This originally appeared on JaysonGaddis.com. Republished here with permission.
Being perceived as gay. Being perceived as too feminine. And having a small penis.
Want to know any man’s biggest fear?
Some might say “the unknown,” “being broke,” “not being loved,” or “not being in control.” While these top the list, there are a few fears much deeper, mostly unconscious, and more secret that most dudes just won’t admit they have or have had.
The three biggest fears that stem from outdated male conditioning are:
- Being perceived as gay
- Being perceived as too feminine
- A fear that your cock is not big enough, and therefore you are not adequate
If this is true that men fear these, then it is also true that these are the three areas used to exploit and shame another man.
Men who are insecure in one or more of these areas will be highly susceptible to ridicule in these areas. However, he will do his best to hide it. The mask he will wear will be thick and seemingly impenetrable.
Be honest. Ask yourself from boyhood until now if you have feared these. I have feared all of these at some point in my life.
Let’s take a quick look at all three.
1. Being perceived as gay
Since so many men are simply out of touch with who they really are, and are fundamentally insecure, being called “gay” can be very threatening. For these men, gay = bad, wrong, weak, womanly, sensitive, and less than.
Think about it. In conventional male culture (particularly for teens and young men), the biggest putdown you can give another man is to call him a “fag.” Men joke in this way all the time. But underneath the joke is a hidden truth. That to the men giving the put down, they are deeply afraid that they will be seen as homosexual or gay and they know the other man might have questions too.
Prior to having any self-awareness whatsoever, I shamefully admit that in college I participated in gay bashing by calling my male friends who I perceived had more feminine character traits “gay.” At the same time, I did my best to hide any aspect of myself that I felt was weak or revealed how incredibly sensitive I was. I also questioned my sexuality in adolescence and had no one to talk to about it. So, like a guy’s guy, I puffed up, I hid it, and instead made fun of others.
Rapper Eminem was asked by MTV’s Kurt Loder in 2001 why he used “faggot” in all his songs to put down other men. Eminem responded:
The lowest degrading thing you can say to a man when you’re battling him is to call him a faggot and try to take away his manhood. Call him a sissy, call him a punk. “Faggot” to me doesn’t necessarily mean gay people. “Faggot” to me just means taking away your manhood.
Sadly Eminem’s view is very common. And, even if it wasn’t meant as a putdown to gays, it is. Talk to most gay folks. Using “gay” or “fag” as a putdown perpetuates aggression, disrespect, and even violence toward gays.
Anti-gay behavior is so ingrained in our culture and starts from day one. If a little baby boy so much as gets a toy that looks like a “girl toy” he might be teased by a nearby, watchful adult as gay or girly. So begins the cycle of the boycode.
William Pollack PHD, coined the phrase “boycode” to suggest that boys are put in what he calls a gender straight-jacket as early as infancy. Boys must only act like boys and if they cry, whine, don’t play sports, or wear girl-colored clothing, they are not being a boy. Sadly, this behavior is conditioned largely by fearful, insecure, adult men who do not want to be seen having a boy who is “not acting like a boy.”
Boys are conditioned to be boys and boys in most modern cultures have a “do’s and don’ts” list of behaviors. Since boys have no formal initiation in this culture, “adult boys” model boyhood and manhood, which becomes an incredibly narrow version of masculinity, and sadly one we are dealing with right now.
Michael Kimmel in his book Guyland pinpoints the “guycode,” which grows out of the boycode. The guycode is essentially the same as the boycode, but for adult men. It’s just another box men buy into.
Gay men are just as much men as straight men. Practice acceptance.
2. Being perceived as too feminine
I remember playing golf as a boy. If I putt the ball short of the hole, the older men used to say, “Hit it, Alice” to imply I was putting like a woman because I didn’t hit the ball hard enough. I also remember in college challenging other men to drink more by calling them “skirts” if they were not keeping up (as if 10 or 12 beers was not enough).
In men’s sports, coaches often uses terms such as “ladies” to describe men who are not stepping up, who are quitting, or who are acting weak. Even in the blockbuster Avatar, the “bad guys” called each other “ladies” to motivate each other.
Think of the cost here with our teenage boys. When adolescent boys are trained day in and day out to put each other down with “girl,” “pussy,” “vagina,” “cunt,” etc., over time the association becomes entrenched. It can start out pretty innocent, but pretty soon, this bleeds over to how boys treat girls. They begin to disrespect girls in an ongoing way and use “girl behavior” as the big put down to each other. They attempt to push away the feminine because they are doing their best to hide the feminine aspects of themselves.
Boys will hide any vulnerable or seemingly feminine aspects of themselves or face the ridicule of their peers and thus not belong or feel accepted by their peer group.
Tragically, boys will bury anything about themselves that resembles a girl.
3. A fear that your cock is not adequate
The other big diss boys and guys dish out to each other is to insult another man’s penis. Find a way to call attention to another man’s inadequacy by attacking his privates. No wonder boys and men are so uncomfortable talking about their cocks, their sexual fears, or inadequacies. No wonder shame begets shame.
Countless men (and women) have fears of being inept, impotent, inadequate, worthless, not good enough, and not man enough. Men often associate these with their cock and their cock’s performance. In traditional guy culture your cock = your success. If your cock works, gets action with women only, and is big, then you are a man.
What nonsense. And yet this is often what young boys learn through other men, the media and through porn.
Internet porn thus becomes the guidepost for boys who have nowhere to turn. The basic message for a boy or man watching porn is the same as above. “Use your cock to take her, thrust, fuck, be in charge, dominate, control,” because that is supposedly what she wants. Again, another box. Boys and men buy into the box and if anything happens outside the box, there must be something wrong with you.
Believe it or not, your cock is fine just the way it is. You are adequate. Even if you lose your erection or believe you have a small penis, you are enough. It’s commonly understood that most women don’t care about size.
1. The re-frame. Your vulnerability is your strength. Yup. Believe it or not, your vulnerability is your strength. Not in mainstream culture or traditional manhood of course. But who cares? If you read this site, you are not a conventional, mainstream man. You are more conscious than that. Start acting like you are.
2. Be yourself and stop giving a shit what others think of you. Seriously. Have the balls to be yourself (not your ego-self) and blast out of the box your culture, your father, or your peers put you in.
3. Grow up. Move on past this juvenile behavior. Lead the way and practice not buying into these three fears. They only serve to keep you inside that box. You don’t need them. At the same time if you are secure in who you are as a man, skip dissing other men by using these deeply entrenched jabs. You just perpetuate aggression, violence, and intolerance in people who are different than you. If you are scared and want to protect yourself, fine. But get some new tools, seriously.
4. Start respecting your fellow man, no matter who they are. That’s right, criminals, democrats, republicans, gay, straight, black, white, red, brown, yellow. Practice acceptance and start with the guy staring you in the face everyday.
5. Challenge him. If you want to help another man step up, challenge him to reach his potential.
6. Call him out. When a man is 35 and he is acting like a boy, call him on that. This does not mean if a man is crying he is acting like a boy. Men cry. I cry. Crying and showing strong emotion is a sign of strength. But if he acts like he is 14 or is trapped in “guyland” and refuses to be a man, call him out. Demand more from him.
7. Get out of the gender box. Men come in all shapes, colors, and sizes. Be careful about how you put boys (including your own children) in a gender box. Let your son be emotional, sensitive, and free. If he plays with dolls, get curious about why you care so much. It’s likely that you are afraid what others will think of you. Encourage him to be himself and trust himself, not some version of your rigid self. Do the same with your adult male friends and colleagues.
This world needs less “adult boys” and more open-hearted, fearless, conscious men. Will you be one of them?
Jayson Gaddis is a yerba mate addict and a householder. He’s a relationship healer, psychotherapist, and guide devoted to helping people awaken through relationships, intimacy, and parenting. He’s a husband and part-time stay-at-home Dad getting schooled by his two kids.