Timberlake: From a straight man: Learn to adopt traits outside your gender norm

Ian Timberlake

Men don’t join other men in the bathroom. The only speaking that takes place in a men’s bathroom is the distance one stands away from the urinal. Too close, too meek — too far, too cocky. Your manhood depends on this.

When I was in elementary school, and ever since, I have always taken an interest in things that were more introverted and independent, hobbies and the like. Nonetheless, I still loved playing sports with friends, but that didn’t prevent me from often being picked in the bottom third for a team at recess. My “manliness” was decided by how much emphasis I put on social manipulation and athletics as opposed to actual abilities.

Growing up, it was acceptable to go outside for hours on end, get dirty or even bloody. Neighborhood girls of a similar age were shied away by their parents from the racket we dusty devil boys were making.

During a particular instance of playing football at recess, I intercepted the ball and ran it back for a touchdown. My team ran down cheering and high-fiving me; it was glorious. To this day, I can’t even recall where and what all the girls did at recess; it certainly wasn’t football.

Not too long thereafter, still in elementary school, a friend of mine knew about a crush I had. And by crush, I mean “I thought she was cool…” but you know kids and their cooties. Anyway, this friend of mine told other kids in my school, and within half a day, the entire school knew. My experiences thereafter sheltered me even more from what it meant to “be a man,” as that was the role all of us were trying to fill.

Growing up we are socialized to fit into a gender norm that associates us with our sex. We do everything within our power to assume authority over that gender norm.

Throughout women’s lives, they’re trained to be the “gatekeepers” of sex. They are the lock, and men are seemingly constantly filing the key until it opens the lock. At least this is the game we play, and it extends beyond romantic encounters. “Manliness” is an amalgam of traits that assume alpha dominance over someone, be it male or female, friend or foe. Women hold back because they want to wait for an “optimal” choice (even though they have an equal love of sex), thus the game feeds back on itself.

It is socially and sexually beneficial for men to be confident, humorous, authoritative, strong, providing and practical, among other things. Without these traits, men are simply, well… not men. At least that’s how we are trained.

Through adolescence, boys are defined by their authority, humor and strength, but as they grow older toward college age and beyond, practicality and the ability to provide (read profitability) reign supreme. At least ever since the industrial revolution where men became defined by their job title.

By the time late high school and college rolled around, I started assuming more of a “manly” role, relatively speaking. This was because my hobbies of years past were fortifying my intelligence, practicality and potential profitability, not to mention the physical aspects of post-puberty. You could say I had grown hair.

Men must be masters of their environment. They must be able to control and protect. There’s a reason why men become men the moment Uncle Sam throws them a gun yelling: “Go forth and defend, my child!” It surely was a stepping stone into manhood when I joined the Air Force at 18, even though I never saw combat. With every ounce of respect, women don’t become women when they join the armed forces.

Everyone has differing personalities and interests, and it is not as uncommon as you might think for an individual to gain interest in something only to be subsequently shunned away from it because it goes against gender norms. It is as simple as me loving the color purple and as complicated as knowing when to let the women in the group take charge (they secretly always are; they’re the gatekeepers, after all).

Gender norms in their purest forms keep us comfortable by allowing us to attempt to fit in and rise above; yet it is detrimental to individuals and society as a whole because it is not possible for everyone to perfectly meet his or her gender norm (not honestly, at least).

Manliness is an asymptote that all men rise toward. It is a throwback of what was evolutionarily successful millennia ago. I suggest you embrace actions and ideas that are outside of your gender norm; you’ll be more learned and more socially versed than nearly all of your peers.