The way I look has serves as a platform for a whole host of misplaced suppositions. I look typically masculine in the Western sense—tall, bearded, bald, built—but my behaviour, attitudes and actions don’t fit others’ expectations of this man. They might have, but I’ve made conscious personal changes to avoid this, and as a result have become a contradiction.
Growing up in Port Macquarie I got to enjoy the social camouflaging that came with my look. As a teen I was tanned, my hair sun-bleached—so was almost every teen’s. And Port Macquarie’s cultural and social infrastructural limitations were such that you were guaranteed a ‘career’ in hospitality and plenty of time around white, working class Australia—where that look is part of the wallpaper.
For a time I managed a restaurant, a hub for the town’s white collar workers aged 45 and up, and took shifts in the neighbouring pub, a blue collar establishment where 18 to 25-year-olds spent their Friday and Saturday nights. Masculinities expressed themselves differently in each venue but with more commonality than the disparate parties would admit.
The white collar males exhibited supreme levels of casual arrogance. A local car dealer, for example, thought it acceptable to grab hold of one of the restaurant’s female employees’ name tags, which was pinned to her chest, to gauge a better view. His blue collar counterpart tended to be more physically and verbally aggressive. Take the time my partner and I were sitting with a male co-worker in the neighbouring pub—a male 18-year-old passing the table remarked, “She’s getting doubled teamed tonight.”
Two groups of guys erupted into a brawl on a Monday night because a guy from one side insulted a guy from the other—who had been blinded by chemical burns.
There are plenty more examples. A guy my partner knew from school would pass by the window of our workplace making the sign for oral sex. Two groups of guys erupted into a brawl on a Monday night because a guy from one side insulted a guy from the other—who had been blinded by chemical burns. Fifty-year-old men would regularly stumble glass-eyed to the bar for more liquor and berate me for giving them water. Familiar everywhere were the cohorts of men who leant against walls in pubs, glaring in ways designed to antagonise men into fighting or women into reacting.
This has been my education in alcohol as well as masculinity and as such I have decided to have as little to do with both as possible. I have slowly amended my character to hopefully be more diplomatic, gentle and measured. The last thing I want is a masculinity like theirs—insecure, combative, ‘activated’ by alcohol.
I have not consumed alcohol in nearly nine years and I make more of a determined effort to stay fit and healthy. A receding hairline has seen me keep my head shaved and the belated emergence of a moustache has seen me perennially sport a goatee. The resultant visage is typically masculine, and it has cemented my paradigmatic awkwardness.
Fixation on my sobriety and single status is rife.
The last change for me was a lifestyle shift out of the tumult of hospitality into the predictability of retail. While at times it is mundane, there is a host of things that I am relieved to be living without. And I was settled somewhat in this new personhood because I was in a relationship. When I moved cities to Newcastle, however, the fuel that drove that relationship turned to fumes and we agreed to go our separate ways. Since being in this new environment I have had to re-explain my behaviours and beliefs. Fixation on my sobriety and single status is rife.
For example, I had a female co-worker drop some new lexicon on me: “Have any Tinder dates on the weekend?” I’ve seen Tinder predominantly used for a near-predatory level of sexual acquisition, which has become such a ubiquitous augment that I’m made stranger for not partaking. Another young girl asked once if I was going to the club to “celebrate Anzac Day and play Two-Up.” I said that I wasn’t, only to receive a confused, disapproving retort. “Do you have a girlfriend?” I was told if I went I might find someone nice.
When I talk to girls about the ideal attributes of a man, some of which are beautiful and inspired, there is an underlying acceptance of the same common masculine behaviour from which I have attempted to distance myself. Notions of chivalry are still coveted but with caveats, which include the normalisation of casual alcohol-induced sex binges. And that’s just fine. But where does it leave me?
While I have known for a long time how damaging masculine ideologies can be, it surprises me how accepted they continue to be. Perhaps because not all people discuss or disseminate masculine norms, they linger implicitly and become a kind of a social inheritance.
I expected at least an “Are you doing okay?” but that is not a masculine question.
I caught up with a mate from home who had only known me to be in a relationship and he queried whether I was seeing anyone yet. When I responded in the negative, he asked what I could be doing on weekends. I thought of hikes, rides, writing, movies, reading—activities I regularly enjoy—but the way he framed the question made clear that “going out” and “picking up” were the only activities he understood to be worthy. I expected at least an “Are you doing okay?” but that is not a masculine question.
Still, though, I am largely let be. I look ‘tough’ enough to earn a reprieve from othering. Which gives the lie, perhaps more than anything, to the idea that what is masculine and what is not are anything to set stock by. Masculinity’s fragility is such that its judgements are also the walls it hides behind. It manufactures difference and then enforces it—and it does so on grounds which bear no relevance to your constitution or beliefs.
For now, I can only see that creating transparency around this subject—at the level of the individual, certainly, but really strenuous deconstruction at the broadest possible level—might expose how deserving it is of scrutiny, and in the long-term manufacture a new cross-generational attitude which sees and disavows the obvious, devastating impact of normative masculinities.