Sunday, May 29, 2011

Tom boys are better than sissies

Beyond overcoming stifling shame, many of the authors I've been reading talk about integrating all of the different parts of oneself, or aligning our fractured sense of identity as a way to live whole and authentically.

Joe Kort, author of 10 Smart Things Gay Men Can Do to Find Real Love, writes about integrity.  "Integrity is a lifestyle of congruency; it means being outwardly who you are on the inside.  Yet from childhood, we gay boys quickly learn that being out and open means ridicule, negative judgments, and lack of emotional and physical safety.  So we spend our most formative years learning to live out of integrity, even in relationship with ourselves.  For children of any orientation, integrating all the parts of oneself is impossible.  Family rules as well as socialization norms call for children to disown aspects of themselves. For gay children, an additional part gets disowned---our gayness."

As a child the messages we may often hear from adults are that "boys like girls" and "girls like boys," and anything outside of this law is wrong or even perverted. Furthermore, even in the most progressive of families, societal norms still play out.  One of the best examples of this comes from my own family and friends.  My oldest nephew was about 2 or 3 at the time a friend and I went to visit my family.  Still being very much a baby, my nephew was crying and asking for me to hold him and console him.  Much to my surprise, my friend said something along the lines of "that boy needs to toughen up."

It's little wonder, in our hyper-masculine world, that boys especially are ridiculed for showing any more sensitivity, creativity, or emotion than their cohort.  The reverse doesn't play out quite as concretely for girls.  We've even donned a very acceptable label for little girls who act like boys, tom-boy.  Unfortunately for boys we continue the stigmatizing label of sissy. Let's face it; we value masculinity far more than femininity in this country.

So, many gay boys grow up never embracing their childhood crush on the neighbor boy.  Many grow up without encouragement to bend the gender roles and play with their sisters' toys too.  Little gay boys learn from an early age to hide or villainize their feelings.

Joe Kort goes on to write, "Gay and straight alike, we must all come back into integrity---which is often what a midlife crisis is all about.  I prefer to call it a midlife awakening: finding out who you really are and moving toward it."

Consider all of your experiences, and all of your parts.  Recount your boyhood crushes, and embrace them.  Draw a picture in your mind of which boys at school you were attracted to and why.  How did they make you feel?  What type of friendship did they offer?  How were these boys alike?

Embrace these relationships wholly now, and celebrate them.  This is one of the most significant tools a gay man can use to integrate his experiences as young gay boy into his life as an adult gay man.  It will serve to remind us that as children we weren't wrong in feeling this way, and that all little boys and girls get crushes.  Our crushes were just as real as theirs.


  1. Have you read "Straight Acting" by Angelo Pezzote? Its an interesting book that deals with many of the same issues concerning masculinity and the gay man.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion! I have not read that book. I will look for it right away.