Even before adolescence, I knew I was an untypical male. By that, I do not mean that I was gay, transsexual, or anything else outside the statistical norm. Rather, I mean that I found – and find – very little appealing in the roles available to a straight male in modern industrial society. The times I grew up in, my childhood experiences, and my early sense of myself as an individual all made that impossible.
I can’t remember ever being taunted, much less abused because I happened to be unusual. I was tall for my age until I was fourteen and stopped growing, which meant that others tended to leave me alone. It helped, too, that I was a champion distance runner and a frequent scorer in soccer and rugby, because being good at sport buys respect in high school. And throughout my life, I’ve usually been fit, and moved with the unconscious confidence that brings. Had I ever made the effort, I might have forced a place in masculine society without any difficulty.
However, I never cared much cared to. Taking part in sports was one thing, but no amount of alcohol makes watching them interesting to me. Cars, for me, are merely transportation. Loud comments about women and jokes about them only seem rude.
And where was the place for art and intellect in this bundle of expectations? I refused to believe that such things were a consolation prize for nerds, because from an early age reading was as important to my sense of self as running faster than everybody else.
As for the idea that some tasks were masculine and others female, that seemed ridiculous to me. If work needed to be done, what difference did the gender of the one who did it make?
Part of the reason for my outlook was probably the times. Growing up during the second wave of feminism, I kept hearing that male stereotypes were not only outdated, but unjust. That meant that, since I had grown up on a steady diet of Robin Hood and King Arthur and of how Might didn’t make Right, I could not in good conscience imitate them.
Moreover, at an early age I had had the experience of not being taken seriously and dismissed by those in authority; I entered school with a speech impediment, and was sometimes regarded as mentally challenged by teachers and the parents of friends until it was corrected. At the time, I did not know why I was looked at askance, but I was old enough to resent the fact. Consequently, I had no trouble empathizing with the grievances of feminism. I’m not saying that I never benefited from male privilege (of course I did), but, unlike most boys and men, I could never take it for granted.
Later in life, trauma reinforced these reactions, but the point is that, once I realized that female gender assumptions needed to be questioned, questioning my own came naturally.
By contrast, I can’t remember many models of masculinity that were worth following. Yet that lack never bothered me much. Throughout my life, my tastes in practically everything – books, music, movies, food – have always been outside the norm. I was an individualist from an early age, so I never felt much need to identify with the male gender roles. Unlike most boys, I wasn’t used to a sense of belonging anyway.
Did I miss anything, growing up as an eccentric male? Very likely, but I can’t imagine what it might have been. Perhaps some romantic opportunities, because I wasn’t playing by the expected rules? But, if so, I can’t feel much regret. I doubt that such opportunities could have led to satisfactory or long-lived relationships.
Moreover, while the greatest of all male privileges is not to understand that you are privileged, I like to think that by generally regarding myself as human first and male second, I have been more than adequately compensated for missing any such opportunities by the conversations and friendships I have managed to have with women instead. There isn’t a traditional male who could say the same.