What does it mean to grow up a man in America…

I don’t really know what it means to be a man.

I know what it was like to grow up transient in America.
I am white. I am male. By all accounts, I am in a privileged class, and that has some truth to it.
At the same time, there’s a dialogue happening that seems myopic. It holds generalizations about the benefits of being male and assuming it applies to all as a fairy tale of wonderful benefits and intentional actions.

Hugs were a part of my life when I was young, very young. By the time 1st grade came around, hugging was beginning to be restricted to family and close friends. By 4th grade such a thing was limited to parents and some sort of crisis.

At 18, it became more acceptable to hug a few close friends. Things have loosened up a bit in the past decade, and more people seem to hug upon meeting, but it’s still a segregated action. It is risky.

One did not hold hands after age 7. Holding hands could be done with parents or with younger siblings who needed to be guided somewhere.

Physical touch was reserved for those you loved within your family, and those who you were in a relationship with.
Oh, there was the touching of sports- roughhousing, wrestling, fighting. That’s all okay. But to be touched in an intimate manner, a touch that could be caring, soothing, comforting? No. Those could only be from lovers.

Women touched, hugged, held hands. Men in foreign countries could do those things, but not us.

With puberty came real danger. Here you could become a target of anything.
To look too much like one thing meant exclusion from other things. You don’t really choose, you get assigned.
This is when you learn that you can have some physical contact with others that isn’t violent or abusive. You can hold hands again, you can be held again. The catch is, you have to want to kiss them, too.
To touch is to be overshadowed by sex. You can touch, but only in the context of sex.

These conventions are not optional.
These are the rules, and they are set in granite, enforced equally by the other boys and by the girls.

This is the foundation of so many of the complaints about men. The grabbing, the ogling, the crude language.
How many generations of us are here, for whom human contact outside of family is violence or it is sex.
Fear colors it all. Fear of weakness, fear of humiliation, fear of being misunderstood.
And loneliness.

This is why men buy companionship.
This is what sits behind the crude comments, the grabbing hands.
How many crappy one night stands come from this?
How many assaults come from this loneliness?
A loneliness that can’t be admitted. Might not even be conscious.
This is so much of the pain behind a break-up, a divorce. It’s not the loss of a connubial bed, but that the loss of that partnership means the loss of human touch. Knowing that one will be in solitude until someone else could be found.

This twisted need, cut from us too young, festers into a wound.
We can’t ask our friends for solace, for an intimate touch. We can’t curl up into a friend’s arms, or have a hand held as we grieve. The closest we can have is an awkward pat on the back, the frail hands of parents, if they’re still around. Maybe a hug from a child who we don’t want to burden with this.

This is something that has to be dealt with for the balance to change.
If men are expected to be more gentle, more respectful, they have to be given something in return.
We all need to be allowed intimacy that isn’t tied to sexuality.
If one wants to know why so many men kill themselves, even with all the supposed benefits of being male, this is a large part of the puzzle. We all know it. We know that loneliness, and we all deal with it differently. Some turn to sports. Some turn to violence. Some turn to drink. Some to abuse. Most to abuse of themselves.

This is part of what it is to be a man.
You have to stand alone, and to look with scorn on those who need a hand.
To mock the ones who voice any need for care, for tenderness.
One must feel shame when asking for help, or for concern.
So be strong, feed your shame, and act like a man, whatever that means.

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