Being invisible in a high price to pay for being a teenage boy.
I’ve come to enjoy using a urinal that actually “recognizes me!” With the relentless advance of technology, I fully expect that someday, in addition to its blinking red eye and watery greeting, it will say, Hi Earl, welcome back. You know you should really go easy on the burgers and eat more greens. In those personal moments, at least my presence is being noted. In the big world, that’s not true for too many boys.
I have long felt for many teen boys, maybe the majority, their job description in the community is to stay out of trouble, don’t be a nuisance, and don’t bother us. Essentially, they are relegated to background action, like all the people we never notice behind the main actors in a movie.
Think about it, where is the teen boy place in your neighborhood or community? In some communities there might be a skateboard park, but that is really for the few who can get there. In some neighborhoods, there may be a place where guys can play basketball. If so, young males will swarm there like moths to the proverbial light bulb. If the weather is bad, you might find the young guys hanging at the mall, flirting with girls, and doing their best to not be seen by mall security. That’s my point, not being seen, being invisible, is a big price to pay just cuz you’re a teen male.
. . . not being seen, being invisible, is a big price to pay
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From my work with boys, I know they are mad about it. One common and, of course, illegal expression of their frustration and anger is the tagging and graffiti we see all around us. Sometimes it’s just marking territory, but very often it’s bold and beautiful work, full of color and outrageous images, and created in impossible places. To me, it is their way of saying, “LOOK, I’M HERE, SEE ME, I’M CAPABLE OF CREATIVITY AND BEAUTY.”
Last summer, my wife and I traveled across the U.S. by car, and then last fall, in Switzerland and France by train. In every town we drove through, and all along the train’s route, on buildings, train cars, train stations, and walls everywhere, there was a continuous stream of boy tags (signatures) or works of boy art screaming out to me that the boys were demanding to be seen. If you start looking, you’ll see them, too.
Of course, the common and predictable reaction by the adults in the world is to criminalize these personal expressions, to arrest the taggers, and when caught, to require the offenders to paint over their artistic statements, to overpaint themselves back to invisibility. I kept thinking of this ominous quote from Michael Meade:
A culture falls apart from two places at once—when it’s young people are not welcome and rejected, and when it’s old people are not remembered and respected.
I do know that on the other end of the social order continuum, we just can’t let the young dudes go wild. I keep hoping for some middle ground that will allow us to see and honor our young males and do better including them as a visible part of community life. That wish may just be coming true.
As I get more connected across the generations, I’ve been learning to speak a new boy language, understanding the world through their eyes, and learning more about how they operate. That’s how I learned about a privately-sanctioned graffiti gathering in my winter base of Tucson, AZ called Winta-fresh. On February 2nd, for one day, more than 50 graffiti artists, both from Tucson and around the U.S., will be allotted a four by eight-foot space to display their work. At last, here is one place where this amazing boy art can be freely displayed, encouraged, and celebrated.
We’ll never limit our young guys to just one day or one small space. Just below is a short video showing off some of the other graffiti around Tucson. Turn down the volume if you have to, but DO listen to the words. They speak directly to the young male hunger to be seen and appreciated.
Use this link if the video doesn’t appear.
Here’s a Man-Making challenge for you. The next time you get a chance, see, or maybe even positively acknowledge the young guys around you. You just might make a kid’s day.
Dudes, we see you, you are welcome here, and your creations are beautiful.
This article by Earl Hipp was previously published on the Man-Making Blog, and is reprinted here with permission.