A piece originally published on Medium republished on Project Ava with permission from our Storyteller, Duane Burge.
The one phrase I remember from my childhood career as a peewee tight end on the little league football team. There I was, 7 p.m. on the football field standing at the scrimmage line waiting for the third person that night to run me over. “Hit him!” my coach screamed. He proceeded to blow his whistle, giving me and my teammate permission to plow into each other.
My entire body was in pain, but I didn’t let it show, out of fear of being known as a “wussy” (pussy + wimp). I had to get right back up every time. I could hear the other boys laughing and calling me “faggot”, “sissy”, and “stupid”. If I wanted to get out of this painful experience, I had to knock over the next guy to stand in front of me.
Teammate number 4 approached me and was bigger than the other three. I knew at that point football just wasn’t my sport. So we took our stances and coach yelled, “Hit him!”
As soon as I heard the whistle, I took off in the opposite direction and ran as far as I could away from teammate number 4.
Later that night, after my Dad picked me up from practice I noticed him and the coach talking as I sat in the car and waited. They both had a look of disappointment, but my Dad seemed more irritated. On the ride home, my Dad told me that I wouldn’t be welcomed back to the team. He detailed to me the immense shame I had caused him and that when we got home, I would pay for it.
Immediately after soaking my achy body in the bathtub, my Dad gave me the most painful of spankings I received as a child. It was harder for a reason. It came with a message that I carried with me for years: “Keep acting like a girl and I will beat the little girl out of you”.
From then on, I defined feminine qualities as wrong, shameful, and worthy of a beating. Growing up with this frame of reference, I took on the role of someone that I wasn’t. I condemned any male who expressed feminine qualities. Throughout my childhood, I beat up my peers and myself and spent much of my youth trying to become what I thought was the ideal masculine man.
My story is only one of many others that shines a light on the result of not supporting femininity in boys; the toxicity it breeds. This cycle promotes self-hate and hate of others who don’t express themselves in the same way. These ideologies and actions have driven many young boys to suicide and harming others. Because this is a cultural norm — and not inbred — we as a society hold the power to change it.
Understand & Accept Your Own Feminine Qualities:
Leading by example is the best way to show a boy that what he feels and thinks is OK. But to lead-by-example, you must first become comfortable with yourself and embrace your femininity.
- Write on a sheet of paper the qualities about yourself that you or society deems feminine.
- These are the qualities that you must begin to accept and appreciate in yourself.
Understand That Sexual Orientation And Femininity Aren’t The Same:
In understanding femininity, one must first disassociate it from sexual orientation. Simply because a boy expresses himself in a feminine way, doesn’t mean he self-identifies as gay. He might not even understand his sexual orientation at all yet. Providing boys the grace to define these feelings for themselves is instrumental to their development as a person and as a man.
Allow Boys To Express Themselves:
“Boys shouldn’t…” “Boys should always…” are phrases that typically precede gender-policing statements. Boys should be encouraged to express themselves in any manner as long as it doesn’t hurt them or anyone else. If a boy would rather take a painting class than play soccer, encourage it!
Offering a listening ear to a boy who is struggling in his youth does so much good. Boys learn early on that talking about feelings makes them weak. Living with this rhetoric makes it impossible for boys to speak up because there is no one to listen. Just letting a boy know that you are there if they want to talk can offer them the release they need.
Use the hashtag #SupportFeminineBoys:
Show your support online! Support the boys who are comfortable and not so comfortable with their femininity. Voicing your support could save a life and inspire someone to rethink how he or she view as encouraging boys to be who they were born to be; masculine or not.