31 July 2009

Men, Part 1

There is a school of thought that suggests the high frequency of violence among New Orleans' young black men is the result of a confused understanding about the meaning of "man," of what it means or takes to be a "man." I would re-frame it as a variety of" identity crisis". Neither label speaks to the spiritual aspect. And there is ALWAYS a spiritual aspect.

I am the mother of a man. This great life experience was -- and sometimes still is -- a powerful teacher. At the time of my life when my son was born, human males were a gargantuan, gut-wrenching, mind-fuck mystery to me.

As a child, boys had been fascinating and scary to me. I avoided them and at the same time, in my secret heart, longed for them. My closest encounters with them occurred in sixth grade, which was also the year my parents found "dirty" cartoons in my school bag. I don't remember being personally confronted about them; only my mother making one of her legendary "trips to school" on a dark, rainy morning...and a replacement teacher appearing a few weeks later to finish the school year.

Middle school was... Well, in middle school boys and girls were kept separate with rigorous vigilance by school administrators and teachers: Home Ec versus Shop, Girls PE and Boys PE (I assume they had PE; I never saw the uniform the boys wore for PE or saw them in class....Did they have PE?) I had a couple of male friends from orchestra. Those boys were different from the rest of the boys. Easier to talk to. Not so coarse.

Brainy boys weren't coarse either but they weren't easy to talk to. They often had highly under-developed social skills. Whether it was math or science, their obsession or prowess had been apparent since they were little boys and there was still no getting through to them socially. They were the brunt of jokes not only because of strange physical or behavioral traits, e.g., a queer haircut or picking their nose and examining the product; but also because humans are animals -- especially children -- and so their shyness and social immaturity drew alpha dogs to dominate them.

In high school, dating became a central and defining component of the culture: on one side were the kids who dated and "went together" and broke up and attended Prom and exchanged jewelry or clothing. On the other side, where I lived, were the kids who did not date. Some were budding lesbians or gay men. Some hadn't reached the developmental stage where such things mattered at all.

I had a few male friends. Mostly they were gay. Or they were smart. Or they were musical. Or some or all of the above. Charlie Ellis was a special case. Larry Basham was a special case. (The details of those two relationships are best reserved for discussion at another time.) In all cases, they were all male and consequently profound mysteries to me but at least we could talk.... Unlike the guys on the Dating side of the divide.

My son's gift to me was an opportunity to relate and observe a male in an intimate ongoing setting. The mystery deepened but the ongoing intimacy of our relationship also permitted/nurtured an appreciation of the common ground of maleness and femaleness.

For a long time now, my address book reveals more male contacts than female. This intrigues me. Males are still mysterious but in a different way: their strangeness is more familiar to me though the motivation behind some of the strangeness remains baffling. Yes, each man I know is uniquely himself. And, there are recurring behaviors, outlooks, propensities, etc. that I've come to identify as "typical male." Perceived sometimes with amused affection, and sometimes with teeth-clenched frustration.

Some of my insight has come from experiences as an erotic dominant. The arrangement has never provided the completeness of sexual satisfaction that I continue to dream of; but it has been rich and fun and educational. In a list of "Best Times Ever," a substantial number would include sexual dominance/submission. And in the consensual vulnerability between a dominant and her submissive, a lot of pretense and self-protective defensiveness (offensiveness) can melt away. I get a look at what he fears, loves, longs for, remembers, regrets, aspires to....

It is a spiritual thing.

Does anybody have that kind of access to the hearts and minds of young black males, here in New Orleans or anywhere? What do they fear, love, long for, remember, regret, aspire to?

Yesterday my catty-corner neighbor, a 40-something Black guy, said for many boys their self-esteem is so "fragile" (my word) that it takes a gun to protect it. That makes sense to me. But, assuming this is an undesirable psychology, what's the solution? Where and how does one instruct and transform the situation?

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