My Masculinity

This is a rare topic where I spend a lot more time feeling than thinking. Basically, I feel masculine and I enjoy that feeling so I don’t spend much thought on it. I sometimes fantasize about working out to look extra studly, but I don’t enjoy exercise and I already look good enough to please myself. That is about as far as my thoughts on the subject usually go. Today, however, I’m going to dig a bit deeper. This essay looks at my life through the lens of my sense of my own masculinity.

If you want to put this essay in a larger context, I have a series on masculinity that starts with this essay.

My childhood development

I was born male and never had occasion to seriously question my gender. I never felt much outside the broad norms in terms of gender and sexuality. I may not have the intensity of male identity that some men do, but I’ve always identified myself as a boy/man and been comfortable in doing so.

I was a fairly average-sized to smallish boy. I didn’t really come into my full height until age 16 or so and didn’t come into my adult weight until around 22. As a kid, I consistently had oversized feet and hands, a clue that I’d eventually turn into the big fellow I am today. The key point here is that as a kid, I didn’t identify as a big strong guy, but as a smallish and rather awkward boy.

I grew up as an only child, and my young parents did not fit into standard gender roles. My father has had many jobs, though mostly white-collar and his great passion is as a musician and artist. My mother loves to work with her hands building things and mostly worked blue-collar jobs as a mechanic. None of that ever struck me as strange, even when presented with more typical role modeling on TV.

My favorite toys tended to be legos, toy cars, action figures, and stuffed animals. I enjoyed music and visual arts but I was never especially talented at either. I read a lot more than most of my peers and watched less TV. I spent a lot more time playing by myself than playing with other children, though I did have a handful of friends at any given age. I liked the stuff other boys typically liked, but I also liked gender-neutral sorts of toys and games.

I was also a rather fearful child in many ways. I was terrified of the dark, of monsters, of dogs, of spiders, and all manner of things as a kid. In retrospect, I think most of this just stems from being small, imaginative, and ignorant of what was really dangerous and what wasn’t.

My recollection is that I was sexually attracted to girls even from a very early age. I have some distinct memories of desires and impulses I couldn’t make clear sense of long before I actually went through puberty.

I was, by and large, a very peaceful kid who didn’t grow up being taught to fit into any given gender role other than what came naturally to me. When I started going to public school, this because rather a problem for me. Other boys, who were more aggressive and eager to prove themselves, bullied me constantly. I was both a bit weird, unused to socializing with other kids away from my parents, and rather afraid. I was easy to pick on, and easy to beat up. This was most intense for me between 2nd and 4th grade but continued to be a problem up until 8th grade.

This bullying had some impact on my identity, but mostly it just made me very wary of school, especially any time at school outside an actual classroom. While I don’t think I saw myself as weak, I did see myself as very vulnerable and I felt insecure away from adults I trusted. Even with all that, I didn’t associate this insecurity with manliness. I think because my upbringing didn’t emphasize gender roles, I didn’t tie these things together.

Highschool changed many things

High school was a very significant time of transition and change for me. In Jr. High, I’d started to get a bit more muscular as well as a bit more coordinated and a bit more socially aware. Friends had taught me about dressing like a normal guy of that age, and I finally developed a strategy to discourage bullies who got physical with me; I sucker-punched/kicked them at a time of my choosing. It was very effective and I only had to do it a few times before no one gave me any more trouble.

By high school I’d become socially adept enough I didn’t need to defend myself. I simply wasn’t attacked beyond the occasional verbal taunting which I knew how to handle without inviting any violence. This freed me to actually enjoy school and the social opportunities it offered. I made quite a lot of friends and even became something of a “notable” personality within the school. Not popular in the traditional sense, but known and even admired even outside my growing circle of friends.

High school was also when I went from average-sized to being strong and tall. I didn’t do anything to create this transformation and while I was aware of it and happy about it, I hadn’t fully internalized it. I knew I was a big guy, but I didn’t really feel like one just yet.

Hich school was also when I went from having almost no real-life romantic adventures to losing my virginity. Looking back, the tender age of 15 seems a bit early, but at the time it felt like something I’d been desperately missing from my life for a long time. It was all pretty awkward as I hadn’t the foggiest idea what I was doing in any practical sense, but it did cement my sense of masculine sexual identity. I never bragged about it or even talked about it with my friends, but I felt better having had that experience even if it took many more years to become confident in my sex life.

So I’d gone into high school as a small and fearful kid with a few friends and came out as a big, strong, sexed, and popular fellow. Mind you, at the time that all hadn’t truly “sunk in” but looking back the dramatic transformation is pretty obvious to me.

Colledge and bachelorhood

Quickly after high school, I became huge. I’ve got a lot of stretch marks still on my chest and arms from this time. I’d say I put on around 80-100lb and kept most of that weight the rest of my life. I wasn’t just tall now, I was pro-wrestler / lineman-sized. Before very long, my self-identity adjusted to this new reality. As silly as it is, that alone gave me quite a lot of self-confidence. I haven’t been in any kind of fight since I was 12 or so, but knowing I’m physically intimidating is a real comfort and makes it easy to feel confident.

For the record, I’m 6′ 3″ tall and weigh around 320lb when I’m not actively dieting.

While I did have a couple of sexual relationships in this period, I was not very confident with women or dating. Again, this didn’t really impact my sense of masculinity, but I was often feeling lonely, horny, and a bit frustrated with myself. In retrospect, I’d pin my issues on both a lack of experience, confidence, and most of all, knowledge. Looking back I’d say I was kind of an idiot about it. If I’d just sought out some advice on the subject I might have saved myself a lot of angst.

In this time period, I also found relative financial success. I worked myself up from pretty much being broke and in debt, to having a middle-class income, no debt, and the beginnings of savings. I’ve never been especially ambitious and my success in the workplace was relatively slow and deliberate. Nonetheless, I think financial success is something that makes men feel accomplished and confident. This was certainly the case for me.

Getting married

Romantic success was about the only thing really eluding me as I rolled into the late 90s. I’d had a few short relationships and one slightly disastrous with the girl I’d pined for back in high school. I still didn’t know what I was doing. In a way, I was fairly well prepared for a committed adult relationship, but I had no idea how the hell you got there. I had plenty of confidence, but I had been going about dating all wrong. By the time I did figure dating out, I got married quickly thereafter. Since I love my wife dearly and don’t wish for any other, perhaps it’s a blessing it took me a while to get my “game” figured out.

Marriage and the building of that relationship changed me in many ways. For starters, it gave me some sense of confidence that I now knew how to date and build a relationship. Of course, it also meant I no longer needed that skill set. Oh, the ironies of life! It also brought a kind of masculine maturity in that I now had someone to protect and nurture using my strength, knowledge, and confidence. I think that fulfillment of purpose really helps cement your sense of identity, it’s one thing to have the capability, another to put it to good use.

There is also something to be said for having a close relationship with someone of the opposite gender to cement your own sense of gender. While there are plenty of women in my family and even among my friends, you don’t really get to see the intimate details of feminine life. Marriage gives you a much more in-depth look at life from the other side of the gender spectrum.

My masculinity today

I feel like a manly man but I also feel no obligation to fit anyone else’s definition of masculinity. I feel lucky in that genetics gave me a big strong body and a generally handsome appearance. Finally, I’m thankful I was not indoctrinated into any rigid sense of gender roles or expectations. I’m happy to show off and be admired for my manly traits, but I’m also happy to just not give a crap about any critique anyone might have of my manliness or lack thereof.

I think my self-confidence in my masculinity makes me feel free to both celebrate it and make fun of it. Because of this, the kind of man I most admire is the sort that expresses confidence and doesn’t confine themself to strictly masculine tropes or images. I think there are many ways to be masculine and to express masculinity, and I admire all but for those that celebrate cruelty to others.

Sigfried

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