Boys grow up hearing what it means to be a man from countless sources, some more constructive than others.
A bisexual college student has penned an essay exploring his own journey to discovering what masculinity means to him. It is a struggle of gender norms and expectations that men of all sexual orientations can probably relate to on some level.
“For the first 19 years of my life, I lived under the impression that in order to be recognized as an equal to other men, I had to fit the mold. It was the small details — the words I said, the way I behaved and the things I did — that made me self-conscious of my own identity,” writes 19-year-old Allen Pham, in an article titled “What does it mean to be a man?” for Daily Trojan, the student newspaper of the University of Southern California.
He describes a childhood marked by feeling different due to his interest in things like Easy-Bake Ovens and musicals over Hot Wheels and handball.
“In elementary school, it became difficult to assert myself in the group of boys I thought were ‘cool,’ and I hated knowing that I couldn’t fit in with the group no matter how hard I tried,” he continues.
He would finally meet a male friend who could relate to at the start of middle school, a friend of a friend.
“It was a friendship that made one of the biggest differences in my life,” Pham remembers. “We didn’t play basketball or Runescape. Instead, we raved over pop music together and got matching Lady Gaga wristbands from Hot Topic. That boy, my first male companion, became more than just a friend. And because of him, I discovered my sexuality.”
Still, to most others he tried to fit in, pretending to care about whatever the other boys did, in order to prove his masculinity. He carried on with this behavior through high school, although eventually he found some friends he could be himself around.
“I found a great group of male friends who I could confide in, who didn’t care if I was gay or straight or bi, and who I could talk to about our common interests. I could be me, and I liked it. But I continued to carry my misconception of masculinity into college,” he writes.
He explains how college life changed him after he was able to come out to his fraternity brothers, in spite of his fears.
“Like any other freshman who arrived at USC, I was desperate for a new beginning. Though I told other people I wasn’t interested in joining greek life, I was. Being heteronormative sounded like a great idea when it came to meeting new people.
“In some serendipitous way, this past year in college changed my life and, in turn, my perception of the idea of masculinity. When I finally came out to my fraternity brothers about my sexual orientation and my current relationship, I was petrified of the judgment I’d face. Would they chastise me? Would they isolate me from our group?
“Surprisingly, it was different. For the first time in college, a group celebrated my differences. They supported me. They made me feel safe to be myself. They accepted me. And because of that, I was finally able to accept myself.”
He goes on to explain that he has become more aware of the bigger issues at play in society now, such as women’s issues, that interact with how we perceive what it means to be a man. His views have now changed.
“When a friend asked me what I thought it meant to be a man last semester, my views began to change radically…Three fundamental traits of masculinity are courage, independence and assertiveness. To be a man in the 21st century does not mean that you have to be hypersexual. It does not mean you can’t cry. And it does not mean that you have to mask your feelings or your true self. True masculinity embraces these three traits in all different, encompassing ways.”
He concludes by encouraging his fellow men to know it’s okay to be vulnerable, it’s okay to come out, and it’s even okay to question your masculinity.
“Be proud of who you are, stand up for what you believe in and don’t hide yourself in the shadows. You are masculine in your own right, in your own way. And you will be the man you want to be. I believe in you,” he says.