To Be A Man.
Growing up as a young man can be tough. If the past five years in the Avalon community has taught us anything, it’s this. We have tragically lost numerous young men to suicide, and so many others are suffering from anxiety and depression. I am a lucky man. I have grown up with plenty of mates, the ocean as my teacher, and a host of elders in our town, who have helped guide me into the man that I am today. But I still found it tough as a young man.
My original perceptions of being a man or possessing masculine energy were shaped by the typical stereotypes of what it was to be a man in the 1990’s - plenty of deep voices, clutching a beer in one hand and a power tool in the other. As a kid I didn’t know much, but I knew that I did not relate to this. I have always been a very sensitive person and as a young boy I was always very aware of other people’s feelings, as well as my own, and it was important for me to express this. Fortunately for me, my immediate family totally accepted and encouraged this. I felt very free and supported to just be me.
Although I was supported at home, moving out into the real world of school and sports, it soon became evident that I was not drawn to the “men” in our community. Even the young boys who were wrestling around and playing footy just didn’t do it for me. This prompted the question as to why? Am I different? Is something wrong with me? This formed the basis of my younger years, feeling more or less out of place amongst “men” and more in tune with women. There was something that drew me to feminine company, I was really attracted to the softness in their energy.
At school I was always the guy with heaps of girl “friends”, but never more than that. By the time I got to high school there was a huge footy culture and I was this smaller kid from Avalon that just wanted to spend all day at the beach. I soon grew very insecure about being a “wax head”, as well as not being what most of the girls in our school were looking towards as men. Although being called a pussy or a fag is not uncommon in schools, these names really tore me inside and it was what I began to feel like. I had no gauge of my masculinity, no idea about my sexuality or how to express it, and I was totally confused about who I was as a person. I developed a hard edge outside myself where I could pretend to be confident and try to fit in but on the inside I was moving further and further away from my true nature.
My true qualities were deeply suppressed for a long time and in place of this began an ever increasing anxiety. Perhaps the angst was at the thought of being noticed outside of what was normal, all I wanted to do was to fit in and this exhausted me. It got to a point where I was so anxious and afraid of being different that I would experience daily panic attacks upon waking up in the morning. Learning Yoga and meeting an older mentor certainly helped me in this period, but in no way did I feel comfortable in my own skin or accept myself for who I was. Even on good days I would walk into the bathroom and catch myself smiling in the mirror. I would immediately wipe the smile from my face simply because I didn’t feel worthy of feeling light and happy. I just didn’t like who I was.
My intuition had been shut down and I had no yardstick as to where my place was in the world. After high school and after giving up my dream to become a professional surfer, as well as the discipline and health that comes with that, I raced as fast as I could to catch up to my mates who were going out, getting wasted on whatever was available, and finding a fight, because that’s what you do when you are a young man, right? With a hormonal system doing backflips and older “role models” in the area doing the same thing, I pretty much formed my idea of being a male as someone who beats his chest and does whatever he can to get one up on his fellow man. Again, internally I was moving in the opposite direction than what was truly “me”.
A few years of this abuse of my physical and mental health took a huge toll on my enjoyment of life. Although I was a happy and driven person on the outside, I shared none of this exuberance towards myself. Looking back on this period, what I was searching for was validation. Validation that I was enough, validation that I was a man. It took a long time to realise that all I needed was validation from within, to back myself.
At the age of 20 I moved into the field of health and eastern philosophy, and through this I was exposed to the ideas of self-love and masculinity. This seeking that I had been doing really put me in the midst of some tough questions that I had to face in order to relieve myself of the anxiety and unhappiness that I was experiencing.
It’s only been in the past two years that I have truly been able to love and accept myself as a man. I used to think that being a man meant I had to display “masculine traits”. I did not realise that having these traits does not necessarily make you a man. There are so many people out there who are of the age of a “man” but who are are not acting like men. However, at the same time I am seeing such a beautiful unfolding of young men in our community, who are feeling free enough to be themselves, to express their creativity, their natural abilities, and to be different, if that is who they truly are. For me, part of becoming a man, has been getting clear on what is valuable and important to me. And since learning what this is, I have been able to accept responsibility for myself and my happiness, which I think is at the cornerstone of masculinity.
Part of being a man is to also be soft, just like part of being a woman is to possess some level of masculinity. I have found that each man has a different balance of masculinity and femininity. For me, the trick was to own my sensitivity, be proud of having the ability to be vulnerable and then work on hardening up some of my other qualities, like the ability to hold space for someone to vent, being present in a woman’s company, and not trying to control or “fix” other people.
We all have our own quirks and downfalls, and I am certainly no exception. There are traits of a man that are essential to have and I could go on about the need for a man to have purpose, to provide and to protect, but if you do the work on yourself you will come to that in your own time. My biggest lesson is to accept being me, because there is only one of each of us in this big world, everyone else is taken.
Written by Nic Laidlaw @balancedstudio
Edited by Claudia DeBerardinis & Samantha Callender
Any information on this blog is not a substitute for professional advice. It is written from personal experience and research only. If you are in crisis, go to your nearest emergency room, call lifeline on 13 11 14 or dial 000.