Masculinity is a foreign country: they do things differently there.
With due apologies to L.P. Hartley for mangling his wonderful line, that elegantly sums up how I feel about being a man.
The nature of manhood cropped up again recently when the New York Times published a frankly disturbing photo of Donald Trump Jr sitting on a tree stump sporting dad jeans, plaid shirt and dead eyes.
Is this what a real man looks like, I thought – faux-lumberjack outfit, awkward body language and an expression somewhere between bored menace and a Terminator having his hard drive defragged?
Truth be told, I’ve never been brimming with blokery – when it comes to chromosomes my X is next to my Y, but neither feels particularly comfortable – it’s like the Chuckle Brothers wearing skinny jeans or a coalition government.
Yes, I’m a husband, father, brother and son – but I’m a human first. I take no pride in being born male. That seems absurd and sets the bar rather lower than I’d like.
After all, I also have see-through skin, freckles, a fondness for savoury (not sweet), size 10 feet and a passing resemblance to Charlie Brown had he grown to middle-age and lived rough for a time.
Should I take pride in these “accomplishments” too? I didn’t choose them like I was equipping an avatar with attributes on a cosmic computer game – they just are.
We live in an unequal society – one skewed wildly in favour of my gender and hombres have enjoyed the benefits for millennia. Why would I be proud of that?
The flipside is that if you are of the prevailing gender, but fail to fit the mould created for you by centuries of patriachal pockling then you are seen as an unmanly mix of quisling, queer and Quasimodo.
(For the record – I’m a feminist. Before the trolls point it out – I’m aware I’m a man. Luckily being a feminist doesn’t demand a DNA test – just a functioning brain.)
Self-esteem is, of course, important, but I don’t draw that from my gender – that comes from a different place entirely – largely thanks to decades of peer pressure and schools where pupils were thuggerised to a military grade.
I was in the unenviable position of being largely rebuffed in my nascent years by both males and females – necessitating a flight to movies, books, music and cuddly toys.
Don’t get me wrong – I consider myself a man (most of the time).
I’m just not very good at it.
In fact, I’m about as far away from being an Alpha Male as you can get without going the full Danny La Rue (while I sometimes enjoy wearing clothes made for women, I don’t look particularly good in them – I resemble a cross between Grotbags and a distressed shed).
The problem with being an Omega Male is context.
On my own I’m fine – I get on with life and life gets on with me (within reason – we’re not pals as such, but we do keep in touch). Same with friends and family – I don’t feel any pressure to be anything other than I am.
The problem is context – when I’m in a defiantly “male” context I tend to lose all compass and hove so far beyond my comfort zone that it disappears from sight.
Pubs, nights-out, football matches, gigs, stag-dos – all bestow a level of expectation of bloke-flavoured ‘bants’ that I struggle to deliver.
Basically, I’ve got the equipment, but I’ve never been comfortable with the environment.
I’m like an astronaut who’s afraid of the dark.
I’m 42 so I’m old enough to have lived through numerous eras when not ticking enough boxes on the “chap checklist” would be enough to earn you a bleaching behind the bins.
(By way of example, I once – disastrously – went on a BB camp at the age of 11 and took my favourite teddy bear with me – Old Panda. In scenes not dissimilar to ‘Lord of the Flies’, my cuddly old friend was duly crucified on a barbed wire fence after the other boys discovered him kipping in my sleeping bag. Traumatic doesn’t cover it. I am not yet ready to speak of where my Lego figures ended up.)
I’ve never been a “traditional” male – I know nothing about cars, have the DIY skills of a bewildered goat, shave once a fortnight and can’t drink properly.
On the other hand, my wife loves DIY, could comfortably kick my butt (in fact, has done playing roller derby) and is stronger in every sense that I will ever be.
Brilliant isn’t it?
We’re all different – who woulda thunk?
People get far too hung on what society demands of them and what is normal.
As Billy Connolly once pointed out – there is no normal. There’s just you and everyone else.
So to answer my original point – Donald Trump Jr isn’t a real man.
Because there is no real man.
Just like there’s no normal.
And there’s definitely no need to crucify a wee boy’s panda just because he gets homesick and needs a friend during the night.