The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Talk Like A Man

I haven’t been following the Winter Olympics very close, except for perusing the news photos and figuring out who the hottest athletes are. (No, I don’t need to see they play to figure that out, if you know what I mean.) but I have been following the “controversy” regarding Johnny Weir.

Club Bud Party at the Olympics


The Associated Press reports that two broadcasters are under fire for derogatory comments made about the former world champion.

One commentator from French-language broadcaster RDS said Weir hurts figure skating’s image, while another said the skater should be made to take a gender test. The Quebec Gay and Lesbian Council has demanded a public apology from RDS, calling the remarks “outrageous” and “homophobic.”

Weir’s agent, Tara Modlin, says Weir knows about the comments, but he’s made no public response as of yet.

The Dish Rag thinks the much buzzed-about skater will most likely ignore the nasty comments and forge ahead with his plans to start his own fashion line (much to the French commentators’ dismay, we’re guessing) after the Olympics wrap up.

Well, he didn’t ignore it, and I’m glad he didn’t. Because I just became a big Johnny Weir fan.

Johnny Weir is fired up over comments by a pair of Canadian broadcasters who suggested his costumes and “body language” set a bad example for male skaters and joked he may have to take a gender test

“I’m not somebody to cry about something or to be weak about something,” Weir, 25, told a press conference in Vancouver on Wednesday. “I felt very defiant when I saw these comments.”

…”It wasn’t these two men criticizing my skating, it was them criticizing me as a person, and that was something that really, frankly, pissed me off,” Weir told reporters. “Nobody knows me. … I think masculinity is what you believe it to be.”

Needless to say, I agree with him. The world would a much better place if we placed less emphasis on being sufficiently “masculine” or “feminine” and instead focused on helping people become whole persons. Because doing otherwise sets everyone up for failure, because we all fall short of the ideal we’re expected to meet. Even worse, some of us get closer to it than others and thus begins the perpetual one upsmanship of masculinity.

Add it all up and it comes down to something very simple; something I was just reading yesterday in John Stoltenberg’s Refusing to be a Man (the title of which caused one woman on the train yesterday to lean way over out of her seat to get a closer look at the title) when he described the predominant brand of masculinity as “a category that only seems real to the extent that those outside of it are put down,” and some thing he expands upon in his essay “Why I stopped trying to be a real man.”

So I got to thinking: If everyone trying to be a “real man” thinks there’s someone else out there who has more manhood, then either some guy has more manhood than anybody–and he’s got so much manhood he never has to prove it and it’s never ever in doubt–or else manhood doesn’t exist. It’s just a sham and a delusion.

As I watched guys trying to prove their fantasy of manhood–by doing dirt to women, making fun of queers, putting down people of other religions and races–I realized they were doing something really negative to me too, because their fear and hatre d of everything “nonmanly” was killing off something in me that I valued.

Author Stephen Ducat, whose The Wimp Factor: Gender Gaps, Holy Wars, and the Politics of Anxious Masculinity I just finished, stated it outright in an Alternet interview a while back.

The problem with our current notion of masculinity is that it’s a definition of manhood based on domination. The problem with definition of manhood based on domination is that domination can never be a permanent condition. It’s a relational state – it is dependent on having somebody in the subordinate position, which means that you may be manly today, but you’re not going to be manly tomorrow, unless you’ve got somebody to push around and control. This definition goes back to the ancient Greeks, and it makes masculinity a precarious and brittle achievement – which has to be constantly asserted. It has to be proven over and over again. It is the ultimate Sisyphean pursuit.

Growing up as a boy who never had a hope of living up to the masculine idea expected of me, it would have done me a world of good to have someone like Johnny Weir or Adam Lambert as an example and an inspiration.

I guess it makes sense. Like I said before, I was not a normal boy. I remember knowing that as early as kindergarten, even if I didn’t have a name for it. And even if I hadn’t sensed it myself, it was made abundantly clear to me. The Raising Cain documentary refers to tests of masculinity, tests that I pretty much failed right from the start. Sometimes I didn’t even know I was being tested. Those memories aren’t easily forgotten, and reading Kimmel’s essay quickly brought them back to mind.

…the father is the first man who evaluates the boy’s masculine performance, the first pair of male eyes before whom he tries to prove himself. Those eyes will follow him for the rest of his life. Other men’s eyes will join them — the eyes of role models such as teachers, coaches, bosses, or media heroes; the eyes of his peers, his friends, his workmate; and the eyes of millions of other men, living and dead, from whose constant scrutiny his performance will never bee free.

I played with dolls. My sister’s dolls; both baby dolls and Barbie dolls. It wasn’t like I didn’t have toys of my own, but I just preferred the dolls. My playing with dolls was the catalyst for the first time I remember getting the message (somewhat indirectly) that I wasn’t measuring up in the masculinity department.

…When it comes to masculinity, details matter. At that age, I couldn’t even eat an apple the way a boy — or a man — was supposed to. Another time, my dad pointed it out to me. I would usually slice an apple into wedges before eating it, rather than just biting into it, as he instructed me a guy was supposed to. (I didn’t mention at the time that it hurt my teeth to do so.) If anybody saw me eating an apple like that, I was informed, they might think I was a little “funny.” Details. Details.

I have a standing bet with a friend that I can walk on to any playground in America … and by asking one question, I can provoke a fight. That question is simple: “Who’s a sissy around here?” … One of two things is likely to happen. One boy will accuse another of being a sissy, to which that boy will respond that he is not a sissy, that the first boy is. They may have to fight it out to see who’s lying. Or a whole group of boys will surround another boy and all shout “He is! He is!” That boy will either burst into tears and run home crying, disgraced, or he will have to take on several boys at once to prove he’s not a sissy. (And what will his father and brothers tell him if he chooses to run home crying?) It will be some time before he regains any sense of self respect.

Guess which boy I was.

Actually, I didn’t have much opportunity to “run home crying.” I learned early on to avoid my male peers because, for me, there was a danger in being near them. Part of that stemmed from an awakening pubescent desire that was often betrayed by the glances I stole. But it was also due to a recognition that if I ventured onto the field of their turf, chances are I wasn’t going to measure up.

So, I wouldn’t have been on the playground Kimmel writes about. Recess usually found me sitting under a tree at the far corner of the playground, reading a book. Actually, being an avid reader saved me in a sense (just as much as it branded me, because among my peers being bookish was the opposite of being boyish). It gave me a refuge when it led to my becoming a library assistant. I got to hang out in the air conditioned library with the librarian and the other library assistants (who were almost all girls), far from the playground, the boys, and their tests of masculinity.

I guess by then I’d already opted out of the club to the degree that I could. Of course, the reality was (and is) that I can’t opt out entirely. I’m still a guy, and I’m probably always going to bump up against the whole gestalt of “masculinity” that pervades the culture I’m living in. Kimmel’s article got me started thinking about it.

I did alright, but it would have been easier. I know that a lot of boys like me out there today. Maybe someone like Johnny Weir, with the courage to be himself and not shoehorn himself into someone else’s idea of masculinity, will make it easier for them to do the same.

Moments before Johnny began his final Olympic free skate that would determine whether he’d get a medal, the announcers relayed advice that his parent’s had given him: “You must always be yourself.”

In an interview Johnny once said, “Even when I was little and playing on a soccer team and running the opposite way pretending to be a zebra or an ostrich, it was OK — I’ve always been like this.”

His free stake was breathtaking. Confidence and vulnerability metastasized into a beautiful work of art — carved ice, muscle, glitter, blades and will.

Had Johnny amended his backwards ball kicking in soccer, stopped envisioning himself as an animal or decided to appease those made uncomfortable by his happiness, he might not have been able to share his skills and compete among the world’s top athletes.

Johnny Weir placed sixth in the 2010 Olympic Men’s Free Skate. He did not receive a high enough score to medal, but the points lost on the soccer field and from the judges’ scorecards transformed into a standing ovation.

If Johnny were to “Be Good” he wouldn’t be where he is today.

And there will be more little boys who grow up to be like Weir, refusing to knuckle under to someone else’s idea of masculinity.

The whole masculinity thing reminds of that other tired one-upsmanship game, “Blacker Than Thou.” What I tell people when they ask me about that is this: “There as many different ways to be black as there are black people, and not is more authentic or legitimate than the other.”

Well, there are as many ways to “be a man” as their are people running around with a y chromosome.

But Johnny Weir’s example should make anyone question the point of trying so hard to “be a man,” when being a better person — being your personal best — is a much tougher task, but with a much bigger payoff.

One Comment

  1. I so admire Johnny Weir (have been blogging about him lately too) and totally agree with everything you said here. Such a terrific post!

    I hope more boys (with examples like this to look up to) will feel strong enough to go against the grain and truly be themselves. I would love to live to see a world where the majority of people don’t allow themselves to be boxed in by toxic ideas.

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