on her as being a nag. (and this is not limited to straight men and their wives; my ex-husband had a “this man rules the roost” mentality and expected the other partner to do all the “typical” female chores. there is nothing feminine about liking to cook (unless you also choose to wear pearls and heels), nurture the family, and so on. it’s funny, though: I was also the one who knew how to use tools and fix stuff, could change the oil in the lawnmower, clear out the brush that grew in the back, and change the flats on the car. but I digress…)

before I continue, it must be said that I am privileged to know many masculine heterosexuals who do not identify with their Neanderthal counterparts and instead are active participants in their marriages and families simply because they have evolved beyond sitcom masculinity™.

do these things make them less of a man? do they immediately qualify them as pansies, weak, or puppets of their wives?

absolutely not!

these traits make him a man!

this weekend we watched a movie that had flown under my radar:  “The Other Guys” (probably because i figured it was another Will Farrell role where he plays the same character again; here, though, Farrell plays it a lot differently and he cracked me up probably more than ever.)

the movie was largely a huge discourse on the failure of the government to rein in, police, or even hear out accusations against corporate  greed which have resulted in some of the biggest financial losses Americans have ever experienced.

during the movie, I noticed an interesting subext. the walberg character, terry, had this rocky relationship with a woman who’d broken up with him because all he ever thought about was being a cop; the ironic twist was that she had never been made aware of how developed and cultured he was. (I missed out on why—perhaps because he truly had only been about being a cop.) as it turned out, terry had a large number of “atypical” talents for a man: he possessed a deep knowledge of art, he’d studied ballet and could do a wicked pirouette, and he could play the harp. each time his ex-girlfriend would discover one of these traits, his reply would be something to the effect that  “he’d learned it [ballet and harp] so he could make fun of the sissy up the block.” (he said he’d learned about art so he could tell all the art snobs how ridiculous they were. I rather like that idea.)

so imagine that: a man, who was actually well-rounded, talented at things besides hunting, fishing, and sitting on his ass watching football and the only reason he did any of it was so that he could ridicule someone.

without getting into a discourse on the motivations of a fictional character whose characteristics were derived to generate a comedic response (or is this art imitating life???), I think this character angle is very interesting. I mean, why is it that men are afraid to explore their whole Selves? Are they so afraid of ridicule by other men that they will bottle up their desire and never explore it, never experience it? so what if a man likes to write music or sing or dance or cook or work in the garden! he can still make love to a woman just as vigorously (and if he prefers to make love to a man—WHO CARES?! but again, I digress…), procreate children, and change a freakin flat!

in the end, I can only speak for myself. I remember as a child desperately wanting to play football to try and impress my older brother who’d always called me a sissy. I remember after suffering through trying to lift weights in the workout room where the coaches would laugh at me. I remember brutalizing football practices where us 6th graders—particularly me, the sissy—were the targets for the 8th grade bullies, I went over to my brother’s house, dressed in my football uniform. you know what he did?

he laughed.

and I’ve never forgotten the smirk on his face.

needless to say, I didn’t stick it in football out much longer. instead, I became team manager, kept stats on the sidelines (standing with the cheerleaders and having a blast), and wrote our articles for the county newspaper. and I had a blast.

I was also interested in lots of other things, particularly making good grades, reading, science, grammar, drama and reading prose, and yeah cheerleading—which I was too afraid to pursue until college. I also thought I would make a great high school student council officer and after losing in 8th and 9th grade and then running for and losing the president spot in 10th grade and 11th grade, I finally won my senior year.

I was ridiculed my entire life yet after all that, it never occurred to me that I couldn’t accomplish that—as completely atypical as I was (am).

I wish, though, that someone besides my loving adopted mother would have embraced and celebrated these atypical facets of myself while I was growing up—regardless of my perceived sexuality. it’s taken me most of my life to become ok with who I am, despite being told here and there how much value I possess, how much talent I have, and becoming a somewhat decent parent. (have to believe it for myself but that’s another post for another day.)

I guess that’s one of the reasons I’ve always tried to support my childrens’ endeavors and interests–except video games; those things are worthless (haha). [is it ironic, though, that they all excel in athletics, the one thing I never had the encouragement to develop?] I hope they will have the courage to explore all the many facets of themselves, regardless of what “society” has to say.

it makes me sad to hear of a kid who likes sports but also loves to draw and design and create being made fun of because that’s what he likes to do. or for a boy to want to dance because when he does so, his spirit soars. no human being should ever be ridiculed or thought less of a man or a woman because of their natural inclinations.

not ever.

seems pretty obvious. but that’s just me.

________________________________

  • relevant subtext: after I’d written the intro about the NYT article and the paragraphs about the movie, I was explaining to the 17-year old what some of the things I write about on my blog. I started telling him about this NYT article, showed it to him, and explained how “they say that teenagers who exhibit behaviors different than other kids—whether they’re gay or not—are just as likely to get bullied.” his first comment was, “yeah, you know—that Terry character in “The Other Guys”…that’s like him. he learned all that stuff just so he could make fun of people.”
    wow. this kid gets it.
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6 thoughts on “others’ opinions do not make the man

  1. Great piece man, succinct and to the point. I can only
    concur on what you have written in this piece. I haven’t seen the
    aforementioned article so cannot comment on it, however, from what
    you’ve written regarding it, I fear this is yet another crass
    attempt and armchair psychology from that particular reporter;
    whose own particular agenda is to sensationalize, rebuke the decent
    research material that is ‘out there’ and make a mockery of
    society, per se. New York Times or not, it sounds very much like he
    has not done his research and if he had, he would have found
    something quite different. Thanks for the article. 🙂

    • thanks man for the comment and compliment. just writing what I think.

      regarding the NYT article, I do think he was spot on. in the culture I’m accustomed to, even as an adult, any man or woman who “deviates” from the norm is looked at funny. society has invented the word “metrosexual” perhaps to help better rounded heteros save face.

      I can imagine that it’s much worse for teens, regardless of whether they identify as gay. if they’re different at all, they pay a price.

      the author also points out that more research is needed to see if gay-identifying teens are more prone to suicide than any other teen.

      I hope that is done and that in the meantime, these teens can cross paths with someone who will reassure them that “different” is JUST FINE!

  2. Nicely written, my friend. Let’s also not forget that the
    bullying and gender biases don’t just begin and end with peers. As
    an only child, I grew up in a household where I often told that
    boys act a certain way and like certain things by my father.
    Suffered ridicule and shame after backing down from a fight with a
    friend (because he was a friend and, in my mind, friends didn’t
    fight each other). Still, I was “wrong” to not kick his ass for
    hitting him back after being hit. Hurting physically from the punch
    thrown, I now had to suffer the humiliation of ridicule at home.
    Great read today.

    • thanks Joe for making an excellent point and sharing your personal pain.

      Family should be a place where we are safe, nurtured, loved regardless.

      I have some friends whose son is gender confused. yet they SATURATE that boy with LOVE and support for his gifts and talents, despite how confusing and sometimes painful it’s been for all of them.

      I admire them more than they will ever know.

  3. Just had to reply to your comment T. You say that: “in the
    culture I’m accustomed to, even as an adult, any man or woman who
    “deviates” from the norm is looked at funny.” I believe this
    resonates through all cultures and I certainly agree with you on
    that particular point in question. The term ‘Metrosexual’ was, let
    me say, not a societal invention, but coined by a gay man as a joke
    on heterosexual society. The media jumped in with both feet and
    gave it a new found ‘status’ that was adopted by said society
    because they couldn’t see through the irony, making it all the more
    comical. I certainly agree with the point that more research is
    needed to address the issues of bullying and especially when it
    leads to suicide. There already is some very good research in the
    public domain yet as a society we tend to overlook much of this and
    get tangled in a world of rhetoric. I also apologize for the way I
    misinterpreted the initial post, less haste more speed. M.

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