On some level, I can’t help wondering if the author’s alter-ego Ned passed as more masculine than I do!
I’m clearly recognized as a biological male, with a long beard, tall height even for a male (6’2"), and a relatively obvious "male voice." (Not a deep Barry White voice, mind you, but a tone clearly influenced by testosterone. ) And yet… depending on what mood you catch me in, my communication style and overall behavior can be downright "feminine."
What do I mean by that? Well, let’s see… I like to talk about feelings and relationships; I tend to be soft-spoken and yielding in the average conversation; I’m put off by agressive and/or emotionless communication styles; and I’m very fond of "touchy feely" behavior like openly crying, hugging one another, stepping aside from "productivity" to process emotions, etc. I do have moments where I get loud, rowdy, callous, or "macho"… but even in these moments, it’s largely an act of dark humor, because it’s clear to anyone who knows me that I don’t live up to this stereotype on a daily basis.
Basically, from the perspective of our society’s rigid gender roles, I act like a chick sometimes. And acting this way at any point, much less regularly, is pretty much the death knell of being seen as a "real guy" or "normal guy."
Maybe this is why I can never seem to attract the romantic interest of women… so many women say that they want emotionally available men, and they talk to me at length about how their partners frustrate and disappoint them by not talking about emotions, being insensitive to their needs, not sharing their interest in community-building and/or spiritual activities, etc. But then, when they DO meet a male who has few of these road blocks… they identify him as "friend" rather than "guy/lover," which often leaves him (i.e. me) in an awkward limbo between the two.
"You’re my friend… so I’ll talk with you at length about feelings/relationships… but you are a guy, so sometimes I’ll catch myself and hold back… but you’re a friend, so I can’t even think of you as a guy… but…"
I feel like I’ve actually had a couple of women friends share their emotional and relationship lives with me fully (except when we were with other women in "girls only" mode). But for years now, since my last relationship, I don’t know if I’ve ever had a woman truly view me as a "guy," except maybe occassionally in passing or quietly from afar. And that, I must say, is rather frustrating. I have romantic feelings quite automatically for the women I love… why don’t they have the same for me when they feel that intimate emotional connection form?
When I started reading about this "Self-Made Man" book, it brought up a lot of feelings for me. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to do a similar experiment to what this woman undertook… to become one of these "regular guys" for a while. I’d have to cut my hair, shave my beard, dress less colorfully, and lean heavily on the stoicism and arrogance that I’ve worked so hard to let go of. Maybe I could go to the bars, get drunk, hang out with the guys, check out the women, dance for a while, check out the women some more, and just spend the night trying to get laid like a few thousand other guys in this town.
People who know me probably think I don’t have it in me. If so, then you really don’t know me at all. Really, I think that a lot of people respect me to the point of almost dehumanizing me… they see my tendency to show respect for others, to be sensitive to feelings, etc., and they assume that this is just an innate and automatic quality. "Oh, that’s just Treesong… he’s just a different sort of person."
Well, maybe there’s a degree of truth there. The tendency to value respect and sensitivity, emotions and relationships, etc., is very innate in me. But the tendency to behave that way is a very conscious and often very difficult choice. If I wanted to, I could choose differently. If I wanted to, I could be a "guy" much like all of the others guys out there who do meet most of the stereotypes.
I have a strong libido on most days, and my body is often telling me to just get out there and get laid. And my empathic connection with other people’s inner demons has really helped me to get into contact with my own inner demons. So yeah, I could pull of the "Captain Oblivious, Jerk-of-the-Month, Stereotypical Guy" — at least temporarily. And with my empathic abilities, I’ll bet I could even get a lot further with it than most guys in this town.
But why would I do it? The newness of it would be exciting… and like this author, it would be a very informative experience for me to find out the difference between the life of a mild-mannered androgynous male and the life of an arrogant, callous, unabashed womanizer. But… would it really be worth it?
No… not for me, anyway. My empathic abilities allow me to learn what that life’s like simply by observing and interacting with the people who live it. And frankly, I have no desire to live that way. I do have a strong libido… but that passion is intimately influenced and guided by the contents of my heart. And even though I’ve shown that I have the willpower to block the contents of that heart… I will never do so again. Not to that extent, anyway.
And so… I’m left thinking about it from a distance, and reading about other people’s experiences.
What a strange world we live in… I’m reminded of Brokeback Mountain, which was a powerful and complex experience for me, both as a bisexual male who is primarily interested in women but does feel attraction to men, and as a person who has had a long and protracted struggle in overcoming emotional rigidity. To watch those characters go through their intensely emotional exploration of love mixed with emotional and political repression is an incredible roller-coaster ride… it brought me to tears in the end, and it made me think about gender roles in our society much more than this Self-Made Man interview and review did.
But whether it’s through Brokeback Mountain or Self-Made Man, I find myself re-examining gender issues again… especially now with Valentine’s Day on the horizon. I really don’t want to let some stupid Hallmark holiday rain on my parade… but somehow, every year (this being Year 27 out of 27 that I’ll be alone on that day), I find myself falling into the trap and revisiting my feelings about romance, gender roles, and the insanity of today’s society in general.
But life is so different for me now… many of the external circumstances are similar, especially since I still have no lover to share the journey with. But my internal landscape is in ongoing upheaval… gone are the days when I wait for external validation before opening my heart to the ones that I love… now, I embrace my feelings of love fully, regardless of external circumstances and how they may make me feel.
I am a lover, even if no one experiences me as such… the love and passion in my heart is beautiful, even if no one shares in it… my heart is open and filled with an ever-increasing depth and volume of love, even if gender roles and other quirks of my life circumstances keep me from experiencing this love in the context of a romantic relationship.
Basically, opening my heart to the full embracing of my love has set me free — free to feel both the joy and the sorrow that I’ve been so afraid to feel for so many years. Let me put it this way, as I put it in a recent email to a woman I love deeply who has chosen not to share her love life with me…
"I realize that my feelings DO have meaning, even when no one else understands or embraces them, and that my feelings DO have a place on this earth, even if it’s only in that small circle of ground under my two feet. And damnit, if the only space truly open to my feelings is my 132.5 pounds of human flesh, then I will flood every cell of that flesh with an ocean of love (and rage! and tears! and joy! and sorrow!) that I know in my heart could fill the entire world…"
So… yeah. I’d be absolutely thrilled and tickled pink if I could share this love in a romantic way with a lover right this very moment… but ultimately, *I* am a lover, and if I have no one else to share this love with, then I will simply make my 130-some pounds of flesh a shrine to that love.
Let my every breath be a testament to love… let every shape and form of love flow through my words, my thoughts, my writings, my actions… from the transcendent bliss of spiritual love to the carnal delight of sensuality and sexuality, let this flesh of mine be a vessel for the passion and the power that is love. Even if I can find this love no where else in this world, I will find it a home in the one place in physical reality that is truly mine — my own body, and the personal space that I lay claim to through that body.
So, on that note, I think I’ll show a little bit of love for this body by going to sleep in an almost-timely manner… 🙂 But it’s been a joy and a learning experience to explore gender issues and the landscape of the heart again, even if it was at times very difficult. Hopefully this post will generate some discussion in the comments section, the online forms, and so on… because I’d really love to hear your thoughts and experiences on the themes pertaining to all of the above. I know that I’m not in this alone… but it’s hard to feel that sometimes, especially because our society shuns the discussion of such things in most circumstances.
So, I look forward to anything that you may have to share… and I am grateful to share this even if you have nothing to offer in return! Whether I stand alone or stand in the presence of six billion fellow seekers, I will stand in my heart and go wherever it takes me…