As a straight white male, growing up in a middle class family wasn’t exactly the toughest of childhoods for me. I’m lucky to have been born with these privileges that I still have today. Like every childhood though, it didn’t come without its tribulations. I was an incredibly sensitive child. I would react poorly to criticism and would get upset at the littlest of things. I would fall out with my parents and brothers regularly over trivial matters, and this carried on into my teenage years.
I became so angry following an argument with my parents once, that I punched a small hole in my bedroom wall. I would have been fourteen. Inevitably I came off a lot worse. Not only did my hand hurt, but it achieved little more than a parental bollocking and the threat of being grounded. The only redemption I could find was when I suggested I saw a counsellor to help with my ongoing anger issues.
I felt so embarrassed when I first arrived for the session. I told the counsellor that I felt my issues were not serious enough to warrant being there. He reassuringly explained that everyone has their own issues, and even if mine didn’t seem bad relative to others’ it didn’t make them any less valid. I went through what had happened recently: how I’d reacted poorly to an argument, and how my outburst was disproportionate to the situation. This was when I was first introduced to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or CBT.
He explained that there is a process by which people can think through, talk about and rationalise their own feelings, emotions and thought processes in general. He told me that if we are able to rationalise these, it can have a positive impact on the way we act and the way that we behave. I struggled to get to grips with this concept at first, and only when I was in my early 20s did I actually start to utilise this form of therapy.
Being fourteen, I was very naive and self-interested. I didn’t have a grasp on issues that didn’t affect myself directly. To be honest, I probably didn’t have much of a grasp on issues that did affect me. I’d like to think that’s quite normal for a child though. I had no idea what toxic masculinity was. I had never heard of feminism. I certainly did not understand trans issues. I also didn’t know anyone who was (openly) gay.
I played a lot of junior club rugby growing up. The only time I’d get teased was when they would call me ‘posh’ because I attended a private school, whereas the majority of the boys went to a state school. Being called ‘posh’ really did not bother me. Being called ‘gay’ did bother me. It would go right through me as if someone had punched me in the chest wearing a knuckle duster. I despised being called gay. I first heard it as an insult directed at me at said posh private school. I associated the term with everything I didn’t want to be, and let it encircle me in a shroud of doubt and negativity.
Although I was fourteen, I was reasonably confident in my sexuality. I knew that I only liked girls, and the thought of another boy didn’t really do it for me. How does one prove they aren’t gay? I would ask myself. What do I have to do in order to get them to leave me alone? I’d had a few ‘girlfriends’ at this point in school, but this clearly wasn’t so convincing for some. I’d therefore let my emotions get the better of me at times when the name calling returned time and time again. Like I said, I was very sensitive as a child, and struggled to deal with negativity appropriately. Often this would push me towards aggressive behaviour and even violence. I would often take it out on my younger brother, rather than in school. This may have been the gradual incline that caused me to fall off the edge and end up putting a hole in my bedroom wall.
What do I think of the term ‘gay’ now? Nothing negative, that’s for sure. Despite the lack of evidence that it truly means ‘Good As You’, I still agree with the sentiment. I now have friends who are gay, or are at least somewhere on the spectrum of sexuality. My eyes have been opened to things that I would have never experienced, had I continued to derive nothing but negativity from the word. I am also now so much more comfortable in my own skin and sexuality, and have learnt to be more accepting of myself, as well as others.
Believing that to be a man, you need to be muscly, have a big dick and only like women, is by all intents and purposes toxic. It forces one’s self and others to look, think and act a certain way that may seem unnatural, and is a major source of insecurity and breeds unhealthy habits. Being told to man up, although seemingly innocent at first, carries with it a truck load of vile and toxic connotations. So what, I’m small!? So what, I’m gay!? So what, I’m feeling a certain way! I am allowed to: it’s human. By implying that it is not right to feel these emotions, puts us in a position where punching holes in walls feels like the only option. Or worse, where the only solution comes in the form of depression, self-harm and ultimately suicide. This is why being open about emotions is integral. This is why masculinity, real masculinity is all about comfort in one’s own skin, regardless of build, penis size or sexual orientation.