When I was a kid, I used to cry a lot.
When I was sad, I cried. When I was angry, I cried. Heck, even when I was happy, I would sometimes cry. It was a response that was involuntary and uncontrollable and, as it happens, it was a response that made my childhood pretty rough.
I was often made fun of for being a “crybaby” and told I was weak because I shed tears (more often than not from my own brother, actually).
As you know, traditional male norms call for men to be strong and to hide their emotions. Crying is for girls and, if you want to be a real man, you don’t cry.
For me, I didn’t care much for whether other people thought I was “manly” enough, but I sure as hell didn’t like being picked on and beat up. So, over time, I learned to rein in my tears so that I could at least avoid one source of abuse.
Whenever I felt the emotions rising, I would stop, take a deep breath, and try to keep it together until the moment passed. And it worked like a charm! I stopped crying completely.
When I was thirteen, my grandfather died. He was a great man and a powerful presence in our family. My mother cried when she told me. I just awkwardly sat there because I had no tears to shed and I didn’t know what to do.
I thought maybe something was wrong with me because, since I couldn’t cry, I clearly didn’t care enough. There were many times after that when I felt like I should have cried, but didn’t. It always made me feel like I was somehow broken.
Fast forward to years later when my mother died unexpectedly. She was also a dynamo and an even more enormous presence in my life than my grandfather was, so her loss hit me pretty hard.
When I got the news, I was just shocked. I kept it together (as I always did) as the family gathered that night because that is what a man does. When I got home that night, though, for the first time since I was a kid, I cried.
It wasn’t a gentle cry, either. I was standing in the shower when I just fell apart. I ended up on the floor of the shower, bawling my eyes out, until well after the water ran cold. Then I pulled myself together, dried off, climbed into bed, and cried some more. It was ugly.
Since that time, tears have come more easily for me, as if a dam had burst and could never be rebuilt.
Funny thing is, though, that I’m happy about it.
I wouldn’t want to randomly start crying in the middle of my day like I used to, but I feel like I have a healthier outlet for my emotions than I have had in years.
I was sitting on my couch the other day, crying as I watched Blue Bloods, when I had a moment of realization: that all masculinity is toxic.
Toxic masculinity generally refers to men adhering to societal norms of masculinity to such a degree that it manifests in negative behaviors such as dominance, control, and violence. But I don’t think you have to go that far to find toxicity in masculinity.
Even men who are not overly aggressive or violent often have difficulty dealing with their emotions in healthy and productive ways. They push down displays of emotion that they believe will make them appear weak and, in the process, repress a little bit of their humanity each time they do.
Worse still is the fact that there even are “societal norms of masculinity.” Or societal norms of anything, for that matter. The fact that society creates behavioral expectations for people places a tremendous amount of pressure on them to conform to those norms. They pathologize difference and discourage healthy expressions of individuality.
By the way, this reasoning doesn’t just apply to masculinity. The fact that there is a thing that we refer to as “femininity” shows that society has expectations for women, too. And those can be just as oppressive as the expectations we place upon men.
Anytime we, as a society, create expectations for people, whether based upon sex, gender, race, religion, physical ability, beauty, or amnything else, we create divisions in our society. We create lines between those who have and those who have not. We privilege people who conform and demonize those who do not.
The truth is that nobody fits perfectly within any box and that is a good thing. Individuality is a good thing. Self-exploration and discovery is a good thing. Self-expression is a good thing. And non-conformity is a good thing (as long as you’re not hurting others in the process).
I wish more men cried. But I also wish more people who did not feel comfortable fitting into the roles that society endeavors to place them in were able to break free from those constraints and just be themselves.
I believe that failing to do so it toxic not just because it leads to aggressive or violent behavior, but because it robs us of the opportunity to really explore and discover the things about each of us that make us unique and beautiful.
So I hope that each and every one of you can find within yourselves the strength to break free. There is nothing wrong with the behaviors that society deems appropriate, but there is also a whole world of healthy behaviors that it does not. The key is finding what is right for you as an individual.
Explore yourself. Explore the world. Become who you were always meant to be. And I hope that the journey leads you to a happier and more fulfilling place.