This is another in my series of interviews with men about masculinity. Michael was kind enough to submit his answers to me and his reflections are largely about his youth and upbringing.
I was especially interested in the distinctions that Michael drew between bodily and emotional strength. The way these ideas work in the context of masculinity is an important concept that warrants further investigation.
When was the first time you remember being aware of masculinity? How old were you? What was the cultural climate or influence?
Two things come to mind: As a child, prior to the divorce of my parents, I clearly remember that while our family was visiting a neighbor’s house and saying goodbye to go home, I was hanging off of my dad’s arm like a monkey, his arm up like a tree limb as if he was flexing his bicep. I remember thinking that I’d never do this with mom, but not dwelling on why. He was clearly the Patriarch in that setting, no other children around. I would have been in the single digits, age-wise. 1970s.
Also, the college atmosphere in general made me more aware of it. In high school we all were just kids, but now we were becoming ADULTS, with adult goals and such. Sex was more present than in the high school atmosphere which while I know that some was going on, it wasn’t something I regarded as a big deal or glorified, despite hearing guy talk of conquests to the contrary. So in this case, I think the idea of maturity was tied into it. Early 20s, in the early 1990s.
Do you think of yourself as masculine? Why or why not?
I didn’t in the past. Being more cerebral than athletic, I left masculinity to the guys who were chasing balls on a court or field. Once I reached college, dating within my college interests (theatre) let talent and creativity be an appreciated characteristic instead of the physical stuff. I was making connections on a cerebral or emotional level, and then making a physical connection with the people who got that far. It’s interesting to note that the acting stuff is at heart an emotional connection, and my then-current view of masculinity didn’t play into it all.
I do think of myself as masculine now. My interests haven’t changed, and I still don’t have the body of an athlete, but these’s a difference in my brainspace. Learning what women aren’t attracted to was a great help in changing the way I thought about myself and masculinity. I could only give you generalities, and there are exceptions to everything, but in learning about myself and being objective, I could eliminate my mindset of being the “nice guy,” “big brother,” or “friend” in relationships with women. I didn’t choose that for myself, but once I had identified it, I could adjust my behavior and interactions with both genders to be more masculine, and enjoyed the change. Here we’re talking my late 20s, well after college.
It was incredibly difficult to change a lifetime of behavior, but the result was worth it. For years, I thought that to become more masculine, and in turn be thought of as attractive by those who appreciated masculinity, that I had to engage in behavior that I found off-putting, i.e. treating women poorly, instead of as something special. When I realized that I could keep what makes me ME, and sheer away the non-masculine behavior that wasn’t earning me any points with anyone, it was a revelation, i.e. you tease the woman instead of complimenting her constantly. I didn’t have to be one of those guys that treated women so badly that I shook my head when they’d keep going back for more, but I wasn’t playing puppydog to them either. I learned that masculinity isn’t muscles. I couldn’t tell you what it is in a paragraph though.
People talk about confidence, which is just as hard to define. And as to why some people have it, and others don’t, I couldn’t really tell you, because my only real thoughts about it stem from solving my problems with dating early on in life. I do know that a large part of confidence is basically being really good at living your life. And I know that a large part of masculinity is confidence.
I do consider myself masculine now, certainly. Typing it out seems egotistical, though. I know that certain people look up to me, that men and women find me attractive, but I’m not going to even guess at which came first: the masculinity or the effect from others. They definitely feed each other.
How does your masculinity relate to your sexuality (be it your orientation, preferences, or expressions)?
I identify as a heterosexual male, if I’m filling out a form for something. More importantly, I really just identify as Michael. That’s not being glib, I just think that part of being a man is not worrying about labels, or other people’s opinions. I don’t find men who aren’t masculine repulsive, and being a theatre geek and professional actor, I have more than my share of friends with varying sexualities.
I choose not to display overtly masculine cartoon characteristics, engage in guy talk or otherwise behave in a way that shows that I have no class. I keep a lot of female best friends, and love them dearly, so any guy talk is primarily done with them. You learn more that way.
Once I learned that I had sexual prowess, it really fed into my growing masculinity. And as I mentioned, that in turn made me feel more masculine. I think it’s a man’s job to “take” a woman somewhere, either physically or philosophically, so if that’s being a strong lead while dancing (and every woman who dances will tell you they like a strong lead) then so be it. If it means orgasms, then ok. It might mean cuddling with no hint of sex, or just including her in your plans for the evening. It all comes with the “job.”
Appearing vulnerable isn’t to be ignored though, although I once suggested to a lady that “she wanted a guy who could cry, just not in front of HER.” She said, “EXACTLY.” I have to be vulnerable on stage every time I walk out there, and a true connection with a woman necessitates connecting with your barriers down, but I don’t think that compromises your masculinity.