Ryan Lee

Ryan Lee: The caging of masculinity

One of the great cons of human history is how masculinity is associated with strength and toughness, when it is probably the most delicate character trait ever, constantly needing to be protected, defended and affirmed. Masculinity is vulnerable, needy and all of the other adjectives that men have cleverly projected onto femininity since Eve was plucked from Adam’s rib cage.

The latest beneficiary of this enduring fraud is Donald Trump, whose presidential campaign was successful partly by folks being seduced by his supposed strength and toughness, a perception disproven hourly by the president-elect’s pouty Twitter feed. And since Trump – an elderly, pudgy, balding trust-fund manchild – is the antithesis of physical prowess, the “toughness” that so many people admired was his courage to say the racist thoughts they were too cowardly to whisper.

However, this column is not about Adolf Trump (I just believe no opportunity to speak out against him and his enablers should be skipped, and that researchers will finally prove a link between micropenises and authoritarianism if Trump’s dick is donated to science whenever he dies).

Rather, I was recently listening to a morning radio show that was fielding calls about a plot line in the new HBO series “Insecure,” where a male character reveals to his potential girlfriend that he previously had sexual encounters with other men. Not surprisingly, the radio callers, men and women, were nearly unanimous in voicing that such a history disqualified a man from future heterosexual relationships, and, more implicitly, manhood altogether.

Masculinity dissolves faster than sugar water. Its most recognizable expression – male heterosexuality – is the only sexual orientation fragile enough to melt at first touch.

If I were to have sex with a woman tonight, I would wake up no less gay in the morning; likewise, women do not lose their claim to being straight or lesbian if they have one or a dozen hook-ups with a partner that doesn’t correspond to their sexual orientation. Straight men jeopardize their identity by simply appreciating handsomeness, and their heterosexuality cannot recover from the wrong type of physical contact with another man.

There’s an evergreen paranoia that political correctness attempts to tame modern manhood, while the actual caging of masculinity – the sexual and emotional confines of the heterosexual male human experience – is reinforced by every demographic, including gay men. We are as unforgiving as the rest of society, quick to read any type of sexual experimentation by a straight man as a sign that he is a latent power bottom.

My promiscuity did not begin when I found other gay men. I touched, sucked and grinded penises throughout elementary and high school, reciprocally, and the vast majority of my sexual playmates grew up to be heterosexual men.

The pictures of their wives and children that they post on social media do not strike me as an elaborate scheme to remain closeted, and I have no urge to out them for living a lie. There are some who I wonder if (or wish) they continue to enjoy that type of bond with a man, but that still doesn’t make me doubt the sincerity of their heterosexuality.

There are others who I hope are not haunted by memories that I count among the best of my life. That seems like a tough burden to carry to be accepted as a real man.