When I was a man, I had a lot of opinions that I presented as facts.
I had a firm, detached, imperious voice with which I presented these facts. This is a voice I can still lean back on. I am well-trained in it. I hear it speaking when I read my “Gender Neutral: Author” article from the other day.
That voice has a purpose: Presenting facts. Laying out a logical argument. He abides the White male colonial parameters.
He’s also a bore and a boor.
He’s a bore because he can too often ignore the emotional aspects of a conversation. Everything is presented as a fact, including opinions. Everything is carefully stated. Plausible deniability becomes a shield.
He’s a boor because he has strong, factual, truthiness-drenched opinions about things that he shouldn’t be talking about in the first place.
When I was a young man, I was taught that I could have an opinion in everything. That it was my birthright to be the voice of reason.
Women are emotional; men are rational.
Women are from Venus; men are from Mars.
At first, Social Media was a floodgate opening for me: I could stand on a podium and preach to people around the planet. Discussions were dramatic displays of self-righteousness: I was not there to have conversations, I was there to prove my point and to educate others.
“In true dialogue, both sides are willing to change.”
But then, I started to listen. I started to read. I started to realize.
My first realization: There are times when I don’t have to talk.
My second realization: There are times when I should talk, not as the voice of reason, but as the voice of emotion, of passion, of humanity.
I know how not to talk. And someone in the shadowy corners of my psyche, I know how to speak as the voice of passion, but that voice is vulnerable.
When I was a boy, I was taught to protect the weak and defenseless.
I was taught this was part of my role as a man.
And so when that voice of passion tries to talk, my Man voice rushes in to silence it, to protect it, to shield it from the ramifications of being raw and vulnerable and exposed in a world where Boys Don’t Cry.
I remember the first time I read anything by bell hooks. It was this:
“The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves. If an individual is not successful in emotionally crippling himself, he can count on patriarchal men to enact rituals of power that will assault his self-esteem.”
It felt as if someone had torn my chest open and exposed my bloody, beating heart to the world. I cried. For the first time in a long time, and they were violent tears.
The Man voice rushed forward and tried to yell the words from the monitor, but a keystone had been pulled from the foundation. It was too late. “They” were on to “us”.
That was a few years ago now. I’m still struggling with finding my voice, then one that includes that Man voice of reason as one thread in a glorious intricate tapestry of Who I Really Am.
I was never a boy.
I was Pinocchio, dreaming of being a real boy.
I never got no hugs when I fell down in the playground
Maybe it would be different now
I wanted to be a boy because I never really fit in. Half a century gone now, and I have yet to really find my clan. Maybe it doesn’t even exist; maybe I was born too soon.
I wanted to be a man because I never really fit in. I had a social bank account already filled with riches; all I had to do was extract the funds. Follow the rules. Be a man. Grow a pair. Man up.
I have torn holes in my body trying to release the spirits that have kept me broken. That have kept me from being a man.
Then I realized the problem wasn’t the demons. It was that I was trying to be something I wasn’t, whatever this “Man” was that I was trying to be.
When I stopped trying so hard to be a man, my depressions got so much softer. The more savage of my anxieties went away, leaving instead the insecurity created by living in a misunderstanding world.
I was always a person.
Now that I’m a person who has spent half a century trying to be a man, I’m trying to figure out how to talk without being so dominated by the righteousness and emotional detachment of the voice of Man I’ve honed so well.
How to speak with a humanity and complexity that shows nuance, without allowing that Man voice to step forward and silence me.
“when others try to erase you,
it is heroic to show you are here.”
Jay Hulme, “Pittsburgh, October 27th, 2018”
It is a voice I once knew how to use, and a voice I will come to use again.