I’m not your brother, and I know this because my brother doesn’t put me down the way words like “man up” do.
I write this as a gift to myself but more importantly to thousands of victims of hyper-masculine culture.
What is hyper-masculine culture? It is patriarchy, social and every other way. It is setting arbitrary contest for human dignity, under the prize of the invisible “man card.” It says don’t hug, because apparently we aren’t human. It forgets that tears are the most powerful presence in a room. That expression is bravery and obedient to the needs of the soul. It is paraded pretending, burying the heart under layers of muscle to ward off opportunities for improved character.
It’s being called gay, with the sting of hate behind it, because you have the reverence to decline an invitation to catcall. I feel it in the murmuring of doubt and fear because I’ve never been loud about who I’m interested in. It’s the judgmental locker room or over-the-pew whispers of “You better watch that boy.” Or the male voice from the stereo speaker, beefing up the chest of bullies over compounded crimes of misogyny. And in film, it is the selective attention and admiration afforded to those most masculine and most rewarded for mowing down the most “mofos” — in other words, real, thinking, breathing, beautiful people.
In America specifically, the framework for man is edged with razor-laid lines, with pride as sensitive as the heart he forgets he has.
I am a man, though young to some and experienced to others. At 26, I finally accepted myself for who I am. I have never been extremely masculine. I cry. I say with fervent sympathy, “Awwww,” when a child falls or does something cute. I work in childcare. I am sensitive. I felt like I was 5 all over again when I saw Alicia Keys in concert three years ago. I am observant, and I talk soft, but you’ll get some sass if you’re out of line. I am nice, for the most part, and the kids at work know that. But a nice, soft, sweet man rubs people the wrong way for popular sets of culture. We have cut so clear the view of what a man should be, and the lane is hardly wide enough for 50 percent of the world’s population.
In school, I often had people, occasionally female, give me arbitrary ultimatums surrounding my “manhood.” But really by that, they meant my very being. I had people question and call into the courthouse of their own preference — through the lens of their own privilege, sometimes hormonal, height or otherwise — the credibility of my existence, based on expected expressions and my unconscious emotions.
I am proud to say I am not a supporter, contributor or participant in hyper-masculine culture. I am here to live as human as I can, ask to hear and widen the range of man. n
Gui Jean-Paul Chevalier is a Seattle-based recording artist and author from rural Washington, living counter-small-town mind for the cause of humanity.