Thursday, October 22, 2009

What Does It Mean To Be A Man

A scorpion walks up to a frog and expresses his desire to cross a river.  The wary frog confesses that he is concerned the scorpion will sting him and thus he will die.  Our noble scorpion points out that if he were to sting the frog he would surely drown, thus ending his own life and not reaching the far bank of the river.  Persuaded, they set out to cross the river, frog swimming with scorpion on his back.

Midway across the scorpion stings the frog, as they both begin to succumb to a death that is certain the frog asks why?

"Because it's in my nature . . ." replies the scorpion.

You may wonder at the wisdom of starting my post off in such a fashion.  Buddha teaches that "right" should be our compass, and right speech causes me to wonder at my place in this discussion.

"And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, and from idle chatter: This is called right speech."

It would be terribly off topic for me to get into ethical practice as taught by Buddha or even Christ, for I am neither and it would not be my place.

Similarly, because it has never been in my nature, I would be a poor spokesperson for Men.  Especially given my history with them.  In "She's Not There" Jenny Boylan talks about developing an oppositional relationship with men as she makes her own journey toward self.  I remember marveling at such a concept as I read her book for the first time.  For me it was as alien a concept as any I'd ever come across.  She also waxed poetic on breaking out of the habits of old, that of having an oppositional relationship with women.  Again something I didn't understand or relate to in any way.

In my own travels I've spent the better part of a lifetime trying to break my oppositional relationship with men, and thus have a better, or at least healthier relationship with them.  I have always looked to women as people I innately understood and could relate to, because that was just how my heart and soul have always worked.  I could and did spend hours, days, years having deep and meaningful conversations and relationships with women, and men fell into two classes.  Those who did abuse and mistreat me, and those who, given a chance, most certainly would.  They have, despite my best intent, remained aliens to me.  Conversations with them typically started and ended with hollow pleasantries, and empty context.  In their defense, they understood me even less than I them.

After all for a goodly number of years I looked like, I should be, one of them.

Alas, it was no more my nature than an alien with a disguise that made them appear human.  Or the scorpion who by killing the frog, doomed himself.

Survival was, for me, a matter of some incredibly complex rules very much like computer programs, to afford me some level of camouflage.  I drew upon the iconic images of "manhood" available to me at the time.  "Kirk, Spock, Scotty, McCoy, with measures of Steve Austin, Steve Trevor and Colonel Hogan thrown in."  It was a role I clung to as a drowning woman awash in turbulent waters might cling to any scrap of wood to help keep her afloat.  The only real redeeming feature of my characterization was that I was every woman's friend and potential mate.  Long after I was married, people were wondering how to have me cloned, because after all, I was the PERFECT . . ."  And I still cannot bring myself to use the honorific afforded to male spouses.  Friend's Mother's dreamed their daughters would find a "guy" like me.  Every time I heard that I laughed, cried, and died a little bit inside.

When no longer could I take the strain of such an egregious, ongoing lie, I took steps to embrace my nature and everything that meant.  Poor Mr. Frog just had to die.  Even if it meant drowning myself.

One friend, who was in the  cloning me camp had this to say when I shared my secret:

"Oh my God, I'm a Lesbian!  I wish I'd known that sooner, I could have been searching for Ms. Right."

I was, to say the least, taken back.

She went on to point out that for all the years she'd known me, she was looking for someone like me, the "perfect mate" because of the way I treated women I was close to.  Then it hit her.

"Oh my God, you were just running the girl play book because that's the only thing you knew.  You treated women the way YOU wanted to be treated.  It all makes sense now, how you could know so well what to say or do at a given point.  Because you ARE one of us.  Wow, how much that has to have hurt?"

Yeah, ever on the outside in the cold longing to warm myself by the heart of humanities core.  To be part of the sisterhood, included, truly understood, and no longer forced by cruel fates into a role I was ill suited to play.  Method acting in simplest form, is getting into the mind of your character and understanding what moves them.  I had no context for what was supposed to be moving my character, so I created all these rules to simulate it based on what I saw of iconic men around me.  Yeah, over the top, idealized, men that didn't and couldn't exist.  No more human than Alf.

For years I wandered around the periphery of theater, aching to be a thespian, but staying off the stage because I was spending my entire waking existence acting one role I couldn't understand, let alone play well.  Taking on another role I couldn't understand?  Somehow then balancing the character I'd have to play against the one I was playing?

Victor Victoria anyone?  Julie Andrews I have never been, though to sing like her has oft been my dream.

So that's my long winded way of saying I have utterly no idea what it means to be a man.

Truth to tell I've learned more about them since I stopped trying so hard to be one than I've ever known.  But I'm still ill prepared to speak with eloquence or any semblance of authority on the subject.  Plus given my history with them, I'd be hard pressed to not dissemble and present a less clear and honest picture of them.  It would not be as Buddha teaches us, right speech.  Christ would similar take umbrage with bearing false witness.  And to round it out fully, as my Grams would say: "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything." 

So that's kinda my long way around saying I have no idea what it means to be a man and with my experience I'm probably the last woman on earth to answer that question.

Now, so that there's no confusion, yes, I've spent the better part of my life being used and abused by men.  From my mentally ill father, to my equally unhealthy late husband, I've spent a major portion of this life, and the one immediately prior, on the wrong end of less than the best that half of our species has to represent them.  I'm working on getting past all that.  But it should be clear it has nothing to do with NOT being one of them.  Frankly had I NOT been abused, not been so carelessly and ruthlessly used I'm certain I'd have resolved my problems when I was five.  In fact it is specifically because I wasn't and could never be one of them that I suffered so long at their hands.  I wasn't one of them, and couldn't be myself, so I was stuck.  My father made that endlessly clear when at five I honestly asked when we could go to the doctor so he could fix me. That didn't go over well with him.  So I was never good enough, always unacceptable, wrong somehow he couldn't accept and I wasn't allowed to talk about.

I've been female since long before I even knew fully what the difference was.  But that never really helped much.  I could no more see into and men's world than they can ours for the most part, and compromise was unacceptable.  So I fought to hold on, to fit somehow, to play the part I was TOLD I WAS and would always be.  My Father spent the dozen years between five and when he threw me out of the house at 17 bound and determined to make a man out of me if it killed him.  Well, that worked out so well for him.  He's dead six years now, and I'm still the daughter he refused to accept when I was five.

So, "What Does it Mean To Be A Man?"  I have no idea.  My life probably might have been a whole bunch less traumatic and painful if I did know.



Lori D said...

I guess not knowing the answer is the best indicator you would never supposed to really know, huh? Great thoughts!

Samantha Shanti said...

In some respects, I think you're right Lori. But it still feel like I've missed so much. I spent so much time working so hard, and have so little insight to bring. Plus so many people talk about seeing life from two sides, and I don't really have that. For me it was always one side. So does it make sense I feel slightly cheated?

Caroline said...

Samantha, I wrote a long post similar to this though less eloquent then ditched it!

Most of my wife's friends say that they would have got married if they could only have found someone like me. We are obviously so perfect it is little wonder we attract so much hate!

Caroline xxx

Samantha Shanti said...

You know Caroline, I've been pondering this a bit, and I have to wonder at it too. Admittedly in my case the people who adored me then, still do, so I've been doubly blessed. I have to wonder too if it might have been my choice of friends. The same friend who pondered the possibility of being a lesbian also wondered if I chose my friends with some secret super power that let me see the one's who were going to stand by me. She also wondered if Earl hadn't been so bad to me at the end because he knew he was going to die soon and wanted it to hurt less for me. That somehow by pushing me away, and hurting me so badly, that I wouldn't mourn. Yeah, that worked so well.

In the end my friend decided she couldn't be a Lesbian because she liked dick too much. Without thinking, I said, I like it too, just in me, not ON me. She nearly spewed sushi all over the living room. She's now happily married to a guy I haven't yet met, but I know he was vetted by the rest of our friends and family, so I'm not worried.

I think we attract, in part, so much hate because in challenging our own notions of self, we cause others to do likewise. My friends are all amazing, and don't get lost in the details, but some people when faced with a similar bit of thought "OMG, I'm a Lesbian" or whatever, have this tendency to freak out.

That my dear is directly related to some odd several thousand year old notions that have become part of the fabric of the socio-cultural construct we know as the patriarchy. Doesn't make a cup of sense, but it's the regrettably world we live in at the moment.

alan said...

I've never been a "great human being", proven by the fact that I can't let Earl have that for an excuse...there was no excuse in this Universe for what he put you through!