Recently, Vanity Fair, an entertainment magazine that specializes in showing Hollywood A-listers in glossy fashion, showcased the actor/director team of Michael B. Jordan and Ryan Cooglar. Jordan and Cooglar first worked together on the indie smash “Fruitvale Station” and the mainstream success “Creed.” Jordan is shown in a photo holding Cooglar’s head as they both look intensely into the camera. After the picture was published online, many were outraged, calling the picture “effeminate.” There were charges of “They are trying to feminize the Black male” from people and “Why do the brothers have to pose like they are lovers?” I found these comments to be sad, but unsurprising. The uproar behind Jordan and Cooglar’s picture underscores a problem with male gender norms: we are not supposed to show emotion, ever.
Growing up, being a Black man consisted of three things: strength, endurance, and fortitude. You were supposed to be able to perform physical tasks, address any danger that may come to you and your love ones, and provide for your family. Anything else was not allowed; manhood was a very rigid role. This thought pattern was shared by my family and friends. The men that I were raised around fit this mold. My grandfather, the greatest man I will ever know, is a pure Alpha male: a take charge and solve any problem kind of guy. I would see him laugh, joke, and occasionally get angry, but emotional? Never. The first time I witnessed him cry was when his mother died. I was 15, and that was all of 5 seconds. Possibly sensing me watching him, he stopped immediately, wiped off the little tears that he had and walked away. Whenever my brother, friends, or I would even start to cry or show any emotion, we were met with “Toughen up!” “Come on man, stop acting soft” and of course the classic “Boys don’t cry” by adult male family and friends. To this day, this is drilled into little boys’ heads everyday, to the point that many grow to be emotionally stunted men.
Praise and congratulations in my family were given in forms of handshakes, daps, and half hugs. Growing up, there was never any real deep affection shown by male friends or family. We got that from our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and girlfriends. A clear message was sent – only women were allowed show any feelings. This affected me in so many ways. I didn’t want to cry in front of people and I kept a lot of my emotions bottled up. Whenever folks would call me “sensitive”, I would immediately switch up my attitude or become angry. I didn’t want to be labeled as weak or a “punk”, I had to be a man. Looking back on this, I can see how this might have affected some of my romantic relationships at the time. I didn’t know how to balance my feelings. Either I was too emotional or too aloof and detached.
The first time I heard a man tell another man he loved him, I was blown away. Here were two men in a platonic relationship, having no problem expressing their feelings to each other. When I witnessed it, I had no words. This was something new. I was 23. The men were so grounded and secure in themselves. They didn’t have to prove anything to no one, the men were just “still.” I looked at them said to myself, “I want to be like that.”
From that day on, I knew something was wrong in how most boys are raised into men. If I show emotion or become sensitive, why am I immediately labeled weak, soft, or effeminate? Why do we as men have to be locked into this tight box of masculinity? Why is it that a man cannot be in touch with who he is? Calling somebody a “punk” because they are expressing their feelings is terrible. As I became older, I started to let go of these restrictions. I became more comfortable with expressing myself and becoming vulnerable to not only the women I dated, but to my male friends. It started by me telling my brother I love him. From there, it was easier to let myself be vulnerable, to just let myself “be.” I was done with all of these bullshit restrictions on what a man was. I wasn’t worried about someone calling me gay because I am not. I wasn’t worried about someone calling me soft and a wussy, because I didn’t care what they thought. Fuck them, I’m me.
From that moment, I became a better son, a better brother, a better boyfriend, a better friend, and a better man. I realized that in relationships, one of the most important factors is communication and expressing oneself. I cannot tell you how many times I have cried in front of my brother or my best friends. Heck, I cried in front of my brother Chris recently over the murder of San Francisco native Alex Nieto. That doesn’t make me less of a man because I can show my emotions. Believing that I can’t or shouldn’t express how I feel is a weakness.
When I look at the picture of Jordan and Cooglar, I get a sense of pride and love. They are posing exactly how I would with my brother or close friends. That picture screams the love that one friend has for another. Every time I talk with my brother Brent, Chris, or any of my close male friends, I tell them I love them. Rapper Tony Yayo once said,
“I tell my guys I love them all the time because I may not talk with them again.”
We as men need to shake these asinine and outdated shackles of gender norms. There is nothing wrong with showing emotion, expressing to your homeboy how much you mean to him, and even crying in front of him. It is healthy, mature, and normal. In 2015 over 307,000 men died due to heart failure, and keeping emotions bottled up inside is a big part of that. We should not be passing this poisonous behavior on to the next generation. Emotionally healthy men express themselves in a constructive way. They don’t grow up to be physically and verbally abusive to their partners. They do not look at being in touch with their feelings as being effeminate nor gay bash other men that are. They do not participate in self-harming behavior such as mutilation or abuse drugs and alcohol. Our responsibility as fathers, older brothers, mentors, and role models is to show our youth a better way of doing things. We can teach them that there is nothing wrong with displaying vulnerability and sadness. Doing so does not equate into weakness, but strength.
Today, men and masculinity is changing and it needs to be. We as men need to evolve to a higher plane, to higher beings. Part of that evolution is being able to express our feelings openly without shaming ourselves, others and being attacked for it. I have three beautiful nephews and I want them to know that they can come to me about anything. I am not going to judge who they are or how they act in front of me. I want them to be still and secure in themselves. I want my nephews to know that sometimes the only thing a man can do is cry. Heck, I may cry with them! To all my brothers of all colors and around the world, let’s leave this behavior in the past and let 2016 be the year of the emotionally healthy man!