I don’t have to “be a man” anymore. There, said it.
No gun shots yet?
I understand—male and female. He made them. And with no plans to execute a penectomy in the near future, I have and always will consider myself to belong to the band of brothers.
Why would I want to be anything but?
I grew up the only boy in a household of ladies—menstrual synchrony, boyfriend drama and defunct traces of weave in our sink. I’ve seen it all. But, if there was one thing that I can vouch for, about my saviour, is that He will never give me any more than I can bear. Lord knows, my arms barely have the strength to lift a 10kg dumbbell; nine months carrying a baby? You’re kidding me.
So, agreed I’m a man then, always will be. I just don’t want to “be a man.” Confused? I am.
And so it was a mild summer’s day, the sun beaming at half mast, ice cream floats sauntering through the council estates of South London. It was the perfect day for a fitted white tee and caramel-toned chinos, a gentle breeze to satiate my open-toed sandals pedaling the blue Boris cycles as we meandered through squawking tourists along the South Bank, illegally rode on the pavement to overtake the traffic jam at Earl’s Court and passed by the crowded markets at Shepherds Bush. After an hour or so of cycling–she claimed twenty five minutes–I retired, drenched and out of breath, and suggested that it was probably an ideal time for lunch. She swayed her head, gracefully glancing at my one pack, and smiled, “on you mate!”
“I help you, sir?” the waitress asked, her English limited, her strong accent flooding through. I assumed she was Polish. Coarse blonde hair flowed down past her otherwise exposed bony shoulders revealing her pale complexion. “And you?” she added, turning to my friend.
“Oh yes.” My friend, face veiled behind the rather large menu, didn’t waste time getting her order in. “I’ll have the steak sandwich with the salad. No onions please. And a strawberry frappe.” Her cheeks bloomed as she placed the card down, patting it flat with a sense of pride, before adding, “don’t know about you, but I’m hungry.”
I, somewhat overthrown as much by her smile as the advancing kingdom of fries that were surging from the menu in front of me–straight fries, wedged fries, curly ones, curly fries with cheese, sweet potato fries–struggled to pick a type. And as the seconds passed, I could sense an odorous air of tension. The waitress’ eyes had crossed some and she began, unconsciously, tapping the top of her pad with her pencil.
“Think I’ll have the same,” I murmured. “Skinny fries on the side though.”
The waitress proceeded to repeat my order, emotionless. “Onion? No onion?”
“And strawberry frappe?”
“Yes. Strawberry frappe”
My friend laughed as she interjected, “bit fruity, aren’t ya?”
Gaffe number two.
For the first time, a crack appeared on the waitress’ face; she smiled. Though I was not entirely sure why, certain that she couldn’t possibly have understood what fruity meant. I pursed my lip, chuckled inwardly, but didn’t say much on the topic after that. And as we were served ten minutes later, as she would later tease me about the unnecessary sound effects that I made as I chomped, as I chivalrously picked up our tab with no questions asked and even as I pecked her goodnight that evening on her mother’s front porch, I remained silent on the matter, though throughout the day, two distinct words had been brewing within–one began with F, the later concluding with an off.
And then there was the time I ordered a Malibu and Coke. Weeks into my graduate role, the partners had offered to treat us newbies to drinks. Not one to pass down a free beverage, I obliged.
“Malibu and Coke?” one jested, with a quizzical undertone.
“Err… Yeah,” I replied, somewhat perturbed.
Little did I know that I was breaking age-old masculine etiquette, committing an acrimonious social faux pas of the highest order. Others joined in, one repartee after another, as they would down pints of golden liquid, for which I knew no name. I later became known as the Malibu boy, the butt of office jokes for a season. Unsurprisingly, for Secret Santa that year, I received my very own Hawaiian reef. Never again would I order such a “feminine” drink after that. Needless to say, the years gone by have taken their toll, the beer belly has spoken.
I used to define masculinity by the alpha males I once revered. They confidently roamed the school fields, were the toughest in the year group and always happened to get the girls. Then I soon realised that they were, but for a season, geeks like me that would one day get their shot later in life. As I grew, my attentions redirected to icons of power and wealth, clean-shaven gentlemen who donned pleated tailor-made suits and fluorescent pocket squares, carrying large brown leather satchels to match their brogues. Though I often wondered why they always appeared to be in a hurry, as they traipsed across the square mile, walking briskly from one glass tower to another, barely etching a smile. Then I began to realise that these same intellectuals who would pompously put to bed one deal after another, were hardly present, if ever, to tuck their own babies in that night.
My Nigerian heritage also shaped a significant part of my masculine misconceptions. To show emotion, to shed a tear, was deemed a sign of weakness. My prerogative was to obtain good grades, find a well paying job, marry a subservient wife and simply, provide.
So what happens when it all comes crashing down?
Like when your manager invites you into her office for a “quiet” word, before proceeding to inform you that “it’s with deep regret”–of course–that the bank have to let you go, because the proposed funding for the project has now been withdrawn. All the while your marriage expiry date is looming. So not only are you now unemployed, but also on the brink of a divorce. Would I still be the man that I, and almost everyone else in my circle, had always perceived me to be before then? Probably not.
I guess I was being a man when I offered to pay for her dinner, right? But what if she had insisted that she pay for mine?
And what if it were to work out best in your family’s interest that one of you stay home to look after the kids full time, and because she earned more, you had to take the career back seat? No longer the breadwinner, would you be any less a man then, too?
I’ll never forget the season, following a spat with the Missus, that my father and her mother, had both sat me down, separately, to offer their tuppence. In summary, they both concluded, “BE A MAN!” Now I may have heeded to their wise words on this occasion, if not for the fact that both were citing juxtaposed propositions, both claiming that adopting their approach would make me that man. So what was a brother to do? Ask confused.com?
That’s it. We’re all too different, blessed in our own unique way, for any one of us to have to conform to one sole definition of manhood. After all, it is but a bunch of archaic ideologies that have been passed down from generation to generation.
So I propose a toast to bucking the trend?
Love or loathe him (sorry, her), I have to personally take my hat off to Caitlyn Jenner. I refuse to get sucked into the debate about whether (s)he is right, wrong, depressed or simply deluded–you decide. But what I will say is that, it takes a lot of balls (no pun intended) to get up one day and stand for what you believe in, to pluck up enough courage to finally embrace yourself, and be you for a change, aside of all the labels, mannerisms and stereotypes that the world has callously etched into you. It’s funny how many of us love to proclaim that “we are not of it”, but yet are still driven by its dictates, still avidly playing by its rules.
Well, I’ve decided, I’m out. I’m not going to “be a man” anymore. I’m just going to be me, strawberry frappe and all. Actually, while you’re at it, can you add a squirt of Malibu and a pint of Coke to that order? Diet please. She says I’ve been putting on weight!
Originally appeared at Shy Boy Diaries. Reprinted with permission.
Photo credit: Getty Images