I Don’t Know How to Be a Man

“I don’t mean to speak for anyone else, but I’ve been a man for 34 years now and I think I know a bit about how men think.”

“I’ve been a man for 34 years.” I sat with those words that were just a few seconds in a conversation that lasted 1,920 seconds (32-minutes). I’m learning to pay attention to what my mind focuses on and it focused on those words so here I am.

I was struck by my sense of his confidence in his own manhood. It contrasts with my diffidence in mine. I’ve been a male for 45 years now and I haven’t thought to call myself a man. I realize that I don’t think I know anything about what it is to feel like a man or be a man, at least not as other men seem to recognize manhood.

I never experienced (what I assume are) traditional male social rights of passage: sports, chasing girls (or boys depending on your orientation), having your first beer, and talking about sex. I’ve rarely had the shoulder-to-shoulder gatherings that define how men often socialize as adults: watching sports on the couch or sitting next to each other at a bar, in each other’s presence but never face to face.

When I listen to “real” men talk, it’s like listening to a foreign language about a foreign culture. The norms, the lingo, the signs, the handshakes, the references, the shorthand, the things that let one man know when he’s around another man, all of that is foreign to me and experience teaches me that my cultural ignorance will make others uncomfortable.

There is a cost when other people don’t recognize you as a man, as you are.

This isn’t a question of do I know I’m a man in the dictionary sense of the word: a male above the age of majority. I know I’m a man in that sense.

This isn’t a question of my sense of self-worth in a logical sense. I see myself as no less of a man than anyone else.

It definitely is a question of my sense of self-worth on a comparative level because I don’t fit the stereotype that I’ve been taught of what a man should look like and therefore I don’t look like what I aspire to look like. To not have a sense of oneself is perhaps a greater tyranny than external prejudices, because you are with yourself wherever you are. I’m working on that part, on developing a better self image.

My internal dialog aside, the bigger question for me is always how to navigate the world when life is a team sport and I feel like an extra. Team sports aren’t about how I see myself but about how the rest of the team sees me. I am self-conscious about how other’s might see me when I don’t talk the usual talk and walk the usual walk.

In the end, I wonder to myself: am I a full-fledged member of the tribe called man or just a (sometimes welcome) visitor?




The world's most intersectional man.

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Light Squared

Light Squared

The world's most intersectional man.

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