The other day, a man at a gay bar called me “daddy”. I was immediately taken aback. There was something about the term which suggested far more about my persona that I couldn’t quite put my fingers on; something which made me distinctly uncomfortable. And then my discomfort hit me in a cascade of glitter and frills: I am not a “bloke”.
I’ve never identified with typically masculine traits. Sure, I gave football a try in primary school, but in Australia you can’t escape the much-adored trappings of AFL unless you raised your kids in a fallout shelter. In my upbringing, I was partial to textiles, drama class and making sure my skin stayed as clean and unbruised as possible. When I was in the second grade, I choreographed an entire dance routine to Spice Girls’ Stop Right Now, complete with a troop of women who performed alongside me, and we tore it up when our song came on at the blue light disco. For the record, I was Baby Spice, but for the purpose of not inciting hate crimes confessed to being a more acceptable Scary.
Because really, in this age of “gender whisperers” and Queer Eye revolutionaries, we have to ask: What is a man? Society has long dictated that a man is a strong, stoic individual, who fights on behalf of his family in times of strife. He is the unfeeling yin to a womans’ emotive yang; a larrikin, a lad, and a pesky boys-will-be-boys fire-starting car-repairing muscle-stud, who abhors sensitivity in place of pure strength, and answers conflict with brutality and force. All of which encompass the “daddy”word thrown so precariously in my face.
I am not, and have never been, any of those things.
I’ve tried befriending men in the past, but the truth is... straight men kind of scare me. So many of them seem to walk around looking for a fight, and when I bellow “Yass, queen!” they assume I’m talking about the township of Yass in regional New South Wales, and not the oft-exclaimed phrase made popular thanks to internationally-adored television shows like Broad City and RuPaul’s Drag Race. And none of them seem to know what good hair looks like.
Yet being a conventional man also seems truly exhausting. What icons and aspirations do our young men have to look up to? Society favours men in roles like fireman, policeman, football player and politician.
Gentle men are ousted. Schoolchildren are taught from a young age through the example of their older peers that sensitivity is to be mocked, ridiculed and beaten out of you. The proverbial man-bun is snipped off at the root, and we’re left with strong-arming soldiers keen on sports-based camaraderie at best – and chaotic, cruel misogyny at worst.
And being a gay man, one who already exists on the periphery, it’s assumed by default that I do not – and cannot – fit any of the popular moulds. I am no manly-man by virtue of who I love. I am the anti-lad, the opposite of what’s required of me, and it’s a recipe for isolation, insult, and attacks from brawlers. It might one day even result in my death.
Because being unable to form half-decent relationships with other men, due to them possessing stereotypical masculinity where I did not, didn’t just result in lukewarm tension. I was ridiculed by my peers and blacklisted from ever entering all-male friendship circles. Footballs were never handballed my way to begin with, if I was even invited to play. And in my adulthood, I’ve been faced with violent assault as other men looked on with sneers, all because I didn’t fit in with their maleness; their own toxic masculinity turned to venom.
What’s worse: When I’ve been with gay men who bore secret shame about their identities for the very same reasons I couldn’t stomach being called “daddy”, they’ve sometimes lashed out. They’ve tried to be the “strong man”, the dominant figure, when what I wanted and needed in those moments was empathy and intimacy - somebody with a human touch. And their attempt to make up for their outcast pasts – when they could’ve slowed it down, baby, and tried to have some fun - has seen me sexually abused.
Men need vulnerability. Without platonic intimacy, without the freedom to expose our innermost selves, and with no welcoming shoulders to cry on – to wail on, even – we simmer and degrade. Without ease in expressing our emotions, we are incomplete.
That is how violent men are formed, not born.
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Watch The Feed's documentary #YesAllMen on SBS On Demand