Ever since I can remember, I’ve been expected to behave and interact with the world in an aggressive way. I have no idea where it came from, but my first obsessions included the colour blue, playing with WWF figurines and Van Damme flicks. Looking back, my fixation with wrestling is probably the most disturbing. Nothing seemed more manly to me than to have long hair, shout constantly, degrade women and ‘open a can of whoop arse’. My family circles reiterated the importance of ‘whoop arse’, reminding me that “if anyone hit me at school, I should hit them back”. If I didn’t like a situation, violence was always an option, and sometimes even actively encouraged. Every male I saw in movies and TV reinforced this with the importance for men to dominate and retain power in relationships.
By the time I reached secondary school and the vocabulary I heard, especially in P.E was incredibly confining. Phrases I would hear from students and also my teachers included “don’t throw like a girl”, “don’t be such a sissy!” and probably the most destructive: “man up!”. The more aggressive and sexist my friends and I were, the more manly we were perceived to be.
I took pride in being an inbetweener, not quite a geek and not quite a jock but there’s no doubt I was extremely confused about what a ‘strong man’ should behave like when in trouble. But this changed after I read Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”, where the character of Atticus Finch is provoked by a local man who spits in his face. Being in the company of his children, he grinds his teeth, gets back in to his car and goes home. This reaction may sound weak at first, but when you analyse how he’s fighting a problem, not a person, you see how truly intelligent and brave he really is. His example was foreign to me and although it shocked me deeply, I was incredibly inspired. Until this day he was one of the very few men I can think of who I deem both strong and fully in touch with his feelings.
Our community tends to praise men who are able to sit alone, exist in emotional independence and behave as ‘the rock of the family’. But there’s a real danger attached with this. The sealing of emotions into bottles or sweeping them under a rug makes men isolated. It’s these feelings which encourage alcoholism for escapism and generally makes loving become much harder. One of my favourite films ‘Good Will Hunting’ depicts this situation beautifully and I recommend it to all.
In November 2013, I was inspired by a Ted Talk by Brene Brown. Simply put, according to her research the more you depict yourself as perfect, the more you carry the baggage of ‘shame’. Thankfully, the artistic space provided by Sikh arts event ‘Saffron Mic‘ gave me an opportunity to speak publicly and share my vulnerability as much as possible. At the most recent event, I shared a poem entitled ‘The Book of Narvir: Chapter One” which covered the most difficult moments from my adolescent years. By sharing my biggest insecurities in a public arena, I was able to free myself from the shame I was carrying and I don’t remember ever feeling freer and happier in my life.
Many young men such as myself carry a deep longing for love and there’s only so much aggression and homophobia we can fill it with until we’ve finally had enough. Let’s take it easy with the benching, arm wrestles, deep voices, big trucks, anger, sports and find real masculinity. I find strength in telling my loved ones how I feel about them. I find strength exploring my emotions aloud with those I fear will judge me the most. Let’s fight these patriarchal systems and find strength together.