Friday, May 30, 2008

The Blueprint

My parents gave me their blueprint for manhood. Their instruction started early in my life and continues today. Here's a sample:

1. A man takes care of his responsibilities, all of them. That means kids, houses, debts and any other responsibility you assume as a man.

2. A man never hits a woman. Ever. I caught the worst ass-whipping of my life for putting my hands on a girl in middle school. Same year, I fought a dude, and didn't even get touched.

3. A man cares for his family, he supports his family, but he must be The Man in his family. That's my dad's legacy there.

4. A man takes his direction from God, but follows no other man blindly.

Those are just four of the dozens of Man Laws my parents drilled into my brain over the course of my life. My brother and I grew up in a household where the primary goal was turning us into productive, independent men. Every activity was geared to that end, and we both knew that at age 18 the job had to be completed and we had to be ready to strike out on our own.

Later in life, when I talked to friends and associates who grew up in different households I realized that many people did not get that same instruction from their parents. Whether it was because they grew up in a single-parent household where manhood was a nebulous and rarely discussed concept, or their parents just thought that kids should be allowed to be kids, lots of cats I met along my journey had never really developed a coda for being a man. They were flailing about while depending on their friends and life experiences to give them a blueprint.

I thought about manhood and my definition of a man recently when I came across an article in the LA Times discussing gay life at Morehouse College in Atlanta. For those of you out of the HBCU loop, Morehouse is one of the most prestigious black universities in the country and counts Martin Luther King Jr. and numerous other luminaries among its alumni.

The article discusses exactly how much of a struggle it is for gay men to integrate into an all-male campus that has been known for decades as one of the best places for a black boy to become a man. While Morehouse has always had a significant gay population, it has also been known as a bastion of conservative black manhood; the type of manhood that makes no allowances for men who love other men.

I thought that raised some good questions.

My parents were anti-homosexuality. I grew up in a conservative black home and attended conservative black churches for the most part. There were gay people in those churches, everybody knew about them, but they weren't allowed to openly champion their homosexuality. Their presence was only tolerated if they didn't discuss exactly how they felt about people of the same sex.

That's the way things worked.

In my household, being a man did not include liking other men. In fact, men who were gay were viewed as an inferior type of man: punks, sissies and faggots. The same sort of sentiments were prevalent at my predominantly black schools and when I hung out with all my friends. You couldn't be a real man and be gay.

I didn't begin questioning this concept until pretty late in life, probably towards the second half of college. See, college opened my eyes about a lot of things, particularly that being gay didn't make you a bad person and being straight didn't make you normal. I'm not saying I was a champion of homosexual rights, but I think I began to move past the idea that gay people were weird and embrace the idea that they were fully and completely human. While I still think being being gay is a sin, I began to understand that didn't give me the right to treat them as anything less than my equal.

In college, it rapidly became clear to me that being gay had no impact, positive or negative, on an individual's ability to be a good human being. Homosexuality does not jibe with my religious beliefs, but using a personal belief system to justify vile behavior towards others is a coward's ploy. My parents didn't raise me to be a coward.

It seems that a lot of folks at Morehouse are having to have the same internal discussions because gay men there are demanding equitable treatment from their peers and the university's administration. I imagine it's very difficult for some of the people who've grown up in households similar to mine to deal with challenges to their traditional definitions of manhood.

But, I can't even comprehend how difficult it is for gay men on that campus. I remember at Howard University that the cats suspected of being gay were generally avoided in the dorm, and often formed smaller cliques among themselves for protection and companionship. This sort of isolation must be worse on an all-male campus due to how easily men fall into despicable behaviors when surrounded only by other men.

It seems like a heavy burden to bear to believe that your sexual orientation is blight on the university you attend. I cannot imagine the strain that inflicts on college students struggling to determine their identity as adults. I have nothing but sympathy for these men, and I salute those of them who are willing to endure the slings and arrows of their peers to make the journey easier for those who come behind them.

There are many different routes to manhood, it's time to acknowledge them all.


nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

My brother is a Howard alum and I know what you are talking about . I can't even imagine being a gay man at Morehouse.

Our parents are also very conservative and from the islands. Like many of their generation they were not the most tolerate of gay people. I think because our community is so homophobic we have this crazy "down low" situation. It's wrong but I understand why many black men do not come out of the closest. We don't make it easy for them.

I wish all the big closeted black male stars would come out. Maybe that would help.

Unknown said...

My brain is pretty fried (haven't been sleeping) so I won't even attempt a real comment except to say thank you for this post. I'll be passing it on.

Truthiz said...

An ON-TIME topic!

NYC/CR wrote:
“I think because our community is so homophobic we have this crazy "down low" situation.”

You’re d*mn right and it’s costing us LIVES!!!

Which brings me to those first cousins of HomoBigotry_

_DENIAL and Hypocrisy, all of which looms LARGE within Black America and are (IMO) equally destructive to Us, as a people.

Who the h*ll, do We, think we’re fooling with all Our bullsh*t?!

How about this_:

Of all the "holier-than-thou" Black folks who are QUICK to stand in judgment of Homosexuals_ how many of those same people are living absolutely FOUL and despicable lives?

How many are serial Liars? Thieves? Abusers? Adulterers? Pedophiles? How about closet addicts? And/or alcoholics?

How many young Black girls and women belong to that group that’s had/having 60-70% of Black children OUT of wedlock?

How many are SELF-hating, BI-sexuals living life on the DL?

How many “straight” Black females are knowingly and UN-knowingly infected with the HIV/AIDS by their BI-SEXUAL male partners, whose secret lives and LIES now plague the Black community?!

I too come from a deeply religious Black family where the love of God, family, education, and hard-work goes hand-in-hand with, self-respect, respect and consideration of others, thinking for one's self, taking responsibility for one’s actions and one’s life.

But my family’s core values and beliefs have nothing to do with “conservatism.” It’s simply who we are and _if anything_ has more to do with our Christian faith.

There was a time when my family didn’t accept homosexuality in any way. My grandparents were especially offended by the notion of homosexualty. And yet, my sibs and I were always taught that Hating and Vilifying others is NOT in keeping with who we are as a family or as Christians.

But again, I ask_who do We, as a people think we’re fooling with all Our bullsh*t?!

OG, The Original Glamazon said...

Wow Big Man, this hits close to home. I have a 25 year old, 6’5”, 245lb, FIONE (or so every woman I know tells me) gay brother, who is struggling to become a man. We grew up in the typical black religious household. My mother is a single mother and his father, different than mine, didn’t spend anytime with my brother after he and my mother broke of their engagement and went their separate ways when my brother was about 2.

My brother struggled with his homosexuality in that environment and lived a closeted life until he turned 18. My mother still struggles with it and I try to explain to her it is not a phase or who his friends are but that he is gay. I mean I knew he was gay when he was as young as 7 or should I say I suspected. When he came out, at 18, it was the beginning of his transformation. He went from angry to happy almost overnight. My family has been supportive and our cousins, especially our male cousins, have not shunned him or turned their backs. One even told him he was glad he came out you are so much happier man.

My mother has babied him like many single women raising young men and not allowed him to be a man or stand up for himself. She has bailed him out and spoiled him beyond belief. He has never lived on his own or paid rent or did any of the things I think a 25 year old MAN should. I know my mom struggles with and blames herself for his sexuality thinking if he wasn’t in such a matriarchal family (my grandmother runs the show ala Soul Food Big Mamma style) or if his father had been around…

When he was younger we often clashed. Me the uber responsible, 10 years his senior, over achieving big sister and he the living with my momma, not taking responsibility for my life baby brother never quite saw eye to eye on how he should be living his life outside of his sexuality of course. That made no difference to me.

In the last few years we have actually built a solid adult sibling relationship and I have been exposed to his fears and thoughts and been able to offer advice in a friendly not sisterly way. He helps me understand his struggles of a young gay black man in today’s society. He struggles with his place because we grew up in the church and he also knows he is who he is. He recently packed up and moved to Atlanta and I think this has been a great move. I think it is helping him really learn and become a man on his own. He called last night to give me an update and it seems like he is FINALLY growing up despite all the trails and tribulations. I try my best helping him network with young upwardly mobile gay black men that I know who have his similar back ground. I think it’s starting to work. But you are right it’s hard. If you think being black in America is hard, try being gay in black America. Great post for the weekend.

BTW you are allowed to use any phrases I coin anytime you would like!! (in reference to HillBilly.)


Truthiz said...

BTW: I forgot to mention_

Before my grandparents passed away, they were confronted with the reality of having at least 2 dearly loved family members admit to their homosexual orientation.

My grandparents still did not “embrace” homosexuality.

But they didn’t hesitate to FULLY embrace those 2 family members_while also retaining their status as “pillars” of their community and of thier church_ which, to me, represented but one more Stellar example of just how extraordinary my grandparents were, in my eyes.

Big Man said...

thanks for the comments y'all.

I wrote about this because I think we as a society makes things more difficult than they need to be. I depsise hypocrisy more than any other sin.

As I grow older I'm learning that you can disagree with folks without hating them, that you can differ in how you view the world without fighting about it. I understand the problem many Christians have with homosexuality, I share many of those same concerns. But, I believe that God called us to treat all people with dignity, respect and love.

I think things have to change on both sides of the aisle. I think Christians have to understand that God gave all of ust eh right live our lives how we see fit and deal with the results of our decisions. I think the homosexual community has to understand that people can view homosexuality as a sin, but still love and respect gay people.

Until we realize that it's not some war with black and white solutions, we will see hurt and anger building on both sides.

Unknown said...

And once again I say Big Man for VP!!!


Hello there! {waves}

I really looove to hear a man discussing manhood in a way that relates to responsibility!

There is a dialogue at my blog right now that deals with black men and's called, "WHO'S IN CHARGE? THE MANTLE OF BLACK LEADERSHIP". It is a heavy conversation and you are invited to share some of the perspectives that you have offered in this post!

Continue to write on manhood!

Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!

Gye Greene said...

As always, a good post.

I like the concept of the "Principles of Manhood" -- although I can't agree with #3 -- as I'm understanding it (being "The Man" of the house).

But, maybe I'm mis-understanding it.


Raving Black Lunatic