Saturday, December 6, 2008

Boys to Men

Eating at an elegant, yet inexpensive restaurant in Prague last week (my first trip to the Czech Republic, owing to a wedding of friends), two women at the table with me observed that the men there were hot.

One woman wondered out loud why it was that the men in Prague were, in general, more poised, well dressed, and sexy than their American counterparts … again, in general.

It was a question that occurred to me, too, on my first and so far only visit to Madrid 13 years ago. Madrile├▒os were square shouldered and masculine, yet they wore their machismo easily—no attitude, no swagger—well spoken (when they spoke the one language I can understand) and polite.

What I thought then and was reminded of at the restaurant last week was that in the United States men tend to follow two archetypes—they are boys or slobs.

The slobs stereotypically express their masculinity through disgust—often being disgusting, deliberately for effect, and belching out their disgust at everything that does not revolve around sports, fucking, and themselves.

The boys, on the other hand, repress their masculinity—perhaps the only way they can think of to avoid looking and acting like wife beaters (the worst of the slobs). Adult boys perpetually reenact the role of grinning little brother or Mommy’s little do-gooder, especially around women, by whom they are usually intimidated.

The slobs, too, may be intimidated by women, therefore preferring to hang out with “the guys” or bearing chips on their shoulders when interacting with women.

I know a few American men who don’t fall into either category. As I said, I am generalizing, but, as we have all probably heard, stereotypes bear a grain of truth.

And I also have to say that, like a lot of gay men, I have a soft spot (if that could conceivably be the right word) for American jocks—more often than not the chrysalis-stage of slob-hood.

But what happens to these Abercrombie and Fitch Adonises to turn them into leering, inarticulate bums in middle age? I hate to admit it, but, in their youth, George W. Bush and John McCain looked kinda hot—but today they look dull and bloated as bulls lumbering towards the Golden Corral.

The men in Prague and Madrid were, on the whole, men—not guys. They looked like they could handle situations—whether it be defending themselves with their fists or picking the right wine for dinner. Their manner towards women looked suave and considerate—comfortably so, not like they were afraid of getting their heads bitten off if they took a wrong step.

The deer-in-headlights glaze junior-high boys affect on their first dates atrophies into the sluggish, slump-shouldered daze of a good 80% of married American men of a certain age escorting their wives round the shopping mall.

I don’t think it’s the women’s fault—though American mothers should probably be less exasperated by and less doting on their young sons. If anything, I blame America’s larger issues with sexuality. American popular culture, including a preponderance of the mass media, makes acute homosexual panic inevitable for young males—a trauma reconciled by either rejection of manners altogether (as too “sissy”) or sheepishness and abject servility.

The truth is that American parents watch over their sons with dread and dismal expectations.

Thus, for the past 100 years or so, America has failed to permit intimacy in boys—for fear of turning them gay or encouraging effeminacy. In the nineteenth century, young American men, Harvard undergrads and cowboys alike, held hands with their pals, slept in bed with each other, and exchanged affectionate words with their friends and family. Butt slapping on the football field or rough-housing at summer camp is about the full extent of physical camaraderie permitted to boys age 6 through 21 today.

Most American males do not fully grow up—at least not in their social attitudes—frozen in fear lest their every move be interpreted as inappropriately erotic—unsure of their abilities to control their bodies and unacquainted with the graces of mental and spiritual intimacy.

I dare say, few today even experience much romance, even secondhand in tales of chivalry and knightly derring-do—instead, superheroes provide over-the-top standards of masculinity and accomplishment, further emasculating the typical male.

They may grow up to be fussy and nervous, but rarely elegant and self-assured. They may grow up to be opinionated, but often unable to hold their own in a serious conversation, much less a polite argument.

As I said, there are exceptions—George Clooney springs to mind (at least his public persona)—but 9 out of 10 straight American men refuse to dance with, romance, or politely listen to their female friends—probably have never learned how to—and, apart from obsessive working out and insecurity over body odor, few American males know much about grooming, fashion, or (that highly distrusted word) etiquette.

By contrast, American girls are still allowed more romantic friendships and encouraged to learn the arts of intimacy with their girlfriends—though perhaps this situation is changing as the culture slips further into eroto-phobia. I’m of the opinion that the situation won’t change until America adopts more reasonable attitudes about sexuality—more specifically, homosexuality.


  1. Maybe marrying into a progressive packing family means that I know quite a few men who are comfortable and grown up.

    There were the wonderful boymenlings who came from Deep Springs College to pack. They could string sentences together, they knew what they wanted, they held the door open for others, and they sure looked god damned handsome on horseback.

    Actually, there is no shortage of similar men here in my wee redneck town of Bishop. These men look a bit rough around the edges and wouldn't know what to do with a pair of soft Italian loafers, but capable, considerate, and comfortable they are.

    and you should see the women.....;)



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