I’ve been thinking about masculine strength and why I find it so damn sexy. Essentially, I think what attracts me most is confidence. But what passes for male confidence is often a sham of conceit overlaying a fear of vulnerability, rather than the relaxed way of a man who is not in turmoil over the disparity between what he presents to the world versus what he is experiencing inside. I wonder how many of us know what true masculine strength even looks like. If it looked like sensitivity, could we respect it?
A colleague of mine told me she recently met a gorgeous guy, the first man she had been attracted to since her marriage ended. She had run into him several times around town and they had a sweet little flirtation going. When they finally sat down to talk, she found him to be a mild and soft-spoken fellow. Her weeks-long attraction for Mr. Gorgeous dried up in an instant. She wants a man who is assertive and sex forward, who knows what he wants and is ready to pursue it. I can relate. I want a green eyed Bartolomeo to take me in his big strong arms and ravage me under the Tuscan moon! But outside of the bedroom would he try to prove what a man he is by winning all the arguments and making all the decisions? Sigh… probably.
The ambiguity of gender
I decided to call Jordan, a former co-worker of mine who is transgender, to ask him what he thought of the gender role he was handed as a child, and how his concepts of masculinity and femininity in romantic relationships have evolved since he decided not to play along. Tall, broad shouldered, and a leader on the job, I never doubted Jordan’s manhood. When he told me he was transitioning, I asked him, from what?
Sure, Jordan is an animated guy who has lots of opinions about life and relationships. Now I can see how qualities often perceived as feminine look on a man. Clearly it’s possible for men to lead with their empathic selves and still be seen as masculine. But Jordan is not content to be one of the dudes. “I’m not just a bro. I have ‘feminine’ interests. Yeah I like physical labor and working with my hands, but I am a very sociable person, very sensitive and sentimental. I’m always the voice of reason in the group. I like planning things and cooking for people.”
So is Jordan masculine, feminine, or Italian? Because a lot of the traits he is describing belong to some very macho giavanottos who cry, sing, and walk arm in arm while talking passionately about each other’s lives. If only I could capture one of these hunks and bring him to Michigan! Although Italian men may have the romance and emotionality I crave, I don’t know if feminism has exactly caught on in Italy. Still, I don’t have much hope for love with men who in no way shape or form remind me of Italians.
Playing the role
Perhaps romantic gestures are seen as outmoded, even condescending, by women who strive for equality with men. Or maybe we are all just too embarrassed about our emotions to be romantic anymore. But sex is so much more exciting when there is polarity and emotional risk. Can we allow ourselves to take off our ill-fitting gender garb and get naked with each other without judgments about how we think we’re supposed to act?
Jordan and his girlfriend have found his transition to be liberating for both of them. They felt an initial sadness about leaving their lesbian identities behind because they enjoyed being part of the lesbian community. But it was also limiting, and as they moved past it they found more authentic versions of themselves coming to the fore. Jordan says that as his girlfriend discovered her attraction to him as a man she came to accept and celebrate her own masculine side, and in that sense, she transitioned too. And after a period of overplaying the macho role, Jordan has settled into a more laid back kind of masculine strength. “My father is patient and quiet. I don’t see those qualities in many people, male or female. I want to be that kind of man.”
While Jordan’s journey to manhood is unconventional, his thought process around deciding what kind of man he wants to be is sensible and down to earth. He represents a new brand of man that may be uniquely well suited to thrive in 21st century America.
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