In this installment of his “Man Up Mondays” series, Carlos Andrés Gómez confronts the notion that even the most evolved and progressive guys freak out at the idea of sharing a bed with a male friend.
Few straight women I know freak out about having to share a bed with a female friend. When it comes to the straight guys though, forget about it – sharing a bed with another man is simply out of the question. Even for my friends who are “evolved,” progressive, liberal and open-minded, it’s a line most will simply refuse to cross. Or they’ll laugh it off and say something like, “It’s no big deal, dude. You take the bed. This floor is actually much better for my back.” Really!? That grimy, beer-stained, cockroach-infested cement flooring is preferable to this plush, high thread-count adorned, king-size bed? You realize we’re just physically sharing a resting space, right? One that could probably hold eight people comfortably if we needed it to.
But who am I to ridicule any guys for feeling funny about sharing a bed with another man—that was me for most of my life. I wanted to think of myself as one of those groundbreaking, “post-gender” dudes who’d be able to share a bed with another guy and not have it be a big deal. I guess it’s just never come up, I’d think to myself. Then one day it did.
It was after my junior year in college and I was visiting my best friend while he was abroad. He was staying in a modest home with a family of five. I was twenty-one and broke, had barely been able to scrape together the money for the plane ticket, so an alternative lodging situation was completely out of the question. The house had a persistent rodent problem, so staying on the floor was definitely ruled out. All of the other sleeping surfaces were taken, so it left only one option: sharing a bed with my best friend.
What’s the big deal? I thought to myself, We’ve been like brothers since middle school…plus I’m saving money. It’s the only option. It’s not like we’re sleeping together. And that’s immediately where guys’ minds go: sex. A bed equals a place where sex, romance, intimacy happens. As young men we learn that a bed is a place where we enact and affirm the most primal parts of our masculine identity. And none of those actions are allowed to be, under any circumstances, associated with another man. That’s what I was taught. It is off limits, out of the question. It would be crossing a sacred line, defying one of society’s most unbreakable and heterosexist notions.
The first two nights, I barely slept. It was maddening and absurd. I was sharing a bed with someone I had been best friends with for nearly a decade and I was so overcome by self-consciousness I couldn’t find a way to wind down. For the first time in my life, I became hyperaware of how much space I was taking up. The ironic opposite of how society had entitled me and enables men in general (almost encourages us) to take up much more space than we need. As I like to call it: “man space.” Next time you take public transportation, take a look at how the women are sitting versus the guys. You’ll see a man with his legs spread wide, his arms out, taking up two or three seats, and then you’ll see a woman across from him narrowly occupying the edge of hers, with a child on each knee. It’s a horrifying symptom of patriarchy.
But here I was in this bed, crumpled up as narrowly as possible, so far to my side of the mattress that I was nearly falling off. I was so in my head, each time I would toss and turn, being certain to not to brush my arm against his shoulder or move my foot or legs too close to his side. What was I so afraid of? What did I fear the consequence might be if we did touch?
As the nights wore on though, I started to let go of some of that societal programming. I thought about the source of all of this anguish produced by simply sharing a bed with another man. I thought of the sometimes subtle but mostly heavy-handed ways in which I had been socialized to be repulsed by anything even suggestive of male intimacy or affection, how any of the aforementioned behaviors had been ruthlessly policed, shamed, and prohibited. I recognized the profoundly oppressive impact that socialization has on all men. And it’s not solely carried out amongst men but by women as well, with strangers and friends, relatives and colleagues – a conspiracy in which, to one degree or another, all of us are complicit. It was then that I realized the ways in which I had been a part of this conspiracy myself. That the mere discomfort in my chest at sharing this bed was irrefutable evidence of my own homophobia and heterosexism. I could hear the nagging voice in my head: Oh, you think you’re all self-aware, Carlos? Is that right? You think you’re all socially and politically ‘next-level’? Well, you’re as messed up as the people who disgust you.
By the end of the two weeks, much of the awkwardness had worn off. It actually seemed absurd by the last few nights. Why was that so painfully awkward at first? Especially for people who travel like me, often on a shoestring or at the whim of what the universe provides, you might have to sleep in strange places, eat weird foods, and be flexible by necessity. Sharing a mattress? And you think that’s bad?
I was only able to move through the awkwardness of being in a bed with another man after I could admit to myself that I was neither immune to nor above a visceral reaction I considered ridiculous or offensive. For example, have you ever had a subconscious, physical response to something that completely contradicts your conscious, social-political beliefs? Let’s say you see two men kissing and you catch yourself wince or make a face. Or your little brother reaches to hold your hand and you instinctively pull away…like I did. I catch myself doing things like that all the time, which is promptly followed by the dread, shame, and horror of realizing I have a long way to grow. Even if no one notices it, which might often be the case, it can be a humbling moment to realize that you’re not as far along on your journey as a human being as you might have hoped.
But that’s what this discussion is really about – acknowledging, confronting, musing about, and moving through those mountains of foolish, ingrained discomfort in our chests. In acting we say, “You only learn by doing.” And that’s one of my guiding principles, not just in art but also in life. The only way we as men can grow and transcend these silly reactions we have to something as foolish as sharing a bed with our best friend, is by doing. We need the physical reminder of what our body does when we defy what we’ve been conditioned to do.
And, sure, it is awkward at first, just like those first few nights with my best friend but then, maybe, by the end of those two weeks it seems absurd (as it should). Am I suggesting you start sharing a bed with your best friend? No, not necessarily, that’s not the point of this piece. Consider it a metaphor for the ways we’ve been brainwashed as men and the work that needs to be done to be freed from it – like making it a point to kiss your son in public or hold his hand or telling your brother “I love you” or crying when you feel moved or admitting when you’re wrong or walking away when some random dude wants to fight you. That’s what this is really about. Embracing the fact that we have so much more to offer this world and making it a point to not allow this constrained “man box” to contain who we are.