What it means to be a man
When I was a teenager I spent one lonely summer working for Thrifty Car Rental in Brampton, Ontario. It was possibly the worst of the many terrible jobs I have had over the years. What made it especially terrible were my colleagues; a group of hormonal, racist, homophobic and sexist male twenty-somethings.
I can’t begin to explain how heinous these guys were. They would shamelessly purchase pornography to read in the office while objectifying the female office workers. One day, Jerry, the worst member of them all asked, “Hey, faggot (referring to me) would you fuck her?” pointing to a female colleague who was walking by to get to her desk. He continued, “Because I would fuck her.”
By this point I was tired of being quiet and tolerating this level of ignorance and so I curtly replied, “The question you should be asking yourself Jerry, is whether she would fuck you, because you know, there is such a thing as consent.”
This threw Jerry into a fit of rage, he lunged towards me screaming, “You faggot” over and over again, while the male office staff held him back from physically assaulting me. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t even scared, I was so happy that I irritated him the way that I did. He deserved it, but he was too ignorant and full of misguided arrogance to understand how he was at fault.
Whenever I overhear a conversation between heterosexual males discussing pejoratively how oversexed gay people are I can’t help but interject and share with them this experience.
It is only a small example too. My manager at Thrifty would boast about how he and his police officer friends would spend their evenings scouring public parks to catch men having sex with one another. If they succeeded in their endeavour they would victimize the couple. I couldn’t help but think to myself how small their lives were. Each one of them claimed to have a girlfriend whom they cheated on. They were extremely smug about it too, as though it made them more of a man.
That summer it became legal for women in Ontario to walk the streets topless. The case had been made famous by a woman in Guelph who was sick of the double standard, and during an unusual heat wave, removed her top and did what any man can do: Walk outside without a shirt on. She was caught by the police and arrested, thrusting herself into history, by proclaiming what we all know to be true: Breasts are not genitalia. The law passed with the support of feminists in Ontario.
But this only helped perpetuate my co-workers’ bad behaviour. A few of them would come to work each morning claiming to have witnessed bare breasts upon his commute. Of course, it was never so diplomatic, but went something like this: “Man she had the biggest tits ever, I was gonna stop the car and fuck her.”
A lot of people when I tell them these stories think that I am exaggerating, but being a male and sometimes finding myself in the company of heterosexual men, you would be surprised at how common-place this type of dialogue is. Few of them even suspect that I am gay, and if they do, they ignore the possibility or attempt to turn me into a joke, alive only for their amusement. It’s masculine bravado, and by conducting themselves this way, the are asserting just how manly they are.
This idea of masculinity in our culture is concerning to me. I don’t think being a man has anything to do with how little emotions you display, or who you go to bed with. Being a man is about how tolerant and accepting you are, and is determined by the level of respect you treat your fellow peers. In fact, being a decent human being is the bravest choice anyone can make. It is also the toughest.
We give men passes for a lot of things and reward them for the simplest achievements, like accurately identifying an emotion. But what we shouldn’t allow from them, is displaced insecurity, where bad behaviour is tantamount to being the epitome of a “real man.” Have a look at sports and the violence that many of them foster, and ask yourself if that sets a good example for young boys the world over.
From time to time I remember that summer at Thrifty, and accept that I live in my own bubble of acceptance. I am aware that countless others choose the opposite: Hate.
What a sad choice indeed.
Note: Shortly following my employment, that specific Thrifty Car Rental location filed for bankruptcy and closed its doors soon after. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for all the good people who lost their jobs.