The tears streamed down my face. I had just said goodbye to a friend I had made travelling and I walked back home through the busy city centre, trying to hide my feelings from people passing me on the street. Overwhelmed by my emotions, I wiped my eyes clean and once again felt ashamed of my sensitivity and sentimentality.
The shame for this side of myself came from the thought that this was not how I should have been. The advertisements and the movies said it all. To be a man in this world was to be something that I was not. I was not assertive, strong, or confident. I did not command authority or respect. I did not care much for football or cars or status. Instead, I was a meek daydreamer who cared for poetry and romance. I was someone who got affected by the little things: old men sitting in cafes alone, sad faces of strangers on the street, wilting flowers left on the side of the road. On top of this, I had social anxiety and, at times, depression. In desperation I tried to hide this side of my personality, but it always eventually came through whenever I was around people for a certain amount of time. There was just no way around it. I was a highly-sensitive person, and trying to hold in the emotions that were constantly flooding my heart was an exhausting task that left me even more overwhelmed than I already was.
The masculinity problems continued when it came to the world of employment. Making money and having a career was one of the key requirements of being a male, but it seemed I had absolutely no skills that could do so. I had no dexterity for any of the trades. I was too virtuous to play the game of the corporate world. I just about had no practical or pragmatic skills; couple this with a habit to daydream which made it almost impossible to focus on simple things, then it was sure that I was to be scraping by whatever way I could. I did have the gift of creativity, but as we all knew that being able to write a nice poem or story didn’t get you very far in this world – the classic image of the tortured artist washing dishes while working on their art being annoyingly applicable. All in all, I was a complete disaster – the sort of thing most fathers secretly hoped their sons wouldn’t grow up to be. A sensitive, deep-thinking male. An idealist not a pragmatist. A dreamer not a logician. A feeler not a thinker.
Naturally this way of being was bad when it came to girls. Girls typically looked for strapping, butch, confident guys – guys who were able to be self-assured and take the lead and do all the things that I could not. The funny thing was I was blessed with good looks which lured girls in, but once they saw what was under the surface, they sprinted for the hills like scared deer. The circumstance of being tall, dark and handsome didn’t mean much when they saw how anxious and unsure of yourself you were. I recalled things girls had said to me. “You look good but you need to own it.” “You annoy me; why can’t you just be normal?” It was a recurring conversation and, after a while of continual rejection, I began to look in the mirror and see that ugliness start to manifest itself in my reflection.
Things didn’t get much better with the world of males. The camaraderie of ‘lad culture’ was always something I felt out of place with. I was able to be part of the group sometimes, but I could see that they sensed I was not one of them – little awkward moments in group conversation and my general strange demeanour giving my cover away. The frustrating thing was I knew there were other men like me out there. In fact, I believed that a large portion of men simply ignored their emotions because they erroneously believed they were unnatural. No doubt, this caused long-lasting internal damage. Toxic masculinity was a silent disease in our society that was making men feel ashamed to have feelings and be sensitive. The fact that two-thirds of suicides were from men was not surprising when you thought about it. Men had been taught to hide their emotions from the school playground to the dating scene to the world of employment. It was a dog-eat-dog world, and a man needed to be strong and ruthless to be a success in it. So there was simply nothing to do but to ‘man up’ and suffer in silence – something I had gotten to know all too well over the years.
Being drunk was sometimes a good way to coat my failures as a man. When I poured that liquor down my throat, I was able to numb my feelings and switch to this extroverted version of myself. My shyness and emotions were suppressed, and I felt a deluded sense of confidence. It only lasted for a while, of course, but it was good enough to fool people around me. One night stands were possible and – perhaps out of my own insecurity – I used my drunken alter ego to sleep around as often as I could. The success of hiding my true self with the use of alcohol reminded me of the words of my favourite poems:
“there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say, stay in there, I’m not going
to let anybody see
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I pour whiskey on him and inhale
and the whores and the bartenders
and the grocery clerks
never know that
Sometimes as an experiment, I let that bluebird out and revealed my sensitive side to the crowd. I spoke from my heart and shared my deepest emotions about life. As I did, I could feel the discomfort of some guys around me, but I could also feel like others felt it was a fresh breath of air for a guy not to give a fuck about masculine etiquette. Sometimes I even got brave enough to share my writing and poetry with those people. Some seemed to like it and even respect me, although many of them simply put me at distance after I did. I understood that, of course.
All in all, it’s a strange situation and I don’t know exactly what my plan is to survive in this world as the man that I am. Perhaps one day the views of masculinity will change, but I feel that it’s unlikely in my lifetime. Despite what we like to think, we are all still just instinctive animals at our core, and I guess it does make sense why men are supposed to be strong and butch and assertive and confident. Maybe my role wasn’t to be that striding alpha male, but to be some other thing serving a purpose I have not yet come to realise. For now, I guess I will go suppressing that bluebird and trying to hide my sensitive side, only to let it out when I’m sitting alone at this keyboard away from the piercing eyes of this dog-eat-dog world.