In a post a while back, Rob at Below the Radar talked about how he had never 'felt like one of the guys' - even as an adult.
Rob's confession struck a strong chord with me because I have felt the same way, for just as long.
I know that a lot of gays say they've always felt different but that's not exactly the way I have felt. I have felt like an outsider - whether by my own actions and attitudes or by the actions and attitudes of others.
My earliest recollection of not feeling comfortable in a group of boys was fifth grade. I was forced to play Little League baseball, probably because my father thought it would be good for me. Years later he told me that he and his neighborhood friends played baseball at the local park, all day, all summer long, just for fun. He probably thought I would enjoy and benefit from the experience. Wrong!
I was a bad player. I had no innate skill, no great athletic ability and worst of all, I was afraid of the ball. One bad season in the outfield was not enough. I was forced to play a second season, and because of my age, I had to try out. Every kid in the league had to show up on the same day for try outs and every one of them was watching as a coach hit a fly ball to me and I reached up with my glove to catch it, only to have the ball hit me squarely on the head. I flopped dramatically to the ground. I'm sure it was a funny sight to witness, but for me it was humiliating. The embarrassment of being a bad player, and everyone knowing it, stayed with me for a very long time.
In grade school PE, I wasn't the last boy picked, but I was definitely near the bottom. Being picked almost last didn't just feel like a judgment of my athletic skills, it felt like a social rating. It weighed heavily on my self-confidence and did nothing to endear my more athletic male peers to me.
At the end of 6th grade I hit puberty and within the first month of seventh grade I had the first of a long string of continuous close friendships with girls and women. I still had friends who were boys - none of whom have turned out to be queer - but my very best friends from 7th through 12th grade were all women.
When I went away to college I really hoped to make a fresh start. No one knew me, so really, I had the opportunity to make myself anyone I wanted to be. I had hoped I would bond with my freshman year roommate. I didn't have a brother so it was the first time I was going to spend a lot of time with another guy, in close quarters.
I think we both made a sincere effort to like each other but the truth is, we just didn't click. My roommate and a (male) next door neighbor ended up being much better friends. By the end of that year, my six best college friends were all women. It was really embarrassing because when it came time to pick roommates for the following year, I wasn't good enough friends with any men to ask them to room with me. I ended up getting placed with a stranger.
Getting placed was one of the best things that ever happened to me. My sophomore year floor was fantastic and I ended up making a ton of friends that year, including my best friends Todd and Donny. Since that time, my friendships have been more balanced between men and women, although, in truth I now only have one close real life friend and that is Gabbie.
As an adult, I thought my awkward-with-groups-of-hetero-men days were long past. But I've seen old patterns emerge at children's birthday parties, other social gatherings, and, most painfully, as a father of kids who played Little League.
At many social gatherings, including kids' birthday parties, the men gather into one group and the women gather into another. In some cases, the men are low-key and I feel ok joining them. In other cases, particularly when I don't know anyone, I stick to Gabbie like glue. This often makes me the only guy sitting among the women. In that stressful situation of not really knowing anyone, I feel far, far more secure sitting with the women. If I were to join the men (and I have occasionally tried) I often feel self-conscious and awkward.
Little League is a rite of passage for most boys and both of mine played for several years. My older boy, Conrad, now 16, is straight and is pretty ripped from doing 9 years of karate. Yet, his Little League career was as horrible as mine was. The difference was that I was inept, while he was unfocused and undisciplined. He stopped playing when he was 8. My middle kid, John, is now 12. He stopped playing at 11, but he played for four years and the last three were really, really awkward for me. Almost to a person, the coaches were, in my eyes, macho egotistical asses. They were all card-carrying members of the unofficial Heterosexual He-Man club. To make matters worse for me, they invariably expected every father on their teams to help them coach during practices and games. I was so afraid of being asked to help that I had as little contact with them as possible. One head coach and I never said a word to each other for the entire four month season, which is very unusual. Even more so because I was present at every practice and every game.
Type-A egotistical macho men are exactly the kind of men I fear interacting with the most. They're the ones who lead the groups of men who stand in circles, each man clutching a beer, at picnics and birthday parties. It seems like every question they ask or statement they make is intended to prove their dominance and your inferiority. In my mind, the more athletic they are, the more they expect others to bow to their ego. I find that I want to be as far away from those guys as I possible can be.
I have three brothers-in-law. One I've known since he was 16 and now he's 40. I get along with them fine but I sure don't feel very close to them. It's always a little awkward talking one-to-one with them. I don't know why. It just is.
From my negative attitude about macho men, you might conclude that I'm a feminine guy. I don't think so. I feel like I'm average, not particularly noteworthy on the fem-macho continuum.
I want to try to take a step back from myself and look at my thoughts and behavior in a larger context, particularly when it comes to sexuality.
I personally don't think it's a universal fact that men who struggle with same-sex attraction feel that they are separate from the top social strata of men. I think there are gay men who are just as Alpha and egotistical as any straight man can be and they fit in perfectly amongst their peers. Similarly, just because a guy avoids socializing with macho Alpha males, that does not make him gay or bisexual.
I also have to wonder how much blame aggressive, egotistical men should get because wimpier men like me are intimidated by them. While it's true that macho guys don't usually start a conversation with me, the outsider, I do nothing to make myself more open or approachable to them. Quite the opposite, actually.
So really, I have to wonder if a lot of the "I don't feel like I belong" angst has anything to do with anyone else besides myself. Perhaps it all comes down to self-confidence, attitude and introversion.
Another issue I wonder about is whether my inherent awkwardness with men has a basis in my homosexuality. Truly, can I 'just be friends with' a macho man? Or am I certain to be sexually attracted to him and am I therefore always at risk of revealing my desires and embarrassing myself? Perhaps that fear of discovery is at the root of my, and others', discomfort around certain men.
And finally, how does my complete lack of confidence around Alpha males affect the kind of men I find most attractive? It seems that fantasy and real life are very different in that regard. I'm just as turned on as anyone when I see the image of a super-hot masculine guy. Yet, I would never approach such a man in real life.
In real life, I'd most like to meet a guy who is so easy to talk to and does not threaten my masculinity by being too macho or too feminine. A guy like actor Paul Rudd. In real life I'd take a guy like him over Jean-Claude Van Damme any day.
I don't know what it all means: sexuality, masculinity and feeling like an outsider among most groups of men. Mostly, I don't worry about it. But I still find the topic fascinating and I certainly would love to hear what your thoughts are and experiences have been on the subject. Please feel free to share your opinions in the comment box below.