The Burdens of a Heterosexual


By Sean Smith

As if it were yesterday I remember every time I would visit my father I was faced with the daunting task of answering his questions. These questions didn’t pertain to my recent academic progress but rather my perceived sexual orientation; “you ain’t gay is you boy?” Knowing the emotional turmoil I would cause if I honestly answered his questions, I abided by the heterosexual rule of always answering no. In an effort to fuel the believability of my answer, I would go as far as showing him photos of women I had in my phone. I was and still am his only son. The hetero-normative society we live in says it is my job to carry on the family name, to spread my seed, to procreate, to get married to a woman and provide for a family. That same society is responsible for countless LGBTQ Teen deaths, who so desperately try to ‘fit in’.

As I grew older I found myself in similar situations that I faced during my childhood–the constant plaguing questions about my sexual orientation, the ridicule for playing tennis instead of football, reading instead of rapping, and engaging in extracurricular school activities instead of chasing after the plethora of single women gracing the halls of my high school.

Adult men are faced with a unique challenge when it comes to protecting the sacredness of their heterosexuality; it becomes intertwined with protecting their ‘masculinity’. We start battling with other men mentally, physically, and, believe it or not, emotionally. Who has the more attractive girl, whose biceps and dick is the biggest (contradiction?), which one of us is making the most money, and drives the fancier car. Our obligations to heterosexuality are loaded with living up to the expectations of similar systems of oppression; patriarchy, capitalism, and being adept on the latest homophobic slur. As men there are levels of heterosexuality that you must prove yourself worthy of reaching, not only to other men, but to women as well. The expectations are more stringent, and the consequences of being labeled the ‘punk bitch’ are even more detrimental to the wellbeing of one’s manhood.

Do we truly enjoy living with every microscopic detail of our lives being sampled and weighed accordingly on the scale of heterosexuality? Are there not enough oppressive expectations we ritually battle, as we progress through life? It is our duty as humans to not only challenge that which many of us have been indoctrinated to believe, but to take an uncharted individually invented journey into the free world of sexuality, gender, and sexual orientation. It is time we stop allowing toys, placement and type of jewelry, colors, social activities, and our desire to follow the oppressive rules of procreation and hetero-normativity control our lives. It is time women end this search for the mirage of a ‘real man’, and for women to stop being criticized for not being ‘lady like’. It is time for men to cease the perpetuation of the unwinnable masculine battle. Our masculinity is not determined by anyone else but us. There are no authentic guides, books, or maps to manhood. It captures us at the least expected moments, and is supposed to leave us vulnerable to the unexpected. We should be elated when certain expressions and behaviors are characterized as feminine; then and only then will we escape the egregious label of the savage beast.

While learning to accept my sexual orientation, there were moments where I distanced myself safely away from anything remotely feminine. In distance I felt that I was safe from the stigmatization and ridicule that effeminate men were plastered with; from their more masculine counterparts. In reality I was scared, lonely, and lost; to my surprise it was the very type of person I distanced myself from, who helped me come to terms with who I am. The vibrant and carefree nature of this person was who I wanted to be, not the imprisoned ‘masculine’ and perceived heterosexual person I was. We learn from each other and respect each other when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable around each other. Will we as a society open the window to let in that same vibrant and carefree air, or will we continue to suffocate ourselves and our children, with the stale air of obligatory and burdensome gender expectations of heterosexuality? Progression doesn’t come at the hands of passing a few laws, and learning to accept those which are unlike you. Progression comes when we cohesively begin to challenge the rules and expectations of society to which we have been obligated to follow.

Sean Smith is pursuing a B.A in Sociology and Spanish at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, VA

The Prison of Black Patriarchal Masculinity

By Derrick L. McMahon, Jr.

As a black man living in the United States, I know all too well the prison that Black Patriarchal Masculinity can be. Growing up, the cell that I was placed in was small and rigid, a place for conformity rather than creativity. My masculinity was policed at almost every turn. My wrists were too limp I was told. My walk was not boyish enough I was told. And my interests were in all the wrong places: dolls and balls as opposed to just dolls.

What brings me to the topic of black patriarchal masculinity is a chance encounter I had the opportunity to witness. A black male was walking by and I overheard a young Hispanic girl, no more than 12 years old, remark that he “walked like a girl.” As I heard the young girl utter that the black man “walked like a girl,” something in my mind went off. I began to think about what black masculinity was in the society I live in. What about the black man walking by made the young girl feel he was crossing some threshold of masculine acceptability? What had made a young girl, a Hispanic one at that, recognize something in that black man that went against whatever she had been taught in her own community and society?

The prevailing narrative of black masculinity in this society seems to be predicated on a few things. Black men are to be full of rage and always apt to commit violent crimes. We’re supposed to be hyper masculine and hyper sexual; willing to fuck anything and be the carrier of superhuman sexual abilities. Also, due to our race, it seems, we are supposed to embody an idealized version of masculinity. Both the dominant culture and many blacks themselves have internalized this false notion of black men embodying a “true” definition of masculinity.

There seems to be an endless barrage of black men depicted in the media as fitting into the narrow narratives constructed around black masculinity. Incidents of crime are reported on frequently, remarking on the latest black man to kill, maim, or rape someone. Sports and music provide the perfect backdrop for introducing the narrative that black males are hyper masculine and hyper sexual. Videos by popular artists populate mass media wherein black men brag about their sexual prowess and their heightened masculinity. The black man is conditioned to believe that he embodies the very best of patriarchal masculinity, and that this is a virtue.

That an eleven year old girl could recognize a random black man as embodying something that she had been taught to pinpoint, to see as an anomaly, was striking to me. It is a testament to the fact that our children are being conditioned from a very early age to police the gender of themselves and others. What business does an eleven year old need with policing gender? Adolescence is, and should be, a time of much experimentation and exploration, not the site of rigidity and policing. That this young girl was a member of a different racial group indicates that patriarchal black masculinity is being communicated to other communities. It’s not unusual to meet someone of another group who is surprised or disappointed that a particular black man does not embody a particular masculine ideal. When I tell people that I don’t play football or basketball, and that I don’t have a bad chick by my side, they seem let down. I’ve destroyed some illusion of black masculinity and manhood that they had harbored.

Masculinity, in my opinion, should be a site for creativity and diversity. No black man should be forced into a prison of rigidity by a society expecting his masculinity to be one dimensional and one note. As a black man who is an advocate of feminism, I know that I have a responsibility to make my masculinity a site of resistance. I make sure that my thoughts and actions promote a view of black masculinity that is rooted in a respect for femininity, and anchored in a multifaceted harbor.

It is imperative for black men to fight for our right to be free of the prison of black patriarchal masculinity. We are more than rage, anger, violence, and sexual conquest. Our masculinity, much like we are, is and has always been diverse. We must make room in our cell for a diverse black masculinity.

The future of black masculinity lies in its ability to break free of the prison cell it has been forced to reside in. Black masculinity must seek out a wide open field where diversity and creativity is celebrated and fostered. We must resist those who insist on our singularity as black men. The prison cell that is patriarchal masculinity must no longer be the site where black masculinity resides.

Derrick L. McMahon Jr. has a Bachelor of Science in History from Florida A&M University. His blog is the antiintellect