I struggled with masculinity for most of my life. Even before my dad’s death, I felt different than most guys my age. Allow me to provide a couple of examples:
Pink was my favorite color in elementary school.
Polly Pockets were among my favorite toys. Oh, and I should mention I was an avid Beanie Baby collector.
QVC Christmas in July was blocked off on my calendar every year.
At one point, my favorite musicians were Hanson, Shania Twain, and Britney Spears (not because of the way she looked, might I add).
I was part of a Dawson’s Creek fan club at my middle school.
I could keep going, but I think you get the point. What I didn’t mention here is that I also enjoyed a lot of the same things boys are expected to. I played Power Rangers, developed a deep love for sports, and spent many weekends at the lake fishing.
My career has found me in male-dominated settings like law firms and a horse racing track. Insecurity and anxiety danced in my head. I remember our weekly team meetings at the law firm. Every Thursday afternoon a group of the lead attorneys (all male) would mansplain for two non-stop hours. The other admins (all female) and I would just sit there and watch the meeting go off the rails. I dreaded this meeting and would often take Thursday afternoon off to try and avoid it. I could never find the courage to speak during these meetings because I felt so self-conscious about how these other males would view me.
I know my sexuality played a part in some of this insecurity. When I came to terms with being gay, I figured that sealed my fate of only have close female friendships. Sure, I had a handful of buddies to chill with but our friendships are mostly sports, beer, and politics. I never dreamed that one day I would be able to connect on a much deeper level with other men. Something I had longed for. Sorry, Matt, husbands don’t count in this scenario!
Then I went public with my story. I embraced vulnerability and threw out the masks I hid behind for so long. I realized that there are other men out there who feel like me. I’ve seen how damaging society’s view of masculinity can be and how many men feel trapped by stereotypes and stigmas. I’ve now made it my mission to confront those barriers so that men can be free to be themselves.
And I was right. I’ve lost nothing and gained the trust and support of a brotherhood. Through practice and experience, I am learning to show my heart and in turn hold space for other men to show theirs. I can’t think of anything more beautiful. This experience is enabling me to be myself around men. In the process, I am growing more comfortable with my masculinity.
As Justin Baldoni discusses in his book aptly named Man Enough, many of us men are looking for validation that we are (fill in the blank) enough. Society and stereotypes will always tell us we must do more or have more, whether that be muscles, toughness, or money. I spent the first part of my adulthood feeling like a failure at being a man until I finally embraced vulnerability and authenticity. I am MAN ENOUGH and no bully, influencer, or stereotype is going to tell me otherwise.
internal images courtesy of author