Thursday, April 23, 2009

Manning up

"Man up." "Grow a pair."

Invitations to a male to take responsibility, face the issue and address it courageously. Put more colorfully.

I can't think of a parallel appeal for females. If true, telling.

I live in a "community" where atypical gender behavior is the norm. Regardless of style, most of the folks in my neighborhood are interested in hooking with fellow members of their gender. That in itself is atypical. And then the styles of presentation are all over the map. I know I do not live in a normal environment.

So one of the things that fascinates me is the way that men handle realms that are often normally the province of women. In male couples, especially. I was talking to a guy the other day about his partner. After several years together, he still found it very difficult to be directly affectionate outside of sex or to speak how he felt outside of some very standard phrases, despite knowing how crucial his mate had been to his surviving and thriving. Laudable though that may be (Saying "I love you" to another man's face is quite a task for some of us), it seemed to me that it was time long overdue for him to be clear about his appreciation for his man, who deserved to hear what he was worth. I found myself saying, "Be a man about it. Stop being such a pussy and tell the guy the truth to his face, for God's sake."

Interesting, even to me, that I put it that way. Most often we understand the expression of feeling through words as a feminine undertaking. Or the work of poets (who are often* feminized males, regardless of sexual interest). Guys are gruff and mute. And often that's just fine. But here it seemed to me that it was not a question of anything other than the respect one man is due from another, and especially when they have cast their lot in life together. My appeal was not to his feminine side, but precisely to his masculinity, his sense of honor and justice.

My own experience of this has changed, too, as I get older. I remember the first time I tried to tell a man I loved him. Well, we were both 18, hardly more than boys. I could not say the words, hard as I tried. Since then, I have said them shyly, with hesitation, with trepidation.

The man I say those words to these days, I say directly and with feeling. Often, when the context drives me to it. It makes me feel strong when I say them. Not always, though. There are times when I feel I have given away the store. Sometimes he responds with the same words, sometimes not. Sometimes he even says it on his own. And today I framed them in a way that I suspect rarely happens between men and women. It felt much like guy-love to me...passionate, erotic, close, as true as I know how to be, and from the heart. Something like this:

"I love you. God, I do. But you are such a fucking asshole. Really." We both laughed.

I think it is a special gift of men that we can express affection for each other by insult, and the more exaggerated the insult, the deeper the affection. Now you don't have to include vulgarity and a put-down to "masculinize" the exchange, but I guess what I am claiming here is that there are naturally male ways, ways you don't have to learn from Oprah, of being open-heartedly direct about love between men.

Speaking for myself, I find that if something I say or do feels natural to me and naturally good to me, feels like it's just me being myself, then there's a good chance it's what shrinks call "integrated." Without a doubt there is a tenderness, a gentleness, an awe-struck reverence, a breath-taking sweetness in the kind of love I can have for a man. But if it ever felt feminine, it has not felt that way for a long time. On the contrary, it comes from the same place and lives in the same heart that can look a much-beloved mug right in the eye and say to the buttheaded moron who makes the world light up for me, "I love you. Fuck, I do."


*A clarification, lest Jack Donovan, author of Androphilia, correct me. Masculinity includes the creation of high culture. I confess a definite affection for certain kinds of traditional American blue-collar maleness, --the most convincing local variety, frankly-- but I am very well aware that it is men who make culture. Only certain kinds of poets fit the bill I am talking about.


Leah said...

Barbershop scene in Gran Torino.
enough said.

OreamnosAmericanus said...

Haven't seen it. I will. Thanks!

Leah said...

Having a husband and three sons, I'm familiar with the 'male'. The way men relate and speak to one another is completely different from how they relate to a woman.
As it should be, but even if it's done differently - everyone wants to be told they are loved.

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