Are we men or boys?
Becoming a man isn’t about getting older, it’s about evolving into a useful member of the tribe.
Unfortunately, evolving from boys into men is not supported in contemporary American culture and gay men’s culture as a subset of American culture is ignorant to, or actively ignores, the roles and responsibilities of mature men.
However, I’ve had a glimpse of what happens when the ideals of mature masculinity (as opposed to boy energy) are applied to my life. And I want more.
For me, Boy’s Town is a metaphor as much as it is any particular physical space. The term includes all the bars where I drank, the “sidewalk sales” afterwards, the house parties where I laughed, the gyms where I worked out, and the steam rooms where I cruised for sex. It’s a place for youth and young adults (under 35 years old) to explore who they are as men.
I’m not a youth or even a young adult.
I’m 54 and I’ve realized that I’m in the middle of grieving my time in Boy’s Town. That’s because it’s hard to let go of. I don’t see a clear road ahead to anyplace else. This grieving is a painful experience that nobody warned me was coming. It’s unexpected and that pisses me off.
But it’s as natural as the grief I’ve felt when moving from one city to another, from one relationship to another, or one job to another. Viewing my pain through this lens makes me excited for the adventure ahead.
Now it’s time to move from Boy’s Town to Man Country, a place where men celebrate their Mature Masculinity.
I’m fucking ready for that road trip!
The only problem is that Man Country appears to still be under construction. Finding examples of Mature Masculinity is difficult for all men but that is especially true for us gay men who have been reveling in our boy energy with our boyfriends in Boy’s Town for generations.
I’m done some sniffing around, mostly out of desperation, and learned some things about getting older.
Somewhere between being young men and being old men, an energetic transition needs to happen from Boy Energy to Mature Masculinity. If not, we all suffer.
It’s happening. This suffering is an epidemic in our country caused by the glorification of hero culture, but it affects gay men differently. Rather than hold close to the Boy Energy of Hero Culture that tells men they need to dominate through the use of destructive emotionlessness force, we gays hold on to the Boy Energy that tells us to dominate through sexual attractiveness, cute clothes, and shade.
Instead, we need to see ourselves as men, not boys.
Our ghettos are often called “boy’s town” and the moniker fits, but that’s because of our behavior more than the age of the guys there in the ghetto.
Guys who do not consciously evolve into Mature Masculinity usually stagnate in Boy Energy. That stagnation ripens into a stench. It’s not pretty. They become entitled Man-boys. That stagnate boy energy in old men is what people are calling “toxic masculinity”.
The public reaction to childish adult men is to demonize maleness itself, to make men bad, but men and masculinity are neither good nor bad. Eventual growth or stagnation depends on where you plant your seed and how you tend to what you’ve planted.
Stagnate Boy Energy causes pain for everyone.
Younger men feel the pain.
Without examples of mature masculinity to observe, our youth are adrift in the world without a compass to guide them, anyone to lean on for support, or any idea of what a thriving older gay man’s life looks like. They are left to sort out sex, body image, love, friendship, money, bio-family, chosen family, and spirituality all on their own or with the assistance of their similarly inexperienced gay brothers.
Each generation is forced to rediscover life on his own. The evolution from one generation to the next is stunted. Our community crawls rather than leaps forwards.
The next young gay man enters a lonely world he must discover on his own.
Older men feel the pain.
It comes from the emotional and spiritual stagnation of our existence in the realm of boys while our instincts are telling us we have so much more to give. Our experience has created knowledge, wisdom, and resources. But we have no one to share this with.
Our age has made us vulnerable to health issues, decreased social status, and loneliness due to the lack of non-club venues that would be attractive to older men looking for more intellectually engaged arenas to spar with others about the current state of the tribe and its path into the future.
Our fully developed elders live in loneliness until they and their wisdom wither, fade, and disappear without the transference of their knowledge, love, and leadership skills into the hands and hearts of those that follow them.
The drag queen Jackie Beat addressed this stagnation as part of her act.
You wanna hear a gay joke?
A gay man walks into a bar.
Every day for 50 years.
Yeah, not so funny when you say it out loud.
As usual, an artist was able to illustrate our psychic pain long before we were able to articulate it. This “joke” illustrates the isolation and evolutionary stagnation gay men have felt for decades.
Toxic masculinity is not a symptom of being a man, it is a byproduct of ignoring natural masculine evolution. Boys need to evolve into men. Boy Energy needs to evolve into Mature Masculinity.
Toxic Masculinity is, in fact, stagnate Boy Energy.
Young men are not evolving, they are simply becoming old men without any thought of the responsibilities, efforts, and rewards of being a conscious mature man.
So, what are the differences between Boy Energy and Mature Masculinity?
|Boy Energy||Mature Masculinity|
|Possesses altruism, unbridled energy, naiveté (innocence)||Possesses wisdom, generative energy, integrity|
|Pursues pleasure and fun||Pursues just and creative ordering|
|Manipulative action||Disciplined action|
|Desires status and dominance in the community||Desires order and wellbeing in the community|
|Encourages the release of chaotic energy (challenges the status quo) ||Encourages stability by promoting the talents of other adult men and boys|
|Is unsure of his identity, making him boastful and suspicious of intimacy||Is secure in his masculine identity, making him generous and open to love|
|Needs to be right||Needs to understand|
Several aspects of boy energy are useful, and that’s why we need to encourage our younger brothers, while they are still young (under 30), to revel in and be fully conscious of their Boy Energy: to feel the thrill of taking on the enemy, to have the idealism to fall in love, to be willing to break things. Those tools, and others, should remain within reach as we grow older so that they may be activated when circumstance calls for it.
Let me just say this plainly, Boy Energy is not bad.
It’s appropriate for boys.
It only becomes toxic when held on to for too long. Boy Energy was vital during our fights for civil rights. That’s because activism is suited to Boy Energy. Fight! Fight! Fight! Chaotic, deconstructing energy that knows it’s right. Rage and breaking things were and are useful while fighting our enemies.
We would not have gotten so far so fast during the plague without it.
But now it’s time to build.
It is important to hold on to the skills and generative attributes of Boy Energy such as altruism and innocence, but, when it’s time to become an adult, we need to let go of the limiting and destructive attributes of Boy Energy like dominance and the need to be right.
Again, holding on to Boy Energy beyond its sell-by date causes the stink of stagnation.
We stop building. We stop growing.
We flop around in an energy sucking bog of our own making. Exhausted from dragging each other down into the mud, we have no energy left to create a solid foundation the next generation can build upon.
We need to step away from that behavior and use our energy to till fertile soil so that our tribe may enjoy the fruits of wisdom, support, and unconditional love. If we do not, and it’s my opinion we have not, we live in a world of boastful, manipulative, frightened man-boys. These man-boys’ need for status and dominance, coupled with their natural identity insecurities, separate them from their gay brothers and the entire community suffers as a result.
The major work to be done in the current era of gay men’s evolution is to learn the difference between Boy Energy and Mature Masculinity, and when to move from one to the other.
This is what I’ve sorted out.
Our current president (Trump) is, unfortunately, a perfect example of stagnated Boy Energy. He’s what the authors Robert Moor and Douglas Gillette, in their book King, Warrior, Magician, Lover – Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine, identify as the “highchair tyrant”, an older man full of furious self-centered demands.
Here are my own examples of Boy Energy.
- He uses the term “adulating” to explain why he paid his rent on time, cleaned up after himself, or did anything that is not “fun”.
- He wears his adolescent behavior as a badge of superiority and bullies others, often with loud domineering behavior, and often in concert with other man-boys, if he receives any whiff of disapproval.
- He avoids conflict, either by running away from it or retaliating with name calling or bringing up issues he knows will cause others pain.
- He refuses to give up his style and dress like an adult even when the venue calls for it, like a wedding, a job interview, or a pretentious restaurant. Yeah, I get that some venues are pretentious. Mature Masculinity honors the venue’s right to be unique in its own way, or he chooses not to go. This is not about gender identification. Gender identity should never result in barriers. It’s about following the theme of the party. Throwing a fit because the proprietor doesn’t appreciate your Marvel T-shirt and blinky tennis shoes just reveals a man unwilling to step into his manhood.
- For him, sex is nothing but sport.
He keeps score of the quality, quantity, and exoticness of every encounter and gladly interjects his current scoreboard or former highlights into as many conversations as possible, especially when he feels threatened of losing the attention of the group.
- His car is an extension of his cock.
It is not his “car”. It is not his “vehicle”. It is his “Beemer”, his “Bentley”, his “Mercedes”, or his “Harley”. I always wonder if these guys eat “Wonder” or “Oroweat” instead of “bread”.
He has lots of couples photos with him and his car on social media.
- He cannot be trusted to show up.
He only shows up to a fraction of the events he marks as “Going” to on Facebook. He waits until the last minute to commit to anything because it’s his access to entertainment that matters, not the logistical challenges of the party’s host, or the commitments he has made to his “friends”.
Our last President (Obama) was a good example of Mature Masculinity. Essentially, these are attributes of a man who is not toxic or swampy. He has integrated the four Jungian masculine architypes of King, Warrior, Magician, and Lover.
- He is more
interested in understanding then being right.
He can discuss religion, politics, and money because he approaches topics from a state of open curiosity rather than one of prescriptive dominance (being right).
He is able to explore an idea with someone who holds the opposite view.
- He is willing
to talk about commitment.
It might be about showing up for plans next weekend, discussing monogamy vs. polyamory, being honest about his interest in parenting, or buying a house.
He is able to respectfully disagree.
He does not change the subject or suddenly leave the premises to avoid an uncomfortable topic.
- He keeps his
world in order.
He does not require supervision to clean up after himself, pay his bills, get a job, respond to invitations.
He seeks advice more than assistance.
- He asks for
His humility enables him to seek advice from Elders and experts.
He makes no demands on them to fix his problems.
He uses their insight to develop his own plan for action.
- He accepts
responsibility for his decisions.
He understands that his decisions have impacts on others and he is willing to acknowledge those impacts.
He admits when he’s wrong.
Mature Masculinity requires us, as gay men, to fundamentally change how we view our social responsibilities regarding our brothers.
It requires us to be more than fighters and fuckers.
It requires us to be consciously aware of our social responsibilities for our brothers.
It requires us to create, bless (high-five), and protect things that are in the best interest of the entire tribe.
Good news! Gay men have the intellect, the resources, and the creative energy to maintain what is great about Boy Energy while simultaneously moving those of us, when the time is right, onto the path of the Mature Masculine.
Look at what happened when we were faced with a lethal pandemic. We had the brains, the heart, and the courage to fundamentally change how we are seen and how we are served by the greater society. That’s fucking huge!
Now, it is time to change how we see ourselves and how we are served by our own institutions and social groups.
The LGBT Center needs more programming that is specific to gay men.
The Center is a beacon of hope for all queer people, but its focus is on those most in need: the homeless, elderly, youth, women, and transgender and left this work undone. Men are privileged. That’s a fact in today’s culture. However, being privileged does not mean I don’t feel pain, loneliness, and shame. It does mean, that men are left to do our own community building. That includes transitioning gay individuals from boys into men.
This blog is meant to start an authentic conversation, to knock open the door of new possibilities, to take action, to hold ourselves accountable,
This blog is meant to start an authentic conversation, to take action, and to hold myself accountable for creating movement on these ideas that grip my soul.
I imagine a physical space designed with the values of Mature Masculinity in mind, a place where men lead lives informed by their inner Lovers, Warriors, Magicians, and Kings.
Listen, every gay man has already lived a hero’s journey. Each of us has be forced out of the known into the unknown. We have faced challenges and temptations, usually alone, where we sorted out allies, mentors, and beasts. We have slain the dragon of oppression, both external and internal. Part of us has died and is reborn, usually to such an extent that others see that change in us when we return to our place of origin.
From that place, we can make this next expression of gay men’s existence, brilliant in its satisfaction, dignity, and joy.
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