The Word Rabbit

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This article was written on 30 Jul 2015, and is filled under Uncategorized.

Male

I wrote this a while ago and re-read it earlier today. It’s still relevant…

I’m a man. I have a penis and testicles, XY chromosomes and choose to identify as such. Therefore, I’m in a state of maleness. And that’s all very lovely. And it’s as a man that I experience the varied slings, arrows and misfortunes of life and it’s inevitably as a man that I try and make sense of them. But what happens when that sense of maleness is taken away?

As I used to recruit soldiers for the Army, a job I now revile and know that I will be paying for throughout the rest of my life, I know what happens when you drive over a roadside bomb. There are extensive injuries to lower extremities, which may include your genitals. Are men who are injured in this way deprived of masculinity? No, they’re not.

A couple of years ago, I met a paralympian who is paralysed from the waist down. There are obvious implications to this, but does it mean that he’s less of a man? No, it doesn’t. And so the list goes on. Men who have lost some vital, physical part of themselves, or who are unable to access it, for whatever reason. They are still, by any reasonable reckoning, men. Unless they choose to identify otherwise.

Physical impairment, then, can damage maleness, often irreparably, but not take it away entirely. But what of depression?

When I got depressed, a door was kicked open. A door that exposed me to the full and fiery blast or my own weakness. Suddenly, all I could do, just, was dress myself. There are some days, still, when even this eludes me. I relied on people to take me places and do things for me. Again, there are still days, too many days, when this is still the case.

So why do I feel that the part of me, by which I don’t mean the aforesaid penis or testicles, has been taken away? Is there something inherent in the idea of maleness which means to be vulnerable is to surrender something or yourself, to forfeit it? The conclusion that I’ve arrived at, after a certain amount of soul-searching is that there isn’t.

I was born in the seventies, adolesced in the eighties and grew to man’s estate in the nineties. This meant that, like a cultural sponge, I soaked up everything that was around me, some of it without question and some of it with a teenager’s truculence, and allowed it to tell me how to be. Some of this was deeply toxic and its taking a while to work its way out of my system and some of it was well-intentioned but utterly rubbish.

What, perhaps, saved me, us that my family was always about strong, clever and sharp women. They were working class and had worked outside the home because they had to and then returned to said home at the end of each day and ran it. Each of them was warm, funny and wise and had an infinite amount of time for other people, family and otherwise. Many collected waifs and strays and just loved and cared for them. They were good, great people and I love them still.

For me, the opposite of masculine, which is feminine, never seemed like it was something to fear, so when I was told something was ‘girly,’ it never seemed bad. And when people in the media or my friends talked about what made a ‘man,’ it was, confusingly, never listening to other people except for when they told you what a man was. There’s a fairly glaring paradox here and it’s always seemed wildly stupid.

This brings me, erratically and jaggedly, to something that looks like a conclusion I only fleetingly recognise as mine.

Nothing has been taken from me. In fact, it’s the reverse. Something has been given to me which means I’m more fully human, more in touch with the essence of myself than I have ever been at any time before.

One of the people I most admire, while recognising him as a complex, very flawed person who left some terrible legacies, is my granddad, whose final battle with prostate cancer, an illness that he made fight for every inch of him and only yielded at the last, remains the single bravest thing I’ve ever seen. In that struggle, he became simultaneously more human and more stubbornly glorious than anyone has any right to be.

It’s the same with Muhammad Ali. In his prime, dancing under the lights, he was an avatar of triumph, of true, martial glory. And yet, in his illness, when he should have been laid low, he’s greater by far. Everyone was with him when he lit the torch at the Olympics just as everyone is with him now, bound by a fierce love for the dignity and strength that he’s showing as his life ebbs out to its end.

While I’m not my granddad and definitely not Muhammad Ali, I want my weakness to reveal a strength. In the last analysis, I don’t care whether this is called maleness or anything else, because it’s transcended that. Maleness is a label we’ve chosen to attach to a wholly arbitrary set of characteristics I have no use for. I’m weak, vulnerable, aware of my limitations and my frailties and in that knowledge, there seems to be a strength.

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