During middle school and high school, I felt a constant pressure to act a certain way, to be “manly”. I would think, What exactly does being “manly” mean? From the books I read, the shows and movies I watched, and the conversations I had with my guy friends, it seemed like I had to be a certain way in order to be a “real” man. I thought it meant not showing emotions, always being brave and strong, and never being vulnerable. I would constantly hear the phrase “man up.” I would be afraid to wear the color pink or cry in front of my friends. Or even show the kind of music I listened to. There seemed to be a lot of rules of what you could and couldn’t do. My role models were superheroes and “fearless” male figures. Rarely did they ever show feelings of sadness or vulnerability, so I thought neither could I. From the shows and movies I watched, I was getting a false idea of what it meant to be a “man.” I often thought to myself, “Am I allowed to be different?”
The answer to that is yes, and looking back now, I realize how wrong those ideas are. Emotion and feelings aren’t weaknesses but I was often taught that they were. Growing up, there are a lot of false expectations that have been put on young boys. A lot of do’s and don'ts. I realized how all of these beliefs were in place to support an unrealistic idea of masculinity. They had become ingrained in the society I was being raised in. I realized that by forcing myself to fit a stereotype I wasn’t being true to myself. That, I think, is the most important thing I learned - not living for others but living authentically as myself.
I began to embrace the things that separated me from others rather than being embarrassed about them. For example, the fact that most of my friends were girls and that my favorite singer was Ariana Grande. It didn’t matter who I was friends with or what kind of music I listened to as long as I was being true to myself. I came to the realization that there was no reason to hide what I love for the sake of other people or to fit a stereotype. It was harder to try to be someone I wasn’t.
However, I realize that it is not that easy for some people to be open about who they really are. Communities aren’t always supportive. I know mine wasn’t always. The best thing you can do is just to make sure to build a community that is supportive and non judgemental. Even if your larger community isn’t supportive, you can try to create your own within it that allows you to be authentic with yourself and others. That’s what I figured out how to do in high school. I made sure to value the people who would love me genuinely and support the person I wanted to be.