On Being A Man

Marion is a well known physicist and a successful and married businessman! That is not a contradiction. Nor is Marion a male version of the female name. Nevertheless, Marion is a businessman, and presently runs her/his own business which employs seventy people. Before that she/he was a well paid and sought after physicist.

Even with wig, jewellery and female clothes, Marion does not look very much like a woman. Her face is craggy and furrowed more deeply than a woman’s subcutaneous fat and female hormones allow. Marion’s hands are muscular and wide, as are her shoulders. But living in the role of a male has been difficult, largely because her female self needs recognition and expression. After all, Marion is fundamentally female. But dressing as a female while you have a physically male body is not acceptable in most male work environments, especially if the male body concerned is known to have a wife and children.

Out of this Marion has felt constantly under pressure, acting out a role in the male world of business and everyday life.

So why do I call Marion a she? It is because Marion’s mother was the eldest child in a family of thirteen – and the only female! This led her to the firm determination that if she became a mother she would bear a girl. Tragically the first child she bore was male. Keeping the fact a secret she told everybody her baby was a girl. The baby girl was Marion – who the mother dressed as a female, taught to be a female, and gave all the toys and companions appropriate to a girl until the age of five. Then, pregnant again Marion’s mother bore the physically female girl she had longed for. From the moment she knew she had her girl, she had boys clothes purchased for Marion, had her hair cut short and in moments, to outward appearances anyway, metamorphosed her into a boy. Marion had the body of a male, but her soul was female. Unable to accept the forced change Marion flung off the boys clothes and ran away from home. It was winter. Snow was on the ground. She contracted pneumonia and nearly died. Therefore it has been etched into Marion’s experience that her female self is open to deadly attack.

How do I get to be a man?

Being a man is more than simply having a biologically male body. As can be seen from Marion’s experience it also means believing oneself to be male. Marion, who lives away from his/her wife and family in order to dress and live as a woman, told me the family find it impossible to accept the need to be feminine. Therefore, to be a female also means, in relationships with family and work, social acceptance of the role.

While the male role is often presented as one of freedom and great opportunity, for many males it means being trapped in a boring or dangerous job for most of the years of their life to support a family. I remember comforting a male friend as he wept angrily about the death of his father, who had died prematurely from coal dust inhaled during years working for the Gas Board shovelling coal into a furnace.

This contradicts the general opinion of it being a male dominated world. In fact many males feel dominated by their role, by their need to work, and by people in positions of power. No wonder, when, in times of war the male is expected to play the part of soldier; in times of peace that of work machine which is supposed to be able to function efficiently for fifty weeks every year, with a couple of weeks off to play. It may even be a secret envy of males that they cannot ever bear a baby. From this viewpoint nothing which male genius has crafted or conjured compares with bearing a living child.

The physical and psychological aspects of what we call maleness also place one in line for another type of expectation from others. Bernard, a man in his thirties who had left his wife and work to escape from such expectations, asked me whether I felt I had given my parents or my wife satisfaction. I understood the question perfectly because, as a male, it refers to things which have at times been very difficult. It is very hard for parents not to want the ‘best’ for their son – and of course for their daughter. For the son this does not necessarily mean brilliance at school or work, but certainly achievement of something which appears to the parents to be psychological steadiness; work which is socially accepted as worthwhile and reasonably paid; and probably a marriage which is fruitful or at least ‘happy’. These amount to the achievement of financial, emotional and physical independence. For the young male still living at home, they are huge milestones – perhaps unspoken, but nevertheless potent.

There are also expectations involved in being a partner in marriage or sex. The awful dragging down of self esteem that arises from not being able to be the husband or lover that brings fulfilment to ones partner ruins the life of many men. The pain of not getting it right, of not being able to be the person your partner could feel happy with, the sight of the love fading from the face of the woman you want so much to give your best to, may end in violent outbursts.

I love you mum, BUT!

In the end, the parents or lover we ‘please’ through any achievement or capability in our life may be internal – our own judgement of whether we have lived up to what we would like to be. Nevertheless, social and family recognition are still important. Desmond, whose father died some years before the time when Desmond felt most successful, still misses being able to share what he is doing with his father, even though Desmond is in his late forties. Also, he is clear that his own satisfaction with himself has partly come about through finding work which is recognised by others as worthwhile.

This question of being satisfied with oneself in relation to others, has a great deal of bearing on maleness, and in fact whether a male actually feels he has attained maleness. In talking to me about this Gerald, an ex-teacher said, “Because I have a son I often wonder how he will manage to arrive at being sure he is a man. I am sure this is largely because it took me such a long time myself. One of the things which was a help to me was switching from a sedentary job to one in the building trade. Not only do I now mix with men who are very down to earth and masculine, but also in building work I produce something very visible, something I can be proud of and others admire and want me for. Compared with this teaching is very much more abstract and open to criticism.”

I never knew how to be a husband

He goes on to say, “But for me, the most important element of feeling I am a man has taken place in regard to my wife, Elaine. For many years I didn’t know how to love, and wasn’t stable in loving, so kept unsettling Elaine as far as feeling we had a lasting relationship. I would not have seen this some years ago, but in retrospect I can see that I didn’t know how to meet the full flood of my wife’s female nature. I don’t mean anything fanciful by this, but straightforward things. I believe that in general a healthy woman wants to procreate, either by having children or in a career; she wants to co-create a home life with her man; she wants to be loved physically and emotionally; she wants to be able to experience her ups and downs without her man collapsing when she feels a failure or achieves success. I see that when I am unable to meet my woman fully in those areas I feel diminished as a man – but when I meet them at their flood and ride their power I feel wonderfully masculine and alive. Unfortunately for many years I couldn’t meet her in that way. That was bloody painful.”

Bernard and Gerald intimate that their sense of manhood arises not only from their own self evaluation, but also from interaction with others. They suggest that their manhood is co-created through their interaction with the world. Yet in one area, that of male sex drive, this co-creativity is frequently seen as irrelevant. Also, although in recent years female issues have been loudly and often angrily voiced, little has been energetically said for maleness. While I may accept responsibility for what I do with my sex drive; do I also have to accept responsibility for having my sex drive stimulated over and over again by female crutches, thighs, behinds and breasts bared or revealed by tightly clinging veils of clothing?

The male sex drive is frequently pointed at as if individual males are wholly and personally responsible for it. The male moth who flies miles under the impress of an instinctive drive to mate cannot be accused of personal responsibility. Richard, a family man in his thirties, says, “Whenever I try to explain this to female friends they appear not to understand, or take the attitude that I must be a ‘dirty old man’. I don’t see it like that at all. I have this drive which persists year after year like a constant pressure. I have never attacked a female, never had sex with a woman who is not agreeable. What aggravates me is that I am expected to control my drive to avoid those possibilities, but women will not take responsibility for triggering my sexual impulse again and again by the way they dress or give signals.”

Not all men feel like this because not all men have the same level of sexual drive. While some men, because of their physical body type, have no appreciable drive, others, also because of their physiology, have such a strong drive it is an almost constant pressure, even a stress. A stress because, if healthy, the constant pressure to breathe or eat can usually be easily allowed, but the pressure for sexual release has a lot more difficulties surrounding it. Because of these factors I believe the male is actually asked to be more sexually responsible in our society than a woman, although it is usually thought to be the opposite way around.

Does being virile make me a man?

But being a male in relationship with a female is a lot more complex than that suggested by just the sexual equation. Being a male also involves some degree of struggle to leave ones mother behind. Simon, an interior decorator, left home in his late teens and married in his early twenties. Now nearing his forties he is still, in a certain sense, trying to leave home. Although married he seldom lived for long with his wife – he felt himself swallowed up by her emotionally, controlled by her likes and dislikes. He lived for short periods with a succession of girlfriends, interspersed with living with his mother whom he also felt emotionally swallowed by. He left his wife and lived with a new woman friend, but could not maintain the relationship – and the story continues. Simon swings between desperately wanting his woman companion/mother and trying to be emotionally independent, and so leaving her. This struggle is not uncommon, and of course, the anger, resentment and desperate need which are originally about mother, are placed firmly on the wife or girl friend. The actions, which ideally would have been relevant to adolescence and independence, are played out again and again within adult relationships. It is a real criticism of our society that it does little or nothing in a social sense to help young adults, male and female, to work out this enormously potent issue of identity and independence.

Being a man and moving toward emotional autonomy is possibly more difficult now than it has been in the past. Certain aspects of experience which are necessary to meet during masculine growth were ready made in the past, despite the fact our society apparently holds the ideal of independence more than past cultures. In smaller communities, in groups with a stronger national, religious or family identification, there was less need to be independent in forming an identity and role for oneself. At times, ones surname or tribal name alone was a ready made statement of who you were, your background, beliefs, caste, and what quality of man you might be. Whether one was enemy or friend, marriageable or taboo, was clearer. Decision making was easier because most groups had a more unified set of customs or religious practices, therefore there was less pressure on individuals to make personal decisions. In fact, being different was not good form. Those who stuck their head up above the group often had it taken off. The man may even have been helped to leave parents and move into a sense of kinship with adult males via initiation ceremonies and trials. Today, ‘A’ levels and university qualifications are not quite the same thing. On the street your name may mean nothing; there is no ready made role for you; social security or state aid may in fact develop a sense of being a second class citizen. Being out of work can even rob one of the identity and social acclaim gained through employment.

I was initiated into manhood the hard way

Today’s initiation into manhood does not consist of being circumcised without anaesthetic, or having a grass mat of stinging ants put on your chest. It most likely occurs when a man confronts the impact of the world, then manages to carry on life with his head up. This courage in sensitivity might mean becoming aware of the forces of illness waiting in the wings for their chance on us; seeing how much of a nothing we are when viewed against the teeming millions of other humans, and what competition exists in whatever our chosen direction; confronting our own internal world of fears, angers, pains and destructive habits; meeting the fact of death, fallibility and the infinity of our ignorance; recognising and accepting the variety of human beings, their experience, life or beliefs.

The sensitive perception of these issues can cripple the ‘manhood’ in one, and make one so afraid of death that we fail to live; so anxious about failure we dare not move toward satisfying expression of ourself; so frightened of emotional pain we do not risk our heart in love; so much wanting to avoid social condemnation we never stand tall in a crowd in case we appear different. There is a story told about Pythagoras, that each new student to his school had to prove themselves by spending the night in a lonely cave said to be full of ghosts. To move from youth to manhood is not simply a matter of physical ageing. Many sixty year old males are still emotionally dependent schoolboys. Maturity to manhood means walking into the cave of our own fears and illusions.

In some Mediterranean countries, the move from boyhood to manhood seems to need the taking up of a shot gun and using it to hunt. These are hangovers from the past when manhood might be proved by killing an animal for food, or surviving a sea journey or war. A new adventure is emerging though. For many men it appears to take more courage to learn to love and give oneself to ones children or to feel their fear of death than to climb a mountain. Rescuing our childhood from oblivion and facing the emotional pain which has imprisoned our spontaneity and mental mobility might be more frightening and need greater personal qualities than sailing a boat through a storm. This new manhood is not measured so much in terms of how many other men are subservient to us, how much financial power we have, or whether we know martial arts. It is to do with whether we are still the captive of narrow nationalism or religious or political bigotry. Are we still locked in conflict with others simply because they were born into different religious beliefs, or have a different skin colour? Do we still live a life dictated by unconscious fears which we rationalise into a philosophy or political view? Have we still avoided our initiatory cave in the school of manhood?

The new manhood, simply because it has to be achieved during times of greater automation and therefore greater unemployment, has to accomplish a sense of positive identity without the certain help of a work role. For many, it means confronting real independence. As a man we must live and love, meet changes and make decisions without the support or authority of close family life – away from people we grew up with – without political, religious, trade union or other group power to augment our own. This is the new manhood.

See: Am I a man.

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Marion recently underwent the sex change operation. As a physical female Marion then fell in love with a young woman of 26 and experienced the excruciating conflict of wanting to love the younger woman as if she, Marion, were still a male.

Comments

-Estela Eaks 2011-03-29 23:02:09

Everyone loves what you guys are up too. This sort of clever work and reporting! Keep up the amazing works guys I’ve you guys to my personal blogroll.

    -Tony Crisp 2011-04-06 11:51:31

    Estela – Thanks. Keep up the good vibes.

    Tony

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