Sometimes at the end of a day in which I binged on a box and a block, of crackers and cheese; at the end of that day before I apply peroxide acne cream to my face, I take off my t-shirt to avoid bleaching it, and I’ll look in the mirror and notice my man boobs and think they have gotten bigger because of my eating binge.
But I remember I have thought about my “man boobs” before and I know better. I know that term is just a humored disguise for a hurtful definition of masculinity. The definition: to be a man is to not be a woman. And to be a man and have boobs, is to be a woman in some way. But I know that men have breasts, and I have breasts. All men have breasts!
But still I look at my breasts and notice that seemingly, as I’ve eaten less heathfully, they are protruding more than they used to.
I remember the time in between college semesters I went on a bike tour for several hundred miles in one of the hottest places and times available to me. It was the South Eastern United States in late July and early August, from my home state of North Carolina to Florida. I was in the best shape of my life. And still, I remember well the times I looked at my chest in the hotel mirrors along my southerly route and noticed that despite my visible six pack and general sculpted physique, my breasts still protruded. Regardless of the mirror or the year or my shape, my dissatisfaction is always the same.
But I was not aware then like I am now. I didn’t know about feminism, or patriarchy or a hurtful masculinity. I am supposed to know better. I have breasts. All men have breasts. But must I have these protrusions?
I remember at one point early in the stages of puberty as a child playing basketball with myself the ball bounced against my chest and hit something sensitive behind my nipple. I don’t remember if this was my first introduction or if it was just a reminder, but I was deeply aware. But I wasn’t just aware, I was deeply anxious about its very existence.
Behind both my nipples during puberty there were little lumps. They made my nipples stick out a little, probably only perceptible to my pubescent self consciousness, but they stuck out, they felt weird, hard like they shouldn’t be. It made me feel weird too, weird enough that I told my Mom.
We went to the pediatrician and she said they were normal even in boys, a part of puberty sometimes. At some point later, almost crying, I told my Mom I was worried they could be related to breast cancer, but my real fear was this would make me a girl in some way, and less of a boy, with less capacity to be a man. My deeper fear was that this could grow. Most deeply I feared this wouldn’t go away.
I remember when I was a teenager I saw on a night time television news program like 20/20, I saw a bit about boys with lumps just like mine, but some of the boys had much bigger symptoms than mine. Maybe it was different, but it wasn’t permanent and it was definitely benign. But the concern for these boys was great. I wonder if the unquestioned fear from the families of these boys and the narrator’s incredulous tone came from the feeling that they were not quite boys if they shared some slight and benign features that were too similar to women and girls.
They might not know about feminism or patriarchy or especially hurtful masculinity. But I do. I should know better.
I wonder then, when, if ever, will my subconscious internalization of hurtful masculinity be replaced with what my conscious intellect believes? That I am a man, and my breasts are not perfectly flat, or not completely defined by muscle, and that I am still, a man. Will I ever totally know it, or will this dissatisfaction always be the same?
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