Being Traditionally Socialized Men in Nontraditional Relationships
I enter this dialogue as a young, black, masculine, gay man in a committed, deeply revolutionary and life changing relationship with another young, black, masculine, gay man.
My dude and I have spent much of the past two years laughing, learning and loving and just as much of the time crying (yeah I said it), closed off and confused. We walked into this relationship with learned expectations. Our story survives an added dynamic of him coming to me (a man who has identified as gay for years) as a man from the “straight world” (I’m the first dude he dated). I had expected that any dude I got involved with would be completely open about sexual partners and memberships on those very familiar sex sites, while he had been used to being secretive and DL with his sexual partners. I expected to share all responsibilities with my dude while he expected to be in complete control. There is no question: we fought. Argued, screamed, stomped, you name it.
Today, when we think back, we realize that we were not fighting because of a dissonance in personalities or denying an issue of incompatibility. We had discovered- through a lot of individual and couple work that we are still processing through- that we were fighting because of a discord between who we are (masculine, male) and what we want (long term same-gender loving (SGL) relationship); we were fighting because of how we had been socialized.
The framework for this piece is located in Bobbi Harro’s “Cycle of Socialization” paper. In his piece, Harro argues that people are socialized by powerful sources that teach us behaviors, assumptions, rules, and roles that are considered “normal.” He also states that we are trained “how to be” in each of our social identities (in our case- black, male, gay/bi, and masculine) throughout our lives (Harro, 2000, pg. 15).
The process of socialization inherits us; its purpose is to distribute privilege to some and disadvantage to others. We are born into a system that survives on these attitudes and behaviors; through our practices of what we think it means to “be men” or “be masculine,” we perpetuate them. These attitudes and behaviors are pervasive, consistent, circular, self-perpetuating and invisible (Harro, 2000, pg. 15). In a word, traditional.
In the case of black, masculine, gay/bi men, we are socialized through the traditions of masculinity and maleness to dominate, be tough, be in control, and take/maintain power (which is a privilege in our society). As gay/bi people, we have been taught that were are social and psychological deviants and as black people we are taught that we are servile, docile and powerless. We are disadvantaged because of our queerness and blackness. As a result, we (like most people) are a combination of identities that are both privileged (male and masculine) and disadvantaged (black and gay/bi). We are at constant odds at how to use and distribute what little power/privilege we have (or feel we have).
As black, masculine, gay/bi men, then, we struggle with and through many facets of our lives as we trail this path of being both privileged and disadvantaged. I argue here that of all of our life’s activities, no activity suffers more than our attempts at romantic relationships.
Same-gender loving relationships are nontraditional. Period. Yet, we attempt to be successful at them and we do so by framing the ways we interact with our male partners with traditional ways of thinking, acting and doing. Many attempts are unsuccessful because the traditions of being masculine/male and our desire for romantic relationships have been structured to support the normalcy of male-female relationships. When the “traditional” is fused with the “nontraditional,” we see relationships that end quickly, accept physical violence, have unhealthy communication, have no communication, are fraught with infidelity, lack of sexual excitement/exploration, have an abundance of anger and aggression, and lack of vulnerability.
The socialization of maleness- What it means to be male and masculine- limits our perceptions and levels of intimacy with the men we date. We do not cry because “men don’t cry.” We do not share our feelings because “that’s what sissies and chicks do.” We do not “bottom” because “that’s what feminine dudes do.” Instead of speaking to our men/boys/dudes/partners from the loving spaces that our hearts are, we come at each other headstrong, aggressive and apathetic to each other’s feelings. We are taught to fu*k and fight, never to embrace one another when we need it most.
If you, like my dude and I, desire a relationship devoid of all the negative traits mentioned above, while still accepting that you are naturally (as opposed to socially) male and masculine, then our first step is to understand that change occurs when we begin to empower ourselves by learning more about each other, unlearning old myths and stereotypes- traditions-, and by challenging the status quo (Harro, 2000, pg. 20).
Here are just a few tips that my dude and I have learned along the journey to becoming nontraditional masculine, black, gay/bi men in an nontraditional relationship:
- De-Socialize! The biggest obstacle to overcome in our relationships is how we have been taught to be ourselves. Challenge definitions of maleness and masculinity. Create your own definitions and define your own roles in your relationship.
- Share the load! Power in male-female relationships has been distributed as “male leader, female follower (as the old saying goes, “Behind every good man is a good woman”).” In our relationships, however, we are two men and we know two people can’t lead, at least not simultaneously. Two men in a relationship should work on taking turns leading. Also, work on sharing power. Discover each other’s strengths and weaknesses and pick up where you should to make your relationship tight.
- Communicate (from your heart space). Nothing is more incredible than two men disagreeing and talking it out in love! Work on speaking to each other calmly. Give each other the floor, your heart and your ears. When you speak, use “I” statements. I used to think it was silly, but these methods have helped my dude and I out of a lot of situations that could have been much worse.
- (Lastly) Be Sexually Progressive! I can state, appropriately here, that I have not always been as free or comfortable with the nature of my relationship’s style of sex. I can also say that most of my reservation was connected to ideas of masculinity (see how it all connects?). Do new things together. Yes, it may be scary but that is a good thing. Showing that kind of vulnerability with a partner becomes the glue to your relationship.
One Last Thing:
I once learned that people solidify their behaviors by the time they are seven years old. Many, if not all, of us are seeking same-gender loving relationships in our twenties or later. Thus, the practice of “becoming untraditional,” is like teaching an old dog new tricks: It is very hard, BUT possible, and as long as you and your partner are open, patient, humble, and motivated, you will become the men you want to be.
Adams, M., & Harro, B. (2000). Cycle of Socialization. In Readings for diversity and social justice (pp. 15-21). New York: Routledge.
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