At a very early age, I wanted to model the men in my life: uncles, boy cousins, and family friends. The boys always had fun. From climbing trees to skateboarding to playing football in the middle of the street while avoiding traffic. The “boys will be boys” motto was a way of life. Their lives came with very little accountability, especially when those actions affected people. Growing up around them, masculinity quickly became associated with a sense of freedom that I craved. And while toxic, this type of thinking had a huge impression on my understanding of love and relationships.
For most of my life I believed that if I was upset or hurt my partner’s feelings, it wasn’t necessary to apologize for fear of being seen as weak. Men and those who performed masculinity were providers. They were protectors. Being providers and protectors gave them a free pass to not only do what they wanted but to say what they wanted, because “without them, where would we be?”
Through those lenses, I soon felt that not only did I need to be a provider and a defender, but that I needed to avoid being sensitive and disassociate from any feeling outside of anger.
This was reinforced by family members encouraging my male cousins to not cry or to stop being so soft. Eventually they’d resort to teasing the women in our family as a way of protecting themselves. I’d watch them struggle with their feelings all my life. Wanting to cry but not knowing how. Wanting to be comforted but being too afraid to ask.
I followed suit.
I became one of the boys. I adopted their fears around properly expressing emotions and feeling safe enough to feel things.
As an impressionable child who was already struggling with their identity, I was grasping at anything that would give me access to locating who I wanted to be in the world. Being a cisgendered girl and performing femininity in my family came with too many rules. If I had to perform within the binary, I wanted to follow the path that led to the most “freeing” experience. Masculinity was that for me.
The forms of masculinity that I learned to model consisted of:
Being dominant at all times
Doing any and everything to provide financial stability
Power, even when that power threatened the safety of those around me
Showing anger is the only permissible emotion
And even though I carried these principles into most of my romantic relationships, I still found myself struggling through my identity. I had spent most of my life latching onto hyper masculine practices, and did not realize how much I resented those very notions until I got into relationships.
Some women wanted me to uphold these notions even when I was struggling to do so. While other women wanted me to stop “acting” masculine all together. As time went on and I grew older, I started to feel less comfortable with being so rooted in masculinity and wanted to feel more like my authentic self.
Though I feared I would be labeled a fraud, especially by other masculine-presenting women in the LGBTQAI community. I didn’t want the community that I belonged to give me a hard time for not being “man enough.” So I learned to withhold feelings, thoughts and even temptations because it was easier than bearing the weight of being seen as a weak lesbian.
It wasn’t until I fell in love and settled down that I understood how it was necessary to reconfigure my identity and abandon all the “tools” I thought I needed to sustain a relationship with a cis woman. She challenged me to find myself through communicating my feelings. She challenged me to be healthy by not only modeling it but asking me if I even knew what being healthy meant. When she asked me to tell her how I felt, I started to conjure up responses. I still withheld my feelings, but something inside me wanted to give her the parts of me that I had never really nurtured. I would grow frustrated by her constant need for two-way communication. But what was stronger than that desire to remain silent and hardcore was my love for her.
I started shedding the ideas of who I was supposed to be and redefined freedom through positive reinforcement and encouragement to be honest. And while I still struggle with my toxic masculinity— especially when my queerness and my relationship with my wife is challenged by queer and heterosexual folk alike— I’ve learned that people’s expectations of masculinity and how a person like me should act is not my responsibility to consider.
Written by: B.A. Williams (@Bawthewriteher)