Tag Archives: the masculine

If you don’t mind their trademark combination of foulness, expletives, poop jokes, and brilliant insight, I highly recommend this article on Cracked: Five Great Joys In Life That Healthy People Never Experience.

If you’re lucky enough to have a condition that can be treated — not even cured, just treated a little — the moment the medication kicks in is like unlocking a secret level in life. All these years, you’ve existed at half power because chronic illness Harrison Bergeroned your ass, so any meds that take even a fraction of that weight off of your shoulders are basically giving you…superpowers. If people thought you were obnoxious after you got those glasses, with your constant prattle about wood grain and cloud patterns, they’re going to strangle that newfound health right out of you the first time you wake up to find it doesn’t hurt as much as it usually does.

“Holy sh★t, have you ever realized how great it is not to feel like you’re going to die after you eat?”

“Have you tried this walking stuff? It’s amazing! It hardly hurts at all!”

That’s how I felt last night. I had 7 or 8 guys over for a poker game, old friends and new. It wasn’t anything remarkable, except if you remember that I’m the guy who, five or ten years ago, would find it terrifying to even be in a room with 7 or 8 other men my age, forget about inviting them over.

A few drinks in and, thanks largely to having watched Warrior1 a few nights ago, I got the idea that after the game, wrestling would be a good idea. A lot of other people agreed, and we tore it up for a while — none of us particularly in shape, none of us knowing what we were doing, but everybody having a great time. We only smashed one lamp, but it wasn’t even a nice lamp.

Hitting people and smashing things is, obviously, fun enough on its own, even before remembering that I’m the guy who, back in high school, faked a stomach illness because I was too terrified to participate in field day. And now I’m wrestling in my living room, in front of 7 other guys who are ALL CHEERING, and I’m not even worried about if I’m gonna win or how I’m gonna look? And not only that, but I don’t do half bad?

I never would have believed it.

Like the guy on Cracked says, our condition is treatable. I’m not talking about SSA itself (the verdict is still out on that), but everything else, the stuff that really matters — the loneliness, the insecurity, the not-belonging.

The treatment is harder and slower than we’d like, but Oh man, it’s worth it.

1 You really have to see this movie. It’s about forgiveness in the face of tremendous, unforgivable dysfunction and hurt. That, and also ass-kicking. My kinda flick, and it’s on Netflix instant watch.

Gosh, William Lynch just gets better and better:

The sick [i.e. the mentally ill] deeply fear that they are not human. They interpret an endless variety of problems and distresses as nonhuman.

I remember I used to feel that it would be a relief to have the kind of problems that “normal” people had: in high school, worrying about girls; in college, about grades; later, about money. These things seemed to me standard problems, problems you could talk about. And it’s true — I heard people talking about them all the time.

But I was consumed with things that I couldn’t talk about — things that, it seemed to me, it was shameful even to feel, because they were not within the range of the normal, the human.

This is why, when I find myself stuck in a traffic jam, I sometimes can’t stop grinning: how enjoyable it is to be having a normal human problem! I imagine it’s how someone from Haiti might feel when he has to buy creamy peanut butter because THEY’RE OUT OF CHUNKY.

When people are mentally ill they excommunicate themselves or are excommunicated by human society…let us imagine the mentally ill as living the life of excommunicates from our humanity, from the human race.

For many men with SSA, this feeling is manifested specifically as a (real or perceived) excommunication from the world of his fellow men, rather than from humanity at large. If the mentally ill person feels that he is outside of the realm of the human, the man with SSA often feels that he is outside the realm of the masculine: that there is an essential difference between him and other men.

I say “an essential difference” because it doesn’t feel like something that can be overcome: the very fact of having to overcome it in the first place seems to place one outside of the realm of the masculine. So, seen in those terms, it’s an insoluble problem. One feels that, even if he somehow attains the masculinity he thinks he lacks, he’ll still be forever marked — because he didn’t have it from the beginning.

(As if anybody is born knowing how to be a man!)

I remember the look on my friend M.’s face when, from the middle of my own personal Golgotha, I explained this to him for the first time — I used the phrase “insurmountable chasm” (who doesn’t get histrionic when they’re in the Pit?) to describe the distance I sometimes felt between me and other men. And, wow, I could tell he got it because of — God bless him for his empathy — the way the blood drained from his face. He hadn’t really understood, before.

For the sake of the sick, therefore, we must be concerned to enlarge the concept of the human so that it can include everything in them.

Walker Percy, somewhere in Lost In the Cosmos, has the image of a man riding a subway, feeling lost and isolated and alienated. But luckily, he is reading a novel about a man who feels lost, isolated, and alienated. Since the man in the novel feels as he does, the feelings become endurable — because they are something human after all.

What to take from all of this? Our job as Christians, it seems to me, is to “enlarge the concept of the human” to include those struggling with SSA. This is done, not by pretending that SSA is not a problem, but by acknowledging that it is a human problem — which means something that can be talked about, sympathized with, understood.

More specifically, this means — for both the sick and the well — acknowledging that the feelings of inferiority suffered by men with SSA exist precisely because they are men. Every man wants to be a man, wants to love and be loved by other men, sometimes feels inadequate as a man.

For the man with SSA, this desire takes on an extra intensity. But the important thing to remember is that the desire arises, not despite his manhood, but because of it.

Following my strange little wee-hours rant on apes and desire last night, reader Jamie added a quotation from C. S. Lewis, which of course is where I got the idea in the first place — thanks, Jamie:

If you find in yourself a desire which no earthly thing can satisfy, the logical conclusion must be that you are made for another world. That other world—heaven—echoes in you.

And reader Peter asks an excellent question:

Now I’m dying to have you elaborate on the obvious – what about your SSA? Does that desire lie, or is that, too, a reflection of something heavenly?

The answer is yes, to both, in different ways.

I’ve always been in love with a kind of beauty that is specifically masculine. I don’t mean this only, or even primarily, in a sexual way. Masculinity and femininity aren’t limited to humans, or even to animals in general. They’re archetypes, and they’re everywhere. Oops, I’m paraphrasing Lewis again, so I’ll let him speak for himself:

Gender is a reality, and a more fundamental reality than sex. Sex is, in fact, merely the adaptation to organic life of a fundamental polarity which divides all created beings…Masculine is not attenuated male, nor feminine attenuated female. On the contrary, the male and female of organic creatures are rather faint and blurred reflections of masculine and feminine. (Perelandra, p. 172)

I’ll stop before I quote the whole book, but you can see a bit more here.

So my love for the masculine has sexual ramifications, but the root of that love is not sexual, or is only partly sexual. Part of what I love about men is the same thing I love about climbing mountains, or playing in the waves when they’re ten feet tall. This isn’t, obviously, a phenomenon limited to men with SSA.

All archetypes meet in God, the author of both men and mountains. I’ve stood on a mountaintop in New Hampshire, or under a terrifyingly starry sky in Colorado, and thought my heart would burst. I think it would, if I felt those things in their entirety; there’s only so much beauty you can take.1 But to increase in holiness is to increase in your capacity for the perception of beauty. The closer we get to Heaven, the more beauty the heart can stand.

So part of my desire for men is traceable to my love for the masculine, and that love has its proper fulfillment — partially now, in my fellow men and in nature; but fully later, in God.2

But nobody wants to go to bed with a mountain.3 That’s the part of my SSA that isn’t traceable to love of the masculine per se, that is sexual and emotional as well as aesthetic, and that is more problematic. But I think this post is long enough already, don’t you? Stay tuned for part two.

1 Which must be one reason why the ancient Hebrews, who knew stars and mountains so much better than we do, believed that looking on the face of God would mean instant death. Probably death by spontaneous explosion. The Greeks must have had the same instinct, which is why Semele dies when she asks — understandably, but foolishly — to see Zeus in his full glory.
2 Incidentally, I the same can be said for love of the feminine.
3 I take it back. Some people do.