I have identified as a CIS gay male from around the age of 16.
I recognise ‘masculinity’ as a combination of various social constructs and norms that have traditional and regressive qualities. The word ‘masculinity’ agitates and unnerves me based on the idea that a masculine individual is perceivably more aligned with the stereotypical qualities of what a ‘man’ is or supposed to be. As a cis man without a wealth of supposedly ‘masculine’ qualities (for example: broad shoulders and a monotonal voice), the widespread ideas around ‘masculinity’ have previously caused me to question the value of my (more feminine?) traits, such as slamming my skinnier frame and more expressive vocal range – this was clearly damaging my personal growth and inhibiting self-worth. The comparative and competitive social environment that masculinity promotes is one of the most prominent issues surrounding the term and one that is (DEFINITELY CRYING OUT) to be addressed.
I do believe in society we are transitioning towards an educated, inclusive environment that appreciates and celebrates male sensitivity more openly, however, I agree there is much more to be done. Personally, my experience of social media on a local level (most significantly, on twitter) is that toxic gender norms circulate for clickbait and are celebrated or condemned for attention – further driving a separation between men and women and reinforcing the supposed ideas around how men and women ‘should’ act. If we are going to move forward, these need to be monitored and recognised as toxic – moreover, we need to be nicer to each-other by working on truly accepting and welcoming each other (not just tolerating each other) regardless of the way people naturally act or look.
My experience of ‘machoism’ in particular was first initiated in primary school, where I was considered ‘one of the girls’ and mocked based on my decision not to play football at lunch time. This was just the beginning of an incredibly difficult complex that lasted the entirety of my school life. As I got older, the disparity between myself and the other boys grew from my interest in art subjects and extra-curricular shows and performances, deemed as ‘gay’ and flamboyant. Having your sexual preferences and interests interrogated and mocked based on your hobbies, when I barely understood them myself, was a testing time for me as a young person. Looking back, I think it has helped me to develop a level of resilience and confidence when correcting discriminative and uninformed others.
I grew up in Essex, which, obviously, is not the most liberated and socio-culturally inclusive place on earth. Although the show is a damaging and inaccurate representation of the people that live here, those people do exist. The specific demographic of people living in the county that possess superficial interests and perspectives mean that a traditional impression of men and women (and, therefore, masculinity and femininity) is prominent and maintained. It was through a desire to leave the county and experience culture on a more appreciative, authentic level (studying in central London, and later, in Bristol) that I developed a progressive, liberal and socio-culturally inclusive mindset. Again, it is clear that perhaps more needs to be done on educating those around us.
My experience of attending The BRIT School in South London was one that encouraged me to develop both my artistic and personal expression. I think that both are complementary of each other in this sense. As one is encouraged to express themselves artistically through reflection and creation, they are also tapping into personal experiences and seeing themselves in relation to art. Being in an environment that constantly celebrated the wealth of racial, sexual and cultural difference whilst practicing theatre and performance allowed me to blossom into a confident, mature and comprehensive version of myself.
I am working towards creating a more open space for boys/men to express themselves by always challenging those around me to discuss how they feel in detail. ‘It was alright’ isn’t enough. I do this best by discussing my experiences and opinions in as much depth as I can – then asking for their opinions and observations. I’m not doing this intentionally – this is how I act naturally when showing interest. Maybe that’s sensitive, but it’s also extremely valuable and allows me to get a true and full understanding of the people around me. On a wider level, I also do this through practicing my art of theatre and film. I like my work to have an immediate and relevant socio-political message applicable to the audience. I’m currently writing a text that tackles masculinity and social exclusion within young gay students - and their subsequent relationships with straight men and women.
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