Michael Doran is happy he took such a tough and winding path toward realizing that he didn’t need to prove his manliness.
I’m not a “guy.” Somehow I have always known that I was different than other the other boys. Now, this is not the classical case of being effeminate and coming out of the closet years later to an accepting (or un-accepting family). I am definitely Hetero. I just never got into the things that guys got into. I was not into watching sports and only played them in a thinly veiled attempt to fit in. I liked computers and video games, but was not a braniac programming nerd—although I sort of wish I was since it’s pretty clear that nerds rule the world.
I was a sensitive kid. I got picked on and beaten up, but I took it like I thought a man should. I tried to fight back, but almost always lost because I was small and didn’t know how to fight. For years, I wondered what was wrong with me. I got along well with girls, but I was always as the friend, never the love interest. I eventually retreated into my world of Commodore 64 computer games and books, waiting and hoping for anything to change. They said I was just a late bloomer, that someday I would have my time.
I started to come into my own in my first year out of high school. At my local community college, unburdened by any association from the negativity of my past, I reconnected with an old friend and finally started having some luck with the opposite sex. As I grew older, I realized that I was different than a lot of guys, not that I didn’t waste a lot of time and energy trying to be one. I was always trying to fit in, always unsuccessfully. Sometimes I’d be let into a “group,” reluctantly, and then made the butt of jokes until I ended up walking away. This pattern repeated a few times before I finally wised up and became hyper-selective of who I considered a friend.
I joined a fraternity in my early twenties because I knew I needed to toughen up. I was too sensitive and had not been exposed to large groups of men. I needed to learn how to take and dish crap with the best of them. This also proved not to be very popular. I would speak up if I saw a brother taking a barely conscious girl to his room at a party (and would then make sure she either got home or got to her friends). I spoke my mind when I saw things that I thought were wrong. I left the fraternity even more aware of my outsider status in the of guys, with only a couple of close friends to show for it.
As I grew and entered the corporate world, I kept faking it. I would listen to sports-talk on the radio on the way into work just to be aware enough to talk intelligently about sports, even though I still had no interest.
Then something happened. I began to gain more confidence in who I was. I became more comfortable with myself. My extroverted side came screaming out as I found that I enjoyed things like jumping out airplanes, rock climbing, and white-water rafting. I mellowed. On the rare occasion I came across someone from my past, at a party or back in my hometown, and the inevitable putdowns would occur, I was now simply able to laugh off. Something about jumping out of an airplane 500 times helps reinforce that you are not a coward. The words no longer hurt, and my sense of who I was as a man made it easy to deflect any negativity directed at me.
It was not until I read Michael Kimmel’s Guyland that I finally recognized where I fit. The book talks about the modern guy culture and all of its various roles. Toward the end, he speaks about a minority group: a group that will stand up when they see wrongs, a group that will not go with the flow. Finally, this was my group, a group that he defines as men.
Looking back, I realized that I’d had an internal moral compass this whole time. I did have a sense of who I was—even if I was not aware of it at the time—and what my values were. As I now push 40, I value the path that I have taken as an adult because I can see the end result. Adversity does not bother me; fear does not hold me back. Bad bosses, office gossip, and politics, while it all may register with me, will not slow me down. Now, this path is not the easy path, but it is the path that I plan on guiding my own two sons down. I truly believe it is ultimately the most rewarding path to take.
So, I won’t ever be a guy. I won’t ever fit easily into the guys’ world. I won’t ever fit in with the group of guys gathered at the bar watching the game, won’t be privy to their clubs, outings, organizations, or groups. I am OK with that because I know that I am a man.
—Photo John Steven Fernandez/Flickr