As a kid I enjoyed watching buff, sweaty men twisting themselves like pretzels. Yep. It's true. I was a pro wrestling fan. Now that I've opened the floodgates with that embarrassing confession, fast-forward to today:
I like Enya, Elton John, and Annie Lennox. I'm soothed by candlelight and drawn to warm colors. I've never repaired a vehicle. I get choked up when I hear Ernie sing about the moon. I've never been to (nor wanted to visit) a strip club. The LOST finale made me sob like a baby. I could often relate to Frasier and Niles Crane, but rarely to Martin Crane.
Wow. As I list these things it's suddenly clear. I'm as queer as a three-dollar bill.
Just one thing stops me from coming out of the closet: I'm not gay. If I were, rest assured I'd proudly admit it. Alas, I'm a card-carrying member of the hetero male segment of society, but I don't subscribe to gender-based roles and expectations.
Gay men and women, bisexual men and women, straight women, they've all made significant strides in terms of social standing and empowerment. The hetero male lags woefully behind, voluntarily remaining a slave to cowardice and painfully outdated protocols. It's ironic given men's obsession with courage.
As years pass and venues change, I continue to be amazed at the sheer number of men who behave almost exactly the same way. At times I wonder if my "man script" got lost in the mail, because I sure as hell haven't read whatever keeps these hamsters in their wheels.
I refuse to believe we're hard-wired to be so bland and predictable. After all, I see too many cases where the code is (temporarily) kicked to the curb. I work in an industry so flooded with testosterone it's almost an event when a woman approaches the herd. And when she does, it's fun to witness the behavioral shift in the men.
Suddenly their tone is softer, their interests more varied and dynamic. A whole new array of interesting topics have become eligible for discussion. But once she's out of sight, the facade crumbles and the code is restored.
Tangent for the ladies: while it's true that you wield the power to suspend the code, you're not blameless in this mess. If you've got a mental checklist of what constitutes a "real man," I've got some bad news: you're a slave to your own sort of code.
It's time to offer some advice, free of charge, to my fellow hetero men. This is your chance to kick-start your own journey, one of a different kind of courage, one where authenticity trumps compliance. Impossible, you say? Pish-tosh!
Here are some ideas to help you evolve, from least to most challenging:
This is a good starting point because it's essentially a free pass. Guys can claim it's just another prison flick while pretending they're not moved by the actual theme — a desire for rewarding, meaningful male friendships.
This is another easy one. Photography gives you an excuse to appreciate the beauty of something "just because," and since you're holding a gadget you're magically protected from any gay vibes you'd otherwise be susceptible to.
Out of the blue, ask a male friend which achievement he's most proud of, and what he regrets the most. Yeah, you'll get a strange look in return but this is a big step for you. These were topics that didn't involve cars, sports, farting, female body parts, or yourself. Take the rest of the day off, Slugger, you earned it.
Force yourself into a museum or art gallery. If nothing "speaks" to you that's fine; you learned that some things just don't speak to you. That strange tingling sensation you feel? It's a side effect of going off-script and discovering something about yourself.
The ultimate test. Amelie features a female lead, themes of romance and redemption, stirring music, and subtitles. Pretty much shatters every hetero male code there is. If you come out of it feeling uplifted, you've evolved. If you come out of it thinking, "I never got a good look at her tits," go back to Step 1 because you're dreadfully stubborn and possibly dumber than a sack of hammers.
You're free to ditch these ideas for your own, just do whatever it takes to help advance the cause. Because let's face it, we're way behind other segments of society that have become comfortable in their own skin. It's time to catch up.