As if it were yesterday I remember every time I would visit my father I was faced with the daunting task of answering his questions. These questions didn’t pertain to my recent academic progress but rather my perceived sexual orientation; “you ain’t gay is you boy?” Knowing the emotional turmoil I would cause if I honestly answered his questions, I abided by the heterosexual rule of always answering no. In an effort to fuel the believability of my answer, I would go as far as showing him photos of women I had in my phone. I was and still am his only son. The hetero-normative society we live in says it is my job to carry on the family name, to spread my seed, to procreate, to get married to a woman and provide for a family. That same society is responsible for countless LGBTQ Teen deaths, who so desperately try to ‘fit in’.
As I grew older I found myself in similar situations that I faced during my childhood–the constant plaguing questions about my sexual orientation, the ridicule for playing tennis instead of football, reading instead of rapping, and engaging in extracurricular school activities instead of chasing after the plethora of single women gracing the halls of my high school.
Adult men are faced with a unique challenge when it comes to protecting the sacredness of their heterosexuality; it becomes intertwined with protecting their ‘masculinity’. We start battling with other men mentally, physically, and, believe it or not, emotionally. Who has the more attractive girl, whose biceps and dick is the biggest (contradiction?), which one of us is making the most money, and drives the fancier car. Our obligations to heterosexuality are loaded with living up to the expectations of similar systems of oppression; patriarchy, capitalism, and being adept on the latest homophobic slur. As men there are levels of heterosexuality that you must prove yourself worthy of reaching, not only to other men, but to women as well. The expectations are more stringent, and the consequences of being labeled the ‘punk bitch’ are even more detrimental to the wellbeing of one’s manhood.
Do we truly enjoy living with every microscopic detail of our lives being sampled and weighed accordingly on the scale of heterosexuality? Are there not enough oppressive expectations we ritually battle, as we progress through life? It is our duty as humans to not only challenge that which many of us have been indoctrinated to believe, but to take an uncharted individually invented journey into the free world of sexuality, gender, and sexual orientation. It is time we stop allowing toys, placement and type of jewelry, colors, social activities, and our desire to follow the oppressive rules of procreation and hetero-normativity control our lives. It is time women end this search for the mirage of a ‘real man’, and for women to stop being criticized for not being ‘lady like’. It is time for men to cease the perpetuation of the unwinnable masculine battle. Our masculinity is not determined by anyone else but us. There are no authentic guides, books, or maps to manhood. It captures us at the least expected moments, and is supposed to leave us vulnerable to the unexpected. We should be elated when certain expressions and behaviors are characterized as feminine; then and only then will we escape the egregious label of the savage beast.
While learning to accept my sexual orientation, there were moments where I distanced myself safely away from anything remotely feminine. In distance I felt that I was safe from the stigmatization and ridicule that effeminate men were plastered with; from their more masculine counterparts. In reality I was scared, lonely, and lost; to my surprise it was the very type of person I distanced myself from, who helped me come to terms with who I am. The vibrant and carefree nature of this person was who I wanted to be, not the imprisoned ‘masculine’ and perceived heterosexual person I was. We learn from each other and respect each other when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable around each other. Will we as a society open the window to let in that same vibrant and carefree air, or will we continue to suffocate ourselves and our children, with the stale air of obligatory and burdensome gender expectations of heterosexuality? Progression doesn’t come at the hands of passing a few laws, and learning to accept those which are unlike you. Progression comes when we cohesively begin to challenge the rules and expectations of society to which we have been obligated to follow.
Sean Smith is pursuing a B.A in Sociology and Spanish at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, VA