Smile Politely

I’ve got to be a Macho Man Pt. 2

This is the second and final part of Jared’s account of what it means to be gay and masculine, and why it’s not a gay issue, but a human one. To catch up, read part 1.

As a kid I was curious as to why he couldn’t say them, so I just keep asking, “do you love me grandpa?”, and his response would be, “I take care of you, don’t I?” But why does showing love have to come in the form of providing something material rather then a hug, or simply saying, I love you?

I would press my grandpa on this issue more and more, and sometimes I would say, “I love you grandpa” and he would respond back, “I love you too.” My eyes would light up, then suddenly he would realize what he had said, and then he would say, “I didn’t mean to say that. I take it back!” We would laugh cause I caught him off guard and I knew he was joking.

But this is what being a man means­: always having your emotional guard up even with your family.

My grandpa also never cried. He never talked about his feelings or showed us that he worried. He held up these illusionary imagines of a “real man.” He died at the age of 70 from a stroke. He had shortness of breath on a Thursday. I could see the worry in his eyes, but he just sat down and didn’t talk about it anymore. He waited till Monday to go to the hospital but by that time it was too late.

Now, I knew my grandpa loved me, but he found it so hard to express it beyond saying, “I take care of you.”

This was my first introduction to what a man was supposed to be. Not being able to be emotionally exposed, not being able to cry, to feel weak or lonely.

And even to this day I have a hard time telling people, outside my family, that I love them or I need their help, if I do tell them it’s usually proceeded by a joke.

My grandpa died my freshman year of college. I noticed my younger brother becoming more engrained into this idea of being a “real man.” He would always try to financially support the whole family, mom, grandma and me. We would often discuss how he felt that he had to be the man-of-the-house and it’s his job to be the provider for the family.

Truth be told, our grandma was the provider for the family. She took care of most of the needs around the house. My brother, however, couldn’t escape this image that he was the one that should be the provider. He was only 17, but most of his money that he earned went to buying groceries and fixing the car. He chose to stay at home and attend college rather then leaving. He didn’t want to leave mom and grandma all alone. Sometimes I would find him in a moment of tears. He felt that he wasn’t doing enough, that he had to be better. But be better at what, I would ask? He is still like this to this day, but if you asked him would he change anything, he would reply no-this is his family-he is going to take care of them.

I was a complete introvert and spent most of my high school years isolated from my family. From high school until my early days in college I didn’t express much. I was very repressed.

Many people talk about repression but I don’t think they understand how it feels. Repression feels like your hands are tied behind your back, your mouth is glued shut and no matter how many people say they love you or show it, you can’t respond.

A hug was met with a look as if this person was invading my space. I love you, meant nothing. When asked, “what’s going on” it was replied with a simple and cold, “nothing, everything’s fine”. Any gesture as to how I should live my life received the sharpness criticisms. Nobody could do anything right except me. It’s as if I walked around with the words “FUCK YOU!” stamped on my forehead.

In high school I was always very afraid of appearing weak. I knew I was gay and I knew gays were treated like shit. So, I tried to get involved in sports, I joined JROTC, I always tried to date/sleep with girls. This is what I thought a man should be: a sexist emotionless playboy. It did not work and the more I tried, the more I failed at it. I spent all of my high school years and most of my college years running away from myself. The more I tried to escape the more angry I got and I took that anger out on my family.

It wasn’t until I came out of the closet that I saw new ideas of masculinity. I have found the LGBTQ community is constantly challenging these roles of what a man and woman should be in society.

What I find most perplexing in addressing masculinity is that many men really want to connect and go deeper with their feelings, but they don’t know how. To be honest, society doesn’t have a space for men to express freely. But if we are ever to really address issues such as sexism and homophobia, we have to challenge masculinity and what it means to be a “real man.”

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