“It’s a penis!” the doctor declared to my mother on May 4, 1966.
Well, actually he probably said, “it’s a boy!” but that penis sighting was what allowed him to confidently write the word “Male” on the birth certificate. In that happy moment no one questioned my masculinity. I was simply a baby BOY.
Like the other babies in the nursery, I spent my time crying, eating, sleeping, messing my diaper and repeating all of the above. Other than the aforementioned penis, there were no other distinguishing characteristics to set me apart from the babies in the nursery with vaginas.
Because I was a penis baby, society assigned me the masculine color blue. The vagina babies were assigned the feminine color pink. Like it or not, my new signature color was baby blue.
This would be first of many symbols of masculinity bestowed upon me.
For the rest of my formative years I was taught the masculine way to talk, throw a ball, hold my books, look at my nails, comb my hair, pronounce my words and cross my legs. I was instructed that boys don’t play with dolls, fingernail polish, makeup or spend too much time playing with girls. As if those lists weren’t long enough I was also told that masculinity meant I needed to be good at sports, math, mechanics, killing things, belching, fighting and farting.
There was also a list of things I should not be good at: dancing, flower arranging, decorating anything, and self-expression. Then there were the gray areas. I could cook as long as it were limited to grilling or making chili. I could wear pastels as long as they weren’t in the pink or purple family. I could wear nice clothes as long as they weren’t so stylish as to appear that I cared a little too much. I could express emotion as long as it was anger, victory or pride but never sadness, pain or gushy love. The rules were simple, really. Just be a man.
Fortunately Hollywood had provided me with two acceptable types of masculinity for my emulation. One was the suave, debonair gentleman who was always seen in an expensive, well-tailored suit holding a martini in one hand, his other hand around the waist of a beautiful, adoring woman. The other was the ruggedly masculine, type like John Wayne or Clint Eastwood. They were cowboys, gangsters, athletes, or war heroes. Try as I might, I could never be THAT masculine so I strove to be the classy gentleman. “My names is Barrett, Joel Barrett.” Surely it would work. No one ever doubted James Bond’s masculinity... I hoped no one doubted mine. In my thirties I gave up on fulfilling society’s masculine ideal for me and came out of the closet. I embraced what being a gay man meant to me. I looked forward to being free of the masculine limitations society had placed on me. Oddly enough after living in constant fear of being discovered as a gay man for more than 30 years, when I finally came out of the closet most were quite surprised and said they never guessed I was gay! I had obviously done a good job of being “masculine”. But now, I would never have to worry about being masculine enough again. I was free to be me. I excitedly logged into the gay.com chat room, posted an attractive photo of myself and waited in anticipation for my first bite. Bing. The chat box popped up and I read the words: “Are you masculine?” the stranger in the chat window asked me, “because I don’t like fems. I’m only into masculine, straight acting guys.”
And again i found myself wrapped in a gay, blue blanket.
Joel Barrett LGBTQ Writer, Speaker, Gatherer www.JoelSpeaksOut.com