One fine night within the cozy bubble of a liberal arts university, I happened to talk to a feminist friend of mine. She is a wonderful human being with a visibly ceaseless spirit of social activism. She never shies away from voicing out the oppression of the marginalised sections in a capitalist, patriarchal and heteronormative society.
I believe her to be my friend. I have started spotting signs of depression and anxiety in my body and mind, and I feel that the signs had been there with me since a long time, but I had been ignoring them due to a lack of understanding and awareness about mental health when I was younger.
I try to tell her that it’s hard for some boys to express themselves and everything which they feel, due to a stifling cultural code of masculinity that restricts them from being who they are. She acknowledges my remark, but also reprimands me slightly for snatching the title of victim-hood under patriarchy.
I am silent, because I know that somehow she has reasons to feel the way she does.
I also squirm and grimace over the fact that not everything which is true is always visible.
I don’t remember the exact day when I realised the fact that I am different from other boys in a number of ways.
For as long as I remember, I have preferred a melodramatic, emotional drama to watch, over some sci-fi or action film where some man is busy rescuing the civilisation or fighting villains within dingy caves or on the terraces of fire-lit skyscrapers.
I had understood by the age of seven that I was not born to hold a cricket bat, even though the Indian middle-class social milieu in the early 2000s considered it to be an essential trait for a male child (it probably still does).
During summer vacations, when my cousin brothers would obsess over WWE matches and I failed to decipher where the fun exactly lay in watching one draconian human being smashing another, I would crave and pine to watch magic-fantasies, cartoons and those fairy-tale like dramas; that a culture obsessed with rigid and regressive notions about manliness considers feminine.
When most boys in middle-school became crazy about football, I deliberately tried to hide and run away from the field. I was a meek, submissive kid who would never defy teachers. But the embarrassment of exposing my skinny limbs and shifty body-language on playground was so immense and threatening, that I found feigning sickness and hiding in the infirmary easier.
I was never much into sports, and it was difficult to fathom the perception of my maleness in the eyes of others when I was subtly defying one norm after another.
For the purpose of this article, I would like to coin the term ‘atypical’ to denote the kind of boy I was. An atypical boy or man, would be someone who doesn’t fit into the norms and conventions of masculinity set by a patriarchal society, in terms of traits, attributes and behaviors.
I never took my atypicality seriously, until my seemingly effeminate body-language became an excuse for boys around me in seventh standard to body-shame, and eve-tease me (the girls participated silently in the abuse and giggles).
The prolonged nature of the bullying, eve-teasing and voyeurism I suffered, and the teachers’ pretense of not seeing it, resulted in a loss of self-esteem that I am still trying to decode in my therapy sessions. I never understood back then, that what is it exactly in my body that reveals me away in front of a bunch of insensitive brutes who consider it their right to mentally harass somebody.
As puberty hit, my atypicality manifested in more visible ways. I found it impossible to participate in the voyeuristic conversations of teenage boys around me who were obsessed with sex. Even though I had once been an athletic child, by the time I reached high school, I was unable to feel any enthusiasm during games period, because sport had become a symbolic of toxic masculinity for me.
Being an atypical boy is not a choice or a lifestyle.
It is a psychological condition which renders your very existence a sin within a hyper-masculine, patriarchal world; and if you are born with it, it is bound to appear in your self and personality in ways that would trigger toxic and abusive elements around you to further reinforce your vulnerability. But dare you speak about it openly; for this world feigns sympathy and tells you in the same breath that everything that happens to you is your own fault or weakness.
Atypical boys are perpetually made to feel conscious about their fragile arms and legs until before puberty, and their skinny, shifty, under-confident body language afterwards. For some reason, they find it much harder to adopt stiffness in their arms and legs and a firmness in the shape and posture of their backs while walking, which is considered to be an emblem of manhood.
They turn out fine by the time they reach adulthood, but they also carry a history of shame, abuse, bullying and trauma within their psyche which manifests in their lack of self-esteem, and sometimes an inability to make decisions in life that would impact their future and career.
Atypical boys grow up reading novels instead of playing video games. Atypical boys, oftentimes, relate to female characters within fiction tales and television dramas, which are structured upon the same heightened notions of pseudo and faux masculinity that is abound in the world around them. A world that continually tells them that emotions and trauma are for women, and men’s primary job is to act as their saviors.
Atypical boys have feelings, but they shy away from speaking them. Partly due to their introverted nature, partly because they are less likely to have friends as they are surrounded by a bunch of judgmental people, and partly because they do not want to be reminded time and again by a shallow, hypocritical society that they are less of a man.
Yes, they internalise the notion that they are less of a man than that charming next-door guy who manages to win his team in an inter-school football championship, scores an A in science, dates a popular girl in school, and is on his way to becoming an engineer and the trophy son of pride in his family.
Atypical boys in their early childhood, don’t understand how is being a man supposed to be any different from being a human being, because they fail to see the rationale beneath the pervasiveness of binary gender-norms which exclusively define what a person ought to like, think, or feel.
During teenage, they are afraid of becoming a man someday, because then they would lose the tag of ‘child’ from their identity and become deprived of that one label which gives them some leeway to express their vulnerability to others, within a culture that refuses to see signs of emotional distress and trauma in men.
Atypical boys could happen to be fairly good in science and math, but they sometimes feel that their life is supposed to be something more than making money and staying enmeshed within numbers, and then they commit the crime of opting for humanities, a stream that throws them into a lifetime of perpetual gratification and self-doubt neatly arranged in one package of an experience; where as much as their education would empower them to critique the operating power-structures in society, their gender-identity would time and again, trigger an inferiority complex within them, long suppressed since childhood.
When atypical boys, often a minority, occupy the spaces of humanities and liberal arts classes with a tinge of dream and hope, they experience just a slight suffocation during gender-based discourses that speak tomes on patriarchy, but miss out the clearly visible fact that social norms of masculinity impinge immense harm and threat upon the mental health of some young boys and men, in hideous, invisible and pervasive ways.
Atypical boys are usually not found in public spaces that have a conventional association with masculinity, such as a basketball court, gym, or football ground. Because even the possibility of an urge to experience a sport has been systemically killed in them since their childhood. And one’s body and mind tend to subconsciously escape situations and circumstances that heighten the risk of bullying, harassment and body-shaming.
So, they form excuses for their own selves to believe in, while they learn to routinely curb their desires.
If in case they fail to come out and declare allegiance to a non-normative sexual orientation, atypical boys, are compelled to acknowledge their heterosexual male privilege within public spaces and conversations; a privilege that had been the very source of their trauma and social exclusion in the first place.
Media will continually tell you that atypical boys don’t exist, through their stereotypical and reductive representations of masculinity.
If you were among those who ever bullied or harassed an atypical boy, know that you inflicted a lifetime of trauma upon someone who finds it extremely difficult to articulate what he feels.
Atypical boys have been reduced to an apology for merely existing, in a world, which refuses to see them.
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