By Terry Drew Karanen
What does it mean to be a man in the 21st Century?
Guys all over the world, and in all spectrums of male sexuality, are asking themselves that question. Ultimately, the answer lies within each of us. There are at least as many forms of behavior for men as there are cultures. Even the term LGBTQAI+ “community” can be questioned – sometimes we don’t much act like a community.
Instead we drop very quickly into our “L,” “G,” “B,” “T,” “Q,” “A,” “I,” and “+” communities to find the acceptance we seek.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks for gay men is the fear we are going to be too much like our straight brothers, or in other cases, not enough like them. We don’t want to be seen as sloppy who can’t keep a clean house and only watch sports. But at the same time, we may be seeking to emulate other characteristics, such as pursuing a hyper-masculine body image.
The stereotypes we apply to “being men” are often ridiculous, just like the example in the preceding paragraph. Not all gay men are fashionistas, nor do all of us hate sports.
My late husband couldn’t match a tie to a shirt and suit to save himself. And, though I can with expert success, you’re more likely to find me in jeans and a t-shirt than sipping champagne in a tux at a fancy function (though I’m told I do clean up well.).
The younger gay, bi, non-binary, queer, and trans men can be amazing examples to those of us in our middle or senior ages.
Many of our younger counterparts are relentless and brazen in embracing their individuality through their appearance, choice of partners, and lifestyles. Most people want to be accepted regardless of their sexual orientation or preference, but we must also accept ourselves. In fact, if we don’t accept ourselves neither will anyone else.
To be a man in our times is nothing like it was in the 1950s, when gender roles were stereotyped in a way that left little if any room for men who love men. Sadly though, that decade is often referred to as “the good old days,” when everyone knew their place and life was good.
The trouble is, that wasn’t the case. LGBTQAI+ people didn’t have a place and life for us pretty much sucked.
Being a man today requires us to own up to our desires, to acknowledge our masculine AND feminine energies, and to being willing to reach out for support. We don’t have to — nor should we be — expected to, “go it alone,” or “man up.”
For the women still reading, please know that you play a huge role in the developing masculinity we’re seeing in our communities.
Men can learn from you, and vice versa, of course. But we have to come together to learn from one another, have the difficult conversations, tell our stories, and open our hearts and arms to accepting one another.
As we begin the new year, we might want to recommit to:
- Owning our personal power through expressing our desires
- Accepting and even seeking out more diversity in our lives to broaden our awareness
- Being kinder and less judgmental about how we talk, look, walk, or dress
- Endeavoring to look more for the positive and good in ourselves and others
What does it mean to be a man in the 21st Century? For starters it means to be ourselves. If you identify as a man who loves men, you have opened the door to far more than most of our fathers or grandfathers could have imagined.
It can mean that you are willing to let down your guard, feel the camaraderie of your brothers, and are more able to explore your desires in all areas of life.
Being a man who loves men can also mean that you might still be carrying the guilt of those desires thrust upon you by perceptions of heteronormality, societal expectations, and religious teachings that use scripture as weapons.
We all have the capacity to change our thinking and change our lives. No one has to stay stuck in a life that isn’t working for them. It’s up to us to help one another make sense of life, and that comes through deciding individually exactly what we want our lives to be.