A few sad years ago, one of my closest friends lost his son to police violence in New Jersey. This was a really good kid, brought up by great parents. His only mistake was being young, black and male. His father, David is the salt of the earth, like me, he just wants to raise his family and give them the comfort he never saw as a child. Going to his funeral, was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. This is hard for any parent, but the pain is special for African-American parents in the United States due to the frequency, and the hatred that’s a part of so many of these incidents.
David is one of the strongest men I know. Our paths have been the same, our friendship has been unwavering. I had to watch him bury his child. There was nothing I could possibly say, nothing that could ease his pain, but my presence was required.
I saw him standing near the casket greeting the hundreds in the standing room only church. He smiled when he saw me, and we hugged, we just hugged….it seemed like an eternity, but the hug was what mattered. The fact that his loss was mine. The fact that all I could manage was the deepest most loving hug I could give my brother. A hug that said, “I got you”, “I am always here for you” “whatever you need, it’s my need too.”
Absorbing Davids emotions and his pain, I could only cry after embracing him because I gave emotionally, all I had. Loss, the huge immeasurable loss is something that my people have been familiar with since the first young African was abducted through Goree Island.
Recently, friends Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr. of the Atlanta Braves were captured in a video that’s gone viral (below). In it, Acuna can be seen with his head on Albies’s chest while Albies rubs his friend’s head. MLB announcers can be heard joking about the moment, laughing about the “head massage” Albies is giving and how Acuna is “taking a nap.”
The internet had people who celebrated the crack in toxic masculinity that has been on full display since the last election. Some reviled it, showing their own fear and hatred of what they felt was homophobic, and in fact the betrayal of who they are simply as humans because they could not stand to see another man, embracing another. Immediately, it must be a joke or they are gay—and if they are, so what?
There are rumors as to what happened to “cause” his need to be “consoled” from one man to another. Who cares, it’s a moment between two humans that needed each other or, just wanted to display affection to one another. (The real reason has not been revealed). Yet those who have fallen victim to toxic masculinity (“dude, don’t touch me, I am not gay”) were up in arms with jokes and comments that, quite frankly, show their world is limited, and that they only see as far as their closed minds can go.
Being a human requires touching each other. It’s part of our biopsychology, it’s part of being alive. The rulebook of life does not delineate that the “touchor” be of the opposite sex. Society and its mores have determined that men cannot, should not touch each other and we have “bought into” that mindset through what it meant to be a man a generation or two ago.
I embraced my friend, firmly, tightly, and I whispered in his ear how much I loved him and told him that no matter what I will be there for him at his son’s funeral. I hugged and kissed my son, not only as a child but when he grew into a teen. My friends with whom I have special relationships, am close too, with whom I have struggled in business, and family when we depart each others company after not seeing each other, we hug. It’s beyond a handshake, it’s beyond a pound or fist bump. Some of us brothers, white and black, give each other a pound and a hug, its seamless: you grab each other’s hand and each pulls one to the other to radiate the closeness like no other.
Toxic Masculinity denies emotions and feelings in men. It says that we can’t cry, we can’t feel, and we certainly cannot mourn the loss of a relationship or a loved one. Toxic Masculinity doesn’t allow you to ask forgiveness, to apologize, to support another man with your own strength or to hold him up physically if you have to. It won’t let you seek help or therapy if you need it. It will not allow you to “call out” or report another man who is sexually harassing a woman, or assaulting someone who is LGBT.
Toxic Masculinity is the death of your humanity and it turns you into what is “wrong” with us as men. That’s not who I want to be, it’s not who my friends are.
Any time a man shows affection to another man, it is labeled as “gay” in order to minimize the act of affection. Usually, when someone is quick to attempt to verbally degrade a show of emotion between men, they don’t truly understand masculinity in its pure sense or have doubts about their own masculinity and their own sexuality.
Prof. Marilyn Frye, Philosopher, Feminist theorist, defines this idea in a paragraph that just blows away how anyone should think about relationships between men (if they are honest):
To say that straight men are heterosexual is only to say that they engage in sex (fucking exclusively with the other sex, i.e., women). All or almost all of that which pertains to love, most straight men reserve exclusively for other men. The people whom they admire, respect, adore, revere, honor, whom the imitate, idolize, and form profound attachments to, whom they are willing to teach and from whom they are willing to learn, and whose respect, admiration, recognition, honor, reverence, and love they desire… those are, overwhelmingly, other men. In their relations with women, what passes for respect is kindness, generosity or paternalism; what passes for honor is removal to the pedestal. From women, they want devotion, service, and sex. Heterosexual male culture is homoerotic; it is man-loving.
Traits We Admire in Other Men
The men we emulate and want to be “like” or we want them to like us, these are the men, we men…love:
- The men who we men don’t ever want to disappoint.
- The men, we don’t lie to, that we are always truthful with.
- The men we don’t cheat on in business.
- The men we allow to guide us, to nurture us.
Stay with me now, because this is a reach I am asking you to take.
We reserve real love for these men. For many of us, we “believe” love isn’t really what we transmit to the women in our lives. Imagine, if we loved the women in our lives the same as we love the men in our lives: We never lied to them; we always supported them; we listened to them; we took their advice; we truly respected them. Then and only then will we truly love these women whom we inadequately love now.
There, I said it. Live with it because you know as well as I do that’s the truth.
You can’t tell me that if a man you admire and respect reaches out to console you, to embrace you, to comfort you that you will not accept that emotional touch, especially if you suffered a loss, or in the alternative you just need a hug? If you say no, or think I am absolutely wrong then you are the person who doesn’t realize that in some cultures, certain behaviors, certain ways of touching each other isn’t homoerotic, just a touch between two people. In India, men hold each other’s hands, and it doesn’t mean that they are gay. It’s just the culture. This happens in Asia, and in the Middle East. but this is not an expression of sexuality. It is one of camaraderie. A sign of brotherhood and support.
I have had a few instances in my life where men who were important to me where dying. Good men, men who tried until their last breath. Men who made huge mistakes, but did the best that they knew how to do. When I made my visit, I always brought my shaving kit. These men, whom I loved, who were important to me, or part of my life and the woman I was sharing that time with always looked as if they needed a shave. I shaved them, I shaved them with care, and with love. I shaved my grandfather, who wasn’t always the nicest man, but he appreciated that shave because when you are lying in that hospital bed and time is even more limited you notice how good that feels. And how good it feels just to be touched. I will never forget my Grandfather’s “thank you” and the dry, cool warmth of his hands on his deathbed. A place where you won’t care about the sex of who is touching you, just as long as someone IS touching you.
As for labeling two men who chose to show affection to each other “gay”? Get over yourself. It’s hard enough finding a meaningful relationship as a straight person, so if someone is comfortable enough in their own skin, in their loves and lives to know who they are sexually and chose to openly display that affection, so be it.
The world needs more love, desperately when we are being again divided by race, gender, economics and sheer hatred for people who think differently than what we or the mainstream consider “normal”. Maybe if we men hugged each other more—as opposed to hitting each other or saying “mine is bigger than yours”—the world would be safer for the women we love, the daughters we raise. Think of the world we could create if we stopped long enough to give into the embrace we all so desperately need, no matter who gives it to us.
In the end, when all is said and done, we will want that touch. Why not get it now, while you can really appreciate it. One of my best friends is coming over tomorrow, I plan to give him a big hug when I see him, to let him know how much he means to me.
Special thanks to my conscious Veronica Price, who knew the words of Prof. Marilyn Frye would inspire me.
Video of the affection is below, including the commentary by the announcers.
What’s your take on what you just read? Comment below or write a response and submit to us your own point of view or reaction here at the red box, below, which links to our submissions portal.
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Photo credit: screenshot from video