Man-hating gender-traitor Tom Matlack tries to pinpoint the source of his betrayal.
“You first became a mangina when you began wearing narrow-fit, open-collar paisley shirts, silver bracelets, and that dagger-and-snake necklace,” my college roommate and best friend Brian Pass recently told me.
“You’re borderline mancunt,” Joel Stein, from Time magazine, added.
There’s been plenty of criticism of my recent piece “Cleavage or Soul?” for presenting a supposedly negative deconstruction of masculinity—to wit: “As far as I’m concerned, there should be a bow season for trash like you.”
Nothing a lethal projectile can’t solve, I always say.
The consensus among my critics can be summed up in this comment: “Tom. Men like me have an enemy all right. And the enemy is man-hating, white-knighting, mangina apologists like you.”
What does that even mean? Did I get lost in some poor woman’s vagina? Have I become some chromosome-scrambled human Labradoodle? Being repeatedly called a word I didn’t even know existed, I set out to investigate.
As far as I can tell, the term mangina comes from an illusion wherein a man “tucks his stuff” (i.e., hides his genitalia between his legs), thereby giving his pubic region a feminine appearance. The Urban Dictionary traces the popularity of the term to one oft-parodied scene from The Silence of the Lambs.
But how does this relate to my manhood? Did I lose it somewhere between my legs? If I had been called a queer, pussy, feminist, or even a metrosexual I might have understood. But mangina? In desperation, I reached out to some friends.
Tom Miller is the general manager of the women’s relationship website YourTango. He must know about manginas, I figured. But he responded to my inquiry with a clip from a Will Ferrell movie (and the suggestion that I start using the “C word” more regularly, to get my street cred back):
Konstantin Selivanov is a champion boxer and ultimate fighter. Back in Russia he’d open the door to his house with a hand grenade in one hand, ready to pull the pin, because of repeated KGB death threats. He came to this country with $300 and spent his first months here sleeping on a concrete basement floor with his young wife. A decade later, we train twice a week in his gym. “I don’t know, man,” he told me between sets. “You lift a lot of weight and throw a heavy punch, but man, it’s all between you and your ’gina.”
I tracked down a urologist who spends the summers in my neighborhood, figuring he must have some doctorly insight. “Maybe it has to do with how early you showed up at my house to make sure you didn’t miss a minute of Sex and the City?” he mused. Fair enough.
A rapper buddy of mine called me out for attacking one of his favorite artists for stripping down in Esquire. “Why would I want to know the reality of Katy Perry? She’s interesting because I can project on her what I want her to be. I think you became a mangina when you decided to seek out and live in reality. Many people use fantasy to get through their day. In most long term relationships/marriages you must think and do things that you certainly don’t want to do, or admit you do, if you ever have any designs on getting laid.”
“You being a mangina explains why your hair smells like breast milk,” photographer Ron Cowie told me. Wow, really?
I had taken a few lumps, but I was no closer to a real answer.
“Could it have been the scooter and the man purse? Or the designer jeans with the embroidered logo you wore into Sing Sing?” James Houghton, my venture capital partner of the last 11 years, asked me. Nah, I don’t think the murse has much to do with it.
“I don’t think I know a straight guy who is more proud of his junk (which is what I think straight guys call it these days) than you,” one business school friend told me. “But you do own that God-awful full-length white leather Gucci jacket with shoulder pads and ribbing that makes you look either Martian or like the late Michael Jackson.”
“In my eyes you were forever a mangina when you didn’t take a job on Wall Street and then didn’t come to my bachelor party at the strip club,” another business school pal complained.
“When I saw you wearing a pink girls’ sports watch, I thought either this guy is very secure or he’s a chick,” Todd Dagres (a founding investor in Twitter) told me, sounding confident that he had figured out this mangina thing. “But since then I’ve discovered that you just don’t give a shit what people think.” My heart sank in disappointment.
“I think the proper usage is to say one has a mangina, not that one is a mangina. As in, ‘Don’t get your mangina in a bunch,’” a hard-core gamer offered in passing. Thanks for the grammar lesson, but that’s not helpful.
Don Foote is a rock musician, my general contractor, and my go-to manhood guru. “Dude. You and your supposed critics are a lot closer than you let on. Thicken up your skin,” he said, trying to slap some sense into my mangina.
“The blamers and haters (male and female) can’t figure out why they are not happy, so they get stupid, and blame something outside themselves. Suck it up and admit that you are your own problem, and work on being happy—that’s what a man does. That’s what a woman does.”
Despite getting philosophical on me again, Don was onto something. But I wasn’t satisfied yet.
Paul Kix, a senior editor at Boston Magazine, finally came up with something concrete for me to consider. “You’re a business success in a male-dominated field, which would normally exclude you from an allegiance to manginas,” he said. “That said, your voice cracks when you’re angry—like a high-pitched crack, as if femininity itself were boring through to the surface.”
Finally, I was getting warmer. I felt sure an answer was within reach, so I emailed my buddy Grant Gund (his dad owned the Cavaliers when they drafted LeBron James). He’s been in enough professional locker rooms to sniff out a mangina a mile away. The email that came back had no text—just a picture of me dressed up as Kiss lead singer Paul Stanley last Halloween.
I had no idea where Grant found the image, but I stared at my eye makeup and exposed nipples for a while. It was the long look in the mirror I had been waiting for, and it came with a revelation:
I am a mangina, I whispered to myself. I stood up from my desk and said it louder: I AM A MANGINA!
My 5-year-old came running into my study, Wii remote in hand, with a questioning look on his face. “Daddy?”
“Son, it’s all right. Daddy is very, very happy,” I reassured him, not wanting my newfound identity to frighten him.
Just to be sure, I checked with my friend Bennett, who I met my first week of college. He wore a sundress to orientation (or a kilt, I can’t remember) and we have been friends ever since. The guy has more guts than I ever will.
“If those guys come for you with a bow, just put it on your hair! I hope it’s a cute color!” he began from somewhere on the left coast, where he teaches acting. “From where I stand, you smell like chest hair and Old Spice. You are manlier than I can ever hope to achieve. I am a fag. I am a proud, wrists-arcing-through-the-air, pinky-raising, loafer-wearing, scarf-tying sissy. You, sir, are a father. You also scrog women. Right there you out-butch me.”
This self-proclaimed fag was trying to reassure me, but as I laughed, I confirmed what I had suspected all along: Being a mangina is loving guys like Bennett and all my other friends, because they show me that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to manhood. It means not entering into a misguided zero-sum battle of the sexes, or imagining that women are the enemy. If that is what my critics are talking about, they are definitely right. I am a mangina, and damn proud of it.
Just as I was embracing my inner mangina, I got an email from Peter Hunsinger, the publisher of GQ, with a confessional: “I am a mangina because I always clear my golf dates with my wife’s schedule before I book them.”
Then I recalled what a fellow writer, Micah Toub, recently wrote in the Globe and Mail:
“If that makes me a ‘mangina,’ then I’ll put that on a T-shirt and wear it,” he concluded.
Better make that three, my friend.
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Tom Matlack, together with James Houghton and Larry Bean, published an anthology of stories about defining moments in men’s lives — The Good Men Project: Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood. It was how the The Good Men Project first began. Want the book? It’s free with a Premium Membership.