What makes a man manly?

What's the difference between manliness and masculinity? Fuck, I don't know.

There's biology, but then again, biology can be altered. Some trans folk undergo hormone therapy, so who's more masculine and at what time? For that matter, some males have more testosterone than others, but that fluctuates with stress and age. When a group of us went dancing at Twisted, a gay bar in Calgary, this queen had a voice that was multiple registers deeper than mine. Is an impotent, male, Nazi-killing war hero entering his senior age still considered masculine? Men are sometimes physically stronger than women, but what happens when they're not? Is a female Olympian more masculine than someone who isn't a professional athlete? Biology doesn't give a robust objective measure of masculinity.

Sometimes hobbies characterize masculinity. All men are supposed to be experts in:

  • cars,
  • guns,
  • planes,
  • postage stamps,
  • hunting,
  • professional sports trivia and statistics,
  • electronics,
  • home improvement,
  • cooking,
  • dancing,
  • writing,
  • video games,
  • fine dining,
  • playing musical instruments,
  • classic movies,
  • finances,
  • handshakes,
  • business,
  • real estate,
  • and everything.

From the hobby perspective, it feels like men are supposed to make others feel bad for knowing less than them, including other men who have expertise in an area and especially women (cf. mansplaining). Men are supposed to make others feel bad in the moment, even though they're the one in the wrong. It's fine if the masculine feel the need to have a domain of expertise, so what does that make of generalists? I always wondered how Roger Federer should feel because he's only good at tennis. What about his skills as a pro golfer or hockey player? What a woman.

Men aren't supposed to have emotions, except anger. Men are logical, women are emotional. (Is it remotely possible that emotions are another form of logic?) Rappers are supposed to epitomize masculinity, but in their music videos, they feature very defensive body postures. They're also writing songs and describing their emotions, so real men express their feelings in poems and songs. Isn't that kind of feminine and hypocritical? Jon Stewart put it best when, criticizing the media's sexism, he said "it's okay to be a pussy as long as you've got a dick."

Masculine men don't take no for an answer. Do rapists count as real men?

Masculine people are insecure. They lash out at people that make them feel bad at hearing the truth about themselves because they don't understand their own feelings.

Real men provide for their families. What happens in an economic downturn where men are laid off? Suddenly the big Albertan houses and trucks can't be paid for, so does income define masculinity?

In movies about gangsters (Italian, Russian, Chinese, Irish, any place that has gangs), the men break the law in order to provide for their social circle. In other movies, the hero is a lawyer, policeman, judge, or average citizen upholding the law. In yet other movies, the law is being changed. Who therefore qualifies as being masculine?

While this topic makes for a good post, bear in mind that these roles can engender deep pain and destruction, leading to harm to oneself and others. How frequent is it for those in the queer community to lash out at themselves for not fitting into the mold that society tells them to? Boys aren't allowed to dance (Billy Elliot), women aren't allowed to serve in the army (Mulan), and teenage turtles can't practice martial arts. Confusion and silence don't mix well.

When I wrote about my childhood sexual abuse, a lot of people told me I was brave. I couldn't accept their compliments for various reasons, but one thing I was unaware of was how people would view my masculinity. I suppose real men don't allow others to have complete power over them, and I wouldn't even say I was a real man in this case because I was a boy when it happened.

Real men are supposed to control their temper, but I tempered my feelings so hard that I couldn't control them anymore. I didn't understand them, and those that I swept under the rug caused it to stop pulling the room together. I suppressed them to the point that I felt my head would snap.

Real men aren't supposed to complain about their problems. Some sit on a rock and stare out at the sea. Some sit in their chairs and stare into the fireplace. Still others sit on the couch and stare into the TV. Some climb into their cars and go for a drive. You only talk about it with other men when you need help, but you don't do it any sooner than that because it would be a sad admission of failure. If you don't believe me, walk around a hardware store like Home Depot and see how many confused men are wandering around, refusing to ask for help until they get desperate; maybe their stores are designed this way intentionally.

This all might sound illogical (because it is), but that's how I lived my life.

Masculinity is socially constructed. Globally, masculinity is defined differently per culture and sub-culture. It also varies through time. With such a moving target, are we all supposed to just assume that we move the goal posts and make ourselves the standard for masculinity and to make others feel bad for not reaching an impossible bar?

I've recently been accused of letting Carrie brainwash me in excommunicating my family with her voodoo psychology garbage. What kind of man lets his woman order him around like that? I wonder how those people would feel if they knew I was in fact trying to distance myself from them for years and that she insisted that I keep the peace with my family. That is to say, Carrie was partly the one who kept me in the abuse for longer than I would have liked. Having less experience than I did in surviving this abuse, she fell into the trap of trying to please her father-in-law so he would stop disapproving of us, but we know now that this was my dad's way of manipulating us. If he doesn't know how to be happy, sucking in the rest of the world to try to fill his discontent would never be sustainable.

"But John," you might be asking while misspelling my name, "how can you continue to say such terrible things about your father? Nobody picks their family, and they didn't pick you either." I suppose ruining his reputation is one thing, but he ruined my life. When and how will I get justice? If I don't speak up, who else will suffer real damage under him and others like him? How about you share about a problem plaguing your life, and then I'll invalidate your feelings and experience, and then I silence you too?

I disagree with "forgive and forget." Forgiveness is a process. Confront the person, explain both sides, apologize, take responsibility, promise to stop hurting the other person (or try to do it less), then move forward. The plaintiff can't bring up the past to use it against the forgiven person, and the offender should remember it so they don't repeat it. Forgive and forget is silliness. Instead, understand what true forgiveness means and looks like. It's friggin' hard.

Does a man forgive? Man, I sound like the Many-Faced God. Many-Faced God

What makes a person masculine? By some measures, I'm a real man. By some different ones, I'm not. Instead, I try to accept myself the way I am, and I try to not place my happiness on the condition of performing to a role defined by someone else. Masculinity and femininity are both meaningless. To be a good person means to do things the way you think is right.

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le