When I was twelve, P.E. class was a highlight of the school day. After half an hour of drills and exercises, the teacher would announce it was ‘free sports’ time. All the boys in my class, and some girls, would race outdoors and organise themselves with astonishing efficiency into a loud game of football. I loathed football. Maybe the only reason was its popularity among all the other boys—although, in hindsight, I’m sure the fact that my parents weren’t football fans helped. If I was lucky, two or three boys would peel away from the group and ask for a basketball instead. That game I liked. More often I would have to join the remaining girls, playing badminton, or dodge-ball. The shame.
What I really wanted to play, though, was even more subversive. My favourite playground pastime was skipping the Double Dutch jump ropes. Since I was very young I greatly enjoyed skipping and jump ropes. I was also very good at both. In fact, the only reason I got away with taking a skipping rope to class every day without being called a sissy was my proficiency. I could jump at speed, backwards, and do tricks that even the girls weren’t capable of. This went a long way to deflect derision into respect (or at least quiet puzzlement) from my male peers. It wasn’t enough, however, to fit in. For that I would have had to play football, and play it well. Since I lacked the drive and the brain-to-foot coordination to do those, respectively, the best I could hope for was to quietly join in the other sports. I could not, however, ask the splinter group to play Double Dutch with me. If the suggestion to ask our teacher for the ropes didn’t come from the girls then I would suck it up and play something else. I didn’t realise it then, but what I was doing was subconsciously protecting the brittle shell of masculinity that all adolescent boys and most adult men feel they need when in the company of others.
Cracking open a cold one with the boys
I am a man. Well, a small and young man, maybe a boy? Male, at any rate. He/him. I did not chose any of those labels, but I also found no reason to complain about them. It makes sense: I am cis-gender and men have it better. Of course, I would later in life become aware of feminism, and support the notion that a stronger polarisation of the genders harms and limits women. It is only recently, however, that I have started to think of the ways in which gender harms men. Looking back, I’m surprised that the penny didn’t drop earlier—my whole life has been a subtle but constant struggle with traditional (Western) masculinity.
Small disclaimer: I am no gender scholar. My interest and knowledge of gender comes from personal experience, conversations with friends, popular books and the dark crevices of the Internet. This blog post is heavily inspired by Grayson Perry’s The Descent of Man, which I have just finished to a great deal of introspection. He says it best: “What if half the victims of masculinity are men?” (The other half are women, but you know that.) Continue reading “The closet sissy’s guide to manhood”