Last week a former student, Owen C., posted a nice message on the Write on Fight on website. Owen congratulated me on the website and then he wrote something that hit a nerve, something I had to respond to…
“You’re not afraid of having emotion. You’re not afraid of sharing. You’re not afraid of being a person. Even at the cost of your male identity, adult identity, or whatever else.”– Owen C.
Though I’m humbled by Owen C.’s comments I feel the need to clarify a few things. In order to do so, we have to do some time-traveling.
So Dear Reader, pack up the Jansport, gas up the Honda Prelude and lets Electric Slide back to 1994.
I’m 14 years old, sitting in freshman English class pretending not to care. Because that’s what the cool kids do–not care.
Cool kids spend their weekdays not caring and their weekends in the woods drinking, fucking, and fighting or at least that’s what I hear them talking about on Monday.
My teacher, Ms. Mini Skirt is handing back our essays–an assignment that required us to write as a Puritan woman being falsely tried as a witch.
I don’t like high school much. And I’m not trying to be cool Dear Reader but the only class I can tolerate is English class– partly because of the writing, partly because of the mini skirts.
It’s 1994 and I’m 14 and I’m thinking… if I was gay I’d probably be a writer. But I’m not gay. I like Ms. Mini Skirt’s crescent moon calves. I like girls. I hope to make out with a girl someday, maybe in the back seat of a Honda Prelude . I’ll probably grow up and be a roofer or a welder or something that will callous my hands, offer me lung cancer and leave me with a permanent metallic tang. Because that’s what meat-eating heterosexual males seem to do– chose professions that assert their masculinity.
Ms. Mini Skirt clacks her heels about the classroom.
The full moon eyes of sexed-up cool dudes watch her moves. She clacks by their desks and they salivate and release low growls like little hungry wolves. When Ms. Mini Skirt clacks about my desk the cool dude behind me, the middle linebacker on the freshman football team, is growling at my back. Ms. Mini Skirt floats over my desk and hands me my essay and smiles and tells me I have talent, that I write with emotion and that I should keep writing.
Then she spins and clacks away and before I can smile middle linebacker whispers “fag” in my ear.
Now in 1994, in my catholic high school, “fag” was by far the most commonly used insult among boys. The word wasn’t so much a decree of someone’s sexual preferences but more an announcement that a boy was weak. And in 1994 just like in 1894 (and we can safely assume in 2094) boys, men have a real problem with showing weakness.
It’s been 22 years since Ms. Mini Skirt told me I have talent.
Its 2016 but it might as well be 1994 because every time I begin to write I hear her click clack and I also hear the low guttural growling of teenage boys and every time I begin to write the middle linebacker whispers “fag” in my ear.
When I finally brave up and face my demons and write the first word something happens, with each passing word I write, “fag” fades, losing its power and bite and I feel strong and middle linebacker’s voice becomes distant until its gone as if he’s being dragged away by rival wolves into the dark woods where the cool dudes drink, fuck, and fight on the weekends.
Here’s what I’ve learned– it takes more effort and energy and pain to hold things in then to let them out. For a long time I foolishly thought showing emotion meant to be weak.
But here’s the truth– not writing, not facing the truth made me feel weak and cowardly. Now if I had my choice, my prose would wear Carhartt jackets and Timberlands. I’d write whiskey-soaked , rough-and -tumble stuff like Chuck Palahniuk ( Fight Club) or Cormac McCarthy ( No Country for Old Men) as a declaration of my masculinity. But I can’t write like those men. I’ve tried and failed.
I have desk drawers packed with pages of me pretending to be someone else.
I have to write vulnerably in order to write truthfully. And embracing my vulnerabilities has given me greater courage to accept truth.
Please understand– openly discussing my vulnerabilities is not easy for me–it’s tough stuff, it’s uncomfortable and goes against everything thing Clint Eastwood taught me about being a man.
But since I’m fairly out of shape, I figure embracing my vulnerabilities has got to be less exhausting than running from the truth.