Talk of the three recent suicides misses the point completely. The issue is, more broadly, about the immense social pressures forced on males since their early childhood, and throughout adolescence. The conversation about how society treats males is simply not being had. The focus, instead, is on a “minority” and an “identity” that the West has artificially constructed predominantly within the past two centuries. Through the lens of the false dichotomy of “gay” and “straight” masculine males, resulting from the social construction of “sexual orientation,” a debate is raging across the nation that is the epitome of a red herring. And, it will fail to alleviate the underlying causes of these suicides.
More boys will be tormented by their thoughts, even to death, because society refuses to bring up a mostly taboo topic: the problem of ‘social masculinity’. The main source of this refusal is that social masculinity has become so entrenched that it seen as ‘natural.’ In other words, masculinity has “always been that way.” The time has long passed to address this issue, and until it is, more boys will continue to take their own lives because what should be the most beautiful time of their lives has become a nightmare.
What is the proximal and distal cause of these suicides? The proximal cause is the painfully humiliating and dis-empowering stigma surrounding male-male intimacy (and same-sex intimacy in general). The distal cause is the pressure on male adolescents to race towards social masculinity. It cannot be emphasized enough that this pressure assumes many forms. It involves not only killing off sexual feelings towards other males, but also a host of other pressures. Yet, the former pressure, since it is most directly linked to the recent suicides, will be the key focus of this article.
In ancient civilizations – spanning the globe – male-male intimacy was not only accepted but also celebrated. The Celts, Romans, Greeks, Samurai, and Germans were the embodiment of masculine cultures. Classical literature, such as the epics of Gilgamesh and The Iliad, told of great bonds between, for instance, Achilles and Patroclus. But today, in the West, that sort of bond would be seen as different and something that could only happen in a small (“gay” or “homosexual”) minority.
In antiquity (and non-Western cultures today) the concept of sexual orientation did not exist. It is a concept that had its roots most visibly in mid-nineteenth century early psychology. It is a two hundred-year fad that has distorted and further deteriorated the health and well-being of masculine males by imposing a category of identity, which is an illusion reflecting more human politics than human nature.
When mammals grow up, the way they segregate is based on same-sex bonding. Males grow up with males; females, with females. Males that stay within their group are exhibit more masculine behavior than ones that only socialize with females. Normal mature males only join with females to procreate, but within their male-only groups they also have strong, almost unbreakable, sexual bonds. This behavior has been observed in horses, lions, a multitude of other mammals, and our closest relatives, the bonobo chimpanzees (which are more closely related to us than they are to gorillas).
Yet humans are the only species that actively denies its biology, and claims that those who fail to suppress this biology are a minority characterized by: (1) a non-normative genetic and environmental predisposition towards same-sex intimacy, (2) this intimacy being feminine or non-masculine, (3) being compatible only with the same sex, and (4) lacking attraction to the other sex. Simultaneously, those who do hugely succeed in suppressing their biology (by the time they are 19 or 20 years old) are seen as: (1) the vast majority, (2) having an exclusively “heterosexual identity,” or exhibiting no romantic or sexual feelings for the same-sex in their lifetimes, and (3) acting purely as nature predisposed them to. However there is a growing body of research that demonstrates that humans can be attracted to both sexes, and that re-shapes the old Darwinian assumptions of sexual selection.
Regardless of their natural masculinity, society forces boys to suppress their true selves in order to gain social acceptance. The main reason males must suppress parts of their biology is to “prove” their masculinity. However, if the way they are supposed to act is so natural, why should it have to be proven? Their masculinity should come to them effortlessly and without question. This is not the case.
Today, society has manipulated males into forced tests that have nothing to do with masculinity. Males have to: break themselves from other males (from being attracted to them, or forming deep bonds), exaggerate their sexual feelings for girls, appear strong, earn, have sexual power, be mean and ruthless, suppress emotions, be aggressive, and appear strong at all times. The boy in his peer group who meets these demands by fake social masculinity is the leader, and he enforces his false power over the other boys. The boy who fails to meet these demands is an outcast, and may become one for the rest of his life. Perhaps he will be led to take his own life because of the ostracism he faces. Being emasculated and proving one’s masculinity can become a matter of life and death for male adolescents.
But, there is no place to have this conversation among masculine males. If a male even brings up the topic in front of “his buddies” they will quietly assume that he cannot meet his artificial gender roles, thereby marking himself as “less of a man,” and losing at least part of the respect he once had. There is no space for masculine male adolescents to discuss these issues – even in sex-education classes (because these are co-ed, and a boy will not want to discuss his feelings for other boys in front of the girls who will judge him).
Society forbids conversations on masculinity, and does not recognize this is even a problem because social masculinity is widely believed to be equivalent to natural masculinity. But, an understanding of male human nature, how it has been changed to the present day, and what effects this has had on male adolescents, responsibly and widely taught in schools and by parents, is perhaps the best antidote to: cruel inhumane bullying, “the battle of the sexes”, oppressive societal pressures, and more needless deaths. Giving up the fake power of social masculinity has enduring consequences, but obtaining the freedom to live for oneself is a courageous achievement. It is one that may inspire others in the same endeavor, give them hope, and erode the sanctified shackles of impossible expectations.
Note: In “Masculinity for Boys: A Guide for Peer Educators,” it is stated that “abortion is nothing short of murder.” I cannot disagree more with that statement. There is other language in the text that needs to be more empirical (such as some of the places where the terms “energy” and “power” are used.) Reading with a critical mind is essential.