Self, M.A.I.D. Man

As I iterated in my recent urinary tract, I have a certain psycho-physical condition that may or may not be related to my man-ness, but is certainly related to public-ness with other human beings. In general, I am a pretty hypersocial animal and look to surround myself with people, friends or strangers, as often as possible. As such, I have also always been comfortable in bars (and cafes), a milieu that can be intimidating for many men and more so for women. Some people just never go to bars, and thus the idea of them as macho bastions, meat markets, etc., makes bars daunting. There are a plethora of other reasons that some people aren’t cozy in bars -. how to order, what to order, how much to tip, what if someone talks to me?, what if I get drunk and make a fool of myself?, etc. – but examining bar culture isn’t the point of this post, although I’m sure I’ll get to it later.

I started bar-frequenting early, underage in Albany, NY (and that’s back when “of age” was 18), then in NYC, where all you had to do was see over the bar to get a drink, and later was a bartender on and off for about ten years. So, bars and me, we buds.

It was thus fascinating to me that I recently found myself oddly skittish about entering a bar. I’m living in a rural area for the first time in my life and often feel like a city mouse, which can at times equal somewhat feminized (metrosexual, un-handy, chatty, like a Seinfeld character, all of whom, on top of being physically incompetent and talky Jews, are emasculated in one way or another on almost every episode. Except Kramer, of course. Which makes me think we should start a list of fictional man-xamples to accompany our real life archetypes of positive masculinity, and on such list I would put the incomparable Mr. K. But boy do I digress).

I was meeting some friends that night, my first visit to a roadhouse that was so genuine and rural it’s actually just called The Roadhouse. When I pulled my new Subaru (sedan, not even a Subaru wagon, with its suggestion of tool-ownership and rugged lesbianism.) into the gravel lot, I was anxious, all the more so because I had just finished reading the first fifty pages of Norah Vincent’s memoir, Self-Made Man.

Self Made Man, which came out earlier this year, recounts journalist Vincent’s 18-months as a man. To clarify, it recounts her year and a half posing as a man. Vincent, a lesbian and happily so, has no interest in becoming a man, but was interested in exploring the male experience, and so she disguised herself and went under the male veil. Both Dan and I have been reading the book and will be responding to many fascinating points it brings up, not least of all Vincent’s rather sympathetic impression – much more after than before her immersion – of men and their (our) trials and tribulations. In fact, while reading Vincent, I often find myself surprised that her acceptance of men is often mirrored by my innate response that she’s letting them (us) off way too easy. This also interests me in that it calls attention to my own much greater trust of/ acceptance of women than men, and how, for me, this blog is an exploration not only of the splendors and confines of masculinity, but of my own rather harsh judgment of my gender.

But, dammit, this isn’t what I was going to write about today and now look how long this post is getting.

What I wanted to write about is that I parked my car outside the Roadhouse and found myself all aflutter about going in. It wasn’t only that it was an unfamiliar environment, it was because I had just read the first chapter of the book, in which Vincent straps on her prosthetic mantool, straps down her rack, and, diving headlong, joins a bowling league. She walks in the door to the alley that first day in her new haircut, fake stubble, freshly-coached man-voice (She’s taught to say as little as possible, that men don’t talk.), jeans and flannel shirt, and is petrified, a deer in the headlights: “Those guys may not have known that I was a woman, but the moment I opened the door and felt the air of that place waft over me, every part of me did . . . . My eyes blurred in panic . . . . Probably only one or two people actually turned to look, but it felt as if every pair of eyes in the place had landed on me and stuck.” And she is momentarily frozen, convinced that “I wasn’t fooling anyone.” It’s scary stuff, made me want to scream at her, like city kids scream at movie screens, Didn’t you see

“Boys Don’t Cry”?!? Get the fuck out of there! When her experience turns out to be a very positive one, even when she reveals her identity to her teammates at the end of the season, was when I began to become aware of my own distrust of men.

I had just read this chapter before hitting the Roadhouse, and, preparing to open the door, I felt, well, I felt downright girlish – it was the middle of the summer, and I was wearing a t-shirt, shorts and a spiffy new pair of clog-like slides, which didn’t help (Note to self: buy that nice little Carhart number you saw at Agway the other day!). When I walked in the door, like Vincent, I felt as if all eyes were upon me (They were actually fixed on the Red Sox game on the TV near the front of the bar, although a few roughnecks did glance my way for a moment.), I felt like a complete outsider in a way I’d never felt in a bar before, or not since I was 16 and ordering my first tequila sunrise, anyway. In fact, I’ve felt infinitely more at ease in gay bars (I’m not gay.) than I felt that night. Needless to say, I went directly to the men’s room to powder my nose. A few beers later, I was feeling more at home, but the edginess stuck with me all that night. The fact that I am, by upbringing and geography, a Yankee fan, both helped and exacerbated the situation, as the Sox went down hard that night, God love ‘em.

Author: Masculinity and Its Discontents

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