I have always been meticulous about how my handwriting looked. I was naturally artistic and my pen easily flowed onto paper, illustrating a beautiful blend of half scripted and half printed words. I was eight years old when I started learning cursive penmanship at my elementary school and I was thrilled because I finally got to learn to write like my grandma.
As I began to develop as an adolescent, my penmanship did as well. I wrote flawlessly. I would always go through notebooks rather quickly because if I spelled something incorrectly in pen halfway through a page, I would rewrite the whole page over again on a clean sheet without scribbles or flaws. Sometime around fourth or fifth grade, people started taking notice of my neat, clean writing and their remarks varied based on gender:
Girls: “Your handwriting is so much better than mine! It’s so neat!”
Boys: “You write like a girl.”
Girls do tend to have better handwriting than boys do, according to a study out of Columbia, so they technically weren’t incorrect. Men tend to use their left-brain for most things, where women primarily use both sides, causing a variation of differences in reading levels, verbal skills, learning foreign languages, spelling, and handwriting.
No one told me this when I was ten, but I was a blessed boy! I had a redeeming quality, which science says I shouldn’t normally have. Though, after handwriting, it was my voice. Then my walk. My clothes. Other boys in my class effeminately categorized everything about me, and no, it wasn’t because they admired certain qualities of girls. I was dragged into a severely self-conscious adolescence from said behavior, which consequently transformed my expressed identity.
The way I wrote, spoke, dressed, etc. does not embody that of a girl, though because I wrote nicely and dressed well, some saw this as an opportunity to build themselves up and label it as ‘girly’ which, to young boys, has a connotation of being inferior and less than. Also, even if a boy wears girls’ clothes or v/v, who gives a damn! Gender neutral everything for the win.
Boys seem to have this masculine competition engraved in their brains, forcing us to constantly validate ourselves as up-and-coming young men.
I noticed when I was young that I did not fit the mold of typical boys my age. I liked art and music, which according to our patriarchal society, are two emasculating interests. I took classes like this seriously because it allowed me to subtly express myself without involving others.
This pressure eventually led to me making the choice to befriend mostly girls throughout school, which was also used against me. This is not uncommon for young gay boys to experience. We find refuge in befriending girls because we know that we are safe with them and don’t feel the pressure to show this prized masculinity around them. Girls rock, man. Seriously.
The torment didn’t stop in primary school, contrary to what I was told. Continuing in high school, the other freshmen and their protégés were quick to point out my effeminate clothing choice of wearing a scarf to 5AM morning practice during a sub-zero Michigan winter. Now in the digital age, someone had made a Facebook page called ‘Scarfboy’, which quickly accumulated likes from boys and girls at my school. I kept asking myself how people could be so cruel when I was literally just dressing functionally for the winter! The gag was…these boys and girls were fashion atrocities, so who really won here?
Comments made about me were not made in one-on-one conversations either. No, it was in groups. Groups of other boys looking to prove themselves alpha to their buddies. What better way to do this than emasculating a boy that lacks these certain masculine traits? Boys are wired to always try and prove themselves as top dog in a cluster, which unfortunately, is still the root of several issues we face in today’s society on a large scale.
I’ve always been pretty cognizant of what’s going on around me and I am able to infer a lot about someone just from a mere interaction. You learn how to do this when other people are constantly mocking you during your childhood. You constantly need to know what is the most recent tea about you. Why?
Because I needed to counter their remarks. I catalogued what these boys were saying about me and altered what felt natural to me in hopes I would go unnoticed; hoping to blend in with this testosterone blur. This was a dehumanizing time for me.
Feeling so ashamed of what feels comfortable that you’d change it just to seem transparent enough not to stand out?
I chose not to dress like a faggot, talk as gay, or walk like a girl anymore, a choice of words that came from the antagonists of my childhood, though, to me, I was just living as myself. The uniqueness I felt comfortable with expressing was eliminated in middle and high school because of these boys and I was diluted into this pool of masculinity.
The profile I wanted to fit was your run-of-the-mill, ideal male high school student: straight, masculine, and popular. This desired persona was considered in every decision I made. Buying or wearing clothes that would give someone a reason to call me gay was now out of the question, even if they were Christmas or birthday presents.
I altered the way I treated people, trying to show off, and ultimately becoming the person that had changed me in the first place. I am incredibly embarrassed now, having treated people in such a manner during this dark, uncomfortable period of my youth, but it truly was the only defense mechanism I could muster up in an effort to cope with my own insecurities and get through school.
I went away to college and finally declared I was gay to new and old friends I knew would be supportive. Coming out of the closet did a lot for me as it does for most LGBT men and women, but it also did a lot to me and by this, I mean that my personality and mind changed after I came out as a gay man, not from who I was but from who I was pretending to be.
No longer was there a thought of what people were thinking about my clothes or whom I decided to associate with.
I listened to the music I wanted to listen to (Kesha, Gaga, Beyoncé and other queens) without fearing others were going to judge. I developed this sort of slay confidence because I now had this creative freedom to finally express myself how I wanted to, how I needed to. My personality bubbled and I made more friends at university. I grew closer with high school friends that had accepted me. When I was finally able to maintain friends based on similarities and qualities that I actually liked and enjoyed, I finally felt the power of true friendship and companionship. It was an incredible, unfamiliar feeling.
My work ethic and attitude changed as well. I was proud of being a gay male and I now cherished my identity, living transparently with friends and now with coworkers. My sexuality isn’t who I am but it is a part of who I am. People seemed to like me a lot more now that I was out because they could see that I was wholeheartedly expressing myself. For example, I was serving at a bar during this time and the amount of tips I received pre-closet was significantly lower than post-closet. Everything seemed to improve across the board and I cannot describe how extraordinary that feeling was.
From this self-declared freedom, my mind made room for positive, creative thoughts which I never had the time or confidence for before. In place of all of the worries and self-consciousness, my thoughts now wandered toward new possibilities, daydreams, fantasies and ideas. Desires, expectations and drive. A newly-found potential. I was experiencing some sort of creative, innovative confidence-boom midway through college, which ultimately helped me get to where I am now, both personally and professionally.
I now work at a global public relations firm in the Detroit area and the best part about it isn’t that I landed a job here from this all of this. No, the best part about it is that I landed a job where I’m openly appreciated as myself, an LGBT individual. Companies that embrace diversity are proven to succeed more than those who don’t.
Can you imagine a society where boys and men do not feel compelled to act a certain way around their male peers? If the pressure to exhibit pure masculinity wasn’t so strong, boys would have the ability to creatively express themselves, encouraging them to be open-minded, innovative humans. I do not believe in men showing a feminine side, for having feelings or showing emotions are NOT female traits.
I have been thinking about this a lot recently and I guess my reason for writing this is to put on paper my appreciation of the personal experience and growth I encountered throughout my childhood. Because of what I’ve written above, I am a stronger, more successful and more confident person with a proud sense of self-identity and beautiful penmanship.
Masculinity can mean whatever you want it to mean, ladies and gents. Qualities and traits do not have genders. Please try and be sure to work to create a welcoming environment for all. Continue snatching people left and right and don’t let people put out your shine, whoever you are.
It does indeed get better.