Bil Browning

Open Thread: The making of a man

Filed By Bil Browning | October 21, 2008 12:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: male, open thread, transgender

I thought I'd throw this out for discussion since it came up in the comments section of men.gifAlex's Gay Men 101 post:

What makes someone a man? What does it mean to you?

Are there certain requirements or criteria?

Obviously there are many shades and flavors to gender and gender identity. But what stands out to you? What are the qualities or characteristics that pop to your head when you think of men?


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I've been thinking about this a lot recently, and don't have a good answer. Everything that came to mind at first (penis, facial hair, 'Male Answer Syndrome') I discarded, either because a man would still be a man without the feature, or because a woman would still be a woman with the feature.

Does it all come down to "massive amounts of testosterone floating around"? Maybe it does.

I put this in the wrong comment section, my bad. I meant to send it here instead of Alex's original post.-

There are so many things that make a man a man, in fact I keep rewriting this post when I think of a new point. It's a very difficult question.

I suppose the only way to answer it is subjectively.

I think a man is a man if he's loyal, if he's true to himself, be he androgynous, butch, or, as most of us, somewhere in between. If he's honest, and stands up for not only himself, but those he cares about too.

I don't need a big muscl-ey guy, I need a guy who's going to be standing right next to me in 30 years no matter what. That's what makes a man truly a man. He can be standing there in a skirt, as long as he's there. I need a man who's more interested in the strength of my character than if I gained 20 pounds when I turned 50. I need a man who's not going to interpret a bad day as the end of the relationship. Maybe I think what makes a man, is being an adult.

I'm not girly, I'm not comfortable with it in myself. I ride horses, a bicycle, and make pottery. I teach theater, and work part time for an auto parts distributor. Yet I'll sit and weep openly while listening to Gotterdammerung. It's not the things you do that make you a man, it's who you are. Go figure.

Good question, and I'm not sure that I'm capable of knowing the answer.

I did the "boy act" for 47 years, and I never understood men. I'm able to describe the kind of Man I tried to be, even the kind of Man I wanted to be, though.

Strong but not brutal. Kind but not overly sentimental. Courageous without being arrogant about it. Protector of those weaker than himself. Manly without being full of Macho BS. Courteous, polite, but unafraid to resist when challenged. Forthright. Chivalrous, never kicking a man who was down, but never giving up when fists were still flying. Indomitable. A quiet achiever.

Succeeding at all this is not required: giving it your best shot is.

Kipling said it best:


IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!


I guess I tried to be the kind of man that I wanted in a husband, or rather, as the father of my children (given the biological realities). The kind of man my father was. The kind of man I hope my son will be.

I flunked masculinity, but I think that I managed to be a decent human being. I've tried to keep as much as I could of the "manly virtues" I'd acquired (to however small a degree). Now that may make me less of a woman - it certainly feeds my insecurities - but I value them more than mere conventional femininity.

I've become more confident now, more sure in myself, and able to express my compassion, and my anger at injustice even more, without being seen as an overbearing bully. I can hug now, and express physically my charity towards my fellow human beings, without it being seen as a sexual advance. I can even allow myself to get angrier, I don't have the testosterone-fuelled capability of physical violence to keep in check. No more beast to keep leashed.

As I said, I flunked masculinity. Things that guys do instinctively, I had to work at. My brain just isn't set up for that, and although I could fake it quite well in some areas, in others you just either have it or you don't.

What makes someone a man? First be a decent human being. That's a pre-requisite. There's many males who have all the rest, things I never did, but not that.

It's interesting to think of the word as opposed to either "boy" or "woman."