What if you aren’t sure if you want to continue performing the you as you always have?
Growing up, I was especially privy to male masculine identity development– even being raised by a single mother. I gravitated towards the groups of boys at school, not to be an object of their desire, but to be on their side. To be accepted in. I blame this on the latinx value of machismo. I blame this on the way I was coddled by my older male cousins and my brothers. I was accepted to the inside because I was young and precious and harmless. I used this to gain leverage with the teenage boys I later befriended.
I am harmless.
But I watched as a harmless teenage girl with a body not made for desire. I watched as boys navigated their gendered performances. I watched as they established dominance over girls’ bodies. I listened as they told their stories about what their bodies could make women’s bodies do. About the resulting grossness of women’s bodies. I watched as the bodies of my peers became masculinity resources deployed in order to help boys maintain their labels as men. As dudes. As bros. I practiced my lack of empathy with them. I helped them constitute their masculine identity by playing the game, participating in the interactions that reinforced their male egos. I helped.
I saw and laughed and feared for myself. But it did not matter. I knew their game was somehow more important than the games my female counterparts were playing. Maybe because the boys seemed to have more agency, and the girls were waiting, waiting to be chosen for the game. Maybe it was that. As simple as doing versus not doing.
I’ve always wanted to do.
I helped but I tried to save myself. I tried to separate myself from the pack of girls I saw deployed. I kept my body to myself. I kept the feminine of my self secret. Convinced that if I chose wisely, I would never be used in the masculine identity war. I could be saved.
My rational self, the self deemed acceptable by the patriarchy, kept that other part of me, the part of me that lived in fear, at bay. In public, you are fearless, rational, emotionless. At home, you are nurturing, warm, confused. You will be saved.
So I internalized it. I internalized all that aggression men have towards women. I practiced not drawing attention to myself. I practiced monogamy and modesty. I practiced rationality and sarcasm. My emotions do not matter. I practiced. I laughed at my brothers’ possession of women’s bodies. I repeated their jokes. I joked and smirked and insulted my way into the in-male-crowd. I became something other than…or I tried to. A part of me was always aware that the boys were waiting. Waiting to take me. To win me over. Waiting to turn me against myself. To make me another pawn in their game. Or so I told myself. Always convinced I was not safe, regardless of how safe I was made to feel at times.
And now it wears on me. I am tired of constantly seeking a safe haven for me and my body. We have made it this far, somewhat unscathed. Somewhat unharmed. Our reputation mostly intact. But I still feel it come up. The cloaking device. I’ll be sitting in a bar and a man will reach out his hand to mine, “hi.” I’ll be walking with a pack of girls in heels and skirts and feel it coming off the street. That masculine gaze. That search. That seek. Power, power, power, and there it is: their eyes land on our legs, our arms, our breasts, our hair. They see it in us. The potential to dominate, to make another helpless. To touch. “The use of touch maintains a social hierarchy.”
Ugh, I feel it in my very bones. The warnings and my own inner voice, reared by that male seeking, taught by that male reinforcement. Don’t fall victim to them. Don’t fall prey to them. You know what they will say, how they will move, what they will do. Our bodies, ourselves, and we can find a safe space. But I continue to doubt that, everywhere I go. So long as there are males with eyes and hands and teeth. I am in their world. My body is their pawn. Their science experiment.
You are in my world.
And it reinforces for me again, how you can never really know someone. You can share their space and you can watch their habits play out. You can observe their flaws and human baggage. But you can never know their meaning-making. You can never really see the wheels under their performance. You can never pinpoint exactly what has given shape to their construct of self. What episodes or lessons have played out for them, what recipe they’re using or deviating from. That is how I feel. That is what I’m reminded of. This play this script.
but it doesn’t have to be this way.
What if I’m tired of performing this part with these motivations? What if I came at it from a different angle? Can you? Can you reassess something so infused with your formation?
I don’t know.
“Soldiers and women. That’s how the world is. Any other role is temporary. Any other role is a gesture.” -Jeanette Winterson