First and foremost, I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving weekend. Secondly, this week’s blog is going to be going back in the direction of my first post. This is about my personal life experiences and what they mean to me.
If you asked 50 different people what being a “man” means, you’ll probably get 50 different answers. The idea of what it is to be a man has been contested, debated, scrutinized, analyzed, dissected, and contradicted for as long as I’ve been alive, and probably longer than that.
If you look up the definition of the word “man” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word is defined as “an adult male human being.” Okay. That’s a little vague, right? What defines an “adult?” Well, according to Merriam-Webster, an adult is defined as “fully grown and developed” and “mature and sensible.” So that means that a “man” is a fully grown, developed, mature, and sensible male human being. Are you still with me here? Now what I’m having trouble understanding is when, how, or why did being a man require particular interests, attitudes, sexuality, and tastes?
My entire life, I’ve lived in Gravesend, Brooklyn, New York. Not many people know where or what Gravesend is but it’s an area in south-central Brooklyn, near more popular Brooklyn neighborhoods like Coney Island and Bensonhurst. Gravesend, particularly where I live, is a predominately Italian neighborhood. I also happen to live right across the street from the Marlboro Projects, which is the home to mostly Latinos and African-Americans (man I hate that technically incorrect label). I myself am Latino (Dominican mother, Guatemalan father). Every one of those aspects of my up-bringing has their own idea of what being a “man” is. They all seem to have a common theme: macho. They all go about it differently but whether you ask an Italian, a Latino, or an African-American, most of them will describe a man as being forceful, abrasive, arrogant, insensitive, and over-sexed.
My whole life, I’ve constantly had my “manliness” and “manhood” questioned. Between friends, classmates, and even family members, I’ve had my identity challenged because of certain aspects of my personality.
My personality and interests are kind of all over the place. I’ve actually spent the majority of my life, hiding some of my interests out of fear of being ridiculed or being insulted. I have some interests and passions that are “man-approved,” like hockey and heavy music. I am a huge hockey fan and have made music (mostly heavy music) my life. No one is going to call me a “faggot” or a “pansy” for liking hockey or heavy metal music. They are two things that are characterized as being “manly” and have a predominately male participation and fanbase.
But there’s more to me than just hockey and metal. I love poetry. I always have. I’ve always been drawn to the emotion and rhythmic beauty that lies within each word of every line in a poem. I took every poetry class the College of Staten Island had to offer on my way to my English degree. I’ve studied and breathed through the works of historical “page poetry” icons such as William Shakespeare, William Butler Yeats, Edgar Allan Poe, and Allen Ginsberg, along with more contemporary “spoken-word poets” like Patricia Smith (best college professor of all time), Michael Cirelli, Jon Sands, and Jeanann Verlee. I have written poetry since I first learned how to. I’ve participated in three Poetry Month’s 30/30s (30 poems in 30 days for the month of April). I’ve also had had a few poems published in my college’s literary magazine, performed at a slam at my school, and have gone to a bunch of poetry events. What response have I gotten for my interest in poetry? “Faggot. Queer. Lady. Pussy.” That’s all I can think of off the top of my head.
While I’ve never hid from my love for poetry, there is one interest that only a few people know about: dance. Yes, that’s right. I like dance. I’m not talking about grinding, booty-shaking, dance-floor-fucking. I’m talking about the artistic expression through movement. I’m talking about disco, contemporary, hip-hop, tap, etc. When I was in elementary school, I danced, and was relatively good at it. I was proud of it and loved it. I was one of the main male dancers in my school play, third in the depth chart behind only two upperclassmen. I was in a routine that competed in a district competition. I was often the only male lead and was one of the teacher’s go-to performers.
Unfortunately, when I went to junior high school, I stopped. I was so afraid of being called gay or being made fun of or not being “cool” that I never danced choreography in public again. Growing up, my sister was a huge ‘NSYNC fan so I would pick up the choreography from watching them and teach my sister and do it with her. I enjoyed it. I really did. In 2005, Fox began airing So You Think You Can Dance, and I have watched every episode since. The only people who I knew I ever watched it were my two sisters and my current girlfriend. I had always been too afraid and ashamed to let anyone else know that I know what having “nice lines” means or that I can tell a choreographer’s work just by watching a routine.
Why have I always been ashamed? Why have I always been scared?
My entire 24 years on this Earth, I’ve been fed this idea of what being a man is, that contradicts the core of it’s very definition. I’ve been told that a man is violent, aggressive, domineering, sexualizes women, is insensitive, doesn’t care about women’s rights or feelings, watches sports, likes guns, hates poetry, belittles art, is physically strong, has short hair, a large penis, controls his significant other aka “wears the pants” (which is a sexist saying in itself), is messy, loud, closed-off, closed-minded, and brutish. That’s not what being a man really is.
A man is a fully grown, developed, mature, and sensible male human being. Males are normally thought to be fully grown and physically developed around the age of 21. So once that is done, what’s left to be a “man” is to be mature and sensible? That’s it? So once, I am emotionally mature, like once I have financially responsibilities that I take care of, listen to people with open ears and open minds, and taking things a little more seriously, I’ll be one step closer to being a man? Wait, and then, if I am sensible, like using logic and show good sense/judgment, I’m a man? So the fact that I’m 24-years-old, graduated from college, have a full-time job, pay all the bills for my mother (who I still live with because I’m smart enough to know that it wouldn’t be financially wise or responsible to move out right now) and I, working towards a more secure future, have decided to take care of my body in every aspect, learned to look at the world for what it is and what it will take to change it, am learning to engage in real two-way open conversations rather than one-sided arguments, have learned that there is nothing wrong with personal growth, and am learning to love myself, who enjoys hockey, heavy music, and sex as well as poetry, dance, cute animals, and romance makes me what?
Oh, yeah, a FUCKING MAN.