The other day I was at the post office buying some stamps. They were for save the date cards for my upcoming wedding. I looked through the stamps and found an appropriate black and white flower with a heart near it. Seemed reasonable enough to have a loving flower as a stamp to announce an upcoming wedding. I took the stamps in my hand and walked back to my car. As I walked by a group of construction workers I suddenly felt anxious that they may see the flowery stamps and what they may think. “Is that guy gay? Why did he get flowers on his stamps.” I started to rationalize how I could explain that it was for a wedding card and that putting a stamp of a basketball player on the envelopes (my first impulse) would seem strange. The truth was I was dealing with my own homophobic tendencies and my willingness to conform to the masculine hegemony.
What is the masculine hegemony? Any attempt by a man to show any form of sensitivity to the world can be seen as feminine and thus may be evidence that the “man” in question is homosexual. Men, as I felt in my story above, are struggling to constantly prove that they are not lacking masculine power when they feel like hugging their kids or watching a romantic comedy. This, however, is one of the insidious ways that men and boys are kept in line.
As a result, men are denied their full humanity. I feel uncomfortable wearing a pink shirt. I fear the judgment of other men. I worry that wearing a pink shirt, buying stamps with hearts on them or admitting that I enjoy dancing to Taylor Swift songs would out me as a potential homosexual.
Stuart Miller in his book, Men and Friendship speaks to this problem:
“Surely the great tradition of male friendship, celebrated in the West by Homer and Aristotle and Cicero, by Montaigne and Shakespeare and Pope, was what people would think of when I said `male friendship.’ Yet even those who study boys and men draw a link between emotional expression, vulnerability, and sexual orientation.”
They “draw a link” between telling another man how I feel and sexual orientation? What strikes me as strange about all of this is the need to sexualize men’s behavior. What does any of this have to do with sexual orientation? The answer is…nothing. And yet, I can see all around me the message that it is girly, wimpy, or “gay” to show your feelings.
I realize that my willingness to conform to this male heterosexual hegemony is also homophobia at its worst. I’m really saying to gay men out there that I don’t want to be like you. I’m willing to limit my range of experience so that I don’t have to be associated with gay men. It is also saying that gay men are lacking in masculine energy, which, is clearly not true.
I continue to grow up in my life and let go of the need to prove my masculinity. I want someday to be free of this insidious belief that sentimentality and emotional expression tell something about my sexual orientation. I want to reach out to others with different sexual orientations and say, “I’m sorry for my ignorance.” “Please forgive me.”
The real struggle in my own experience is the unconscious denial of sentimental impulses that arise. I may want to be more affectionate with a male friend or tell a close friend that I love him. Instead my acculturated mind gets pulled back into line. I miss out on the possible human connections that are around me waiting to create more satisfaction and happiness.