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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Becoming a Not-Man, part 2

Well, having slept on the idea and mulled it over some more, I've realized that I just don't want to revisit that horrible scene in print.  Even after all these years, it's just too upsetting somehow; maybe another time, but not today.  When I close my eyes and think about it, the time and the place all come back vividly to life, and I'm there once again.  And that was a very bad place to be.

So I'm just going to make some general observations and leave it at that for now.  It's hard to expose one's soul to the world, when it comes to the very deepest gouges, still raw and gaping and unhealed after so long a time.  Back in the 70's and 80's, there was this idea that "therapy" would cure anything and everything, and after I had left the fundamentalist church that drove me nearly to suicide, I clung to the idea of "therapy" with the same fervor I had formerly devoted to religion.

But though both are touted as a panacea that will cure whatever ails you, my experience has been that both are frail reeds on which to lean.  Seven years of Bible-thumping religion and then seventeen years, off and on, of therapy were both abject failures in my particular case.  It may be that the one or the other at different times kept me going over some rough patches in life.  Shipwrecked and adrift in the open sea, you clutch at anything that will keep you afloat, even a stray plank.  But neither one addressed, much less healed, the wound at the center of my being, the wound, the hurt, the tormenting, unremitting pain of not being a man.  A real man.

There.  I said it.  Oh dear God, do you have any idea how hard it has been for me these many years ever to put those words together and express to another person?  Because this is the ultimate shame, is it not, for persons of the male gender - not to be a "real man."  To be effeminate - to be a sissy.  That, nothing cures. 

I hasten to add, I'm not talking about being some kind of transsexual - though I can sympathize in general terms with those folks, and I just read today with sadness of the suicide of sportswriter Mike Penner aka Christine Daniels.  Nor am I talking about any physiological oddity; all the parts are there and in good working order, trust me - though alas, at this late date subject like all other parts of the body to the creeping, damnable infirmities that come with age.

No, I'm talking about being an ordinary little gay boy who was a sissy and still is, and though he has learned through years and years of imitation and practice to more or less "butch it up" in public, still feels utterly lacking inside of some essential "manly" quality.  Though time has softened the ache deep within - time does not heal every wound; some it simply wraps in bandages - it's still there, tender and throbbing if I uncover it.  So after I tell my story, for whatever it's worth, I ask you to be gentle in your responses.

I've told this story - with halting words, many tears, gasping for breath - to a dozen people over the years, and it was extremely hard to do each time.  It would be easier to admit to murder, rape, or theft than to admit to not being a man.  Most of those people were therapists of one stripe or another; a few were very close friends.  

And not one of them - not one of them, even the so-called professionals - was able to understand, to fully grasp what I was telling them.  The uniform response from all of them, even close friends who had more opportunity to know me in depth than some therapists, was either:  a) oh, that's not true; or b) that doesn't matter.

But it is true, and it does matter.  Terribly.

To have this gaping hole at the center of your being.  Bridge out.  No passage.  To feel forever incomplete, disconnected, impaired and imperfect deep inside:  like the Scarecrow with the stuffing knocked out of him.

That is what it's like to be a Not-Man.  To be some other kind of being, in a world where only being a Man is valid and admissible. 

That's what it's like to be me.

Okay, I have to take a break now, guys.  This is some hard shit to write.  I'll try to continue later.


Ultra Dave said...

I know that was difficult and thanks for expressing it. It took me till I was 30 to say I was a man. It still catches me off guard occassionally. Maybe I realized it wasn't just the phyiscal stuff, i.e. hair, dick, etc. Nor the stuff we do, i.e. power tools or sports. Or maybe something like bravery, courage, endurance, or resilentency. But maybe something deeper or a combination of it all that define us as gay men. Our ability to still be true to who we are regardless, something a str8 man could never understand or find his way through. We just are who we are. No further explanation needed. We just are.

Jeepguy said...

Wow, Russ! This is powerful stuff and no doubt was hard to put into words that adequately describe things as you see and feel them. I'm really glad you did this though, as it reaffirms with me that we are not alone in working through the lack of acceptance and downright psychological and sometimes physical abuse we endured growing up gay.
Like Dave, I was about 30 when I finally decided to accept myself as a gay man. I escaped from the church (fundamentalist fire-and-brimstone, bible-beating bigots) in my teens, but because of its false teachings, I tortured myself for years trying not to be gay. I guess I came to a gradual realization that being gay did not have to keep me from identifying as a man and that the two are not mutually exclusive. We are here just like everyone else, no more, no less. If this seems like an over-simplification, I apologize, because I know this is hard work.
Too bad not everyone sees it the way we do, but if lots of us keep hacking away at it tenaciously, being who we are every day, maybe one day they will come to realize that every person's freedom depends on all of us seeing clearly and accepting every human being as they are.
For me, talking about it and connecting with other kindred spirits helps me stay on my path toward becoming more whole. I try to look at it as a process, not an end-product. (That way I don't have to worry if I keep finding holes in me from old buck-shot!)
I think I'm getting muddled and verbose, so I'll quit here for now.
Thanks again, and the best to ya,

Sebastian said...

Russ, that is one powerful posting. You should share what you want to share, and only that, not forcing yourself, and not worrying about anyone else's reactions, if that is possible. 'Being a man' is many things. One thing it is, is being a survivor: putting up with the crap that life and people try to shovel on us and getting thru it. We're wounded by it, of course. Sometimes those wounds are deep and never heal. But we survive.

I can't imagine what it was like growing up in rural Texas. My suburban northeast life was hard enough. I remember stewing about why I was different. I remember a point when I was very little when people compared me to my younger brother, and I was the better one. And then it shifted. An aunt looked at us playing and said approvingly: "Well, the little one is all boy isn't he." What I was wasn't spoken. There are memories of a hundred such jabs, from family and 'friends' and classmates and teachers. And there was physical intimidation, and some violence, but not much. But we survive. We don't forget, we don't get over it, but we survive.

I was raised in a family of WWII vets. Only in my 40s, when I listened to a radio interview with the author of the book "My Father's War," did I connect some things. Those uncles, and my dad, came back wounded in one way or another. They stressed 'being a man' in a way that was formed in childhood but forged in army life and combat. And they tried to impart that to their sons. And they did, mostly to the detriment of their sons, who either measured up by kicking ass whenever they could, or cringed inwardly, and sometimes outwardly by the toughness and violence.

God bless you, my friend.

Russ Manley said...

Thanks so much guys. I have read and I do relate to every line you wrote. It means a lot to have the understanding of my peers, after carrying this burden alone for so long.

I have more to say about all that - it's still very hard to process, and harder still to find a way to make what I write something more than just a pity pot, connect it to the larger human experience. But thanks for the support, buddies. You're the best.

N.B. - two long comments of the self-preening type have been deleted by the Proprietor of this blog.

You want to write your own story and ignore mine, that's fine - go start your own blog, it's free.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing I have felt the same way for yrs. I thought I was alone when it came to feeling this way.

Russ Manley said...

Well you're not, as you see. I'm thinking lots of guys must feel this way . . . but nobody ever talks about it, do they?

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