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Brooks, Matthew L.
Friendships between men :
b masculinity as a relational experience
h [electronic resource] /
by Matthew L. Brooks.
[Tampa, Fla.] :
University of South Florida,
ABSTRACT: This dissertation is an auto/ethnographic account of close friendships between the researcher and other men. The various narratives contain intimate dialogues about being a man, having friends, and the process of resisting and succumbing to orthodox masculinity. The purpose of the research was to investigate and artfully depict the communication and development of close friendships between the researcher and other men, in hope of gaining more knowledge of the difficulty forming and maintaining male friendships given the strictures of orthodox masculinity. The research combines methods of autoethnography and dialogic conversations with four male friends. In the first chapter I set the stage with a review of the scholarly literature on male friendship and masculinity. In chapters two through six and nine through eleven I present two sets of dialogic conversations I had with four men. Chapter seven provides a theoretical tour of the method.Chapter eight consists of monologues about friendship given by three participants. Chapter twelve concludes the dissertation with personal reflection and analysis. The analysis draws links between the author's experiences of friendship with each participant, grounding research on masculinity, as well as research on male-male friendship. In male-male friendships, the performance of masculinity, especially proving one's manhood, reverses the order of expected dialogical tensions in interpersonal relationships. For example, to be a man requires demonstrating invulnerability before allowing vulnerability. Forming close personal bonds, however, requires demonstrating vulnerability from the onset, something that runs counter to prescripts of orthodox masculinity. This observation demonstrates the double bind many men face when first forming friendships. To counter this bind, I argue for the need of a reflexive turn at level of self to provide the necessary gap in self-knowledge that allows for dialogue and redefinition of orthodox masculinity between men.
Dissertation (Ph.D.)--University of South Florida, 2007.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic dissertation) in PDF format.
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Title from PDF of title page.
Document formatted into pages; contains 306 pages.
Advisor: Arthur P. Bochner, Ph.D.
Friendship as Method.
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
Friendships Between Men: Masculin ity as a Relational Experience by Matthew L. Brooks A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy Department of Communication College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: Arthur P. Bochner, Ph.D. Carolyn Ellis, Ph.D. Kenneth Cissna, Ph.D. Stacy Holman Jones, Ph.D. James King, Ph.D. Date of Approval: November 2, 2007 Keywords: Friendship, Masculinity, Auto ethnography, Dialogue, Fr iendship as Method, Narrative Copyright 2007, Matthew L. Brooks
Dedication This dissertation is dedicated to my son.
Acknowledgements I wish to thank my advisor, Art Boch ner, without whom this dissertation would not have been concluded successfully and artfully. I also thank my committee membersKen Cissna, Carolyn Ellis, Stacy Holman Jones, and Jim Kingwho lent creative and critical suppor t along the way. My most gracious thanks to all my peers, whose convers ation in the hallway s between classes sustained me. Finally, to my best friend and wife, Ki mberly, for always living with me through the pits and pinnacles of writing and researching; I love you.
i Contents Abstract iii Foreword 1 Chapter One: Necessary Baggage 17 Chapter Two: Details, Desire, Names 36 Chapter Three: Touched 48 Chapter Four: Hair, Muscles, and Orgasm 63 Chapter Five: Assuming Old Habits 86 Chapter Six: Opposites 121 Chapter Seven: No Method but the Self 139 Chapter Eight: Participant Monologues 167 Berts Monologue 167 Sidneys Monologue 174 Kirks Monologue 181 Chapter Nine: Hard Habits to Break 196 Chapter Ten: Speak your Heart and the Rest will Follow 221 Chapter Eleven: Man, I Love you 238 Chapter Twelve: Reflecti ons at a Rest stop 262 The End? 262 Analysis 266 Masculinity & Contradiction 266 Knowing a Good Friendship & Sticking to it 269 My Friends; My Self 274 Calling Home 287
ii Epilogue 291 References 300 About the Author End Page
iii Friendships Between Men: Masculin ity as a Relational Experience Matthew Brooks ABSTRACT This dissertation is an auto/ethnographic account of close friendships between the researcher and other men. The various narratives contain intimate dialogues about being a man, having frie nds, and the process of resisting and succumbing to orthodox masculinity. The purpose of the research was to investigate and artfully depict the communication and deve lopment of close friendships between the researcher a nd other men, in hope of gaining more knowledge of the difficulty forming and maintaining male friendships given the strictures of orthodox masculinity. The research combines methods of autoethnography and dialogic conversations with four male friends. In the first chapter I set the stage with a review of the scholarly lite rature on male friendship and masculinity. In chapters two through six and nine through eleven I present two se ts of dialogic conversations I had with four men. Chapte r seven provides a theoretical tour of the method. Chapter eight consists of monologues about friendship given by three participants. Chapter twelve c oncludes the dissertation with personal reflection and analysis.
iv The analysis draws links between the authors experiences of friendship with each participant, grounding research on masculinity, as well as research on male-male friendship. In male-male frie ndships, the performance of masculinity, especially proving ones manhood, reverses the order of expected dialogical tensions in interpersonal relationships. For example, to be a man requires demonstrating invulnerability before allowing vulnerability. Forming close personal bonds, however, requires demons trating vulnerability from the onset, something that runs counter to pres cripts of orthodox masculinity. This observation demonstrates the double bind many men face when first forming friendships. To counter this bind, I argue for the need of a reflexive turn at level of self to provide the necessary gap in self-knowledge that allows for dialogue and redefinition of orthodox masc ulinity between men.
1 Foreword As I drive west on Highway 60 toward Tampa, I see the sun peek over the horizon behind me. The flash of light in the rearview mirror breaks the trance of the road. Ill be in town soon, so I be gin thinking about my best friend, Bert, who Ill be meeting later in the day. If it werent for my dissertation, I probably wouldnt get to see him at all today, and we might not have become so close. It is hard for me to believe that we have known each other for five years, and we love one another. And wasnt that the point For my dissertation research, a project I began in the fall of 2002, I wanted to figure out what counted between menwhat mattered when it came to establishing and maintaining close male friendship, and what research method was best suited for examining those rela tionships. What method could help me get close to what I needed to know a bout friendship between men? For that matter, what did I need to know? Why wa s I drawn to research about masculinity and friendship? My desire to know other men has been a desire to know myself and to call into being the kind of man who values openness, vulnerability, empathy, care, tenderness, emotionality, affection, intuiti on, self-disclosure, and a host of other behaviors that have been, unfortunately, deemed feminine by popular culture and thus naturalized as unmanly. In my early teens, I struggled to come to terms with
2 what I perceived was a fundamental difference between myself and other boys. Around twelve, I lost interest in typical boy activities, es pecially sports. I began keeping a journal, writing poetry, reading li terature, and talking with girls; I had an easier time drawing girls into the kinds of conversations th at fascinated me then, particularly conversations about th e treacherous turns life sometimes takes (Heasley, 2005). On too many occasions during these formative years, other boys reminded me violently of how different I was from th em. At first, my own father struggled to teach me how to fight, how to protect myself with my fists, how to stand up and be a man. But I failed. I can still remember the night dad and I danced around the backyard throwing punches at each other; how, in his eyes, I saw adoration; and how, as our shadows stretched across the dry grass, I promised to make him proud. But that promise only compelled me to hide my difference and ultimately my self. I was drawn to this research project out of the anger and outrage I suffered through as a boy, and because I lived in a culture that seemed to hate boys like me. No wonder I lear ned to hate myself (Heasley, 2005). I am drawn to this research because at the end of my undergraduate days, a professor, a man, helped me to go from asking what is wrong with me to what is wrong with the culture in which I live. Th is shift in perspective began my journey into masculinity studies. Later, du ring my Ph.D. program, another mentor inspired me to ask, not what is wrong, but what is going on, something that makes it easier to love myself and also easier to live a just life within a culture that I coconstruct with others. He shifted my pe rspective from victim to survivor of
3 orthodox masculinity. As a survivor, I can now contribute to redefining masculinity. Surviving and contributing is something done alongside significant others, a journey best shared with frie nds. Thus the dissertation, the act of researching, talking, and writing, is highli ghted as a relational experience where, like any good friendship, we are in it togetherparticipants, researcher s, mentors. My questionseven my questbend toward my self; my self and all the doubts about other males that have burd ened my heart since childhood: doubts about my father, doubts about my comp anions, but most of all doubts about myself. Could I love, truly love, another man? Is that something I really needed? Maybe, like many other people, I hadnt ye t learned to love myself. Even though I have a loving wife and adoring son, why do I sometimes feel something is lacking? Do other men feel this lack? How do they cope? I wanted to learn why I longed for a male companion and almost always ended up turning to the woman in my life to fill this need. Did other men feel this way too? Maybe Im too demanding of my self. Maybe Im aski ng too much, while demanding nothing at all. Maybe Im too much like my father, wh ile fearing Im nothing like him at all. Maybe Im not man enough and too much of a man. The pressure to prove my manhood began with my father. For a military man, he was gentle and understanding. Though my father failed to assuage my fear and anxiety, he stood ready to a ccept me, a son who, from an early age, struggled with the question: am I normal? Am I gay? As a boy, associating being gay with being abnormal went unquesti oned and, looking back, I see how this blind link was used as a weapon to enforce the homophobia prevalent in the
4 performance of orthodox masculinity (S edgwick, 1986). Being emotional and needing to explore and express my fe elings, seemed unmanly. Abnormal. Feminine. Gay These labels fed a fear of being found out, of being deemed unworthy by the important males in my life at that time. While growing up, everywhere I turned I was confronted by stoical males who preferred activity to talk, brutality to tenderness. And I felt co mpelled to hide my sensitivity, my need for deeper, emotional connectio ns (see Heasley, 2005). Undoubtedly, my desire for a deeper c onnection with my fa ther translated into a need for deeper connection with my friends. What I couldnt get from dad, I sought from other men. But provi ng my manhood, being manly enough, performing within the strict confines of a heterosexual and orthodox masculinity seemed to always get in the way of being close friends and almost always left me frustrated and unfulfilled. As I grew older I wondered: What did it take for a heterosexual man to get close to another manto stay close? Why was it important? Should I reexamine or change my perception of masculinity ev en going so far as to be more like a woman, as many pro-feminist scholars claim (see Connell, 1995; Farrell, 1993; Kimmell, 1987; Miller, 1983)? Or, s hould I embrace the sacred masculinity promoted by scholars associated with the mythopoetic mens movement? (see Bly, 1990; Cardelle, 1990; Keen, 1991). A lthough I identify with pro-feminist men, I am also attracted to the warrior-l ike images of man created by mythopoets such as Sam Keen. Why am I compelle d by two seemingly contradictory images of manliness?
5 My mind goes blank and the silence of the road quiets me. I dont know the answers to my questions. I turn on the radio and press th e seek button. The digital display blinks thr ough myriad numbers and static spits from the speakers in my car before erupting with the sound of a familiar Prince tune. This man, this artist with a strong but ambiguous masculinity compels meseduces me. As a boy, I admired Prince almost as much as John Waynealmost. It seems as though my masculinity is like being in the same room with these two men. Since childhood, these dueling images of mascu linity have fought to possess me as I struggled to earn the praise of my father and to fit in with the other boys I wanted as friends. As the song ends, a blinking traffic light on the horizon calls me back from the timeless bubble of my thoughts. I turn off the radio. Being on the road, writing, feels like stepping outside of time. I am out of time. But the time and timing of this dissertation c onfounds me. When did it rea lly begin? I could point to several seminal moments in my chil dhood that matter in big ways. Reading Shakespeare for the first time when I was a teenager and wondering at the pitiable and contemptible fathers like King Lear, Claudius, and especially Polonius who reminded me of my own dad. The bromid es they mutter are as maddeningly true as they are impossibly annoying. To thy own self be true says Polonius to his son Laureates who is about to leave home. I can hear dad saying these wo rds to me and, almost an adult, almost a man, I know the importance of this a dvice and recognize the ways my old man sometimes failed to walk the wal k. And being young, I am smug. But I do
6 not hate dad for his humanity; I love him even more. I want to push. I want to talk about myself. We avoid talking about ourselves. We always talk about other things, my dad and I. The immutable sile nces of our relationship remind me of a Raymond Carver (1989) story where a son, w ho is being tucked in, says to his father: Dad? Youll think Im pretty cr azy, but I wish Id known you when you were little. I mean, about as old as I am right now. I dont know how to say it, but Im lonesome about it now Thats pretty crazy isnt it? Anyway, please leave the door open. (p. 33) To protect the son, the father shuts the door. And like that son, I am lonesome, even wounded by how this simple distance between my father and methis difficulty talking about ourselvescarries over into my friendships with men. Speaking of beginnings When does it end? The amount of time Ive allowed to elapse since finishing data collection is staggering, but necessary. More than a few years have slippe d by while Ive pondered my workand ponder it I havealmost every day. Even w ithout the life events that have taken me away from this projectthe birth of my son and the taking on of more work to support my familya lengthy bit of time was vital; it afforded me opportunities to be with participants and myself in wa ys not possible within a strict research schedule. And still I am filled with self doubt How do I justify my recognition that this work is so personal to that it may be too unique to be reproduced? Similar undertakings can be made but what I have accomplished is an act of creation, an
7 act of selfaimed at selfunderstandi ng. Does that mean my effort is egotistical, or that it will have no significance for others? No. While I have born most of the ag ony and pleasure of putting this dissertation together, no creativ e act is done alone, in a vacuum. Self discovery is not, I have learned, an i ndividual act, and my method may have begun as a desperate search for the self, but schola rship requires more. Friendship requires more. Like friendship, good scholarship moves me from the inside out (Holman Jones, 2002). That outward movement is important because creativity is a coconstructed endeavor. Everyt hing that I have ever read is in my work somewhere, at least implicitly (I like to think of th em as the dead in my head), as are the relationships Ive had with mentors (Artin more ways than onebeing pen ultimate). Most of all, the participan ts, my friends, hadhavea big part to play. But I am the main ch aracter and my method, such as it is, requires reading me like a book. I in real life and on the page, am a performance with beginnings, middles, endings, and digressions, where languagethe stuff of communicationpermeates the space between us to invoke conversation in hopes of becoming old friends. And like a book, I as an author, have taken time and care with my words just as I have taken time and care with my friends. And even more like a book, we as friends, struggle to live beyond our time where endings cease to matter. *** From the beginning of this project, I sensed that my method for approaching the questions of masculin ity and friendship between men required
8 the conversational skills of dialogue (Cissna & Anderson, 1994)) and the introspective work of auto ethnography (Ellis, 2004). Dialogue, according to Bohm (1996) comes from the Greek dialogoswhich literally translates through the word meaning flows among and between us. The spirit of dialogue can be attained in a variety of contexts. It can be experienced alone, between two people, or in larger groups. Moments of dialogue in each of these contexts: between self and self; between self and other; and between self and group are vital connections or peak experiences (Maslow, 1962) in the performance of identity offering unique opportunities for self awareness. Dialogic moments are also crucial to understanding and unsettling canonical narratives such as orthodox masculinity. Othe r kinds of talkthe kinds of conversations we have every day and forget about every daymake up a hegemonic discourse where our assumpti ons tend to uphold the status quo and mostly go unnoticed or at least unchalleng ed, like the kind of talk where two men reduce a woman to a girl and a girl to a sex object. Thes e conversations are highly political, yet tend to be experienced as neutral or apolitical often resulting in a feeling that this sort of gendered conversation is natural and inevitable (see Berger & Luckmann, 1967). Fortunately, the meanings associated with the status quo are seldom, if ever, sett led once and for all. E ngaging in dialogue opens up the possibility for men to acknowledge the way their personal lives contribute to and are affected by a masculine discourse Dialogue also creates a space for feminist men like me to recognize how eas y it is, when I am among male friends, to slip back into canonic al narratives. Being a g ood man, living a good life,
9 demands continually negotiating the wa y the story of masculinity comes between men and is shared among us. Autoethnography is a second methodological tool used in my work. Autoethnographers endeavor to explore rather than simply explain human experience, making their mode of wr iting more than a simple means of representation. Autoethnography, like dialogu e, is a moral discourse that favors the messy contingencies of life (see Ellis 2004) and is most keenly attuned to self-discovery. Autoethnographic writing is also a project of self-discovery that takes place among and with others. Though it is a practice that requires solitude, it is a practice that begins and ends in being together with other people. In this study, I chose friends by asking men I had known for some time to participate. I also asked several men I had just met. I told them I wanted us to talk about our personal expe rience of our bodies, masculinity, and friendship. I told them that I had a hu nch these experiences were interrelated and had a significant impact on living a good life. I wa s especially intere sted in how our own relationships ran counter to the norm and, through conversation, validated alternative ways of being men. Because I didnt seek a random sample, I ended up including men who were similar to me in many ways. Rawlin s (1992) says that friends tend to emphasize the personal attributes and styles of interaction that make them appear more or less equal to each ot her (pp. 11-12). Thus, it is not surprising that all of the men I contacted were Ph.D. students. All of us are hete rosexual and in long term committed relationships. One man, like me, is a military brat. Though our
10 socioeconomic backgrounds range from wo rking class to upper middle class, we come from different regions of the U. S., and two are a different race from me, we experience each other as being more alike than not. The number of participants I included was intentionally small. I was inspired by Henry Greenspans book On Listening to Holocaust Survivors where he says that rather than interviewing 50,000 people one time, he would prefer to converse with one person 50,000 times. I was attracted to Greenspans privileging of depth over breadth becau se it reminded me of the communion possible between two people, a communion I longed for then and long for now. To be sure, the terms used to describe method trouble me. I feel compelled to adopt a social science voca bulary, but such words hardly fit me. I hardly fit them. And hasnt that also been the point? The terms I gravitate toward are soft and sensual: imagination, inspiration, passion, play, creativity, communion, and joy. Words, names, labels trouble me The data collection phase (see what I mean about vocabularywhere is the eleg ance in words like data and phase?) of this project is both simple and difficult to describe. The simple version is that I conducted two tape recorded conversations between me and each individual participant. I also had each man record a private monologue where I asked them to discuss their friendships with other men and aspects of masculinity. These conversations and monologues were transc ribed, a process that took me about a month. From there, it should have b een a simple matter of analyzing the
11 transcripts and writing up conclusions. However, Ive always felt the simple version was a token effort to appear scientific (note I didnt say rigorous), something that has confused me from the start, probably because I dont think of myself as a scientist or even a social scien tist. I like to thi nk of myself as a poet auto/ethnographer, which m eans that I am self conscious of my writing as a performance that enacts dialogue in an attempt to transg ress norms. It also means that I am attuned to, or on the lookout for, the detritus of life that, when written down, sparks something sublime. A good example is how songs have wended their way into this dissertation. I had no intention of using music to bolster the narratives; but, and perhaps eer ily, the right song had a way of playing at the right moment. Without meaning to, this di ssertation has a soundtrack. And I am reminded that I play music in the sa me way I hope my writing gets read sometimes to comfort, sometimes to express lif es meaningful moments. However, if I begin at the begi nning and cleave the bulk of personal history that informs my research, I move into the realm of the ordinary. And thats not so bad. Like a ny relationship, the initial stag es of the project involved mostly small talk. During these exchanges, I gauged each mans enthusiasm for being involved in resear ch, focusing on their bodies and body image in male friendshipssomething uncomfortable for many heterosexual men because of the homophobia inherent in attit udes during primary and secondary socialization (see Garfinkel, 1985; Kupers, 1993; Miller 1983; Nardi, 1992; Osherson, 1992; & Tejirian, 2000). Many of these conversa tions took place in computer labs reserved for graduate students, while we hung out checking e-mail, printing last
12 minute drafts, making phone calls a nd other everyday activities. As a communal hub it was also one of the main places for socializing among graduate students. In such settings, I made initia l plans to meet each man and conduct an informal unstructured interview with a de sire for deep conversation. We decided on one-hour blocks of time and various places to meet. The conversations typically lasted tw o hours or more and took place in a variety of locations: an office, an apartm ent, an alcove outside another building on campus, and a restaurant. I tape reco rded each session. At the end of each conversation, I expressed an interest in having a follow-up conversation. Over the next several weeks, we re -visited what happened during our initial conversations whenever we bumped into one another in th e parking lot, in the hallway, or in the computer lab. In these post-interview c onversations, I expressed my sense that our talks felt therapeutica sentiment shared by the other men. During those several weeks, I transcribed every conve rsation and gave each man a copy. I began to see that we had experienced some degree of dialogue in each conversation. The powerful connection e xperienced in these dialogic moments fueled my desire to continue the conversa tion, and I realized th at not only talking mattered but also the way we talked. Although there are typical male conversation styles at work when we talkwe sometimes try to intimidate, dominate, interrupt, or control each othe r (see Burleson, Holmstrom, & Gilstrap, 2005; Coates, 1986; Tannen, 2001), there ar e also many atypical moments where we self-disclose, validate, show affection, smile at, or open up to one another (see Brooks, 2006).
13 For the second round of conversations, I wanted to approach participants in a relati onal context that promot ed dialogue, a form of communication that invites reflexive awar eness of self and other (see Goodall & Kellett, 2004). Also, I wanted to think of myself as a friend and a researcher, even going so far as to think of friendship as a method (see Tillmann-Healy, 2003) and my self as a subject of the research (see Ellis & Bochner, 2000). Making such an autoethnographic move, I thought, would reveal the powerful ways friendships sustain, reproduce, and potentially transform gender performances. The follow up conversations took place a coup le of years later. My role as researcher during that time diminished as I settled back into the routine of being a friend to and with these men. During th at time, my relationships with the different men changed. I spent more time writing and less time relating. To protect the identities of the men who participated in th e project, I changed their names and fictionalized some of the events that took place. In the pages of this dissertation the reader will be introduced to Bert, Sidney, Kirk, and Jack. Each of these men holds a special place in my heart. With one, I became very close. With another, I maintained. With the third, I became disappointed and distant. With the last, I completely lost touch. Does that matter? Is this so unusual? Ideally, friendship is a fluid set of possibilities, maybe nothing more than a ne ver ending journey, an invitation to talk, to think, to be, andto write. ***
14 I approach the exit that will lead me to the University and reach over to turn on the radio. I am tired of driving, tir ed of thinking. I just want to groove. The speakers erupt with the deep belch of a male voice, a typical radio jerk dispensing rude advice about sex and wo men. I press the seek button several times before a familiar note stops me and Marvin Gaye croons, whats going on, whats going on. And, in time with th e beat, I too ask, yeah, whats going on ? *** In Chapter One, I unpack the scholars hip informing this dissertation. I juxtapose existing work on male friendshi p from various disciplines, work that overwhelmingly concludes that men seldom have the skills necessary to form and maintain close relationships, with comm unication research like that conducted by Rawlins (1981, 1983) that seeks a more neutral and dialectica l approach. From there, I tie in literature on masculinity, identity, and the male body that sees these junctures as a powerful social narrative that motivates individual men to adopt and perform a repressive form of manhood. I then return to the literature on male friendship, emphasizing work like Oshers ons (1992) and Millers (1983) that seek a therapeutic turn in understanding and pr omoting those relationships. In Chapter Two, I describe two early encounters with Bert, encounters that took place before the project began and we became friends. I at tend to the details that attracted me to him in an attempt to capture and release the emotions of first contact. I also introduce the idea that the researcher is sometimes an unreliable narrator thus necessita ting and anticipating th e reflexive turn of the dissertation.
15 Chapters Three, Four, Five, and Six give a narrative acc ount of my first conversations with Bert, Jack, Ki rk, and Sidney, respectively. These conversations focused on issues of masculinity and the male body and took place during the fall of 2002. In Chapter Seven, I trek through the theoretical underpinnings of the dissertations method. Appr opriately, given th e title, this elab oration happens from within a conversati on with my self. In Chapter Eight, Bert, Kirk, and Sidney present their monologues on masculinity and friendship. Chapters Nine, Ten, and Eleven provid e a narrative account of my second round of conversations with Kirk, Sidne y, and Bert. These conversations focus on masculinity, my friends monologues a nd relationships with other men, and our attempts to meta-communicate about our own friendship. Chapter Twelve concludes the dissertati on. It is important to note that the foreword, Chapter Seven, and Chapter Twelve take place on the same day, a summer day a couple of years after th e second round of conversations. The concluding chapter is primarily a persona l reflection on the four friendships, an authors monologue of sorts. My personal in sights are also folded into a scholarly conversation, especially with Miller ( 1983) and Rawlins (1983) to provide an analysis of whats been going on The conclusion also suggests that in some small way, perhaps because of my friendshi ps, I have come to love myself, to accept myself, to be, perhaps, more than a manto see myself as only human.
17 Chapter One: Necessary Baggage Doubt creeps into my mind whenever I think about my relationships with other men. I fear that I havent alwa ys been a good friend, and the thought of voicing these doubts only hei ghtens my anxiety. How do you tell another man even your best friendthat you not only f eel close to him, you want to feel closer? How do you tell him that you want to honor your past together and strengthen those bonds for the future? (s ee Miller, 1983). Outside of the various institutions that support a particular form of brotherhood (sports teams, the military, or fraternities), how do straight men express and cultivate their love for one another? These questions arose while surv eying the existing scholarship on friendship between men. Most of the re search suggests that men lack authentic friendships with other men (McGill, 1985; Morman & Floyd, 1998; Miller, 1983; Osherson, 1992; Wagner-Raphael, Seal, & Ehrhardt, 2001). Osherson (1992) points out, Research on mens lives reve als that male friendships are often noteworthy more for their absence than their presence (pp. 293). Furthermore, researchers claim people need intimate othe rs in order to lead a more fulfilling life; while a spouse may satisfy this nee d, researchers also recognize the necessity for friendsespecially of the same se x (McGill, 1985; Miller, 1983; Morman & Floyd, 1998). In researching same-sex fr iendships, scholars have predominantly shown that men not only lack close friendships but also lack the skills necessary
18 to begin and sustain such relationships. Accordingly, this lack results from societal pressures to perform or thodox masculinitysuch a performance emphasizes competition, strength, invulnerability, dominancebehaviors identified as counterproductive to sustai ning close relationships (Coates, 2001; McGill, 1985; Miller, 1983; Morman & Floyd, 1998; Wagner-Raphael, Seal, & Ehrhardt, 2001). However, this academic discourse, as Wellman (1992) points out, tends to treat mens friendships as inferior to those of women because much of the conversation is about helping men adopt beha viors, like self-discl osure, typical of woman-to-woman relationships (see Ba lswick, 1988; Baumli, 1985, Farrell, 1993; Kimmel, 1987, 1995). As such, many studies of male-male friendship present a monolithic view on masculinity and deny th e possibility that there are many ways to be a man (Coates, 2001; Morman & Floyd, 1998; Wagner-Raphael, Seal, & Ehrhardt, 2001). Moreover, most studies of men focus on a narrow range of traits deemed masculine; in other words, men are usually understood only as competitors or aggressors. Rarely have researchers looked at how men do feel or experience intimacy and emotionality in their relationships with other men. Eschewing a prescriptive approach, a voiding a point of view that already sees men needing reform when it come s to close personal relationships, a communication scholar like Rawlins (1983) takes a dialectical approach that identifies contrasting or contradictory behaviors as necessary to forming and maintaining friendships. Rawlins (19 83) states, the potential oppositions produced by the functioning of comm unication place the experience of
19 contradiction at the cente r of relational life ( pp. 255). For example, relationships may teeter between talk that is expressive and protective, candid and restrained. Understanding how relati onships determine the degree of each contrasting behavior can yi eld insight into a communication process that affects quality of life. As Rawlins (1983) claims these tensions constitute subtle and covert dilemmas that must be managed eff ectively if a relationship is to flourish (pp. 256). Although Rawlins (1983) doesnt auto matically see men as lacking, his research doesnt account for how pe rforming orthodox masculinity might place unique demands on men when it comes to defi ning these dialectical forces in their relationships with other me n. Furthermore, it seems possible that his observations and choice of examples stem from a perhaps unconscious gender bias. Consider his observations of dependence and independence. Of dependence Rawlins (1983) says If one individual becomes too dependent upon another or insists on the pers ons excessive availa bility, this other may feel that his/her voluntary re nunciation of autonomy has acquired a compulsory quality that violates the id eally unconstrained na ture of their bond (pp. 263). An example of people who va lue autonomy comes from a male-male example where one of his respondents, John, says: I believe when you see too much of one person, youre in trouble. Keith and I dont. We see each other and we have fun together but were not always together and I think that s whats helped us. (pp. 263)
20 The example of an overly reliant relationship, on the other hand, comes from a female-female relationship. Participan t Lana says of her friendship: And a lot of times because the relations hip was so intense, um I had to get away. You know I had, when we left for the summer, it was like a rejuvenation period for me. And it wasn t that constant [pause] intensity that our relationship has. Thats why sometimes when we see each other for a couple of days, we have to take a couple of days off. You know. Because we just, we talk about absolutely, you know, just about everything we feel and thats very intense. And thats, you know, you cant do that all the time or you go crazy. You know, you end up feeling, you know, shooting yourself [sic], I think. (pp. 263) Rawlins (1983) concludes such intensity ca n be as debilitating as it is liberating (pp. 263). I think its interesting that too much dependence is negatively characterized while too much independence is seen as more positive a relational context. Why? Interestingly, the examples Rawlins (1983) culls from his study to illustrate the necessity of independence in a relationship, to the extent that such independence is demonstrated by long se parations, are entirely male-male and summed up by Dave, a participant, who says of his friend Ed: Even though at certain times I might not have seen him for three months at a time, we were still friends and I knew I could call him and he knew he could call me, and thats when some thing was important because we knew each other so well we just had an understanding of what the other person needs. (pp. 261) How? This unspoken understanding, an understanding arrived at through actions, through demonstrating care over the cour se of the relationship, between these male friends is repeated in several other examples. What action and what care are never stated and I wonder whether Daves sentiment is wishful thinking, or, at
21 best, whether he can call on Ed only if the need involves something utilitarian like fixing the car or building a deck. Matters of the hear t, emotional troubles are, perhaps, off limits. Asserting independe nce in male-male friendships seems to demand avoiding potentially uncomfortable situations as Dave says of Ed: And even the friendship with him, w hy its lasted is that the most, the hardest things to do for someone who you are friends with or someone that you love is to let them alone so they can hurt themselves if its necessary, or do what they want to do. But its hard for a person who cares for another one to let them do something th at they know is going to hurt them but not to interfere, because I know every pe rson has to grow and experience it for themselves. (Rawlins, 1983 pp. 260) Although this relationship seems to require distance or separation during troubled times, Dave also points out that he would be around later if [Ed] wanted any help to pick up the pieces and Rawlins (1983) concludes, leaving the other alone can be evidence of caring (pp. 261). While Ra wlins doesnt identify this behavior as a male tendency, I wonder if it persists in a majority of male-male friendships. I wonder if it will come up in my co nversations with participants. While reading Rawlins (1983) and thinking about orthodox masculinity, several questions come to mind: Must men first show strength to allow weakness? Must men first prove invulnerability to al low vulnerability? Must men first show restraint to allow candor? Mu st men be at a distance to be close? To be friends, must men first assert that th ere is no need for the other? In other words, is a real man, who is also a good friend, tough enough to go it alone? These contradictions or dialectal oppositions seem powered by th e intersection of orthodox masculinity with the pers onal lives of individual men. ***
22 Numerous studies of masculinity focus on the social and cultural meanings of the male body (Bordo, 1999; Dotson, 1999; Holmund, 2002; Thomas, 1996; Tuana, Cowling, Hamington, Johnson, MacMullan, 2002; Wienke, 1998). Little, if any, of this research pays attention to the lived experience of men as a context from whic h the significance of cultural meanings associated with the male body is played out. Still, a few scholars have turned their attention to the ever yday lives of men as a way of understanding how those meanings are understood, struggled wit h, accepted, or rejected. Wienke (1998) for example, explores the meanings of th e male body as both a cultural and lived object (pp. 255). His study attempts to il lustrate how men respond to societal norms regarding their bodies and how men develop complex coping strategies for articulating those norms in their everyday lives. Wienkes (1998) study addresses the m eanings behind the various cultural images of the male body and how men in terpret and feel about their bodies. These body negotiations are connected to whether and how men map self-identity on the power grid of orthodox masculin ity. The muscular body, according to Wienke (1998), is the cultural ideal and carries with it all the pr ivilege associated with orthodox masculinity; thus, the closer a man id entifies his body to the cultural norm, the easier it is for him to fulfill that orthodox script in his everyday performance of self. Put another way, th e more muscular identified a male is, the less likely he is to engage in the soft forms of friendship proscribed by many as necessary for a full and rich life. In the orthodox view, muscular males are more likely to find expression for their friends hip needs in contexts such as sports
23 teams, the military, or fraternities with their hierarchical structures and often violent and brutal initia tion practices. While this argument stretches the stereotypeall muscular men are not n ecessarily so easily peggedWienke (1998) does make a persuasive case for the importance of body image in a mans expression of self-identity which, in tur n, informs a mans attitudes about things like masculinity and friendship. Indeed, other scholars have shown that how men talk or dont talk about their bodies is important to performing not only masculinity but also friendship (Bordo, 1999; McGill, 1985). How men use their bodies with other men is especially important to consider given cultural prohibitions on intimate touching between straight men (Morman & Fl oyd, 1998; Osherson, 1992; Rabinowitz, 1991) and the connection of touching be tween men to homophobia (see Abbott, 1990; Baumli, 1985; Cardelle, 1990; Farre ll, 1993; Garfinkel, 1989; Kimmel, 1987; Kupers, 1993; McGill, 1985; McLean, 1996; Miller, 1983; Morman and Floyd, 1998; Nardi, 1992; Osherson, 1992; Rabinowitz, 1991; Tetjirian, 2000), one of the chief barriers to close pers onal relationships between straight men. While images of the homophobic, non-affectionate males may abound in popular culture, I wonder about our interpersonal re lationships? What about fathers, who almost certainly initiate sons in the pract ice of keeping other men at a distance, a distance that, in my experience, transl ates into male-male friendships? In comparison to the vast literature on masculinity as a cultural text of power, and recent work on the male body, the literature on male-male friendship is quite small. The research that does exist plays up the difference between men
24 and women (Coates, 2001; McGill, 1985; Miller, 1983; Morman & Floyd, 1998; Wagner-Raphael, Seal, & Ehrhardt 2001). Friendships between women are considered talk based while those be tween men are activity based. Just how men understand or experience activity-based relationships rarely gets attention. McGill (1985) documents that talk am ong men is dominated by sports and sex and is rarely personal in na ture; Indeed, according to McGill (1985), the focus is almost always on externalities, things th at happen out there (pp. 160). The lack of self-disclosure of a personal kind is vi ewed as an interpersonal deficit that is perpetuated by conforming to orthodox masc ulinity. Thus, most research focuses on barriers to male friendship imposed by orthodox masculinity. One frequently discussed barrier to male-male friendship is homophobia. Attitudes about homosexuality can be loca ted historically. According to Nardi (1992), a shift in the values associated with friendship occurred in the 20 th century. Previously, friendship in Wester n culture was male-centered and valued traits such as bravery, loyalty, duty, and heroism (Hammond & Jablow, 1987; Newell, 2003; Rotundo, 1993). Over the last thirty years or so close personal relationships, including friendship, have been rearticulated along lines commonly associated with women: intimacy, trust, caring, and nurturing (Sapadin, 1988). This shift, Nardi (1992) explains, open ed male friendships to questions of homosexuality and resulted in a vari ety of mixed messages for contemporary men. Nardi claims that men are raised in Western culture to value emotionally rich and intimate friendships and face the contradiction of being labeled homosexual if they appear too intimate or too emotional.
25 Intimacy between men, however, wasnt always stigmatized the way it is today. Rotundo (1993) argues that in 19th century America, young men developed romantic friendships with each other that today would be mistaken for homosexual relationships. They wrote love letters to each other, slept in the same bed, held each other physically, and c onfided intimate details of their lives to each other. Moreover, these romantic friendships were widely accepted by both men and women. Nardi (1992) also points to the medical ization of same-sex relationships at the end of the 19 th century as a starting point for shifting attitudes about malemale friendships in the 20 th century; for example, the term homosexual was identified in the emerging field of psychology as a mental disorder. As psychoanalytic terminology made its way into popular culture the association with homosexuality stigmatized behavior s like affection betw een men and set the stage for talk of homophobia in contempor ary studies of friendships between men. Morman and Floyd (1998) elaborate on homophobia as a barrier to malemale friendships. Their research suggests that three variables in particular may influence the perceived appropriateness of affectionate communication between men. First, men who are related, such as brothers, may be less subject to the proscription against male-male affecti on than are non-related men. Men avoid expressing affection to their male frie nds, out of fear of being seen as homosexual. Brothers are less bound by this rule than are non-related men. Second, men may find it more appropriate to be affectionate with same-sex others in situations that are emotionally char ged such as a wedding. It may be more
26 appropriate for men to hug or say they love each other, though they may consider these behaviors to be inappropriate in other, less ritualized contexts. Third, context makes a differenceprivate displays of emotion are less appropriate, because private affection implies sexual intent. Over and over again, research argues th at the culturally ingrained aspects of orthodox masculinity inhibit men from expressing affection for each other even when they feel it. Rabinowitz (1991) documents this inhibition in his observations of embracing between men, noting that even in a support-group environment, men often experience no ticeable psychological distress while hugging other men. He notes that reports of this distress are echoed in interviews with men conducted by numerous research ers, whose respondents reported high degrees of cautiousness about expressing a ffection either verbally or nonverbally to their male friends, to avoid giving them "the wrong idea." Oshersons (1992) work with mens therapy groups sustains Rabinowitzs findings but also points out that in spite of this fear, men often do feel a sensuous wish for contact and touch with other men, though such wishes usually go unnoticed and unacknowledged (pp. 297). As young boys, we are for a short while able to relish physical closeness with a man. I have a memory of my fathe rs gentleness that is as vivid as it is vague and fleetinghis lips kissing my fo rehead, the smell of old spice and coffee, the rough cotton of hi s olive green uniform. I do not know if this image is real or only a dream, because, as I grew ol der, my memory of such displays is almost entirely absent. Today, physical contact between my father and me is
27 limited to burly bear hugs that usually cut off the blood supply to my brain, as if being gentle or meek might make us uncomfortable. Even in these hugs, however, I sense an earnest need to forget manly things. Osherson, as well as Price (1999), maintains that intimacy and the fear of physical touching is especially heightened in friendships between gay and straight men. Both conclude that talking, getting th ings out in the open, helps to alleviate some of that fear. Osherson remarks, as a heterosexual therapist, I find that when I work with gay men, one of the co mmon anxieties for both of us is that affection and warmth and emotional intimacy may lead to sexual intimacy. He goes on to say that, often just bringi ng that anxiety to the surface together, talking about it, can help to dilute it (pp. 298). Similarly, Price (1999) observed that in friendships between gay and straight men, where talk about their differences was an important part of the relationship, less anxiety was experienced. Conversely, where there was little or no talk about their differences, anxiety levels increased and revolved around experiences of heterosexism and homophobia. Such observations suggest that talking about homophobic feelings in the context of straight male friendsh ips may aid in overturning such attitudes and open the pathways for more intimate exchanges, something that I pursue in my conversations with men in this diss ertation. The challenge for studies of male-male friendships is to describe th e homoerotic elements present in such relationships in a way that compels men to revise their attitudes about physical closeness. However, cultural prohib itions against touching persist.
28 Osherson argues that being held by another man isnt necessarily a physical activity. He explains that holdi ng is also an emotional activity involving words and gestures that indicate a pe rson is seen, valued, and understood. As Osherson (1992) says, You can feel held by being listened to closely and responded to in a way that legitimates wh at you are feeling (pp. 283). However, being held in even a non-contact way can raise concerns about a mans sexuality with other men, as well as, hi s dependence. Osherson (1992) points out, too much connection seems effeminat e, but recommends, being held by another man has little to do with sexualit y and much to do with self-esteem (pp. 283). He concludes that for many men th e conflation of intimacy and sex blocks men from deeper connections with male friends. Regardless of barriers like homophobia, Osherson remains hopeful that men can make significant contributions to each others lives, some thing he addresses in his group therapy sessions where he shows men actively navi gating such a barrier to form closer bonds with each other. Cementing these bonds in a cooperative environment, according to Osherson (1992), is crucial to men forming a broader view of men as men. Such a cooperative approach helps dispel what men have experienced all their lives hierarchical and authoritarian environmen ts that stress the characteristics of orthodox masculinity like aggression and competition. In such power laden environments, friends must choose w ho is being the dominant one or the subordinate; theres not any middl e ground (Osherson, 1992, pp. 294).
29 Finding this middle ground of coopera tion is crucial to reforming orthodox masculinity and carries with it a vari ety of benefits. First, men within a cooperative frame can learn to contain their anger. Osherson (1992) tells a compelling story about a Vietnam vetern suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. This Vet was unable to communicate his rage about the war to his wife out of fear of hurting her. He calls a buddy up, and during a night out drinking, is able to disclose his pain and ange r saying, When I saw my school buddy, I knew that he could take my rage, that th ere was little chance of wounding him like I might have wounded [my wife] (pp. 284). Osherson (1992) advises: Many of us, not only vets, struggle with rage and anger at the burdens of manhood, what it costs us, and worry about whether that anger and resentment will wound those we love or wound us: drive them away, make us seem unworthy in their eyes, or fo rce us to flee from our own sense of shame. Male friendships often offer men a chance to both express and master their rage. (pp. 285) Another benefit of friendship and th e cooperative environment of mens therapy groups is the joy of compani onship. Osherson (1992) shares a personal anecdote about moving out of a shared o ffice into one of his own as part of upgrading his psychology practice. The wo man he shared an office with before had taken on the responsibility of furn ishings and decorations. The empty space of his new office threatened his ability to pick out simple things like carpet, chairs, desks, etc. He explains that this ambivalence had more to do with a struggle over autonomy and self-sufficien cy, which caused his spirits to sink, something his friend Steve noticed. Ov er lunch, they joked about going shopping together and how Steve would act as a consultant. Of course, they never went shopping together; however, Osherson viewed Steves joking offer as a gift
30 claiming the offer of companionship legi timated his anxiety. He says, by naming my fear and joking about it, [his friend] made it less oppressive and dominating (pp. 287). A third benefit of friendships, especi ally as they take on the cooperative frame of the therapy groups he describes is the nature of information exchange. Osherson (1992), in agreement with McGill (1985), claims that men are typically good at exchanging nuts and bolts inform ation. However, Osherson disagrees with McGill about a mans desire for other types of comm unication saying, [men] are often more curious about th e richer, more textured exchange of feelings about shared struggles and comm on pain than previously suggested even while experiencing anxiety about losing se lf-control, a belief that its not manly to open up a heartfelt question without also having the answer (pp. 287-288). I agree with Osherson (1992) that in order for men to develop a broader view of men as men, they must seek out contexts where other men listen attentively, respond appropriately, confront and cajole each other (pp. 288). However, these contexts are more than ex ercises in comfort. Friendships, as well as the therapy groups Osherson (1992) descri bes, offer an opportunity to stay with discomfort. Osherson quotes one man as saying: The mens event was so good because we could have lots of feelings without resolving them immediately. It was important for me to see that men can stay with discomfort: We ar e so quick to change the subject, move onto something else more mana geable, go in and solve it. Here I could see that it was better if you dont solve things too quickly, that confusion can be productive, and that ha s really helped me deal with those I love. I have less tendency to come on as an authority with all the answers and drive everyone away. (pp. 288)
31 According to Osherson (1992), the work of mens groups continues beyond the weekends in the context of male-male friendships. Further, this continuation helps relieve women of doing all the emotional work for men, and Osherson argues, there is a valid need fo r men to be able to find a place to talk without worrying about having to posture for or take care of women. However, he offers this caveat, it does not become an excuse to exclude women when men cannot take the next step and find a way to talk honestly to women and include them in their self-exploration (pp. 289). As I draw this review to a close, I want to consider some of Oshersons (1992) closing remarks. First, it is important for a mans emotional well being to give more priority to male friends than is typically supported by contemporary society. Making time for another man is cr ucial and, as Osherson (1992) says, small things matter a lot. Just going to lunch rather than cranking out more work can make all the difference. In addition to making time for that other man, talking about or meta-communicating about the frie ndship creates a nurturing context that Osherson (1992) says is important to c ountering the sporadic and less verbal qualities that typify male fr iendships. He argues that making it clear to the other that you hold the friendship close to your heart will help sustain the relationship over great distances and unanticipated, prolonged absences. Finally, men should not forget that their responses, whether th eyre to express regr et or excitement about something, have a big impact on friends. These may seem like common sense rules but the reality of male-male fr iendships, if Ive learned anything from
32 reading the literatu re, have a way of defying the common sense in more ways than one. Second, notwithstanding the many cu ltural barriers to male-male friendships, men have struggled to remain close to one another. I am reminded of the men who came to visit my father-in-law while he was in the hospital recovering from major surgery. One man dr ove over twenty miles to pick oranges from a special grove of trees before th e season ended. Another sat with him on a Sunday afternoon watching a football pla yoff game, something that noticeably raised his spirits. There are many mo re examples of human kindness evidenced by these men. Their behavior suggests, as Rawlins (1992) points out, that males define intimacy differently than females. Furthermore, the social class of these men (upper-middle class) brings to mind barriers to male-male friendship other than or in addition to atti tudes about homosexuality. Ti me is one prevalent barrier to such relationships. My father-in-law has been a friend with these men for more than forty years. They all live in th e same community, belong to many of the same clubs, are active in the same church, and in some instances attended the same schools growing up, all of whic h probably provided opportunities for cementing close bonds. In a global economy that emphasizes mobile labor, these kinds of close-knit communities and the friendships they afford may become a thing of the past (Mille r, 1983; Wellman, 1992; Newell, 2003; Epstein, 2006). Third, I want to emphasize Siedlers (1992, 1997) claim that men learn to do without friends, which is reverberated in the literature. How or why is it that men learn to do without friends? Part of an swering this question would seem to
33 require some combination of gender constructions with economic realities. Behind this question is the notion that men can also learn to be and have friends. Perhaps another important idea to consid er is how friendship is socially, culturally, and historically constructed. Researchers have already identified masculinity as a social c onstruction (Kimmel, 1987). Th e term friendship is too often taken for granted and is seldom defined adequately by researchers (see Epstein, 2006) who focus on mens lives a nd behaviors. For example, Coatess (2001) study of story sequence in talk between males never gives a clear indication of why her partic ipants can be called friends. She says, in all cases [her participants] were friends: in other words, recordings were made of groups or pairs of men who had a wellestablished relationship (pp. 83). What it means to be a friend or how the men really understa nd that term is not taken into account. Nowhere does she consider how depth in a friendship matters in how men share stories. Rather than take it for granted, friendship should be explored for its various meanings across multiple contexts. According to Siedler (1993) modernity compels us to think of friendship in possessive and quantitative terms. One can have lots of friends in that a person can point to a number of pe ople in their life but lack a qualitative language for determining whether or not these friends hips are good friends, a qualitative distinction. Siedler says, having lear ned to think of wants and desires in utilitarian terms, men rarely learn to think of the deeper ways that we are nourished by our friendships (pp. 26).
34 I found Millers (1983) book, Men and Friendship intriguing and useful because of his sustained and in depth analysis of mens friendship and what it means to be a friend. Social scientists have probably shied away from such inquiry because the import ant dimensions of friendship, as Miller employs the term, are not easily codified and studied quantitatively. The question of deep and authentic friendship, a qualitative question, is more likely to be found in poetry and philosophy than in social science. In his book, Miller (1983) provides an autobiographical account of his search to understand authentic friendshi p between adult men. During his search he conducted nearly a thousand interviews with men from various social backgrounds. He also probes his own pers onal relationships w ith men even going so far as to start friendships for the pu rpose of his work. Miller claims that friendship is not only a taboo topic among men, but it is also inherently shallow. His numerous interviews demonstrated to him that men found the subject of friendship unutterable, ineffable. Re search published by Osherson (1992) and McGill (1985) even suggests that men do not know their friends at all. McGill (1985) states, the most common male fr iendship pattern is for a man to have many friends, each of whom knows something of the mans public self and therefore a little about him, but not one of whom knows more than a small piece of the whole (pp. 157). M illers (1983) work is a bout his attempt to connect with and to wholly know a few men. Miller laments that the interviews he conducted and the books he read tend to leave out the emotional realities of me ns lives. He found that the subject of
35 male friendship was unspeakable to most people. He blames this silence on a lack of poetry in the lives of most men stating, the y do not have the words for such a subject but notes that speaking a bout friendship is also difficult because of the taboo against looking at something so sacred, as well as, a reluctance to look at something so painful (pp. xv). He concludes that in order to get close to his subject, he would need to become i nvolved as more than just an author. Miller (1983) and I share this desire for a personal turn in research on male friendship. I too am motivated by a desire to understand in detail the blockages and obstacles; to chart the mi cro-contours of experience from which male friendship is constructed; to regist er the unremembered acts of kindness and of love, the little daily risks, even the forgotten or squelched moments of rage or disappointment at a telephone call not returned (pp. xvi). Cent ral to Millers (1983) journey is the questi on: Can adult menmen in their thirties and older, most married or otherwise coupled and busy at careers, men in the mainstream of modern urban lifefind the comradeship, the succor, the j oy, and devotion of true friendship with at least one man? (pp. xvii). I believe how we experience this question and the stories we tell about friendship along the way cuts across the social construction of men, masculinity, and the male body.
36 Chapter Two: Details, Desire, Names 6:30 P.M. August 29, 2002 Hi, my name is Bert, the man across from me says. His eyes laugh when he speaks. I have heard so many routine introductions ma rking the first day of class that I am not even listening to the words coming out of his mouth through even rows of white teeth and past lips th at seem permanently upturned; instead, I am admiring his perfect skin, which reminds me of a warm cup of coffee with an ample dollop of heavy cream. At the request of our professor, Bert tells a story to our narrative theory class about how his mother would introduce him. The details wash over me without sticking. His voice captivates me; its a welcoming tenor that punctuates, like a soundtrack, the rising action, climax, dnouement, and eventual end of his story. Although he is more than a decade older, I perceive him as someone much younger, someone closer to my thirty than his forty-seven years. Bert seems so damned happy I think, and not the kind of happy that is in denial of the world around him Its as though hes re ached a comfortable place inside himself, somethi ng that invites me to move closer and for the briefest second our eyes meet across the distance of the conference table; I feel drawn to him. Would he want to be my friend, I wonder? Can friends meet, like lovers, from across a crowded room? I withdraw into the recent past as the
37 woman sitting next to Bert takes her turn. Hi my name is and her words fade from my perception. *** 6:00 P.M. August 26, 2002 We finish the routine introductions that mark the first day of class and the professor for our qualitative methods cla ss assigns us a partner, someone she wants us to interview. Afterwards, we are to write up our findings and present them to the class. Dread. I dread the assignment not for its difficulty but because I have begun to question my desire to continue. Do other graduate students ever feel like quitting? I wonder. Alone, stuck. Even in the most qualitati ve place in the discipline I write in my journal, I do not belong I should be writing fiction I am writing fiction I wish I could apply to MFA programs I scribble. And I want to quit, but I keep moving forwardthere are too many people with expectations, myself included Chagrined, I play along. My peers are filing out of the room delighted to assume the mantle of ethnographer. I want to be a writer I scratch illegibly in the left hand corner of the page. Is there a difference? I cont inue doodling in my journal and my pen
38 runs out of ink. Shit, I mumble as a perky blond woman approaches me. She must be my research par ticipant, but I do not feel like participa ting today. Hi, youre Matthew, right, she says. Uh huh, I nod. I cant remember her name. We march out into the hall, and I head to my office without asking for her preference. I need a new pen. She follows me and stands in the doorway while I rummage through my desk. She is staring at the velvet Jesu s picture sitting on top of the bookshelf. The saviors features have been darkened to suggest Middle Eastern origins. Inherited, I grumble, it keeps people guessing. What? Oh, the picture. Fascinating, she replies and scribbles something in her notepad. Why dont we get this over with, I sa y and point at the empty chair. She sits; pen ready, and we start. When the talking stops, I usher th e blond woman out of my office and watch her disappear into one of her own a few doors down. After she closes the door, I tip toe over and check the cardboard sign with her and another new Ph.D. students name on it. I have a fifty-fifty chance, I whisper and fish a coin out of my pocket. I spend the next half hour writing a story about my encounter with Gertrude and then return to class. Everyone is waiti ng and because I am standing I volunteer to go first.
39 Near the door and ready to make a quick exit, I begin to read in a monotone voice, Gertrude Who? And I pa use to look at my expectant audience before continuing. The right questions escape me. And t oday, I want to be invisible. I am not paying attention during th e introductions. I zone out; I fantasize about the glory of a finished novel, what I am going to eat for dinner tomorrow, and any number of other mundane things. I am not interested in the particulars trundled out during these moments. Nor am I fee ling a need to compose my own bit of clever babble, I say with a sigh and look up at my audience. Ethnographers have doubts. Ethnogra phers even have bad days, and I make eye contact with a small, older man who is nodding his head. But everything you have learned, I continue, may suggest otherwise. Why? Because we write it up that way? We lie. And bad days and doubts become something else to use: more data. Positive results are what matter. So, I utter pointedly, here I am, sounding lik e the rest of you, as though I have something to prove. I didnt catch her name during the round table and am too embarrassed to ask for clarification. We go to my office because I need a different pen. I observe that she is dressed in a professional manner, which probably means she either taught class dur ing the day or work s in the private sector, I state objectively and wink my eye before moving on. She is barefootperhaps a sign of uncom fortable shoes. She is eager to get started but isnt sure how to proceed. What matter these details? What matter her name, I pause and look at the perky blond woman whose good posture
40 refuses to succumb to my parody. She remains confident and unflappable as though she knew all along that my wit masks a tired heart. Gertrude, I say, her name is Gert rude. I figure it ou t by looking at the name card on her office door. She suggests we divide our time evenly. First one person asks questions and the other answer s, then, after a while, we switch. Again, I pause and look around the classroom. No one is smiling except for the small, older man. I hold his gaze for a moment to help calm my nerves. He seems open. I dont want to do that. I hate inte rviews. Why dont we just talk and see what happens? I say. Well, I uhm she sputters. I dont care about your background what we usually tell about ourselves on the first day. I want to know someth ing interesting. Something juicy, I taunt. The expression on her face says sh e is dauntless despite my unorthodox behavior. She is going to get through this experience, even if I dont cooperate. It is her first day as a Ph.D. student, and sh e isnt about to let me ruin it. After an awkward silence, we fall into the routine pattern of an intervie w. And I want to cry. The small, older man on the other si de of the table is writing something in a pocketsize notepad, the biggest grin on his face. His eyes are like dandelions and suddenly I want to know him. Then I continue with my story: She has a background in English and has taught at a community college for ten odd years. She taught public speaking for the first time today and tells me
41 about walking from the Sun Dome parki ng lot to Cooper Hall in high heels. But shes not complaining. She explains, Complaining is easy; it gets into your mind like an infection. Negative thi nking makes more negative thinking. Gertrude is all about the silver linin g. She will wear flats in the future. She will make it through with a smile on her face, everyone else be damned. I FEELLIKEPUKING, I say, pronouncing every word with mock disgust. My peers laugh at this last line, but like responding to a racist joke, the laughter, though conditioned, is uncomfortable. The smiling, older man is writing something else in his notepad. She asks me questions like, What is the weirdest thing youve ever done. I struggle to answer as honestly as po ssible. No matter how hard I try, I cant lie. I want to lie. But I dont tell th e truth; it is too embarrassing. She takes lots of notes. I write nothing. After an uncomfortable amount of time talking about me, I reciprocate. I listen. But I can t remember the questions I ask or the conversation we had except for the story she tells me about her houseboat. I had, after all, demanded juice. She lived in Atlanta when her mom died, and she decided to do something strange. She bought a houseboat. When she was finished teaching for the week, shed drive to St. Pe tersburg where it was docked. I wonder about the long drive and tr y to imagine the music she played. Jimmy Buffet? Or maybe the Indigo Girls? If it were Merle Haggard... I stop and see the small, older man with the twinkling eyes. Is th at adoration I see? My
42 words repel some and attract others. I am using a flippant tone to counterpoint the serious lesson I think Ive learned. Even while pretending not to listen, I listen. The unreliable narrator is often th e most reliable. Without saying it, I suggest something about ethnographers: wh at we observe might as well depend upon a red wheelbarrow, and, considering William Carlos Williams, I wonder whether concrete details are all that ma tter, that, when it comes to writing: there are no ideas but in things Still, who chooses the concrete details or things of a life? Who endows them with mean ing? And I continue: I should ask but dont. I want to sit next to her in the passenger seat and let the experience of grief and unanswered questions wash over me, to experience what she feels. Nothing she says will help me to know. I need to go there. I need to go on the trip. Even the n, it will not be the same. Why did you make this trip? I as k. Her words drop from her mouth like Easter eggs. And she says I went there to work at living . This last phrase resonates with the smiling man. She didnt say it. I made it up, but that is what she did. Gertrude is nodding. And the grey haired man is also nodding and bouncing in his seat as though inspirati on had seared him too. And I go on: She spent the next year refurbis hing the boat, and she knew nothing about boats. She learned. And stripping away the rotten parts of the boat and replacing them with the strong and new smoothed out her raw insides. Did you keep the houseboat? I ask.
43 No, Gertrude replies. She didnt keep the houseboat. It wasnt necessary. When she was done with the work, what mattered was not the thingit was bound too tightly to the past. It remains where she left it. What matters is right in front of herthis person named Gertrude, I finish on a c ontradiction and look up at the other students in the room and know from their ra pt expressions that I have lived up to my reputation among them as the Raymond Carver of ethnographers. And I want to cry. And we move on. Another hour slogs by and class is fi nally over. Many of my peers are crowding around the professor. They love her. They need her guidance. I am too proud to acknowledge my needs. I half smile, remembering my own enthusiasm of two years ago. Head bowed, I slip out of the room and back to my office. I am restacking the mess of papers on my desk when the smiling man appears. I hadnt caught his name either and am embarrassed by my lack of attention to details. Hey, he says, that was fabulous. Youre a real writer. I guess so. I dont know. Maybe, I respond sheepishly, thanks. I hope we work together this semester. You never know, I say. He excuses himself and walks over to the open elevator across from my office. I noti ce his crisp blue jeans and almost new penny loafers. His grey IZOD tee shirt is tucked in. I watch him and two other graduate students enter the contraption, then the doors close. And I wish I knew his name.
44 *** 7:00 P.M August 29, 2002 Would Bert want to be my friend, I wonder? Gertrude has finished telling a story about her father as a wa y of introducing herself to the narrative theory class and maybe the people in the room know her a little better. Its a beginning. I am watching Bertthe sm iling manlisten to the words floating from her round mouth. With images of a di fferent class still waxing in my brain, I think today is also our beginning, because I will ask him to join me. I have an idea for a class project and my ebbing enthusiasm is renewed. Hi my name is the man sitting to my left begins. His words are already trailing off into space. Who can po ssibly hear them? When it is my turn, and I am last to go, I deliver a poem scribbled in my notebook. My voice is detachedmonotone with a hint of Texas on my tongue. I cast my eyes downward in mock embarrassment. My shoulders hang in a deferential slump and in the voice of my mother I begin to read: They told us he wasnt very bright. Hed never go to college or amount to much. Hes a good kidmostly. He used to show me strange poems. I think hes troubled, but we dont talk about that. He eats his peas. Hi, my name is And silent, I end without giving my na me. I assume everyone in the class already knows it and my name isnt the most important detail about me. Bert, as always, is smiling. Our professor invite s us to reflect on the narratives weve
45 shared, and I withdraw. I am thinking about how to approach Bert after class. Most people see me as confident and extroverted but I feel shy and reclusive. Making friends is painful for me, which is why I prefer to let people come to methere is less risk involved. When class is over, I shut my journal and walk over to where Bert is sitting. Everyone else is leaving or crowding around the professor. Got a minute? I ask. Whats up? Self conscious that I am being watched, I ask, Will you come to my office? Sure. And Bert finishes packing up. We walk out of the conference r oom and he says, That poem was wonderful. Again, I am embarrassed and flattere d by his compliment. I unlock the door to my office without saying anything and go inside. After Bert enters, I shut the door part wayaware that my behavior is conspiratorial. Would you be open to talking about your body? I ask and sit down. What! Bert says leaning against my officemates desk and away from me. For my project in our Qualitative Me thods class, would you talk with me about your body image and rela tionships with other men? What do you mean relationships ?
46 Friendships. Not romantic. Im assuming youre straight, I say and add just to make sure he knows, like me. Why me? Because youre handsome, I explain not even aware that I am being blunt, and I think we can be friends too. That persona l connection is important to me. Thank you. Im flattered, Bert responds and then says, Id love to help out. Great, I say relieved that he has agreed to participate. Tell me more. I want to have a conversation. No t just any conversa tion but a dialogue. How do men relate with one another, especially around their bodies and body image? We dont. Maybe. Many books I read this summer agree (see Abbott, 1990; Balswick, 1988; Chesler, 1978; Farrell, 1993; Kimmel, 1995; McLean, 1996; Miller, 1983; Nardi 1992; Osherson 1 992) and even claim that men cant relate with one another or that our friends hips are characterized by thinness and insincerity. We cant be true friends because perf orming masculinity gets in the way. Were required to be too competi tive, too macho. And masculinity is a social performance of and on our bodies. What better place to observe the nuances than from within a relationship? What better place to assert change? Sounds ambitious for a class project, Bert states.
47 Maybe Ill turn it into somethi ng bigger, I respond fantasizing about a possible dissertation. I hope you do. No one asks us to thi nk about our relationships with other men or our bodies, let alone talk about it. Im not sure we can ; it goes against our nature. Well see, I say, Well see. Unexpectedly, Bert reaches out, touches my shoulder, and squeezes. An electric shock reverberates to my core. I am touched and cant say anything. I close my fluttering eyes.
48 Chapter Three: Touched High Noon September 9, 2002 I open the north door of the student un ion and walk inside, and the frigid air gives me goose bumps. I need to buy a ta pe recorder and sile ntly curse myself for waiting until the last minute. Bert agr eed to meet me at the food court and I have less than a half-hour. I trudge up the steps of the university bookstore to the second floor and gaze around for anyone in a uniform. Spotting a man restocking printer cartridges, I hurry over and ask: Have you any handheld reco rders? He looks confused. Something I can record an interview with? Oh. Yeah. Over here, he says and motions for me to follow. Several rows later, I am standing in front of a too large selection of miniature devices. Digital or analog? I didnt know they came digital? Can it download onto my computer? I ask. Dont know, he says and walks away. I begin reading about each one trying to pick the best for my purpose. I choose a digital recorder with a fortyfive minute storage capacity. I like its sm all unobtrusive size. Satisfied, I buy the compact machine and some batteries. At the food court, I sit down and unpack my new toy, then insert the batteries.
49 Testing, testing. 1. Testing, I say into the device, then play it back. Testing, testing. 1. Testing, It mimics crisply. Happy with the results, I walk over to the trashcan and throw away the box and receipt. I turn away from the waste and see Bert ambli ng into the student union from the west door. His lazy gait mirrors his nonchalant attitude. The photo-grey of his glasses are still dark from being out side. I stand in place a nd watch him, wondering when he will recognize me. Thirty feet, twenty feet, ten feet and I wave. Bert sees me and bounds over. Delighted, he grabs both of my hands and shakes. Its as though we are best friends already, and I am touc hed for the second time since we met. Why dont we go somewhere less crowded, I suggest. I know this spot in front of the th eater building, Bert replies, and we head out of the student union. We arrive at our destination and sit down on some steps. I fumble with my new recorder, while Bert finishes th e story hed been telling me about the English Departments lack of involvement in an upcoming play. I hit the record button. A tiny red light blinks on and an awkward silence takes over. For a second it feels like the co nversation is over and an interview has begun. Bert looks at me across this quiet divide waiting for my lead. I only have some rough ideas. Why dont we start by talking about the relationship you have with your body now, I say. Bert looks up at a cloud and ponders my statement for a few seconds and then says, Im comfortable with it, t hough I was chubby as a kid. At some point
50 I started working out and lost a lot of weight but never had the dedication to turn myself into a living tree stump. Now, Im a hedonist when it comes to the body. I grew up reading Greek mythology and see myself as a wild Dionysian spirit and like to dance nude in front of the mirror. Id say that demonstrates a high degree of comfort with ones body. I was happy to find out that Oliv ier would perform in the nude for himself. I think its healthy to celebrate the body that way, to be able to move it around without inhibition. Id like there to be a lot more nudity in life, Bert says. Right, a lot more nudity, I agr ee and we both laugh though I doubt we are imagining the same nude scene. I push the image of flopping flaccid penises from my mind in order to control my mirth. I know its necessary to have clothes to protect us from the elements and some people may want to cover up parts th at are less than perfect, its not like were all Playboy models, Bert says. Right, I agree, The pimples. The roles of fat Yes, he says, that soft pudginess around the middle that never seems to go away. Can you give context for this comfor t with your body? Or is it something youve always had? I ask. I cant remember a time when I wasnt comfortable with my body and wanting to be as nude as possible. Ther e are not a lot of oppo rtunities in society to go nude except maybe at the beach. Growing up in Florida without air
51 conditioning probably helped. My parent s never gave me any horrible signals about my body. I did go to Catholic school though. Seems ironic, I laugh. Actually, the clich is that Catholic kids are the most sexually active, Bert grins. I was thinking that your body comfort might have something to do with being an actor, I inquire. Thats a good point. Many people go in to theatre because it seems to be a socially acceptable place for exhibitioni sm and outrageous behavior. But I think the theatre, like the myth of Dionysus, act s as a stopgap for our wilder emotions, he says. Can you remember a time when you felt more profoundly aware of having a body? I ask. Thats interesting, Bert says. He leans forward contemplating the question, can you give me an example? I remember playing truth or dare with a group of neighborhood kids. I must have been in the 4 th or 5 th grade. I dont know how it happened, but we all ended up naked. I have a curved penis and it was getting hard. One of the girls looked over at me and said, your thi ngy is broken. And I froze. I felt embarrassed for being deformed. I had never been so painfully aware of my body before. I think its in these momentsa nd they dont have to be negativethat we start thinking about what our bodies mean or how they matter. Can you remember a time like that in your life? I ask.
52 Wow, and the girls got to see it and everything? Wow, Ive never had anything like that happen, Bert replies am azed and maybe with some disbelief. We were just kids. Curiosity, you k now, just playing doctor, I stumble over my words a little embarrassed. It hadnt occurred to me that other people might not have had such encounters, a nd I am reminded that we often normalize our own lives as a way of making sense of our experiences. Like I said it doesnt have to be negative. Sometimes a moment of pleasure can cause us to feel more profoundly aware of our bodies, I try to explain, like the first time you jacked off. I dont know if this relates, Bert be gins, but when you were telling me about this project the other day a part icular anecdote came to mind. It was Memorial Day weekend about ten years a go. I would have been 35. I was taking a walk with my father. We wanted to see the area around the beach house that he had rented and on the way back there was a lot of high school or undergraduate kids hanging out on a balcony. This cute girl comes out and says to me, Hi, Bert imitates a very flirtatious greeting, a nd I looked up at her and said, Hi, he delivers it sensuously as well then pauses before going on, Ive never forgotten her. It was the greatest feeling in th e world that she thought I was cute enough to say hi to. There was an obvious ten or fi fteen year difference in our age. I had gray hair by then so probably seemed even older. Its the grea test feeling in the world Being recognized as sexually desirable? I interject.
53 Yes, though nothing ever came of it. Its great to have a woman show attraction to your body. Its always the man; its always me going after them, not them coming after me. To be caught in the female gaze to flip around the stereotype affirms my status as a vulner able human being. I realize that some women have a problem with being looked at by men, but I think that the majority of them dont. I certainly dont mind being looked at. The equivalent might be if a man were to look at me that way. It kind of makes me uncomfortable, but is still a validation that Im a sexual creature , Bert says. I notice some discomfort in his expression of these ideas. We ar e both aware of the feminist and queer discourse on the male gaze, and he is probing me to see where I stand. When I reflect on this moment and subsequent interactions with Bert, I sense anxiety about how we perform our masculinity w ithin the context of the academy where many scholars across various disciplines recognize relationships of power as gendered (see Bingham, 1994; Bordo, 1999; Brownmiller, 1975; Butler, 1993; Connell, 1995; Horrocks, 1994; Kimme l, 1987; Lehman, 2001; MacKinnon, 2003; Mulvey, 1981 & 1989; Murphy, 2001; Pf eil, 1995; Tasker, 1993; Thomas, 1996; Wienke, 1998). Neither one of us wants to deny the story told about the patriarchal order; at the same time, we pr efer to resist any ri gid interpretation of how we experience and express our manhood. I feel we struggle with fitting our individual lives into a social frame that considers us essential beings. In that respect, we are taught to ignore close pe rsonal relationships between men. What about your relationships with men? I ask.
54 I dont think body image was ever rea lly a factor. A friend of mine once told me I had put on a few pounds. His tone went through me like an arrow and said I looked fat. I lost weight immediately. Ive done a lot of diets and tried fasting. I look in the mirror a lot and never weigh myself. I just look to see if Im smoothing out or puffing up. I think that ev erybody has a threshold of fat. I only let myself go so far and then try to nip it in the bud, Bert says. Do you spend a lot of time at th e gym or working out? I ask. I havent worked out religiously fo r years, but the best thing that ever happened to me was that summer I lost al l the weight. I went to the Y all the time. I signed up for a couple of clas sesone in the morning and one in the afternoon, so Id have to stay there all day. In no time, I had lost a lot of weight. I was most aware of my body in the lo cker room. Its an opportunity to surreptitiously compare your self with ot hers, Bert answers. In my other conversations for this project, I discover that looking at and comparing ourselves to other men is a common experience. However, I question whether the reasoning or results behind these actions were the same for each of us. My training in feminist and cultural theory urged me to re ad this behavior as a system of control where looking at one another unfolds al ong ideological lines (see Butler, 1993; Mulvey, 1981, 1989; Murphy, 2001; Pfeil, 1995; Thomas, 1996). The male gaze emerges as a coercive tool that demands adherence to a specified norm. To see our bodies as only inside this web of pow er, this hegemonic masculinity, is to deny the agency that does exist in the moment.
55 And I say, Locker talk performs th e irony of the male gaze. The banter we make controls the way we think about our bodies in relati on to other men. I remember lots of gay jokes during gym class. My cohorts used the body as a way of one-upping each other. Things like penis size and pubic hair seemed to matter most or whether you jerked off or got laid. To be cool you had to have a big, hairy dick that you stuck into as many chicks as possible. That went on with me too, but I cant remember anything extraordinary. Most of the jokes seemed to be about girls, and we always had to have at least one joke for the bus ride to school. I dont remember much banter about homosexuality, but I wonder how much being in theatre diffused that. Were you in theatre during Junior High? I ask. Yes. There was acceptance of that in the theatre. In terms of the body, we were exhibitionists. We liked sh owing off the body. But you get into the theatre because of the girls not because of the guys. Changing clothes in front of each other was a thrill. I can remember wa nting to show more than I could show. The hip ones were the ones who didnt really care. Everyone enjoyed showing their stuff, I say. I remember doing Hello Dolly and there was a freshman in the chorus. It was time to do the dress rehearsal, and we were putting on make-up, when, all of a sudden, I hear this wild scream. Th en, this guy comes running out of the dressing room. People are tryi ng to restrain him, and he looks as if they were tearing his arms off. Hes terrified that people are going to put make-up on him. He thought it was queer for a guy to put on make-up. Its funny, because people
56 have impressions of what you can do on stage, but the tradition of the cross dressing man goes way back, Bob replies, and then adds, Ive never dressed as a woman for theatre, but I come from a background where theres lots of homophobia. You mean being Latino? I ask. Yes. There are lots of issues with machismo. I used to draw superheroes from comic books, and I wanted to get better, so I bought this muscle man magazine. It had these beefcake guys wearing things like jock straps. Im sitting in the family room drawing these men when my father walks in. He asks me, Why are you looking at that magazine? A nd I tell him because it had pictures of strong men. Then he asks me, If I give you the money you spent for that magazine, will you give it to me and promise to spend it on comics and not get anymore magazines like that? Im like, Hell, yeah! So, he gave me the money, and I gave him the magazine. I watched him; he took it into the back yard and burned it. I didnt know it at the time, but it was a popular gay magazine. I told my father this story yesterday, but he didnt remember it. Its etched in my memory though, Bert says. What, I wonder, was your frame of mind while that was happening? I ask. It never crossed my mind while I wa s looking at them that it was gay. There wasnt any sexual activity, just a bunch of guys posing, Bert says. It reminds me of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue but maybe less sexy because the women are posing in ways
57 They didnt have a flirtatious look th at said I want to have a sexual encounter with you, Bert finishes for me. I am reminded of John Bergers little book Ways of Seeing (1972) where he makes the claim: Men act and women appear Is there a cultural frame where men posing can be understood as a sexual advance? I ask. I think the same criteria apply to male photos as to female ones. Ive investigated pornography and to me a dire ct gaze has something behind it like an open leg says look at me sexually. Of course if the penis is er ect thats a signal, Bert laughs. Id say thats a clear sign of sexual desire. You cant see a womans arousal like you can see a mans. We ar e visible in differe nt ways. Sexual excitement is harder for us to fake. I say. Thats a good point, Bert replies. How do we translate cultural images into a sense of our bodied self? You mentioned comics and superheroes earlier. Their bodies had to define a norm to the extent that most people werent bu ff like them. I wonder if there are any connections between those images and how we define manliness or manhood? I ask. I remember Clint Walker in the cowboy show Cheyenne appearing with his shirt off a lot. He had a natural looki ng chest. It wasnt ripped like they are these days. It was well formed, and it had hair, lots of hair. Today, everyone is
58 shaved. His whole way of being personifi ed manliness. He had a deep voice but wasnt really verbal. He was the strong silent type, Bert says. He was physically imposing? I ask. Physically imposingemphasizing d eeds over words, Bert answers. As a boy, what were you identifying with most in this man? I ask. Strength and invulnerability. He couldnt be easily hurt. With superheroes it was the powe r to do anything you wanted. Ive got a picture from when I was a kid flexing my muscles. It said Im a man. Im strong. Dont mess with me. Dont mess with me : the last words recorded by the digital machine. Its forty-five minute storage capacity pr oves inadequate and our conversation continues for another couple of hours. Our conversation felt likeelectricitya wild fire. We time traveled. We revealed many of our past sexual expe riences. We talked about old friends. We talked about being in the shadows of our fathers. What happened to us happened in an instantand our talk went from being an interview for a class project to a conversation between friends. He was my friend even if we hadnt muttered the word or asked the question. Something had passed between us and it was like falling in love with my self because I could see and admire the best parts of who I am reflected in this other man. Our shadows grew long on the concrete in front of the theater building. I knew it was time to wrap things up. We bot h had other obligations. I looked at my watch and Bert said, Oh, it must be getting late.
59 Yeah, I said, and Ive got to prep a lecture and get a bite to eat. I was reluctant to stopto leave when we were feeling so good, but I stood up anyway. Im parked over there. I pointed to the north and west. Ill walk you to your car, Bert sa id. I dont remember what we talked about, mostly odds and ends. Maybe we went silently, too caught up in each others presence to ne ed more words. I was full. I know that much. I was ready for anything. When we got to my car we stood there looking at each other as though we had come to the end of a first date and that awkward moment of a first kiss is decided. He was inside my pers onal space mere inches from my skin. I guess this is it, I said. We should get together again, and soon, Bert replied and stepped closer to me. I reached out and pulled him clos e to me. We hugged for a long time. It felt good. It felt free. And it was the thir d time we touched one another in a way that mattered. 3:00 P.M December 5, 2002 Friendships seem to be subject to a strange almost inexplicable sense of timing, of being in the right place with the right set of experiences. Men may story these first contacts as fateful such that the day takes on a mythic quality. This phenomenon is not unlike two lovers who ascribe specia l significance to their own first days. Except with frie nds, these events are seldom celebrated ritualistically like anniversaries. Instea d, there is randomness to how these stories are told and retoldif they are told at all.
60 I chose Bert, perhaps out of vanity. He walked up to me after class and said to me, Youre a writer, a real writer, as if everyone around us merely pretended. Earlier in the week, he had complimented me after our Qualitative Methods class too. I had written a provoca tive piece based on a peer interview. His praise undoubtedly stroked my e go. But he eased my self-doubt and confirmed one of my dreams, not that I would be a writer someday, but that I was a writer now. He reminded me of the na rrative turn my gradua te work had taken and how I spent most of my time worki ng on creative fiction (see Bochner, 2001, 2002; Coles, 1989; Ellis, 1993; King 2000). At the end of the semester, Bert caught up to me in the hallway again. He handed me an elegantly wrapped gift and I blushed. Whats this for? Just something to get you on your way, a token, my friend replied. I sat the present on my desk not wanting to open it in front of him. I felt overwhelmed. A man had never given me something as a token of friendship. In fact, I hadnt gotten a gift from a male since I was ma ybe nine and it was for my birthday. I swallowed my emotions and said, Thank you. Thanks. I dont know what else to say. Sensing my awkward feelings, Bert pulls me into a hug. We stand together in the hall like that for a long time. After he leaves, I go into my office and shut the door. I sit down at my desk and look at the small, decorated box in front of me. I run my fingers along its edges not wanting to open it, afraid that maybe Ill be disappointed. What
61 could be inside? I untie the ribbon and gently pull the flaps of the wrapping paper apart. I remove the cardboard box a nd slowly slide the top off. Inside the box is a set of designer blue ink pens by Pierre Cardin. Theyre perfect. And I am being touched againthis tim e from a distance. I will think of Bert each time I use the pen and remember that he saw in me my essential need to write.
62 Chapter Four: Hair, Muscles, and Orgasm 9: 30 A.M. September 12, 2002 Im early. To ease my excitement I take a quick stroll around the apartment complex and scout the location of Jacks home, which ends up taking several minutes longer than expected be cause all the buildin gs look exactly the sameasphalt roof, red brick, white alum inum doors. There are no landmarks and the black paint of most building numbers has faded under the pressure of heat and time. I panic. Before my insecurities take control, I notice a multi-colored jalopyone Ive ridden in many timesit belo ngs to Jack. His apartment is the one on the right. I approach the meta l door and tentatively knock. Hey, Jack says opening the door with a big grin on his face. Hows it going? I ask. Fine, fine, good to see you. Typical of his good nature, Jack hugs me as I enter his home. He smells fresh from the shower. I hope Im not too early, I say. No. No. Come in. Sit down, he invite s. I met Jack during orientation week a couple of years earlier. Since then, we had hung out many times and were friends of a sort, the kind who had shared some of the tribulations of graduate school together. I want to get to know him better and hope this conversation will bring us closer. We walk into his liv ing room and I plop down on a ragged sofa. I begin rummaging through my satchel and he sits in a chair at a right angle from
63 me. He picks up a bottle of lotion off th e coffee table, squi rts a glob into the palm of his hand, and begins gently wo rking it into one of his smooth, tanned legs. Hes wearing loose fitting shorts and as he massages his muscular thigh; I produce a small digital voice recorder. I indi cate my intent with a nod of my head and Jack silently assents, so I push the reco rd button and a tiny red light blinks on. How do you feel about your body now ? I ask knowing he needs no further explanation as we had talked about my project earlier in the week when I had asked him to participate. Ive always been okay with my body, but not truly thrilled with it, he says. I often reinforce the mind/body split its something I inhabit. Im good to it. I eat well most of the time. I exer cise regularly but Im never content with how it looks. I played football in high school and even the serious conditioning that involved didnt shed the bit of fat around my middle. Ive probably tried 500 different exercises since then. He pauses to see if I understand. Before I can reply, the doorbell rings. That must be Billy the maintenance guy. Hes here to fix my fridge, Jack says as he strides across the room. I push pause on the recorder and watch as the two men head into the kitchen. They chat for a few minutes before my peer returns. The funny thing is, he says looking into the kitchen, its the food too. I overeat sometimes. Im hurting my body. Il l indulge myself at the expense of the body. I can feel it happeningfeel it taking over but Ive had tremendous luck my whole life, never any serious illnesses or injuries just a few scrapes.
64 Sometimes, men think of the body as a machine. Jack pats his torso, my body is a good car. Its never been the ne w car or the most expensive car but the reliable one. I wish I could have the really expensive car, he laments. I feel the same way, maybe a little worse, I reply. How so? he asks. Ive always been self conscious about my body. When everyone was hitting puberty, I was still packing on the baby fat. For most of junior high and high school I looked lik e a cherub, I say. You still see yourself that way? Not exactly. But puberty happened fa st for me. One summer I went from being the shortest person in my family to the tallest, but I didnt believe it. I couldnt see myself as six feet tall, I say using my hands to demonstrate my quick change in body size. It took time for your body image and self identity to match? he probes. Yes, but I cant say I have positive regard for my body. Ive just never been very athletic, I say. I was always athletic, but feel I co uld look better. I constantly imagine that I can get rid of whats around my waist, he says and lifts his t-shirt to show me the slightly loose skin hanging from hi s gut. It reminds me of my own much bigger stomach. This pouch has been there since I was fifteen, Jack continues, When youre asking me about body, are you asking me about physique?
65 Yes, but Im also interested in the contexts where physique matters how our body image influences our relations hips with ourselves and other men, I say. Jack sits silently and contemplates my words for several seconds. He is a handsome man in his late thirties, and its ha rd for me to believe that he feels any inadequacies about his body. Yet, this b it of information comforts me. I am not alone in my struggle with appearance. Ive always been just average size, about five-nine, and I feel selfconscious when talking to taller men wondering if theyre looking at me going, this dudes small. I can feel the testosterone rising, so I make up for size difference with personality, especially vocal control. I generate presence verbally, even with those Im closest to, he leans forward and straightens his back, a posture that seems to add to his authority. The word presence is very interesting, I say tentatively and cock my head toward the ceiling. I dont necessarily want to assign a negative value to our need to exert a presence around other men, but perhaps my feminist training causes me to automatically see patriarchal norms in such a performance. I see it as a way of avoiding vulnerability. I ask myself, Is there a better way to story this experience; is there something else going on? but I get stuck with the idea that many men are divorced from the emo tional content of their relationships either with each other or with women. I cant help seeing our fear of vulnerability as situated in the body and it has to do w ith that need for presence you mentioned. Im hesitant to say that there is no emoti onal content in our relationships or that there isnt an emotional exchange.
66 Internally or externally? Jack asks interrupting my musings. Both. Its just that we havent a llowed ourselves to understand that an emotional exchange is happening and I could be wrong but, Its worth thinking out loud a bout, he finishes for me. My instinct is to say that men are not out of touch with their emotions; its just that men experience their emoti ons in particular wa ys and we havent learned to talk about them with each other, I say. I think that it is contextual. I can show my emotions around certain men or women. I can open up over a glass of wi ne or a fine meal but at other moments I feel less confident. Like when I go to the beach my body is more on display than at other times. Im not wearing a jacket and tie or a nice pair of shoes, Jack slumps back in his chair, a little deflate d, then says, I dont perceive myself as looking good and I catch myself making comments to my partner about feeling fat and looking fat. I dont think she sees me as fat. I dont think anybody sees me as fat except myself and its all tied to my belly. I like to think Ive maintained that Im even more muscular now than I was twenty years ag o, but I cant let go of the nagging need to improve. I contemplate my bulky stomach and can t help thinking mine is bigger than his, a claim that for one part of the body would be a source of pride. I know, I respond. Its all tied to my belly. Ive change d directions a couple of times, Jack says about his choice of topic. Thats fine, I say.
67 When I was in my twenties, bodybuildi ng wasnt as big a deal as it is now. People didnt go to the gym five days a week. When I was an undergrad, our school gym could have fit in this liv ing room, he looks around and gestures at the confined space, In my late tw enties, the fitness craze hit and I started comparing myself unfavorably to men in my age group. As I reach forty, people frequently comment on my youthful appear ance and that makes me feel one up on men my age. For instance, the guy who ju st came in to fix the refrigerator is probably about my age but looks ten year s older, but why think that? I dont know what thats aboutam I in competition with him? Jack relates. I begin to imagine the stomach Id like to have, rather than the one I see everyday. What would it feel like to ha ve a six-pack? Nothing on my body is hard. Everything is soft a nd squishy. Im about ten years younger than Jack and hes in better shape. After a few seconds of silent contemplation, Jack continues, By U.S. standards, as a man, I am well below the norm especially in other status areas. I dont own a home or drive a nice car. I wonder if some of my anxiety about my body is from not paying attention to those other aspects. As a graduate student I have little control over my financ ial situation. I want to improve to be seen as more masculine and having a good physique a six-pack Im sure neither of us wants to work that hard, not when we already put too much time into our brains, I add. But, I would never consider surgerycalf implants, pectoral implants, or liposuction and all those other cosmetic thi ngs men are doing these days. I prefer
68 an organic approach, Jack says, th ough Donna Harraway (1991) says that we are all cyborgs. Some people may be cyborgs beca use they drive cars as thats a mechanical extension of the body, I respond. I wear contact lenses. I guess that makes me a cyborg too. Conditioning and shaping your body by virtue of technol ogically advanced equipment is also cyborg activity. Right, I agree. A couple of semesters ago we joked in feminism and performance that when men stand naked in front of the mi rror they say, Hey, yeah, not too bad. Women never do that. I guess Im not a generic man because when I look in the mirror I often feel unattractive. The re pair guy, Billy, waltzes into the room interrupting Jacks thoughts. Its fixed, he beams. Jacks food is saved and he escorts Billy to the door. I push pause on the tape record er again and wait to continue our conversation. Where were we? Jack says when he returns to his seat. You were saying that when men stand in front of the mirror theyre more likely to see themselves as attractive in comparison to women engaged in the same activity. That has not been my experience either; I avoid mirrors. I dont like what I see but as you suggested there are other avenues of status available to men. I can be short, fat, and have hair in funny places and still attain status through money or education. My looks ar e less of an issue because men havent
69 faced a long history of objectification. But isnt that changing? Im thinking about my fantasies of the male body. Ill flip channels on th e TV and there are lots of infomercials about diet and fitne ss. Ill sit and watch them and linger over the male bodies thinking, I want that body, wondering what it would be like, To be in that body, he interrupts. Because the men they show are, Incredibly ripped, Jack finishes. Oh, theyre gorgeous bodies. The mu scles are nice and the skin is so smooth and even, not like mine, I describe. You may have noticed when you got he re that I was putting lotion on my legs. I trim body hair almost weekly becau se that beautifies and maybe makes it more feminine. I dont just let it grow I keep just enough underarm hair to remain masculine, which is a joke; women gr ow hair there just as easily as men. I go to the beach and tan as often as po ssible maybe once every three weeks to attain that caramel look of health. I imagine Im emulating those bodies on television though they dont have strange patches of hair on their stomachs like I do. Im also constantly changing my look, Jack relates. We both do that, I say. Yeah, we both do, Jack agrees, Yeste rday, I shaved my beard but Ill eventually let it grow back. I want to remain interesting but I wont do anything drastic like shave my head, which is a blatant way of gaining attention. I shaved my head, I retort. Oh, thats right, he remembers.
70 I enjoyed doing that. I loved the feel of my naked scalp, I say. You have a good head for baldness, he complements. When I grew my hair back most of the women in the department were glad. They kept coming to me and co mmenting that they like me better with hair. I think thats scary for women, Jack assumes. I wasnt sure how to interpret that but I will probably never shave my head again because my partner is opposed to the idea. She doesnt even like me growing a beard. Our desires define to so me extent what we can do to our bodies. Kimberly likes it when I spend time pl ucking my eyebrows and other cosmetic things we do to fit the fantasy. I kno w its a way of pampering the body but when I do some of those things like exfoliating my skin I feel self-conscious like Im Deviant, Jack states with a naughty grin on his face. Yes, I draw out the word a little longer than necessary playing along with the strange turn of the conversati on. I was going to say ashamed and am glad my friends word choice shifts my perspective. Most of the men I was around during my formative years were blue collar, and the idea of shaving body hair would have been queer to them. For me hair trimming is very au toerotic, Jack replies, like masturbation. It is a sensual experience, I add.
71 My partner is very intimate with my body and knows all its subtle changes as I would with her body. She asks me, did you I dont shave my chest but Ill take my beard trimmer a nd set it on low and give it a quick lawn mowing, Jack says and we both laugh, S till, I also know sh e will be accepting and not think it abnormal, which gives me permission in a way. If I were with a woman who found it feminine or odd, then I wouldnt do it. My partner tells me her preferences too. She loves my b eard. Its amazing the kind of women you attract with a beard. When I grow my beard I get comments from African American women all the time, which I wasnt expecting. I get looks from lots of women my age or older, but younger women dont like the beard, Jack conveys. It makes sense that in U.S. culture younger women hate beards, because hairless men are more prevalent in the medi a than ten or twenty years ago, I say. Look at us, he points at my head, we both have long hair. Even after my hair-cut. Yeah, you did cut your hair. I ju st noticed, I break in. Its still long. You see these guys with buzz cutsI could never do that to my hair. Then again, I do value yout hful qualities, but Im married to my generational norms. Hair represents an age gap. When it comes to facial hair, twenty something men are limited to goatees, soul patches, or flavor savors, And the sideburn thing, Jack adds. Victorian inspired facial hair, I suppose.
72 Ive noticed that with facial hair, when they have it, that its cross racial that black men and white men betw een eighteen and twenty-five maintain similar styles, which is interesting and even encouraging, Jack replies. Ive had this fantasy about using NADS one of those hair removal products you see advertised on TV. A few months ago my partner bought some and we started using it on my body. It was actually very Freeing, Jack interjects. Annoying, I correct. Oh. It was taking too long and the hair wasnt coming off because it was growing in so many directions. I imagin ed it would come right off like in the commercial and it would be silky smooth, I relate. It doesnt? he asks, making a mental note. You have to keep working at it, I complain. There was a fantastic presentation at NCA last year about body hair. The men on the panel performed eight-minute pieces about their relationship with body hair and one guy was hairy, hairy. He ha d thick tufts of hair on his back and I cant remember what he used. He may have shaved it or used Nair. I dont remember but he developed a rash whatever he did, Jack says. That happened to me too. He developed a sadomasochistic relati onship with his hair. He knew he was going to get the rash but removed the ha ir anyway. Like I said before, I think my relationship with hair is autoerotic, he finishes.
73 I feel embarrassed about hair rem oval. I dont enjoy it; I avoid it. But you embrace it as a sensual experience something pleasant you do to your own body, I say. It is and related to that is how mu ch I weigh. I was 172 for much of my life. There is something about that nu mber that I attach to youthfulness and whats funny is that I weighed 172 all those years but my jean size went up regularly. Now I weigh at least 182 and sometimes 186 or 7, which I know on this body is 13 pounds over. I dont feel h eavier or sluggish or slower, but I know Im overweight. I worry about whet her the fat is around my middle or somewhere else and how Im going to get rid of it, he says. I dread going to the store to shop for pants, becaus e I know theres a possibility that Ive change d size and at my best, whic h would have been in high school, I wore a 32. Right now, Im weari ng a 38. Over the years it has been going up and up. This summer I reached size 40. I felt bad and joined Weight Watchers. I looked like shit, I say. I dined out last night with some fr iends and we had this conversation. I dont diet, but if I eat cheeseburgers and fr ies four days in a row, then I feel sluggish and I switch to soup and salad. I dont think the bu rgers make me go from 185 to 195 and certainly the salad doesnt bring down my weight, but I wish I could go somewhere and someone would say, You eat all these foods that you like, in other words, some one would give me a diet of food I already enjoy and told me that eating them for six months would drop my weight to 172, I would do it. That number is youth to me, and it w ouldnt matter if my waist size were 31 or
74 34. I hate that Levis adve rtises measurements on the back of your jeans, Jack says. Yeah, you cant blot it out with a bl ack magic marker or use a seam ripper to remove the patch, I say. I dont buy Levis. I buy Old Navy or something that doesnt tell the world my size. I dont get that, Jack continues. I have Levis on right now; my pr eference is usually for that brand because they fit me better. But like I said, I dread going to the store to shop for clothes because Im never the right size. Everywhere I tu rn all I see is youth and beauty, I say. I know when I look in a magazine I can count on being presented with young attractive men, Jack states. They use older men who are rugged, wh ich is another self criticism. Even though I look young, I am too soft or ge ntle in appearance. I fantasize about being more like Clint Eastwood or the Marlboro Man, I say. Its not just the desire created by im ages in popular culture either. Its also your perception of how others are looking at you, he theorizes. You dont want them to see you as soft, I state. That reminds me about this perfor mance class I visited not long ago. One of the groups asked me if Id do a part in one of their skit sthe role of a drill sergeant chanting Marine Corp Jodies, I dont know what I been told, Jack imitates before going on, I was looking over the script and one of the women said, you dont look tough enough. She wa snt insulting me just pointing out
75 that my face looked too soft to play the part. I said, Just you wait. Ill transform. I will not smile. I will not twinkle. I will be cruel and loud and scary. I realized that I do that sometimesadopt a menacing persona. Sometimes a situation requires a rugge d masculinity like when I go to the mechanic to have my car looked at. I dont go in with a big smile. Ive started doing that in airports. When I go through the checkout counter Im not cheery anymore. I adopt a more masculine persona facially. I also change my posture. I was teaching a gender class and asked student s about what is and isnt appropriate body language for men. I stood up and put my hands on my hips, Jack stands up and walks across the living room provoca tively swaying his posterior, and the guys are like, thats not good. Or I sit like this, he falls into his chair and crosses his legs as though he were wearing a dress. I sit that way a lot, I say. I do too. Its more comfortable, Jack says. I resent that were limited by the conventions of our gender. Absolutely, Jack agrees. We better check the time. I feel li ke were running out and I dont want you to be late, I say. I would surreptit iously check my wrist but dont want to send the wrong signal. I don t want to appear bored or impatient; rather, I am genuinely concerned about my friends obligations and know weve been conversing beyond the agreed sixty minutes. What time is it, Jack asks. :18, I say checking my watch.
76 Were all right then, Jack replies. I wonder about specific locations and our relationships with other men. Is there something about a place that c ontributes to our performance of masculinity? I ask. If I said to my class that I go to the grocery store across town because I want to get checked out by gay men, th ey would question my heterosexuality; but places create opportunities to look and be looked at and I like leaving the grocery store feeling good about myself even t hough I dont pay nearly enough attention to mens glances as I do to womens gl ances, especially from women I know. I wouldnt notice if you got a hair cut. Nor would I be ab le to tell you all the men I interacted with yesterday and what they were wearing. I could tell you they werent wearing tank tops but Youd only remember if it were an extreme difference from the norm, I interject. Right, Jack concurs. The male gaze is something influenced by place I suppose. And the men you hang with, he says. Those others, especially significant ot hers, are what matter to me. When hanging out with male friends, I sometimes sense coercion about certain things, I reply. Like looking at women? Yes. Because of my tr aining I feel embarrassed when I notice women for their body parts but I still fi nd myself looking, I say.
77 I dont apologize for noticing attrac tive women. I think what I find reprehensible is when you go to the gym, for instance, and an attractive woman walks through and men will stop what they are doing and turn in pairs or threesomes to stare at her. That affects her power, Jack explains. Most of what happens between us in that moment is completely nonverbal. We confirm a societal norm w ith a raised eyebrow and a smile, I say, It amazes me how men can carry on a conve rsation with one another and dissect a nearby woman at the same time. We ll use facial expressions to say, Hey, check her out. Most of the time I dont sa y anything and will resist turning my head. Its Its intrusive, Jack adds. It feels wrong, I respond. Were projecting our power over her through collusion, Jack says. Im more uncomfortable when that happens with a man who is my friend, I lament. Absolutely, he agrees. I like you, maybe even adore you, but staring at someones boobs together troubles me, I say. It makes you feel terrible, Jack sighs. It makes me feel bad about us as pals. Ive had friendships break up over the act of objectifying women. If the onl y thing between us is our capacity to critique tits and ass, I make the s care quote gesture to emphasize my use of vulgar language, then Im not going to keep spending time with you. However,
78 what you were saying about not apologi zing for looking reminds me of my hypocrisy. I do sometimes remember a woman I saw yesterday. The details of her flesh remind me that Ive been soci alized by the media and by other males from infancy that its okay to gaze, I say. Me too, Jack agrees, I can remember a woman I was sitting next to while eating diner the other day. I coul d tell you what she was wearing or how her hair was styled. I could tell you th at she had a pretty, oval face and c-cup breasts, but I didnt make her feel self-conscious or take power away from her by noticing. A more surreptitious look, I comment. I do what women do, he explains. They look at us too but in an unobtrusive way? I ask. Thats right, Jack answers, and if I wanted to flirt, I would let her know that I saw her. Its a game of letting each other no tice that youre noticing without being overt or domineering. Ive never been ab le to pull off the subtlety. Maybe Im too accustomed to the more blatant exchange that happens between men, I say. I like your question about men and re lationships. I try to think of the relationships I have. My brothers and I have had th is conversation about body size and body style. As family, weve watched each other age from kids to teenagers and so onsomething thats not true with any of my adult friendships. Ive known Brian since August and he would be delighted to know that I dont think hes aged at all in the last five years. He probably thinks he looks
79 older. My other friend James is extr emely comfortable with his body. Hes a little taller than I amabout 5and when I first met him he was lanky. Now hes got a forty-year-old body with a beer belly. Its en ormous but the rest of him is still thin. He looks lik e hes carrying a basketball around under his shirt. When we go to watch a football game, he likes to take off his shirt. Hes pasty white and not attractive to look at, but he does nt care. I envy him his comfort, Jack says. I wonder if there are other experi ences worth exploring where men look at other men? I ask. I play basketball regularly with a couple of guy friends. Afterward, we go to the locker room together, strip dow n, and shower together. These two guys are much hairier than I am. They ha ve what you would ca ll stereotypical uh Hairy, hairy, hairy, I interrupt. Hairy backs, hairy chests, hairy genitals. Thats anot her thing. Ill look at mens penises in the shower, Jack reveals. I think most men do that, I say. I dont stare but I do a quick mental cal culation to see if his is bigger than mine. I find myself looking at mens hands, I joke. Theres a great moment in The World According to Garp (Irving, 1978) where Helen Holmes notices how weak men look when naked and un-erect. I read that book 20 years ago and have never forgotten it. Sometimes, when I get out of the shower and am in a sexual cont ext with my partner, I feel soft and
80 unattractive, but, in the bedroom, in th e act of making love I dont feel that way. Enacting confidence is another area of compensation. I dont have a magazine quality body, so I compensate by paying attention to how well I am reading my lovers body and making the right moves and that kind of thing, he says. I think a lot of attractiveness is th e way we perform our imperfections, I muse. That sounds like Goffman. Perhaps, but the idea of vulnerability and invulnerability keeps coming to mind. The bow-flex body we see on TV performs invulnerability something that we may desire; yet we may recognize that such a performance doesnt make for profound relationships. A mo re vulnerable sort of body or vulnerable presence makes for more meaningful relationships , I say, because intimacy wont happen otherwise. Absolutely, Jack agrees, vulnerability is necessary for intimacy. In that respect our bodies put us at an advantage, because we can perform vulnerability far easier than the man on the TV with the bow-flex body. When you see a massive, physically powerful man, the assumption is that hes tough not a teddy bear. That body has a much hard er time performing vulnerability, I surmise. Thats a good point. I think thats a major realization. It makes me feel a little bit better about myself. I can be vulnerable. Its easier for me. I hadnt
81 really thought of that until now, Jack replies. I look at my watch again and indicate that time is running short. Why dont we go into my bedroom? We can keep talking while I get dressed for class. He stands up, and I follow him to the back of the apartment. I wonder if women can say the same th ing, Jack wonders as he strips out of his t-shirt and shorts. He has an ev en tan. His body is well toned except for the slight pouch of skin around his middle. It is also covered with uniform length blond hair. I snap my eyes to face leve l purposely refraining from gazing at his crotch. I dont think so. Regardless of their body type they are rendered vulnerable by the cultural narrat ive of objectification, I respond. Theyre already vulnerable; they ca nt perform vulnerable, Jack says. I remember that when I was younger I incorrectly interpreted womens experiences based on a limited understandi ng of my own bodyprobably still do. I couldnt figure out why one girlfriend alwa ys wanted to have sex with the lights out. Or why another wanted to have breast augmentations because they sagged and were small. Not to mention the ea ting disorders, I couldnt understand until I was able to step back from my own se lf-conscious feelings about bodies. I appreciate the cultural pressures more these days, especially because my own body is becoming more and more subj ect to those pressures, I say. The first woman I was intimate with was considerably older. I was seventeen and she was twenty-six. Sh e wasnt self-conscious about her body. There was nothing I didnt find attractive about her from her wide hips to her
82 sagging breasts. She was sexy because she never revealed any discomfort about body. Of course, I was feeling fortuna te just to be naked with a woman, Jack says as he pulls fres h clothes from his closet. I know what you mean, I had a similar experience. I was seventeen and she was twenty-one and a junior in college, I reply. Might as well have been forty, he observes while pulling on a pair of Old Navy jeans. I had just graduated high school an d it was summer and we were working at the same movie theater. Thats how we met, I say. I was working at a re staurant, Jack adds. We spent the summer together. She had a serious boyfriend back at school, I say. Mine had a husband, Jack reveals wh ile lacing up his shoes. That experience changed the way I looked at my body, I say. I dont think I even experienced my body in that context. I just experienced orgasm, Jack says while tuck ing in his shirt, I didnt have a body. I just had a penis. It occurs to me that over time my interactions with women have contributed to my body image. What they tell you makes a difference. Your skin is soft. You have nice hands. I like your br oad shoulders that sort of thing. It sticks with you, Jack says and we meander back into the liv ing room. I pick up my satchel and follow him to the door. We re standing at his car reluctant to end our conversation.
83 It does stick with you. After that su mmer, I saw myself as a stud. I was good in bed because I could get an er ection just from saying sex. I had incredible staying power too. She woul d thank me over and over afterward. It was kind of embarrassing but for a sevent een year old who had never had sex and had just reached puberty, I say rapidly. Very intense. Very satisfying. Mind altering, Jack lists off. Yes, but it made me overconfident. Even though I had a few one-night stands over the next couple of years and that image of my self was sustained, it didnt last. I met a woman my junior year and we got serious. We dated for nine months before we had sex. It didnt wo rk. I had difficulties getting erections. When I did, Id orgasm in about three seconds. I didnt und erstand it. I was devastated, I relate. I had a relationship like that too, Jack says. It was very crippling and we eventually broke up, I reply. And you didnt pursue other relationships for awhile, Jack comments. I was afraid. I had a girlfriend who called me in fr ont of a lot of people, quick-draw that was during my freshman year, but oh it s time to go, Jack says looking at his own watch. I know, I say a little disappoi nted that our time has run out. Later, I met a woman who was more e xperienced and patient. She taught me that lovemaking had little to do with the penis. She also said, you have a nice
84 penis. She thought it was attractive. Wh at a difference that made. Im late. I have to totally go, Jack finishes. Ill e-mail you later to set up those other meetings, I add. Sure thing. Take care, Jack says. So long, I reply. We hug each other a nd he gets into his car. I watch him back up and pull out of the parking lot. *** In the last few minutes that we are together, I sense a therapeutic turn in our talk and recall the repair guys statement: Its fixed Im not sure that, unlike Jacks refrigerator, anything has been repaired. Rather, I feel the conversation set the conditions for healing the wounds of a narrowly defined masculinity for me, for Jack, and for other men. Our shari ng, without judgment, intimate details about our bodiesour live svalidates my and Jacks difference from the orthodox script of manliness. Though we talked about hair, muscles, and orgasm, topics that seem to have the itch and sc ratch of a real man, we approached these subjects of the body with a degree of vulne rability that allowed for intimate self disclosure. We talked openly about the ways we cared for and sometimes did not care for our bodies. We revealed our disa ppointments about struggling to fit into the image of a perfect male physique. We divulged details about our relationships with women that, with more time, co uld move from a focus on how well our bodies performed in erotic practice to how much our hearts work in love, a shift that for most men moves them away fro m bragging about their exploits toward
85 sharing experience that helps us all live better lives. In this way, the texture of our conversation sidesteps the norm.
86 Chapter Five: Assuming Old Habits 11:00 A.M. September 13, 2002 I wake up before Kimberly, as usual th e lovebirds that had been a part of my dawn rituals are now outside our home in an aviary I built for them back in July. While checking e-mail and drinking coffee, I see the sun rise and am greeted by the whistling of the birds. I open the shades next to my desk and peer out the window at them. The birds s eem happy, and I go about the business of getting ready. My fiance is not a morning person. She requires gentle coaxing from our bed. I wonder how she got out the door be fore we met and know that being in her life I have changed her routine as she ha s changed mine. Our relationships make new people out of us, but the custom is to forget and to use the cultures clichs to label the other. She is a night owl. I am anal. She is ditzy. I am a curmudgeon. None of these categories are true, but we find ourselves living in them anyway. I am a man, I think to myself while sitting in the bathroom reading a copy of Elle magazine, and the habits of my gender are inscribed on my body. One article, I notice, reveals the top te n secret sexual fantasies of the male species. It intrigues me, but I am disappoi nted after scanning the bold face list. These are not my fantasies. Nor are they the Man Show extreme I expected: No threesomes with twin supermodels or fellatio with buxom women wearing
87 Catholic schoolgirl uniforms. Who would have thought men like spooning and having sensual words whispered in their ears? What are these magic words, I wonder as I flush the toilet, and then wash my hands. My mind already changing subjects, I head into the kitchen to prepare breakfast, and, while I am scra mbling some eggs for Kimberly, I am amused by the different meanings implicit in the phrase take care of someone. Though I would never kill anyone, least of al l my fianc, I am fascinated by the notion that the routine of care can be ps ychologically deadly. As a man, I often resist care, because I falsely believe such kindness impinges on my sense of individuality. I can take care of myself, I th ink and am overwhelmed by the irony of the thought. Would I kill myself for the sa ke of being a man? What if something happens to me, and I need other people in ways I never imagined? As I approach my thirtieth birthday, my body already s hows signs of decline and its inevitable demise. Like many Americans, I am overw eight from too much fast food and too little exercise. No one would protest if I named these for what they are: bad habitshabits that have c ontributed to lower back pa in, high blood pressure, and now, maybe, aching feet. Can I change these habits? What about being a man though? Gender is, after all, a socially inscribed practice that is not always entirely go od for my health physical, mental, or spiritual. Quit your whining and take it like a man a voice in my head admonishes. More clichs: silence is golden Whatever happened to the promise:
88 Ive got your back its a phrase men like to shar e that has more to do with protection than with care Who do I need protection from? Other men? There is also a double meaning hidden in these phrases that reveals the dependence of our manhood on a perceived threat of homosexuality (see Murphy 2001). I am reminded of a scene from the war movie Full Metal Jacket where the drill sergeant says, Y our soul may belong to God, but your ass belongs to me. Why are the violent contexts of orthodox masculinity so inextricably linked with the anal? Could it be an issue of contro l? Like potty training in our infancy, being a man means keeping our shit together. Yet, I do care about my male friends even though I usually avoid giving such a sentiment voice. I have never considered the possibility of caring for themthey would probably say the same th ing, Ill take care of myself, thank you very much. But accidents do happen. Life sometimes overwhelms us and while buttering a couple of slices of toast, I wonder: what are friends for? Maybe I expect too much from myself and fro m the men in my lif e. Shouldnt the activities that fill up our time be enough? I am suddenly aware of the fine line between taking over a life and helping with life. As men, we are socialized to take charge, such a st ance is hierarchical, and care, if anything, should be reciprocal at least, most of the time. I, of course, do not take care of Kimberly in so far as taking over her life. To be sure, we take care of each other, but I wonder about how the men in my life help me how do I help them?
89 When I am done cooking breakfast, I pour a cup of coffee for my still slumbering lover; I know the exact chemistr y of her preference and it is one sign of our shared intimacy: two tablespoons non-dairy creamer and three tablespoons of sugar. Thousands of such details make up our life together. Do male friendships have these details? Are such details even necessary? The rest of my morning runs like cloc kwork. Kimberly is out the door and on her way to work. I putter around the house cleaning up messes and getting meat out of the freezer to thaw for supper. I read a couple chapters in a novel. When I am ready to leave, to cross town for an interview with a potential friend, I look out the window and see my motorc ycle, something that symbolizes a particular male fantasy of be ing cool and in control. I havent ridden in months. Ive settled down. Ive changed. But the ol d habits beckon me, and, in an instant, I am changing clothes; I am grabbing my bl ue jeans, long sleeve shirt, boots, and leather gloves. From lack of use, my bike is cove red with cobwebs. I wipe off the cobwebs and some of the luster returns to the red machine in front of me. As Im cleaning, Im also checking break lines, tires, anything that might fail and result in a crash. When I am done, I pull my helmet over my head and swing my leg over the side then knock the kickstand up with my left heel. I push the key into the ignition and switch it on. I open the choke and press the start button. The engine sputters then reluctantly roars to life. I give the throttle a few squeezes and inhale the familiar blue exhaust.
90 I ride through the neighborhood chec king the operating condition of my long dormant bike. Satisfied that everyt hing is working properly, I head for the interstate. My blood rushes in anticipation of speed as I turn onto the entrance ramp. After a moment of hesita tion, I rocket through the gears 1 5zero to ninety in a heartbeat. Co cky from the quick acceleration, I gun it past a hundred, my mind clear, focused. Im not in the habit of taking risks wh en I ride and conscious that I am screaming toward malfunction juncti on, I ease off the throttle. I find a comfortable cruising speed and settle into the routine of second guessing the cars around me. When I ride, I dont zone off or get lost in thought the way I do when driving a car. My mind is on one thing: staying alive. Hyperaware, my senses take in the details of the road noting all imperfections for future rides. Absorbed by the operation of my motorcycle, I forget about my research and enjoy myself for the next quarter hour. I ride into the parking lot of the strip mall ten minutes ahead of schedule. Over the years Ive learned to stop and take a closer look at these ugly inventions of modern architecture and have been re warded with good, cheap eats. Most of my favorite restaurants are housed in th ese disposable complexesdisposable because no one would protest their demoliti on. These buildings do not fit into the narrative on historical value that has swept through the old neighborhoods of south Tampa where 1920s bungalows have b ecome something of a gold standard. The temporary quality of these shopping centers reminds me of my friendships with men.
91 I find a spot under a tree and cycle to a stop. I sit on my bike thinking of possible questions to ask my research participant. I laugh at this linguistic construction that suggests I own the person I am about to interview. I want to let go of this social performance. I want to give up some of my authority and make a personal connection during this session. I have already completed a couple interviews and prefer to think of th em as conversations, and my method as friendship. I agree with Tillmann-Healy ( 2004) that such a method allows me to be in the world with others instead of a world apart from others. I understand that being with others closes the distance created not only by the role of a traditional researcher but also that of traditional masculinity. A passing car interrupts my thought process and I look up and see something unexpected: Kirk parking a black SUV. I had imagined him driving a vehicle more in tune with his hippy pers ona. I wonder what my motorcycle says about me. What if I had driven the GE O Metro? Am I sizing him up? Why do I feel the need to be cool? Why do I want to appear powerful? Kirk draws out my competitive nature probably because he is an athlete. I am wary of athletes. While growing up, I suffered too many humiliations at the hands of jocks. I pull off my helmet and strap it to a hook below the seat. I slide my satchel off my back so that it hangs casually from my right shoulder. As I walk toward the building, I wave to Kirk who smiles with recognition. Hey buddy, he says in a voice that st retches out words as if they are floating through honey; it gives the impre ssion of being earnest and profound at the same time. Glad to see you, he continues, and we embrace.
92 I smell patchouli wafting from his sk in, conscious that my own reeks of exhaust. With a strong grip, he hold s me for a moment at arms length, his penetrating gaze cutting chunks out of me. I want to pull back and am unnerved by the closeness of our bodies. We hardly know each other. Who is this man? He vibrates. I untangle my body from his and we enter Trangs, a Vietnamese restaurant. The restaurant is loud with people eating lunch. The manager seats us at a table in the middle of the room. I would prefer a booth in the corner out of sight and feel like I am sitting on a bulls eye. While we are looking over the menus, a server pours two large glasses of water dropping a lemon wedge in each. I pluck the wedge from my drink and squ eeze its acidic juices over the top of the clear liquid. Raising my fingers to my nos e, I sniff the tart aroma the fruit left behind. This simple pleasure calms me and I reach into my satchel to find my tape recorder. I press the record and play button before nestling it between two bottles of unlabeled brown sauce. Later, when I listen to wh at the little machine captured, I will feel mesmerized by the rhythmic clanking of glasses and the muffled buzz of other peoples conversations. In the moment, as seconds tick by, and we finish the routine of ordering food, the rest of the world begins to me lt away. I focus on the man sitting across from me. He has shoulder length blond hair that is thinning on top. My own hair is thick and full, something that reassu res me, probably because it is a sign of strength and virility. When Sampson lost his hair, he lost his guts.
93 Kirks body is lean but not skinny. Though he is only a few inches taller than me, his erect po sture gives him a towering appearance. He reminds me of a short basketball player If we were to touch, our skin would contrast greatlyhis is a pale white and mine a deep tan. I am uncomfort ably aware that I am checking him outsomething the role of researcher seems to allow. My eyes roll over the contours of his body longer than is usual for two straight guys. If he were a woman, he might start flirting with me or give me a look that says mind your own business. I avert my eyes like I do when standing at a urinal next to another man. There is a momentary silence before I begin to speak. What comes to your mind when thinking about your body? What strikes you as important to talk about? I ask. My perception is, he stops for a se cond, looks up at the ceiling, and then continues, one of spiritual healing. My body has been through a number of surgeries. Ive had four knee surgeries, two stomach operations, and an elbow surgery. They corrected my physical problems, but I felt violated afterwards. The way I held myself in my body changed. I lost control over its use. Its hard to explain to someone who hasnt had injuries. I am shocked by this list of surgeries and a little embarrassed by my sizing him up like just another predatory male. Because he is or was a jock, I have a hard time giving him credit for being hu man. I would have never guessed that Kirk suffered from any serious health issu es. When I look at him, he seems fully capable of scaling Mount Ev erest. I am reminded of my own physical ailments something that helps me make sense out of what Kirk has just revealed. Its about
94 losing something you take for granted. I had hurt my knee a couple of years ago and since then have had to be more aware of what I am doing with my body more tentative about the way I move. As I am thinking about my own declining body he continues to speak: It forced me to think about how I go about my daily life. How I breatheIm in tune with minute fluctu ations in my bodys rhythms, you know, the Chi, he says while closely examini ng my reaction to the spiritual context established by using a word like Chi. I nod that I unde rstand and Kirk continues his explanation, Theres a strong belief that the body has an energy coursing through it and that it interacts with all the moments of your life. When I talk about a spiritual awakening its more like trying to tap into my energy source in the world where I function. As Im going about my daily life how my energy is interacting with you, the food I eat, the people that Im around, the stress that I feel and my awareness of it is very important to how I e xperience things. Is that a place to start? he asks. Thats definitely an interesting place to start and its also an issue that hasnt come upthe spiritual sense in which we are or are not grounded in our bodies, I reply. I am also thinking about one of the books Ive been reading for pleasure recently: The Art of Happiness a story detailing a conversation between the Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler, a dis tinguished psychothera pist. In it, Dr. Cutler examines the differences between Western medical practice and Eastern religious practice when it comes to understanding an injured mind. I am reminded that there are multiple contexts th at govern our perceptions of reality. I
95 am aware of a conflict of perception ha ppening within me as we speak. I am attracted to different spiritual doctrines a nd want to take some things on faith but the academic in me seeks rational explanations as though anything could be explained if it is observed long enou ghif enough data is crunched. I know better, but think these are id eas and conflicts Kirk is trying to provoke in me as we speak. Let me ask you this: During your day are you aware of your bodys rhythms? Do you pay attention? Im not talking about going to the bathroom or blowing your nose; Im talking about be ing in touch with how you feel, are you up are you down? How are you feeling internally as you go about your day? He asks. In a few short minutes he has beco me more of a researcher than a participant. Is this the natural habit of a graduate student or is it a man thing I think as I reply, Much of the time I am hyper-aware of depression, which is perhaps different from you having surgery. But, its still an awareness of my body in a physical sense in that its a lack of energy, a feeling of being exhausted. Sometimes it takes a conscious effort to leave the house to go somewhere and interact with other people. Im not sure if we are talking about the same thing. Is this happening right now? he asks. I am reluctant to say yes, because I dont want him to feel as though he is so mehow a cause of this emotional state. I am also self-conscious that the conver sation has shifted focus away from his personal experience to mine. I dont want this conversation to be about me or even him; I want it to be about us.
96 Often times I feel very exhausted af ter social situations. At the same time, I do sometimes feel energized by conversations like the ones Ive been having for this project, I answer tentatively. Why is that? Ive been wondering about that too. Not wanting to jump to conclusions, but from my first conversation I noticed a therapeutic element in the process, a heightened sense of connection. The cont ext of these talks as research may push us to a more personal level faster than usual. Just saying that we are having a dialogue alters what is ha ppening. We are not just ha ving any old conversation. I am shying away from the negative a nd am not elaborating on my statements about exhaustion, and I experience anothe r moment of anxiety. I fear the conversation may be more for me rather than for us. I am also aware that the man sitting across from me has training as an ethnographer and may be adopting the role of researcher out of habit. Like me, Kirk cant help being analytical and curious about others. Do you wake up and before you start your day is there a sense that you know how things are going to evolve based on how youre feeling. Thats what happens to me. Within five minutes of waking up I have a general sense of how I feel and that sense impacts the way I reac t to the rest of my daythe way I read, the way I interact with people, the way I wo rk out at the gym, the way I talk to my mom on the phone. Am I going to be more e ngaged or want to be left alone? Does that ever happen to you? He rephrases his inquiry. Let me clarify something. When you say feeling
97 Am I talking about how I feel emotionally? he interrupts. Are youre talking about your stom ach bothering you or that your knee aches? I continue my thought. Not necessarily, I mean do I feel up or do I feel down and that may not be emotional. I think its your bodys rh ythms based upon interactions and past experiences all coming into play at a pa rticular instant each day and how that impacts the way you react with the wo rld around you, he tries to explain. Im having a hard time understanding, because, at least to some extent, what you describe sounds purely emoti onal to me. But youre grounding that state of mind in a couple of different contexts. One is in terms of ones biochemistry, ones muscles and bones a nd how they physically feel but then you are also pointing to a rela tional quality, which is in terms of substance or physicality; its harder to put our fingers on. Its a memory. I guess I have a hard time thinking of memory as a physical thing, I say. But maybe what Im getting at is that Im basing my experience and interaction with myself a nd with others upon things that have happened to me either in the past or with other peop le. Im talking about the physical and communicable activities that have taken place in the way I deal with my body. Now youre talking about depression a nd Im wondering, and I dont know that much about depression, your depression might be something that is genetically based. Mine, on the other hand, is the result of interacting with people. My perception of self and how I hold my body is constantly influenced by my relationships with others. When I talked to Joy yesterday, she touched me on the
98 shoulder. Touch is huge and not necessarily sexual. But she had never touched me before, and after doing so, I hugged her. Her touching my body impacted me. I hadnt connected with this individual be fore and it made me aware of how I was feeling toward myself. I wondered how it made her feel. Were jumping all around the place now, he says. Thats fine, I encourage. I dont know, he says thinking. Youre talking about a bod ily experience, I prompt. Yeah. As having an emotional content? I ask. Thats how I see it. I can never es cape the emotion. I think the body and the emotions are one and the same, he says. Right. I agree though Im not sure weve understood one another fully. Sensing my uncertainty he continues, Theyre constantly influencing one another. My emotional state is depe ndent upon how I feel. Now you say, feel and what do I mean by that and how do I f eel internally. Is it, well, maybe you are correct that I need to distinguish between am I having a stomachache or my knee hurts and how that affects my em otion. Maybe youre right; boy, I just know that when I wake up in the mo rning how I feel impacts the way I emotionally respond to others during the day, and how they respond to me impacts the way I feel about my body. I would agree with that. What Im seeing as a distinction is, take your stomach for example, that there are two wa ys that it is experienced. One is purely
99 physical. My stomach hurts and it affect s my mood and my ability to do work that day. And thats different from how I feel about my stomach in relationship with whomever, say your fianc Meaning my physical In that sense, damn it, I feel bad and Im angry, because my stomach is fucked up. Its a barrier to an experience; you see what I mean? Where one experience is pre-relational and the other is post-relati onal, I say with conviction even though I dont know for sure that I be lieve what I am saying. I am thinking out loud letting our conversation pull wo rds out of my brain spontaneously. Let me see if I can think of an ex ample. After I had knee surgery, I was unable to walk. I played sports, and my body was my temple up until the age of 23 when I injured my knee. I was playing baseball on scholarship. My life was my body I could do some amazing things. I gr ew up in an athletic family. My father played major league ba seball. My mother went to college as a track star. Ive been told I could throw a baseball be fore I could walk. My mind wasnt a concern. I firmly believe that Im in gra duate school getting my Ph.D. because of the injury. Up until the age of 23, my mi nd wasnt a concern, but my body was. How I could perform in sports mattered mo re than how I could engage in mental activity. Hurting myself, I had to disengage from a part of my life that was central from birth to age 23. It was everything. It was all I thought about. I started lifting weights when I was 14. When I had surgery, and I wasnt able to do the things I used to do, I lost connection to certain parts of my body. It was a cleavage that I didnt want. I missed it. My knees are so bad, I cannot run. I
100 could not go on a quarter mile run. It physically cannot happen. I could dunk a basketball. I could do some amazing shit that not everyone on this planet could do. I considered it to be a gift. There are some things that I cant do anymore and that tugs on my emotional and mental state. Have I been able to substitute for it with my schooling? No. I havent been able to find the same sense of inner peace using the mind as I could when I was engaged in physical activity. No. I see them as two totally different entities, he finishes. What happened? How did you hurt yourself? I ask. I blew out my knee. It was my sopho more year. I was going to start at 3 rd base. It was the week before school. I had been up there for two weeks working out with the team and a friend of mine asked me to play in a volleyball tournament. Id grown up on the beaches of Southern California, so Id been playing volleyball since I was a kid. I went out and played and in the second round I went up and came down on my leg. All my weight was on one leg and it had nowhere to go. My knee blew out and I dropped, Kirk says and stands up to demonstrate. He also lets me feel the hardware under the scars in his knee. Not human, he says. Cyborg, I reply. Yeah, Im a cyborg. I was out for a y ear rehabilitating. He leans in closer, his face intense and eyes unblinking. In a quieter voice he says, But there is a metaphysical side to the story. I was elevated out of my body by the injury and recovery. Id never had a spiritual e xperience like that, but after that day my life changed. I wasnt able to be as physically rigorous and that changed the way
101 I perceived my body. I didnt work out as much as I used to. I became disenchanted with my body. I was frus trated with myself. For years I was depressed. He sits back in his chair a nd lets out a deep breath. I was driving home last night and I saw some people playing softball. Doing things that you wanted to be doing? letting him know I understand. Yes, and Im like, shit, you know, Im not going to be able to do that. Its hard, he says, and I can see a feeling of deep loss and pain contorting his face. It sounds hard, I agree but begin thinking out loud again and avoiding the kind of physical contact that may be possible in this moment. My emotions, my desire to care for someone makes me aware that we could be watched. I am self-conscious of the people around us thinking two guys hugging or crying in public is weird and I continue speaking, One thing that occurs to me is the kind of relationship you had with your body be fore that accident also guaranteed having particular kinds of relationships with men, I theorize. You mean that because I was an athlet e I was going to have a relationship with other athletes? he asks. In a sense, yes, that that way of being in your body was grounded in the way you could be and were with other peopl e. Thinking about that person before the accident and the way you related to th at body and who you related with to the person after that accident. Do you have the same friends? Not necessarily immediately around the time of the a ccident, how many years has it been?
102 Seven. Seven years later how do you see diffe rences in the people you interact with? I ask. I was more physical with my frie nds and everything that I did with people before I hurt myself was physical We would go running together, play sports together, workout together. After the accident, I didnt have that interaction. Now this, he indicate s the conversation were having is my interaction. I go to class. I have conver sations with people on academic issues. I dont know. Maybe, I dont understand the question, Kirk sighs. Obviously, theres a change in how you ar e able to relate with other men. Before the accident, your mode of rela ting and the way you sought to relate was bodilydoing activities that be ing with ones friends was working out at the gym or playing a sporta very physical way of relating. I think it has its own emotional content different from say this conversation in the way that it gets performed. After your accide nt, you dont have that same way to relate to other men. I guess I learned to talk, to engage in conversation. I learned to be sensitive to other peoples f eelings. In sports, I just wa nted to be the best and I was very intense. It happened off the fiel d too. After that, I lost my intensity in a way. My interactions with people used to be more jocular, now theyre more personalwhen youre out on the field its not really personal even though youre working for a common goal but youre not talking But you had a bond with those men, I strongly suggest.
103 Oh, I had a bond with those men, he agrees just as strongly. Its often an unspoken bond, I say cautio usly, almost as a question. For me, its taken a long time to recognize that depth existed in some men, especially athletes. In high sc hool, I was the complete opposite. I wasnt an athlete. I didnt hit puberty until almost my senior year a nd that makes a big difference in being able to play sports. So, I had a much different experience than you. My way of relating was already mental. At that time, and even up until recently, I was prejudiced toward jock types. I tended to think of them as stupid, you know, the stereotypes. In being more aware of how men relate, Ive been changing my mind; Ive been grappling with the emotiona l content of our lives. There are a lot of research studies, as well as, media messa ges that say men are cut off from their feelings or that they dont have emotiona l lives at all. I th ink these claims are untrue, I say. But, as men, do we buy into that because we hear it all the time? Kirk asks. To some extent it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. I dont think we are as simple as we are often made out to be in some research done on masculinity. We lead complicated lives. We are held by emotional, spiritual, and physical boundaries that are not always easy to access conceptually. It is also difficult to acknowledge how men are as trapped as women by hegemonic masculinity (see Heasley, 2005), I say watching Kirk eat an egg roll. Im self conscious of the need to fill time with words. I canno t quietly observe this man working on his lunch. Partly, I am afraid that if silen ce fills the space between us for too long an
104 interval, then any magic weve summone d will be lost. And for me there is always with some men a desire to stay in control. I continue: In the story you were telling me, before your accident, you had a way of relating with other men that you were probably not even aware ofit was something you just did. In relating that stor y there is also a sense of nostalgia for that state of just being. What came afte r the accident is somehow second best, not as good, which is opposite from how I might have thought of it. At the same time, I was wondering: how could we stor y the accident as a gift? Is that something you would even want to do? I ask. Thats a question I deal w ith often. I like to tell pe ople that its just your knees. Look at all the other things you can do with your life. Think of growing up with this capacity to think like a genius to achieve great th ings with the mind, and then one day taking half of that brai n and saying you cant have it. Whats he going to do now? He cant do what he used to be able to do. Thats what happens. I used to be able to do things. Was it a gift? Im st ill trying to answer that question. In some ways, yes, it pr ovided me with the opportunity to look at life with my mind. I think thats important, because a lot of men, at least the jocks I grew up with and still talk to, c ontinue looking at the world through their bodies and not their mindsI think that can be dangerous. I think a lot of the men who run the world do so with their bodies instead of their minds. Theyre just physically aggressive and taking that desire out on easy targ ets. I am stronger and will kick your ass and be number one. I think of being physical as being very
105 one-dimensional. In terms of ideas there are things I just couldnt do living in a physical world, he says. Ive been thinking, as weve been ta lking, about integra ting those aspects of our lives. Its not li ke after the accident you dont have an embodied life. Obviously, its radically di fferent in that youre not leaping tall buildings in a single bound, but you still have a relationship with your body, I say. Its a relationship that Ive represse d. I no longer make physical activity my primary goal and being the best th at I could be. Looking good was only a byproduct. I can tell you now though that afte r not being an athlete, I have started to pay more attention to how my body looks rather than what it cant do. So, in a sense, you were not as self-aware, I say. I was not self-aware. And this is while going through high school, a time when your body is a big deal. I was in in credible shape. I had less than 3% body fat. I was fucking ripped. But I didnt pay attention to it. I was going to the beach everyday in the summers and the girls and all that stuff didnt worry me, he says. Dare I take my shirt off? That wasnt something you were thinking, I say. But, now, when I go to the pool, I th ink about it all the time, Kirk laments. Thats a very big difference between us. When I was in Junior High, I was very aware of my body being less than ideal and then going to high school
106 and not hitting puberty and not hitting puberty and not hitting puberty oh my god that was tough, I say. I couldnt imagine. You end up being that person everyone dumps on, which is a very different sort of experience from yours, I say. Talking about the mind and the body, do you think your depressive state was occurring before this physical awareness of not meeting up to the social standards of your peers? he asks. I was depressed at a very early age. I was always a sensitive boy, and it was easy to hurt my feelings. When I was in high school, I tended to isolate myself. I spent more time in my mind. Sometimes, I wonder if being crazy isnt being out of ones mind as much as being out of ones body. I ha d no desire to be in my bodythis body, I say gesturing at my chest. By high school I spent most of my time upstairs, I knock on the side of my head and say, I had a very rich fantasy life. Amazing. I spent no time up here until I hurt my knees. Kirks voice is sincere astonishment. By avoiding the physical, I have deve loped few close relationships with other men. You told a story earlier a bout being touched by a classmate and it being a very bodily expression that pays attention to more than ones physical attractiveness. It communicates a lot of things. I think it is a physical expression of desirability even when the people invol ved are of the same sex. Desirability has many different avenues beyond just sexua l attraction. Its also, I like you
107 and being in your presence and talkin g to you and being friends with you needs physical expressionsomething interesting to look at in heterosexual men. How are we physical with each other? I know that affection is often worked out in the way we play together, you know, doing sports, going to the gym, that sort of physical activity. This is the so cially acceptable way that men often do affection on a daily basis. I dont think thats necessarily bad. Maybe, playing one on one basketball can be the same as two women hugging? Youre not usually playing one on one basketball with someone you hate. Its with someone you like and its a very physical experience that equates to the touch you talked about earlier. I dont know how to respond, Kirk says. Thats just me thinking out loud again. I could just be full of it. I say this and am not aware that my words ar e a way of seeking confirmation from my friend. No youre not, he replies. For a mo ment we grow quiet not sure where to go. The direction of our conversation seem s to be toward that point in life where we become more aware of our bodyat what point is it about how its perceived? How does that impact an i ndividuals self-aware ness? Kirk asks. I think its not just one moment. I think there are multiple experiences that make us aware of our bodies and each one takes us down a path of selfawareness. A very early experience for me was being aware of my penis. I think thats a pretty universal e xperience in this culture, especially around Junior High.
108 I remember being obsessed with the size of my penis and measuring it every day to see if it had grown. It was around the time we started dressing out for gym class, and I couldnt help notice the di fference between me and the other boys. Id make comparisons and start having those conversations about girls. I can remember being with different groups of boys at different timesI moved around a lot, so it wasnt always the same boys but penises came up a lot as a topic of conversation. Penis size, whether you we re doing things with your penis or not, there were tons of jerk off jokes. At that time you discover that you can... Get some self-pleasure, Kirk interrupts. Yeah, get off and it was supposed to be this negative thing. It was always a cut down to be told you jerked off. This seems to be universal too. I cant think of too many guys who haven t had those kinds of conversationsI wouldnt even call them conve rsationsthat kind of talk with other boys, I say. There are three instances that stick out in my mind. First was when I was 13 and going to a psychologist during my parents divorce. During the course of our conversation he says to me, Are you beating off? Kirk pauses and we both recover from laughing. He continues: That was the first time anyone had ev er asked me that question. I didnt know what to make of it. Had I been pr ior to that? Probab ly for a year but nobody ever asked me about it before. Three years later Im a sophomore in high school and my baseball coaches are two co llege kids. Theyre 23 or 24 and Im 15 or 16. They openly say they beat off and I should too. Not only that, I should be open about it. Im like: What?
109 Again we break out in laughter over the seeming progressive attitude of these young men and I say, The gym coaches I had were over 50 with huge guts and wore those ugly spandex shorts. They probably couldnt even see their dicks let alone talk about them. It was great having two men publicize their comfort with beating off. Theyd say, I did it three tim es today; I want you to do it six times tomorrow you mother fucker. Then there was the firs t time a woman saw my penis. That was fucking huge. Not necessarily his penis but the experience of sharing it with a woman. I contain my desire to laugh ag ain as Kirk continues his story, I was sixteen and she was my girlfriend. Its one thing when you re looking at it or your parents saw it when you were little bu t this was somebody from the outside. Thats when I became super aware. I mean super aware , he says. In that moment when a woman sees your penis for the first time and all those conversations about size you had with the other boys leading up to that moment. Yeah, Ill never forget it, Kirk says. Its like you want confirmation. You want her to say its plenty big enough. We both break out laughing again before I can finish my thought and finally say, Can I get verification, will you sign this document? Its so true. If anyone ever accuses me of being too small, Im going to whip it out and show them, Kirk says. He means the piece of paper not his penis and its curious to me that a womans confirmation about our penis size is somehow more important than its actual size. After all, I could just pull out my
110 penis and measure it. I have the physi cal evidence within arms reach. But I am reminded that the cultural narratives about The Penis (or the phallus as symbolic organizer of hegemonic mascul inity) will always be bigger than an actual male member, because, as a symbol, the phallus wields all the authority of manliness available through the patriarc hal order. How could any one man compete with that? And this symbol of power maybe a basis for the fundamental lack men feel when performing their gender (see Bordo, 1999). I do think some of our fi rst awareness of our bodies is sexual in that way. The first time we ever mast urbate or have an orgasm we cant help but notice our body. Gee, something just happened. What was that? Can I do it again? I say with a sly grin. Oh yeah; oh yeah, Kirk says as if remembering something vitally important and then says, I didnt read about it in a book. My parents didnt tell me about it. I dont know how it happened. It was like my hand was just attracted like a magnetic force. My mind is racing trying to recall some early childhood experience. I know the exact moment and details of my first ejaculation but withhold that information, my memory moving furt her and further back in time. When I was like six or seven Id to uch myself all the time through my shorts or jeans. It just felt good. I remember being outside playing once and some adult male probably one of my fathers friends saw me. I remember him saying, dont touch your peewee like that; it s bad, I say, thinking this is one of my first conscious occurrences of guilt associated with my body. Many
111 experiences are spinning around in my h ead and I begin relating another, I also remember playing truth or dare with some neighbor kids once. We were stripping naked and rubbing our private pa rts; I got a boner. One of the girls pointed at it and said, Y our thingy is broken. I have a pronounced curve and that was probably the first time I ever thought my body might be deformed. Wow, Kirk says in shock and disbelief. I was in 5 th grade at the time, I say. Wow, He says with even more shoc k and disbelief. I begin to realize that my experiences may be uncommon a nd not universal to all little boys. Feeling a little like a pe rvert, I say, But I do thin k for most of us, men and women, that that sort of se lf-awareness is adverse and is a painful discovery of our sexual nature. Then Kirk says, And how society tells us to perceive that awareness. I could make the argument that potty training is one of the first selfconscious and social moments with our bodies but most of us probably cant remember that training. When you think about it, obviously we were being made intensely aware of our bodies and wh at they do and how we ought to police them. Thats a good point, Kirk interrupts my train of thought and says, Our awareness has a lot to with how our family helps us see our bodies, especially in how open we are with and to our bodies. No doubt. After all, who else is going to teach you where to pee and shit? Even sexual knowledge or lack of it is of importance. I dont know when
112 your parents divorced and wh at your fathers habits were, but most of the fathers I knew, mine included, had por nography. I found it when I was five. My fathers pornography was what stimul ated me to jack off in the first place, he replies. Me too. But thats a time when a lot of boys start getting their knowledge about sex and it is done secretly. I was thirteen almost fourteen when my dad gave me this book about sex. At th at point, I had already been looking at and reading porn for almost ten years. I had a lot of sex knowle dge but some of it was also misinformation. Not really knowing exactly how babies were made is probably the scariest lack of knowledge, especially when I think about some of the things I was doing when I wa s nine, ten, eleven years old. You dont always put two and two together, he says. I think at a societal level that father son talk is more myth than reality. We dont all get that talk and those of us who do dont always get the same talk. I didnt get a talk; I got a book. I didnt get a talk and I didnt get a book. I was self-taught mostly; my peers also taught me a lot, Kirk adds. I remember kids saying it was okay to have sex as long as you didnt French kiss. The girl who said my pe nis was broken was letting boys put their penises in her and Oh! Sixth grade? Kirk asks, shocked. Fifth, and she said she wouldnt let me because my penis was broken. God! Thats incredible.
113 And I can remember her sayingsomebody had knowledge that that was how babies were madeand somebody as ked if she was afraid of getting pregnant. She said, No, you have to French-kiss. I imagine, when thinking about it now, that she probably ended up pr egnant at an early age. I can only speculate, because my family moved to a different state not long after this experience, I say. Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow, Kirk repeats. Ive had lots of experiences like that with neighborhood kids. There were always different degrees of age am ong the kids involved. My first sexual experience was when I was 5. Relief washes over me as Kirk begins to reveal an all too familiar childhood sexua l experience, I had one when I was 5 too. It was with my friend Billy Bailey. We were rubbing penises and he was much more domineering. I had no idea what was going on. We were the same age. He was like lets do this. We went in the bac kyard behind the shed and his mom comes out and finds us. She said, You cant be doing that. When I think about it, my first two sexual experiences were when I was 5. A few months later, I walked up into his moms bathroom and shes got just her bra and underwear on. I was taken aback and turned to walk out. Sh e said, No, no its all right you can come in. Its only natural. On the one hand, I was being told, No I cant be with a guy, but at the same time, its okay to see a woman naked. When were young, were what Freud calls polymorphously perverse, which has to do with pleasure. The pleasure we take from our body is not differentiated culturally yet. We take pleasure in a non-sexed way. Things like
114 eroticism are learned and theres little to nothing natural about it. The only thing that seems natural is our urge to procreate but even then the social conventions around it are total constr ucts. The same nature could be accomplished even if we did social relati onships differently. Whos to say we couldnt live separately from women and onl y come together once a year to mate? We could spend the rest of our time in ho mosexual relationships. But at that early age we dont have that cultural awaren ess of the body. You just do things because they feel good and if something feels good you want to keep doing it. So, when people tell you no, Kirk interjects. I dont think its necessarily bad that people tell you no. In order to be socialized, you have to be told no, especially if you buy into psychoanalytic theory. Most times its very sexist, but I do think we are socialized through a series of being told, No! It doesnt matter who tells youmother or father. Some one has to tell you No! you cant keep putting crap in your diaper when youre thirty. You have to put your crap here instead. I j okingly point to my notebook that is sitting on the table ne xt to me, and continue, You cant go around touching yourself all th e timethats just not very productive. No, you cant slurp your drink, I say accusingly pointing my finger at Kirk, I know its fun but its just not accept able, thats just not the way you do it, I say in a terrible Father Knows Best impersonation. I feel delight ed by the turn of events and use the opportunity to continue flexi ng my intellectual muscle, That no is necessary. I dont think Freud thought it wa s bad that we repressed or sublimated our natural urges. What Freud allows us to do is question the repressed as
115 socially and relationally constructed. We have to have some inhibition; otherwise, Id be walking around sticki ng my dick into everything. Selfknowledge is predicated on the different ways we become aware of our body in social settings or the context of differe nt relationships. Those moments when we are with other boys or were with a woma n for the first time or how our parents potty trained us, matter in how we come to terms with our self-knowledge and body image. I wonder if that body image isId say that image is constantly changing and amorphous. Is it adaptive or is it stagnant? Kirk asks. I dont want to say its stagnant or that its just a free fo r all. Its like a phantom limb you still have within yourself: your body image before the accident. It is 23 years of lived embodied experience. Twenty years from now when you have a vast storage of different body e xperiences, its going to overtake and out run this other one. The other one is goi ng to become less significant as you grow older. Its how I feel about my own body and my past relati onship with it as a boy in high school. Im 30. Its been about 15 years since I was that prepubescent kid who got pick ed on all the time. I hit puberty when I was almost 17 before the start of my senior year. I tend to see my adult self more now when I think of my body than I do that kid. For a long time, when I thought of myself, I saw that chubby, cherubic boy. When I hit puberty, and this is an interesting moment, I wasnt even aware of the fact th at I had gotten much taller. I was made aware of it because one day in my senior year my dad was looking at my sister and me with an odd expression on his face. I was like, What? He said, You
116 know what? Youre taller than your sister. I had never been taller than my sister. Even a few years later I didnt feel taller. I didnt have this taller image of myself. I still felt small. Another ex perience in my senior-year gym class I remember. I mean I actually got big, as big as I am now. I shot up to this size in six months. I had literal growing pains. It was very painful; I can remember my bones aching. So I dont know how I wasnt aware of it. My whole body hurt. During my senior year, no one bothere d me and I can remember having this conversation with a guy in my gym class who was a total muscle dude. He worked out all the time. He wanted to be an Army Ranger. I dont know how the topic came up but we got to talking about bullies and I wondered why people werent picking on me anymore and he said, I wouldnt want to mess with you. Youre big. It was amazing to me. Im not big. No way. I mean Im not huge. Im 6 feet. But thats not short. And that was just bizarre to me because the image that I had was of a little 5 pr epubescent boy. That image stuck with me through much of college. My dad is 6 and Im 6. At 14 I hit puberty. I grew from 5 in 7 th grade to 6 by the end of 8 th I can remember noticing it in a picture my mom had taken of 8 th grade graduation and I saw myself as taller than my dad. Even though we had been physically eye-to-eye ove r the last year, I had never realized it. He never said anything. Hes very dominating. I had been working out and it was junior year in high school and he came to the gym to talk to me. There was a machine I was working my pecks on and I said, come on dad do a couple. I assumed he could do it and he couldnt and I thought yeah I coul d kick your ass.
117 I could probably do it physically but whet her or not I could do it mentally, he pauses for a second for effect and says, I think to this day my dad could whip my ass, even though Im taller and stronger because mentally I fear him, Kirk discloses. The revelation of this fear is startling to me. My gut says this fear is a common feeling many boys have for their fathers. Not respect but fear I think to myself that when more boys do not f ear their fathers the world will have undergone a significant paradigm shift. I was the same way with my dad, but I was physically smaller than him for most of my childhood up until my senior year in high school. Hes in the military and was a football player in hi gh school so he had a much different physical sense of his body than I did of mine He never used it against me other than being physically imposing, you know, the look and his voice. Yes, yes, Kirk agrees. I can remember my dad saying onc e that no matter how big I got he could always take me out. Both of us laugh and our loud guffaws cover over the pain I know we both feel about the relationships we have with our fathers. The threat our fathers represented may be expe rienced as a joke but is also deadly serious. And that fear often st oked our competitive natures. Ah shit man, Kirk says letting me know hes with me. Growing up that was the other thing that motivated me. I wanted to be bigger and stronger than my dad. I didnt only want to be the best athlete; I wanted to be bigger and better than my dad. I lifted a lot of weights and I ran a lot. When my dad threw the
118 baseball at me, I wanted to see how mu ch harder I could throw it back. When he pitched to me, I said throw it as hard as you can. I wanted to know if I could hit it out of the park. My relationship with my dad became very physical, not play wrestling like when I was a child but it was all about the competition and Id say that translated over into my physical re lationship with my other friends. Am I stronger? Am I bigger? Am I faster? Kirk states. I was always lazy and didnt like wo rking out. I tried a few different times when I was at that age but I never kept it up. I would rather read a book. My preferred activity next to masturbating was readi ng books. Although I still harbor fantasies that Im going to have that body, going to get off my ass and go to the gym, Id be happy to just lose te n pounds. But maybe just maybe Ill start going to the gym five days a week, I say. Is that you saying that or someone else? Kirk perceptively asks. Thats a hard thing to separate. Th ere is status to having a body like that and, whether were willing to admit it or not, we all want a certain amount of status. It gives us confidence and power in the world. It gives us choices. I think those reasons are inextricably tied up to wanting to have that body. I still have a hard time seeing myself as attractive ev en though Ive been told differently by lots of people. You cant be told often enough that you l ook good, especially if you were someone who never felt physically appealing. Ive always been on the heavy side. Last year, I was even heavie r. Ive been losing some weight mostly for my fianc and her mother, because they have certain ideas about THE
119 wedding. Everybody wants you to look your best. I had to buy all new clothes because they werent fitting, I complain. The server drops off our checks and the spell of our conversation is broken for the moment. I look around and notice th at the once crowded restaurant is now nearly empty. Kirk smiles and says, Im not sure you can ever escape your body awareness. It always affects you. How do I look in relation to others? Can I make a choice about my physical stature? Should it matter? I think its important to strive for se lf-acceptance. But I dont want to be so accepting that I gain 500 pounds. I guess thats a mean thing to say, but I dont want to get that big. Do I see myself gett ing that big? Gosh yes, because I love food. It wouldnt be hard for me to put on a lot of weight. I lead a sedentary life and I like to eat. You sit f our Big Macs down in front of me and Ill devour them, I say with conviction. My friends and I call thos e cholesterol highs, Kirk jokes. He picks up his tab and looks it over be fore fishing his wallet out of his back pocket. I dont eat fast food as much as I used to. I dont like how it tastes, but when I was in high school, I could easily sit down and eat four Big Macs, a large fry, and a large coke. The funny thing was th at in my senior year in high school, I wasnt that heavy for my size. I was a bout 175 and 5 hardly abnormal. But I saw myself as abnormal. I couldnt believe it when I started dating this gorgeous woman right after high school. I couldnt be lieve she wanted to date me, I say. So you couldnt believe that this wo man wanted to date you or that you were taller than your sister. You coul dnt believe you wouldnt be bullied even
120 though the guy in gym class said otherwise. What does that say about the self and societyif society is telling you one thing and youre feeling something else he trails off. But that experience wasnt familiar to my body and thats what I was saying earlier about outdista ncing your body image. It re quires time. I dont feel like that person in high school anymore, even though I still have body issues, especially about my weight. As far as being small and being afraid, no, Im not afraid of other guys. If it came to it, I could hold my own in a fight. I practiced Tae Kwon Do for two years whil e getting my masters degree. But at our age that sort of thing doesnt happen as much You dont get into fights unless you go looking for them. I know some people may do that kind of thing but whatever. I think its a class thing, Kirk says. I agree. I might not get into bar room brawls but I still take people on, especially other men. I do it with ideas. Were good at beating up opponents with our words, I add. Ive done that too but Im changing. Were trying to listen more, I say a nd the server returns without change. My recorder clicks off. I have run ou t of tape (having replaced my inadequate digital one with an analog one). We sit at the table in silence for a moment both of us reluctant to get up and leave. Its almost 2:00 pm. And Trangs usually closes for a couple of hours before reopening for dinner. I guess we better go, Kirk suggests. Yeah, I agree.
121 I had fun, he admits. Me too and I hope we can do it again sometimesoon, I say. We get up and head for the door. We stand in th e parking lot, the he at of the afternoon steaming up my glasses. I take them o ff and use my shirt to warm them up and Kirk says: You knowweve made a connection t oday. We touched each other. Tomorrow, we will be different people. I know. And I appreciate it. Kirk puts his arms around me and squ eezes hard. The man-hug threatens to cut off my circulation and though it might be said that this all too familiar embrace denies the gentleness of a true hug, as it is absent of tenderness, today I feel that we are trying to hold onto somethinga fr agile sparkand hoping that our talksour connectioncontinues. I squeeze back even harder.
122 Chapter Six: Opposites 3:30 P.M. September 24, 2002 I am tiredtoo tired to have a great session. Ive been dealing with two unruly students, males. For public speaking classes, I often assign a speech where students interview and intr oduce one another. These guys thought it appropriate to introduce their buddy by giving an oral hist ory of their sex life that included a list of MILFs (Mothers Id Like to F***). After I got over my shock and they were part way through their raunchy and degr ading tale, I told th em both to leave. That had been Thursdayfour days laterthe following periodtodayI had the class form dialogue circles and disc uss the ramifications of their peers disrespect. Neither guy had shown up. Part of me was thankful, but it took all I had to give emotionally to get the student s to take the matter seriously. These two guys were examples; they clearly dem onstrated the kind of behavior that friendship between men often condones and en courages: that it is acceptable, even necessary, to objectify women. The class went well, but I needed to unwind. I should cancel, but time, as always, is a precious commodity. I dont want to waste my friends precious moments. I am sitting in my office waiting for him to arrive for our scheduled conversation and my next to last meeting with participan ts this go around. Ill suck it up and push through I think.
123 Sidney and I have been friends for two years, which is one of the reasons I asked him to join my project. Weve always gotten along and have had some good times together. Of all my male friends, he is the one I do normal guy things with. We go to the gym and wo rk out. Some weekends, we go canoeing at one of the nearby State parks. Like me, he recently married, and we both participated in each others wedding. Luckily, our spouses are friends, which means, we often engage in coupled activiti es. We go to the movies, we go out to eat, we get coffee and we hang out at our homes playing board games. One thing we have in common is that both of our fathers are retired military, something we learned about the other the first time we talked. Where you froma question that always reveals a Brats lack of rootsis, after all, a typical conversation star ter between strangers. Where you from? Nowhere, I remember saying, and Everywhere. Yo momma, he said with a toothy gr in, a grin that sat on his face like a guardian angel; it disarmed me. But, I learned later, his grin is also a protective mask of wit and often as not accompanies a wry remark. It invites me in and keeps me at a distance, and I cant help feeling is part of a double consciousness developed to protect my friend from the so metimes harsh realities of being a man. Big boys dont cry. No, they dont cry Ironically, our differences are what drew me closer to Sidney. Where I exude doubt, he radiates certainty. While I embrace irrationality, my friend is the
124 most rational person I know. I am messy a nd he is neat. Sidney is an athlete and I have an ample paunchhe is hard; I am soft. Im liberal and hes conservative. I fill my office with orig inal collages and his is Sparta to my Athens. We are opposites and I admire our differences. Sometimes, I wish I were more like him. I realize that is some thing I think about most of my friends. I am lost in thought when Sidney walks into the office. Wool gatherin he says. Hey, yeah, I say in way of greeting. Sidney puts his worn brown leather satchel on the desk opposite mine and sits in the empty chair. Rough day? You could say that. Ill tell you about it later. Let me set up my tape recorder. Cool. My friend waits patiently while I dig around in my backpack. I notice that hes dressed in uniformpla in long sleeve button down shirt, khaki Dockers, and a pair of well worn Dexters business casual with lo ts of starch and polish. Im wearing a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. Th eres at least three days growth of beard on my face and my hair is a mop reminiscent of the 1970s. Sidney takes great care in his appearance; I take great car e in seeming like I dont. Despite my too casual dress, I feel formal and tight about starting the conversation. I flip though my note book and glance at some questions I had written there. I turn on the recorder. Th e silence in the room is palpable; I gulp, and then ask, When you think about your body now, how would you characterize that relationship?
125 Its good. I spent the majority of my life playing sports, and I can walk a flight of stairs without losing my breath. I monitor my body to make sure Im not gaining weight or getting flabby. And if I do, I get on the treadmill or lift weights. I know my physi cal fitness is above aver age even though I dont work out competitively anymore. If I were to ta ke a fitness test now, Id still do pretty well, Sidney replies with confidence. Why is his cocksure attitude so attractive, I wonder? How would you link that to how you pr esent yourself in relationships, I ask. Even though Im not competing anymor e, I try to watch my weight and look decent. I think it makes a difference in how people look at you Some people are fastidious about the way they dr ess or comb their hair. For me, its maintaining a certain appearance in term s of my fitness. People may look at you as a whole person, but you can look at someones body and it may not tell you everything but gives an overall impression that this person has it together. Its impression management, Sidney says. Why does Sidney switch point of view when talking about how people look at bodies. Its as if linguistically, he avoids th e fact that people are looking at his body, sizing him up. Im aware that Ive been sizing him up. He is a tall and muscular manphysically imposing. G ood looking. At least, I think hes good looking but it is something that I w ould not easily say to his face, I wonder why not?
126 You try to shape how people are going to look at you because theyre going to do it anyway. So, you can have some input, Sidney explains further. Its about having some agency in how you get defined, I add. Yeah, Sidney remarks, than says, In terms of impression management, I accept that there are cultural norms that people fit into and take a pragmatic approach, because I know people are going to make conclusions based on those stereotypes. You try to create equilibrium between how you feel about yourself and how people see you. Maybe its easier for me because I fit into a positive category. It would be harder if your body doesnt fit into the norm. If you werent the best kid in gym class lets say, you take that to heart and feel bad. Women deal with this a lot more than men, Sidney says. What kind of feedback have you go tten? I ask and my friend grins. A little embarrassed, Sidney laughs then says, When I was in high school, I used to run track. The girls in gym class jogged slower and waited for me to come by to look at me. You get th e idea that your body is all right. When I was in college, I had friends in art class who asked me to pose for them. I never did, but the fact that I got asked sugge sted to me that Ive got a body they wouldnt mind looking at. How did you feel? Im a ssuming you were flattered. Yes, its flattering. We fall into a moment of silence. I know my weariness is making it hard for me to get into the flow necessa ry for good dialogue. After a few more
127 seconds, I finally say, Im curious about instances where you can recall identifying issues with body image. When I was younger, I was toothpick sk inny and short. I didnt grow height wise until my sophomore year in high school, but you could see every bone in my body. All my veins stuck out and pe ople were like you need to eat. I didnt look attractive back then. In high school I grew taller and in college I filled out. Over time, my body grew into the athletic norm, he answers. Can you recall any other time when you felt more aware or conscious of being in your body, I ask. When I was an undergrad, I was conscious of being in my body because it was so different from the norm. In the northeast the norm was shorter more stocky and, being a tall guy, I stood out. I was also conscious of being skinnier next to these stocky guys. Even thou gh mine was still good, it was not the norm and not what most women were goi ng to look for, Sidney replies. Do you feel that you acted differe ntly toward yourself, I ask. I think it impacts confidence. If youre the kid who had glasses and clothes that arent so great but th en someone gives you a make-overYour friends are shocked and people start to notice you. After aw hile, you notice that people pay attention to you. In our cultu re people defer to you because they like the way you look. As you become conscious of it, it can become a tool. As a guy, you may feel more confidence, Sidney offers. Again, I notice my friend shifting point of view and ask, Have you ever used your body as a tool?
128 Oh yeah, Sidney laughs, In sports you step onto a field and people look. As a guy, you use it to deter conflict. If some one is going to push an issue or something... he trails off but has an intense look on his face. You can be physically intimidating, menacing, I add. Being a big guy, you dont have to fight. Not that it happens so much when you reach a certain age, but you can intimidate without really doing anything to some one , Sidney says. Im well aware of how men use their bodies to threaten one another and wonder if we every consciously use it fo r other purposes and ask, Have you used your body in a way you might characterize women using it? Not all women do it but many use th eir bodies for seduction. I dont knock anyone for doing that. I dont think Ive done that very much because it doesnt work as much for a guy. For me it s more a deterrent to physical conflict. As far as wooing someone, no, not reall y, I dont think it comes into play for a guy as much. Its stereotypi cal, but I tend to think that women are better at that sort of thing than guys are. I think mo st women look for other qualities in men besides the way they look. Can you think of when you became aw are that its different for women than it is for men? If youre in college and youre hangi ng out with friends and you want to go to a club and my friend she smiles at the bouncer and everybody gets in free Smile at the bartender and we all got free drinkswhere as, I can smile all I want and even if there is a woman at the door it s less likely to work for me. I have had
129 some instances in which Ive gone into a store and noticed that people smile back and stuff like that. In retrospect, if you notice that every time you go into this one burger joint and this one woman always gives you the large size, even if you didnt order the large si ze Sidney lets that thought hang in the air for a moment while nodding his head forward and raising an eyebrow, Thats not a major thing but it does show that people tend to place an emphasis on what they find attractive. Its not like you earn ed it or anything, but you accept it as a given. Again, the conversation lapses into sile nce. Im not sure what to do with this information. All my other sessions ha d been so much easier. I had energy. I flip though my notes again and ask, What kind of figures did you identify with growing up? I liked to run so for me it was Jesse Owens, which was picking a body type that resembled my own. Runners are small weight wise, but muscular. There are things they can do with their body that other people cant. The ideal body type I strived for was Bruce Lee. To look at the guy, he is not Sack Diesel, but there is no one who will look at him a nd say hes nothing. This guy is strong and quick and, to me, that was a body type that combined everything, Sidney answers with little pause for consideration. What about in terms of the way you played as a kid? We used to play King of the Hill as kids, and girls, at that age, were bigger so it became Queen of the hill becau se shes stronger than you, he replies quickly again.
130 What was puberty like? I ask just as fast. I didnt find it dramatic. I just grew I went from being skinny with all my bones sticking out. I was ta ller. I was always athletic so I was stronger than most people. It was gradual for you? I remember that I was always above average. I was one of the best athletes. I was always the fastest runner I was always setting records but there wasnt really anything else that differentia ted me from other kids. The only thing that I remember is that what I did rema ined the same, I just got bigger. So, before, people were amazed because he was a little kid. But as he got older it became expected because the body he possessed was more in line with what people expected it to do. Suddenly, you have a body that said you could win a little easier. Thinking about those expectations, wh en you got to the point where you were expected to win, was there anything there in how you related to yourself? You did have to face defeat at some point, I say. I always liked underdogs. When th ere are eight kids out there running and you ask, who do you think will win, I have no doubt people werent picking me. I think there is more pressure on ce people start identifyi ng you. Its probably the same expectation that a tall person ge ts when they try out for basketball and then people realize they cant shoot. You realize that you wasted your pick. You cant always pick on how people look. Y ou could be lined up next to someone half your size and they can beat you but people dont always see that. So, if
131 nothing else, you put up a bit of a defensive posture because you know youre going to have to explain if you dont win, Sidney explains. I realize that my weariness has made it difficult for me to add my personal experience to the conversation and that with Sidney I had to also be quick to get a word in. His mentioning of the games we played as kids brings up painful memories for me. I try to ease myself into revealing something personal and say, I can remember those days in gym class where that getting picked thing was so important. It seems like a canonical narrativ e for boys in this culture. We all had that in elementary and Junior High. Not wanting to be th e last one picked or even the first one picked for the same reasons you point out. There is some sense that you have to win. Its being the number 1 draf t pick, replies Sidney. It brings up a memory for me from gym class where I was picked to play goalie. It was known that I refereed soccer, and the captain said that I had to be goalie and there was some expectation that I would be good at this for whatever reason. I was terrible at being a goalie, and I can remember the two sports-nut kids wanting to fight with me because we lost. They kept shoving me to the ground all the way to the lock er rooms and the coaches didnt do shit. There is another long pause, and Im not sure what else to add, so decide to shift the topic toward friendship and say, I wonder in terms of one-on-one -relationships how body image and sense of self comes up, es pecially for someone who is more athletic?
132 It may actually be a detriment in a wa y. Its advantageous at first, but over time its a detriment. If you have an average body type and someone likes you, you figure that they like you as a whole person. If youre really attractive, youre not really sure if they like you or the way you look. If thats high on their list of why they like you and should that gobut if it wasnt really a big deal youre not going to worry about itbut otherwise there is an expectation to maintain a look. So, in some ways it works backward for you. Its like you were Joe Stud when we met but now, yeah, I pause, chagrined that he shifted away from men, and ask, do you think theres a gender difference in that respect. I think women have more items in their box to check from. You may not score high on looks, but maybe youre athlet ic or funny or rich. With guys there are fewer boxes. Looks score high with most guys and even if its not high for one guy it is for other guys. So whats the deal? Why are you with her? I think that a guy with a lot of money who is not very good looking can marry a beautiful woman and that is more accepted. A woma n who is really wealthy and not very good looking and an attractive guy marries her, people think, Sidney goes quiet for a moment as if hes contemplating a past dating experience and the jibes of his friends, well thats not what most guys select for. I think theres an emphasis on looks when selecting a woman partner. I just dont see a group of guys in a locker room and theyre like who are you going to the prom with a nd theyre like her! and you say shes really smart and most guys arent going to accept that without ragging on you.
133 I know what youre talking about, I agree. Even though that is a good reason fo r liking a person and they may be more interesting than the person who l ooks like a fashion model and you can have a conversation with them, but its not as accepted, Sidney adds. Im not as interested for this project with how guys view women so much as how they view themselves or other men. I would rather talk about the ways the body affects our relationships with other me n. Can we rewrite those stories so we can relate differently, I ask, ta king a more direct approach. I guess it happens in puberty, especially if your friend hits it first or even if you hit it at the same time. You as k yourself, Are my muscles growing as fast? I think it is part of establishing a norm to see if you are at least average. After awhile, Im not sure how much it matters if your friend has a weight lifters body and youre skinny. I have friends with all different body types. When you select guy friends, how they look isnt a f actor. I realize that when you see people in groups they tend to look similar, but I think that has more a social context what they doas opposed to what they look like. If you play sports, youre probably going to have more friends who ar e athletes, my friend replies and I am aware, again, of our very different bodi es and in some ways I would prefer to have his. As a teenager, there are the jokes about shoe size and who has the biggest hands, Sidney starts offlooking at me to make sure I got the dick reference then he says, I guess for me, as far as my body goes, it could always play sports. It didnt matter if you were musc ular, I could still beat you.
134 His mention of penis size makes me think about sex and I say, I guess another thing is how we learn about sex or gain knowledge of ourselves as sexual beings. For me, I knew there was no stork when I was 5. I probably had more knowledge about that than most kids my age. How did you get that knowledge, I ask. My parents never lied about those kinds of things. You ask, they tell. We had a neighbor who got pregnant. We didnt get specifics, but we knew mommies had babies. By the time I was in middle school, there was a lot of teen pregnancy. There was lots of discussi on among teen guys about how things were done. My parents were always open a bout those things to counter all the misinformation, because it was dangerous not to. By the time I was 9 or 10, I knew people had sex. By the time most kids in my neighborhood were 12, they were practicing. By the time they were 14 or 16, they had at least one kid, Sidney relates. What were the conversations like when you were 12 or 14? All kinds of myths about how not to ge t pregnant. He goes silent again. Theres a difference between the mechanics and eroticism. I think eroticism has a lot to do with body im age. Some of that knowledge I think that is cultural even regional, my frie nd interrupts. What my friend finds attractive and I find attr active are so entirely different. We all have an idea that there is a norm but when we start to talk about it, it breaks down.
135 We know that most people dont look like fashion models. For whatever reason that small sphere has been embraced as the ideal, Sidney says. I wonder how that translates into practice. Even if we both grew up on the same street what I find attractive ma y still be different from what you find attractive. It could go back to how your parents look, he offers. It seems that norms are grounded in our specific experiences too. So, Sidney may have a foot fetish because of his unique experience and I might like big boobs but Its like testing based on averages. You use this average to test things like cars but Im 6 and those dummies th ey use are average. The norm is just an educated guess and it doesnt re ally tell you anything about me. How do we take that analogy and ap ply it to how men talk about their bodies? Does the body get in th e way of our relationships? It depends. Its contextual. I thi nk its interesting that Ive spent more time contemplating my relationships with other women rather than with other guys. There are lots of books about male-f emale relationships but not male-male. Relationships with guys are, well, they ju st are. Ive spent more time trying to develop relationships with women. With guys, we just sort of hang out. Its our interests that keep us together, Sidney says. If you go to the self-help section of any bookstore, youll find plenty of material on how men can improve their re lationships with women, but not how to
136 improve relationships with other men. Its taken for granted, I agree and ask, How do we make relationships w ith other men more meaningful? If I want to meet people, I join a club or engage in an activity I like. This interest will determine the kind of people you meet. If I want to meet people who have an interest in art, then Ill go to an art gallery, Sidney answers and avoids the question. For forming acquaintances that works well, but what about the friendships that stand out, the ones we have over a long period of time? Im sure you have some of those. How do you thi nk about those relationships, I ask with passion in my voice. Sidney laughs and grins, perhaps a li ttle uncomfortable with my emotional display, then he says, When youre separa ted by time or space, you arent always going to be able to do the things you we re doing. Its no longer a matter of hanging out on a Saturday night or whatever. When we do have that time or space, what is getting communicated? How is it getting communicating? Im inclined to believe that we do not lead emotionally devoid lives with other men, but It probably has some to do with pers onality. To me, if they want to understand how I feel about a given person, watch what I do. Im like Missouri, the show me state. Im not one of thos e people who really talks about feelings, its what I do that counts. I can be mad, but if you want me to do something, and Im mad at you, but I care about you, I will do it. Its in the action, to me, that shows the strength of the relationship, Sidney replies.
137 Its easy for me to rely on stereotypes and say that men relate to one another through action and women relate to one another through disclosure, I pause. He jumps in with, Words are important but its sometimes harder to do. Its like the politician who promises the wo rld but doesnt deliver. I think some people are very good at talking and promisi ng. Tell me now but show me later. Talk the talk and walk the walk, I add. Its easier to fabricate one than it is the other. Perhaps, I tentatively agree. My guy friends have always been based on connections to certain things like sports or classical music or art. If I want to go to a pop concert, I call a different crew. I have different sets of friends for di fferent activities, he says. When I think about the things we do as friends and the different topics we talk aboutit seems almost ritualisti c that the two of us talk about our teaching and the classes that we are takinga lot of that is part of our shared reality, I say and fill him in on the dynami c duo from my speech class, then ask, What do you make of that? Thats messed up. It wouldve never occurred to me to act like that. And none of my friends are that vulgar. Sounds like you handled it well though. Me, Id march their butts back to my office and chew them out. Its funny how my friend always puts up the front of taking a hard line in the classroom. Deep down, I know hes a softy with most students, at least the ones Ive talked to anyway. But the two of us almost al ways talk about our use of
138 authority over students, and it reminds me of my fathers days as a drill sergeant, I joke, Id like to takeem out to the backwoods. Sidney grins at my violent sugge stion, Yeah, that d be fun. The tape recorder clicks off and alerts me to the time. I wish we could get a burger or something. Take it easy. Wed both open up more if we just relaxed a little, but we both have other oblig ations and need to leave. Say hi to Melissa, I say. Sure thing, tell Kimberly hello for me. Sidney gathers up his satchel and shuffles toward the door. Bye, I say. See you later, he says over his shoulder and is gone.
139 Chapter Seven: No Method but the Self Im walking through the Borders on the south side of Tampa browsing through the literature section. I take a copy of Harold Blooms How to Read and Why (2000) from the shelf and open it. Th e first words I see are, There is no method but yourself (p. 19). I close th e book, a tingle of electricity radiates through my body from a low point in my sp inean event that for me signals a connection with the sublime, what Goodall and Kellett (2004) refer to as peak experiences, a term they borrow from Maslow (1962). It is something I sometimes doubt and think of as ridiculous, as delusional. It is only by accident that I looked in this book, a random coin cidence. This one phrase Bloom wrote, who knows when or where, resonates with me and cant be explaineddoesnt need to be explained. It just is, and it burns. My gut cannot be codified and rendered into something easily used by others, especially scientific othersthe re is a touch of madness in my method. But is what I do so idiosyncratic as to be completely beyond replication? Not necessarily. But this struggle with ra tionality, maybe even a struggle against rationality, is a part of who I am as a researcher and as a person. While I am brooding, I am also paci ng around the store. My eyes are glazed in thought. Anyone who sees me, if anyone is looking, probably thinks Im loony. Eventually, I wander into the caf to sit, to think, and to write. I sit down with my journal and think of Bert. He smiles when he sees me I write. He
140 always smiles. Its a look that makes me feel like I can do anything. I need his smiles today. Whats the matter with me? I write. I dunno, I reply to myself, Im tryi ng to work out my method section for the dissertation but cant seem to find the right way to express what Ive been up to. Why dont we talk about it? I scribble. Talking has played a big role in the project after all Do you talk to yourself, I say. You mean do I hear voices? I write. No. But as far back as I can remember Ive talked to myself, even going so far as to create a pantheon of characters in my head to help me keep lines of thought straight. Do they tell you to do things? I jokingly write. Im not nuts, no, its just play acting. But these monologues or self dialogues are crucial to what Ive been doing, a kind of ta lk that is introspective and orientedperhaps selfishlytoward the self. To do what Ive been doing begins and ends with solitude. Seems ironic in a project about close friends I comment in my journal. I spend more time with my good friends when Im alone than I do in person, I say to myself. Thats absurd
141 No. No it isnt; sad maybe, but not absurd. I think about my friends all the time. I fantasize about them, a bout things we might docreative projects we could undertake if we had the time, wh atever. Reality almost always falls short of the fantasy and maybe thats the way it has to be, but even before we became friends, I held them, especially Be rt, in my mind this way. I pretend about my dissertation too. Part of preparing th e mind for a project like mine is being able to play, to imagine. A playful mind strikes me as a necessa ry quality for reaching the plateau of a good dialogue, and dialogue has been part of the talk aspect in my dissertation. Yes, as has writing and a greater unde rstanding of both might help me to understand better whats been going on. While dialogue is an ongoing goal of my research, I am sometimes doubtful about whether anyone, my self included, can make it happen. Goodall and Kellett ( 2004) describe the communion possible during dialogue as a peak experience not unlike the one achieved while jamming jazz or creating art. The problem is that these sublime occurrences seem spontaneous and cant be learnedthey just happen. The irony is that like a good friendship, dialogue cant be forced. These things, at best, are happy accidents. But dont folks like Goodall and Kellett claim that a person can train themselves such that those peak exp eriences are more likely to occur Yes. I think of the term dialogue, as a special type of conversation that profoundly enacts the erotic, emotional, et hical, and spiritual possibilities of a close personal relationship. These are all things that we practice through a
142 process of trial and error in the hope of improving our act, I think to myself. I am no longer talking out l oud but interacting with myse lf in thought and written word. But sometimes it doesnt work outyou fail You live with itthrough it, maybe. Even in failure, something has been opened up, the possibility to change or, if you like, stay the same. And I showed up to the talks with no expectations beyond having starting a conversation, opening up the possibility for change. I know that much of who I am is still the same as a result of the conversations. But I have also chan ged. I question my subjectivity, my masculine persona a little more as a result of the conversations. Still, had I been trying to change my friends, I probably wouldnt have connected with them as much. I think one of the things that attrac ted me to Bert was his apparent self love. He didnt seem embarrassed about being a guy. But, he was not a manly man. He was not an alpha male. He is, despite some chauvinistic leanings, in touch with his feminine side. He probably thinks I hate being a man. I dont hate being male but have always doubted th e essentialism wei ghing me down. As soon as we ascribe gendered language to our behavior, we are stuck in a patriarchal trap of sorts. My relationships sustain that trap and I cant help being in my relationships. The desire to please and be pleasing to our friends is strong. I cant resist it anymore than the tug of family. I had hoped that dialogue would make the gender conflict in a male-male frie ndship easier to negotiate or bypass. And maybe it has, because I am able to cherish my relationships more openly and
143 easily, something difficult for many men because human experience has been given gendered terms. But I didnt force that on my friends. To do so is antithetical to dialogue, right? Yes and no, I entered the conversat ions and the friendships with no predetermined outcome in mind, but I did have hopes. Cissna and Anderson (1994) describe what Im getting at as immediacy of presence or a need to enter conversation without a fixed agenda. The idea is to have purpose without absolute purpose. I might enter a conve rsation with a goal of discovering something about masculinity, but I would let go of my urge to direct the conversation along specific lines. In ta lking with my friends, the conversations did not stray far from the topic of masc ulinity and the body but much of what we shared was completely spontaneous. I wonder if my friends revealed more than they might have if I had been doing straight interviews. They also, so metimes, asked as many questions as I did I liked that questions evolved in process, something that stresses the creative potential of talk. As a crea tive act, dialogue sometimes produces unexpected outcomes or what Cissna and Anderson (1994) call: emergent unanticipated consequences This quality anticipates the unpredictability inherent in most forms of communication. I could not have foreseen the strength of my emotions the first time I hugged Bert after our initial conversation.
144 My willingness to share intimate details of my life was surprising to me. The weird energy of the talk excited me and felt like some of late night bull sessions Ive had with old friends. I made an instant connection with my participantsdialogue would seem to foster that experience. These outcomes could not have been predicted or controlled As a matter of fact, the experience of connection, I think, enables another characteristic Cissna and Anderson (1994) ascribe to dialogue: recognition of strange otherness. They argue that although th e dialogue partner may be a lifelong friend, one is willing to be surpri sed by the fundamental strangenessthe unfamiliarityof a position that is not ones own (pp. 14). So, to enter into dialogue requires the risk of being uncomfortable and possibly unsettled. Such a risk emphasizes the potential in pers onal relationships of resisting the expectations of social perf ormances like masculinity. A good example was when I discussed with Bert how men look at women and a project he did for a class that featured photos of nude women. I reminded him that the kind of exchanges I have with other men matter to how I look at women and that power is always an issue. My friends and I still like looking, but we also see better how men re duce women to objects. Bert is not convinced that his love of the fe male body is wrong, but can understand why many women object. Its not comfortable questioning our own behavior. A good dialogue creates relational suppor t and makes it easier to bring up sensitive issues later in other contexts
145 My research has been directed toward these moments that these exchanges between men and their implicati ons go unquestioned at the source. Its not easy for me to bring up my own problema tic behavior. But if I am going to be a better person, a better friend, then s houldnt I be willing to endure a little anxiety? Its still a self interested pr ocess, one where I figure out much about who I am by being with significant others. My method, no matter how selfish, is relational I think there are connec tions between the kind of talk we achieve in dialogue and the kind of writing Ive done. Both are experimental and promote a relational attitude toward doi ng research. The I of my texts is an ironic I, because, as much as I appear to be cen ter stage, it is always a collaborative I . Then, as I said earlier, even in solitude, I am with friends I like to think so. I hope so. Otherwis e, I am just alone most of the time. Our dialogues have connected us across space and time, which is why, maybe, we feel as though we pick things up where th ey left off even after several months have passed. I am a stranger but not a stranger. I know that men who have gone through intense experiences t ogether express as much. My father feels that way about his Vietnam buddies. Not long ago, he reconnected with a fellow after an absence of twenty nine years. He said it was like theyd been together only yesterday. They easily slipped back into their old habits. Now, they regularly correspond over the internet. I know he loves this other man. Wouldnt it be nice if those intense ex periences were, more often than not, life oriented practices like dialogue instead of war?
146 Yes. But I think there is nostalgia for the old intensity at work here. In those past experiences, there is somehow the feeli ng of being more alivea quickening of the heart. Mo st of the time, life is pr etty boring. I get up, go to work, come home, and go to sleep. These act ivities dont seem to matter. That is why I miss my friends. Why I even miss my wife, even though I see her everyday. We dont experience this intense connection a ll the time, but we carry it with us wherever we go. And it only waits to be reawakened. Perhaps nostalgia can be a good thing. It occurs to me that some of the characteristics Ive been pointing out are important to recognizing that I am actually in a dialogic moment. Maybe recognition that Ive been there is an important part of preparing the mind to more easily experience dialogue or make it happen. Goodall and Kellett (2004) say as much. There are also other characteristics Actually the relational I I s poke of earlier reminds me of collaborative orientation (see Cissna and Anderson, 1994). It is important to realize that collaboration through dialogue is a joint sense-making project involving struggle. Although conversation can be passionate, it is not oriented toward winning and losing; rather it is oriented toward a deep concern for self and other. A collaborative orientation dispenses with the need for defending ones position in favor of opening to the possibility of be ing wrong. It requir es some degree of vulnerability. Vulnerability allows change.
147 It is also a characteristic of di alogue, and perhaps the therapeutic beginnings to social change. Seems to require risk too Absolutely, and di alogue also involves mutual implication or the interdependent construction of self and other simultane ously with ta lk. I would add to that the polyphonic voices that turn toward the social context surrounding speaker and listener. Perhaps Bakhtins (1981) development of a theory of heteroglossia in a text or any discour se involving dialogue was done with the intent of infiltrating the so cial context with various forms of critique. In my mind, to be mutually implicated is to be simultaneously oriented toward the world right here and the world out there, which leads to the idea that self-identity and the social world are constructed out of re lational communication (see Bateson, 1972). Identity is thus not a causa l process so much as it is a comparative one that gives way to our mutual implication in the construction of meaning. Thats a mouthful Its idealistic and not really measur able. I know my relationships sustain the status quo but how much do they change anything. I am the most pessimistic optimist I know or is that optimistic pessimist Depends on which day of the week, a nyway, the seventh ch aracteristic of dialogue, as discussed by Ci ssna and Anderson (1994), is temporal flow whereby dialogue emerges from a past, fills the immediate present (and thus is experienced as wide, deep, immersing, or enveloping by participants), and anticipates and prefigures an open future (pp. 15). Dialogue, or any
148 conversation, cannot be reduced to only its parts. The difficulty in studying communication in personal relationships is being unable to perceive its wholeness. My discussion of self and ot her so far would seem to imply that to know the self is to know a universe of others. Temporal flow, then, plays up the processional quality of dialogue, personal relationships, sense making, and a bunch of other things. Ironically, as a process, maybe even dialogue sometimes happens in fits and starts. But even when there is awkwardness, there is still a sense of genuineness and authenticity. This characteristic for dialogue is an experience vital to building a relationship. Dial ogue from my point of view requires relating to believe. I cannot enter into dial ogue, if my objective is to unmask the other as inauthentic. To do so is to move back into a competitive framework of winners and losers. It requires a leap of faith Maybe, and all of these elements are interconnected. From working through these various char acteristics it would seem there is a qualitative difference between dialogue and any old conversation I think the biggest difference for me is in terms of creativity and change. I see conversation as the primary way in which personal relationships uncritically maintain the status quo; in that respect th ere is little or no creativity or change. Even so, conversation is a necessary pa rt of everyday life and need not be considered negative. If we were positively oriented toward creativity and change all of the time, we might go mad.
149 Human beings need to be confirmed in their sense of self in order to develop ego stability. Ironically, creativity is, in part, a disconfirming process, because it requires instability in the system However, the instability at work in the creative process is usually or hopefully oriented toward a return to momentary stability. The creative experience and change depend upon a certain amount of tension, what Goodall and Kellett (2004) cal l dialectical tension, and identify as the heart of many peak human experi ences including dialogue. Ordinary conversation does not spark this way of be ing with another person. Dialogue in comparison to conversation could be called extra ordinary. Goodall and Kellett (2004) associate this extra ordinary moment with a num ber of creative acts from lovemaking to playing musicall of whic h reflect a definitive human urge to get beyond the gray everydayness of relati onal routines, phatic rituals, and often boring, repetitive, relatively meaningless interpersonal encounters (pp. 161). I sometimes experience this extra ordinary quality when I write too. Im curious about the role of writing in my dissertation. Maybe I could pick up there in a bit, and I hate to stop, but I need a potty break I head off to the restroom contemplating my conversation so far. I see the various characteristics Ive talked about as a list of prerequisites for beginning and sustaining dialogue, as much as a way of describing dialogue. Awareness of these characteristics can also help prepare th e mind to more easily achieve dialogue. But its important to acknowledge that dialogue is not easily reached and sometimes not reaching dialogue, especially when it is a goal of research, can feel like a failure. Such a conception can fuel a performance anxiety state of mind and
150 shift the focus of conversation from a re lational mode to an individual mode. In my own experience, I went from asking what is going on with us to what is wrong with me This simple, seemingly innocuous act, sets the stage for future disappointment and, also in my experience, is a habit difficult to break. When I return from the bathroom, I write, I still feel glum Im fine. But I think there will be mixed feelings about my writing. Some will think my work well-written and interesting but not social science or ethnography. I think people will see a lack of analysis and an over-emphasis on self that borders on self-absorption. There are other peoples experiences in each chapter but they are, really, my take on things. I also wonder if my writing will add to the literature on masculinity, that some might fail to see the main point and wonder what to take away from the different chapters. A nd Im still concerned that there is no systematic method apparent in what Ive been doing, that I also avoid drawing conclusions beyond my personal experience. All valid concerns, but in rereading mu ch of my work, I feel that it will be an asset to the field of qualitative i nquiry and autoethnography in particular. I am vulnerable right now and not fully confid ent in the risks I take in my writing. Actually, Ive been avoiding my work becau se of that uncertainty. Not that doubt is bad but too much doubt can be debilitating. And sometimes I worry that no one cares as much as I do about the emotional nature of qualitative research
151 Carolyn Ellis (2007) does. Ever since I became a student of her work, many of my attitudes have changed in how I evaluate ethnography and other qualitative methods. I realize from reading her numerous articles that the academys emphasis on the rational, more scientific, side of research limits my access to truth. Much is left out in privileging only quantitative work How can scholars fully access the human being when we only see it deductively or causally? Varela and Shear (2002) argue that exploring life includes a first person dimension. They ask, Why deprive scientific examination of this phenomenal realm? Doing so, they say, amputates human life of its most intimate domains. Such a focus only allows researchers to explain human behavior based on methods like statistical an alysis and surveys. The goal of such research is to objectively predict and cont rol reality. From this vantage point, a researcher assumes reality is finite a nd measurable, that knowledge is found and receivedan approach that over-simplifies lived experience. I think qualitative inquiry, especially in communi cation studies, emerges as a feeling that something is missing. Perhaps qualitativ e work really does begin in the gut. I think people like Ellis remind us that the human experience is messy. In order for ethnographers to grasp lifes nuances, we need a more interpretive method for understanding truth (see Ellis, 2004, 2007). I cant ignore the fact that knowledge is also arrived at inductivel y. Human life is often very particular and not easily generalized. To appreciate how people negotiate lifes problems, practitioners of qualitative methods try to live in the worl ds of their participants and pay close
152 attention to their place in the relationship s they observe. Such a way of doing research assumes reality is constructe d in our interactions with others. Knowledge is something people create togeth er. When I look at the world with a qualitative lens, I anticipate ambiguity and complexity. Maybe it would be helpful if this conversation shifted to include the various issues facing qual itative approaches like autoethnography. In discussing its history, proponents, critics, claims, ju stifications, and goals we might alleviate some of your bad feelings. Who knows, I may generate some new ideas along the way. It couldnt hurt. Ive already articu lated much about dialogue and its role in the conversations I experienced for this project. Writing is, perhaps, even more important than the conversations Ive had. Some might consider writing a nece ssary evil in conducting research, an activity that is just a fo rmality and, beside the point. Writing is not just a formality. In my case, it often takes center stage. But that comment reminds me of Wolcott s, (2002) Chapter Two Problem. In terms of my dissertation, for example, will many professors develop a set of assumptions about how it should be organi zed? When something strays from the norm, our immediate desire is to correct the aberration. The expectation is that chapter two should in some way deal with literature, method, or theory. Wolcott says this attitude is unnecessary, the re is no law governi ng the contents of chapter two any more than th ere is a law that disserta tions must be boring (pp. 92). The implication is th at our assumptions turn in to laws for governing these
153 kinds of things, forcing our thoughts into narrow ruts we need liberation from. Its probably a good thing experimental work comes along and challenges these assumptions. Like Elliss and Bochners en try on autoethnography and personal narrative in The Handbook of Qualitative Research They write the text in such a way as to defy traditional handbook fo rm. In using the techniques of autoethnography, they write something far easier for readers to comprehend and enjoy than what is typically found in su ch texts. There is a continuum of qualitative work, ranging from an orientat ion akin to positivi st science to one more akin to art and literature, identified by Ellis and Ellingson (2000) in the Encyclopedia of Sociology My work falls toward the latter. I shouldnt forget that my qualitative traditions include artistic modes of expression. Fortunately, the last couple of decades have seen great strides in developing qualitative work that is more impressionistic and interpretive rather than realist. Typically, this work is wr itten as stories with an eye toward the conventions of storytelling. This kind of work is interested in meaning and how it is both constructed and lived. Such res earch recognizes the multi-voiced nature of reality alongside unique, one-ofa-kind experiences. Writing becomes a privileged part of the research process and concerns itself with the persuasive quality of truth making. When doing such work one cant ignore the relationship between author, text, and reader. Authorit y is necessarily questioned. After all, who is going to benefit from making this truth? Of course, this kind of work is much harder to judge, because the criteria for such judgments are, in many ways,
154 highly personal. Can scholars rea lly develop a common way for knowing whether or not a story rings true? That s why I think there is much fear and anxiety around artistic qualit ative work. What resonates with me is unlikely to resonate with others. So, how do we know an article or book is worth publishing? The criteria appear to be arbitrary and always up for grabs. At the same time, editors cant just publish anyt hing and everything, right? Criteria for evaluating qualitative work are likely to keep changing alongside the various uses of narrative. Yet, some issues never seem to go away no matter how much effort is spent in trying to debunk them. For example, Im bothered by my fear of self-indulgence or self-absorption. My writing fits into the category Ellis describes as heart ful autoethnography. I use sociological introspection, which I unde rstand to be a systematic turn toward analyzing the self in the context of human experience. I often make use of techniques like stream of consciousness in order to tap into my memory of pa st events. I begin by free writing, which approximates the clinical use of things like free association. For example, Ill think of smelling a cheeseburger and that sens ory detail will conjure an entire episode of binge eating. Ill see a grass stai n on a pair of Levis and remember being assaulted by a kid at school. I transcribe that experience as quickl y as possible without stopping to edit. What happens on the page is almost entirely improvisational and even fictional. My most poetic phrases result from this process. Later, though I am often reluctant, I go back and make changes for the sake of readability. However, I dont let systems of writing rule me. I be lieve, as King (2000) does, writing is
155 at its bestalways, always, alwayswhen it is a kind of inspired play for the writer. I can write in cold blood if I have too, but I like it best when its fresh and almost too hot to handle (pp. 153). Im reminded of Slatterlys (2001) words about his work on educational research. He compares his research tec hnique to the painting of Jackson Pollack. By working on the artist within, Slatterl y attempts to reconstruct past memories of his body and how various contexts regulat ed that body. He sees his project as autoethnographic and concludes that thr ough his arts power to, evoke memories and illicit insights, he creat es an opportunity to take his body, back from those who regulated it (pp. 398). Unfortunate ly, Slatterlys art is overshadowed by a dense though well written essay. The pro cess behind the paintings has been so thoroughly explained, I didnt even need to look at them. My preference has always been for work that doesnt attempt to explain itself. You might call such work a n arrative of self as Richardson (1994) describes in Writing a Method of Inquiry In many respects, it holds back on interpretation so readers have a chance to relive the experience from the body, as well as, the mind. It does this by using many of the methods Richardson ascribes to autoethnography: strong imag ery, unusual phrasings, puns, subtexts, allusions, flashbacks, flash forwards, tone shifts, dialogue, and interior monologue. Ironically, my fear of self-i ndulgence gives way to an appreciation for concrete details and my poets eye. But Im still not convin ced about the problem of self-indulgence. Sparks (2003) finds the term misleading and wonde rs why scholars dont use other terms,
156 self-knowing, self-respectful, self-sacrificing, or se lf-luminous (pp. 210) to name a few. I think part of the problem is audience. Both Barone (2000) and Richardson (1994) argue that writing diffe rently makes our findings available to more diverse audiences. The charge of se lf-indulgence is one that claims there is but one audience for the text. Wouldnt th at make traditional forms of scholarly writing self-indulgent? In B reathing Life into Work, Bochner advises Rushing that her, theory overwhelms the womens na rratives she is trying to write about. Too often, academic writing is more about showcasing theories of the world rather than sympathizing with the peopl e living in it. Bochner reminds us, in The Moral of Stories that, human life is storied life and stories, make our experiences meaningful (pp. 73). Its funny but I often see parallels in the litera ry tradition and social sciences especially when it comes to ethnography and autoethnography. Some of the best work straddles both worlds like that of Zora Neale Hurston. The emergence of autoethnography reminds me of the Romantic reaction against Classicism. The Classical penchant for st rictly adhering to form felt stifling to many Romantic writers and arti sts. Those tensions helped create a context for the poetry of William Blake and Walt Whitman. As an autoethnographer, I feel a rudimentary knowledge of the literary tr adition makes the history of qualitative methods richer and more satisfying. Gene rational tensions are often moments of important change in any wr iting tradition. One gap is that men have dominated the academic and literary worlds for centuries and emotional writing is too often seen as sentimental and weak. When some one calls a text self-indulgent they are
157 usually saying its emotional rather th an logicalfeminine rather than masculine. I believe as Behar (1996) does that if writing, doesnt break your heart (it) just isnt worth doing (pp. 177) Without feminist and postcolonial scholars like Behar, intimate writing wouldnt even have the small space of recognition within the academy it has today. Reed-Danahay (2001) identifies thr ee genres of academic writing that push for greater intimacy on the part of res earchers disclosing details of self in our relationships with others: native anthropology, ethnic autobiography, and autobiographical ethnography. Of those, I identify myself most clos ely with the third but with a slight difference. Reed-Danahay (2001) sees this genre as writing where researchers insert themselves into their ethnographic texts. However, the subject of those texts, from what I can tell, is not the selfbut rather the self in relationship to the subject being studied. In autoethnography, then, the self becomes a focus of study much like a native anthropology with the a dditional obligation of also seeing that self in relationship with participants; thus forming an extra reflexive layer in the research and writing. One criticism of au toethnography is that it gives voice to an already privileged voice, wh ereas native anthropology gives voice to people who were previously unheard. Im back to the claim autoethnogr aphy is a self-i ndulgent art
158 I am struck that many scholars argue for an autoethnography that moves from the inside out, uses the self to make soci al critiques, and are still operating within a value system define d by objectivism; in other words, the researcher is still supposed to be a self-le ss creature. As a student, I dont feel the same burden of privilege as my professors. Im still struggling to find my voice, to make myself heard. Much of the writing I have done for classes and even this dissertation has been a struggle to give voice to an unheard boy still trying to be a man. I feel possessed with a need to understand that boys life. If I write for anyone, I write for the boy inside me. Is that a selfish act? I dont know how to answer that question. I know Im still an gry about the violence I endured as a boy, because I was perceived as different and I need to make something positive out of that anger and those experiences. Brison (2002) claims, saying some thing about a memory does something to it. The communicative act of bearing witness to traumatic events not only transforms traumatic memories into narratives that can then be integrated into the survivors sense of self and view of the world, but it also reintegrates the survivor into a community, reestablishing bonds of trust and faith in others, (pp. xi). I believe the same can be said of or dinary events, and the restoration of an individual into the community is a powerful moment of social change. I am fond of the Buddhist story of a bu tterfly taking flight on one side of the world, whose flapping wing starts a chain reaction leadi ng to a typhoon on the other side.
159 Arent the criteria used in ev aluating qualitative work a matter of value differences anyway? Didnt Bochner claim, Criteria are found rather than made? This notion puzzles me. Does hi s statement imply criteria exists naturally some how? I know that he along with Clough (1992), believes too many rules place an emphasis on policing texts rather than understanding texts. I think his statement means criteria emerge while reading a text. Such an approach relieves me of preconceived notions. It allows me to enter a text with an open mind. Such an approach to reading k eeps with Behars (1996) argument that ethnography is, about forming relationships , its a search for connections. That reminds me of how I mi ght enter this dissertation I believe, like Denzin (1997), th at good autoethnography should push us toward cultural criticism. We should be reminded of the larger context of individual experience. I think Holman Jones (2002) may have said it best, autoethnographies move from the inside of the author to outward expression while working to take readers inside th emselves and ultimately out again (pp. 53). She believes these texts create a char ged atmosphere that uses the energy of emotions to move our attention from our own relationships to the culture at large. Such a text could hardly be self-indulgent Autoethnography is self-confident in the belief, as poet May Sarton (1973) writes, each person counts, counts as a creative force that can move mountains (pp. 19).
160 She also claims that when read ing personal narratives, One must believe private dilemmas are, if deeply examined, universal, and so, if expressed, have a human value beyond the private, (pp. 60). As much as autoethnography is about the self, it is also always about the community the author and reader lives i n. Embedded in all autoethnographies is the question: how is community implicated in an individuals experience? By looking closely at an indi viduals experience, I can gain insight into the communication processes that underlie phe nomena like male friendships. I may even gain insight into how I might change my behavior in those relationships in order to make a difference in the life of the individual and the community. What is your obligation for cultiv ating and presenting insights? Should you sacrifice a straightforward explanation in order to satisfy ae sthetic concerns? Is the absence of a conclusion too much of a burden for the reader? Is a good story enough when it comes to comm unicating about and exploring complex social issues? Stories often pose more problems than they solve. While such a thing is great for stimulating conversation, is it necessarily practical in regard to how one should live ones life? I write in my journal. Stories allow us to work through pr oblems at our own pace. What is often unclear becomes apparent to us upon further reading and experience. Yeats referred to this as the magic inhe rent in all writinga connection created between author and reader that taps into the sublime repository of human consciousnesswhat Jung called the collec tive unconscious. There is something to be said for allowing these connections to emerge as if unaided. In part, this
161 phenomenon is what makes a co-constru cted narrative out of a single authored text and is reminiscent of th e arguments made by Foucault and Barthes about how meaning is the rightful bailiwic k of the reader. Many of the issues of qualitative methods and autoethnography emer ge from inquiry into who and what is being privileged. We often forget that readers are perhaps the most important participants in a text. Perhaps, it is my responsibility to allow for what Finely and Knowles (1995) calls, multiple entry point s into a text. According to them, innovative forms, especially ones that, re ject the logic of traditional sociological writing, should allow r eaders to join, the fray, (pp. 111). My work is a passionate invitation to think and write I still wonder about the fu ture of autoethnography and what is in the best interests of readers. Ceglowski (1997) agrees with Denison (1996) who suggests researchers verify the accuracy of their depictions with participants. Though I somewhat agree with this line of thinking, I experience anxiety about sharing my work with participants. But Ive shown participants many things Ive written for this project. Ive also given them transcrip ts of the conversations Simply showing my work and gettin g a participants stamp of approval isnt enoughnor is rejecting anything they identify as wrong. For example, participants may baulk at unf lattering interpretations of themselves even if those interpretations are accurate from my point of view. Sometimes using the self as subject is easier, because Im not afraid of showing my own warts as opposed to someone elses warts. Is accuracy even the proper goal of autoethnography? I
162 have an obligation to my self and my r eaders as much as I do my participants, and its not always easy ne gotiating between the three. Good qualitative work struggles to plea se without making it a priority to please everyone all of the time. Actually I think friendship works in similar ways. And even if I feel as I do about seeking appr oval, I know from experience I go out of my way to make sure the other men are not compromised or hurt. I do keep things off the record when asked But if some of the more embarrassing things my friends and I shared with one another were vital to my research, I would try to convince them to relent. Or I might fictionalize that informa tion and keep it in anyway. I think I am moving into a discussi on of friendship as method and ethics Yes, but there are some things I might discuss first as a lead in. I am reminded that good qualitative work, according to Lincoln (1995), requires critical subjectivity, which is, she says, t he ability to enter an altered state of consciousness for the purpose of understand ing with great discrimination subtle differences in the personal and psychological states of others (pp. 283). I would include, of course, self-awareness. Then, dialogue, autoethnography, and fr iendship, as qualitative methods, promote reflexivity or a hyperawareness of the multi-relational quality of being? And my work attempts to promote reciprocity. Lincoln calls that an intense shar ing that opens all lives party to the inquiry to examination (p. 283-84). She sees good research as a kind of lovermodel where a deep sense of trust, caring, and mutuality is developed.
163 But lovers quarrel and sometimes betray one another. I know that as hard as I may try, Ill eventually failif I havent alreadymyself and the other men invited to participat e in this project. Not on purpose. Ive known myself long enough and believe I hold an almost sacred feeling for my work and for those involved. Lincoln also acknowledges sacredness as an element of good research. Developing sacredness means having the profound concern for human dignity, justice, and interpersonal respect that emerges from a deep appreciation of the human condition, (p. 284). Again, much of what Lincoln describe s sounds like the elements of a good friendship Some researchers are beginning to id entify friendship as a method for doing qualitative ethnographic worknotab le among them is Tillmann-Healy (2003) who not only coined the phrase but also reminded us that ethnographers negotiate many roles while trying to gain entre into the worlds they wish to study. Doesnt being a researcher get in the way of being a friend? I ask in my journal. The tools of research are not n ecessarily antithetical to forming friendships; they may even be instrument al in deepening those relationships. Tillmann-Healy (2003) believes, as I do, that entering into research contexts as a friend adds emotional and relational layers to ones study. In addition to the typical tools for gathering data, the ethnographer can utiliz e, according to
164 Tillmann-Healy (2003) conversation, everyday involvement, compassion, giving, and vulnerability (pp. 734). Thinking about the earlier conve rsation, I can see why dialogue and autoethnography fit well with friendship as method. Bu t arent these dual roles difficult to negotiate? Why make it so hard on myself? Yes, its hard, but those roles require me to learn new ways of communicating. Becoming immersed in so meone elses life often means coping with the challenges, conflicts, and losses specific to that person. Goffman (1989) characterized ethnographers in their role of participant obse rver as a kind of fink (p. 125). The notion of ethnographer as fink carries a very different ethos than one characterized as friend. Relationa lly speaking, an ethnographer as friend imagines future contact between researcher and participant. In fact, the friendly ethnographer often thinks beyond the categories of researcher and participant. On the other hand, an ethnographer as fink sees no future in the relationship. In this configuration, the participant is useful only as a source of data (see also Brooks, 2006). If my friends were only a source of data, I wouldnt concern myself with what our relationship means after the project is over When engaging in friendship as me thod, I am painfully aware that relationships continue beyond the page. Actually, what our friendship means after the project is over is as much a part of my well being as it is of the participants.
165 I think I am keeping this project undo ne so I dont have to face that possibility. Maybe, I say out loud, half seriou sly, and glance quickly at my watch. Ive been sitting in Borders talking with myse lf for several hours. Its a little after five, and it is time for the long journey home. I wish I didnt have to leave I write in my journal before closing it. Me too, I think and get up from the table and walk to the parking lot. Not long ago, Bert and I stood in this park ing lot in front of my car for several long, silent seconds gazing at one anothe rs face. I am almost done with my dissertation and wonder if it will be the last time we meet for fun. Weve had many great conversations at this booksto re, and every time Ive come to town over the last year, I always make time to see him and he reci procates. Besides defending my dissertation and graduating, I wont have other reasons to come to town. Will we endure? Maybe because of or even despite my method, I love this man. When we hug on that day, I hold hi m a little longer than usual not wanting to let go, and whisper so no one else can hear, I love you.
166 Chapter Eight: Participant Monologues Berts Monologue July 2004 Friendship This word is used too liberally, and we say it even when someone is an acquaintance. A friend is interested in hanging out with me just to be with me call it mutual pleasure in co-presence. There doesnt have to be any specific activity, and it doesnt have to be role rela ted either, like a job or school. I always thought a good test of friendship was if we could be silent together. If we are constantly chattering, it suggest s neither of us can relax wi th the other. If I can relax and be myself that is more of a friendship. Expressing our authentic self or at least our percepti on of an authentic self is a primal need. I categorize different relationships based on how much of myself I can reveal. We all wear masks for one another, and with friends I wear thinner and thinner masks possibly no mask at all, though Im not sure if that is possible. Im not sure if human beings are capable of such unconditional love. It is a great ideal to strive for, but I am not sure such love exists, especially between men. Men take too much care of themselves so there are limits. But you cant force this authentic self. Sometimes a friend may push me too far and I say, Forget it!
167 I think friends can be more themse lves with one another than with family members. Our behavior determines what or how comfortable a friend is in opening up to us. If Im overly critical Im going to close off areas for that friendship to develop. For example, my fr iend Tom is very critical of the things he enjoyshe doesnt like bluegrass. He prefers German oper a to Italian opera, and he is quick to cut someone off when venturing into these subj ects. That limits how much I can share with him. I cant share my love of bluegrass or Italian opera with him. I like to be open to as many things as possible, which lets me be in conversation with more people. I dont believe in the best friend co ncept. We have these a lot when were younger, but I dont have them now, because either Im a friend or not a friend. And the best friend is someone I can hang around with of my own free will not out of obligation. I think friends free each other. They allow me to be And I can express all of my character, something that I am not able to do in other relationships. The more I allow a person to just be the more of a friendship we have. I dont subscribe to this whole oblig ation thing that because Im your friend I have to do this or that. If Im looki ng for my friend to be someone to do all these chores for me or to support me thr ough thick and thin, I ju st dont think that qualifies as a friendship. Mutual resp ect, there should be no other requirements than that. Let me be myself. D ont hold my personal quirks against me. Male friendships: how do I define it? To startits not the same as relating with females. Relationships with women are usua lly fraught with sexual tension.
168 Sometimes that tension isnt there, and th ats a blessing, but, most of the time, its an obstacle. Sex is always on my mindmost mens mindsmaybe not coitus but some kind of physic al aspect: the neck, the arch of the back, her toes. That sort of thing isnt there with males. If I were homosexual, then the equation is probably reversed. Of course, we all have bisexual tendencies but deny them and purport to be 100% hetero and macho. I believe these values are primarily formed in relationship with parents and to some extent other people, especially other men and certainly fathers. My father was always there. He was never absent. He was strict, especially when I was much younger. He could be indulging too. But when he felt it was going too far, he would tighten his grip, which was kind of confusing. He was and still is a strong figure in my life. And approachi ng 49, I am still more dependent on him than Id like to be. I wish I were more independent. I still find myself saying, Well, my dad saysw ow Im 49, and Im still saying my dad says. My two cousins were an influence on how I perceived friendship and masculinity. My paternal cousin Frank wa s three years older, and I always looked up to him; I saw myself as his sidekick. He usually took the lead and could be domineering. He always made me laugh though and Im sure he enjoyed that. My younger cousin David is 6 months younger a nd that makes a big difference when your 5 or 7. I was more dominant with hi m, because he was more subservient not in a derogatory sort of way. I was forced to be the leader. He looked up to me. But I always did better following along rath er than being in the lead. In cases
169 where there seems to be a need for a dominant person, Im usually the sidekick. In other words, I will relinqui sh leadership to someone who needs it. Specific friends Being an only child, I was a loner an d learned, at a young age, to amuse myself. Although I liked being alone, I wa s never lacking in friends. There was one time when my family moved up north and I was lonely and depressed. It didnt help that the climate was different; it got dark at 4:45 and I was going through puberty. A lot of my early friendships were location basedusually a next-door neighbor. When I lived on LaSalle Street first through seventh grade, Roland and Ernie were my friends. Wed get together, ride bikes, and play baseball that sort of thing. We also went to the movies and slept over at each others homes. Roland was dominant and Ernie was a puss. I was a terrified young kid. My cousin prepared me and Roland took up the slack. All in good fun One time, we got into a fight, and he told be to go home. He shooed me out of his house. I remember swallowing my pride and taking him some left over candy from Halloween and apologizing. It was a milestone for me, because it was an effort to swallow my pride and he accepted and we played. Roland had a color TV and we watched superman and batman a lot. His family was richer. That was a friendsh ip based on location but somewhat the other criteria too. We were just kids.
170 In high school, Al was my main fr iend. Hes a depressed guyvery serious and distant from hi s father, who worked 7 days a week. I can remember when Al first started acting. We were at his house rehearsing and his dad came home from work. He looked at Al and sa id, You want to be a bum; be a bum! You could say we were best friends. We had theatre and writing in common and did plays together. Drew cart oons and did lots of projects together. We could talk about anything and woul d spend long hours talking. Hed come over and wed have coffee and talk all night long until wed realize it was morning, then wed go get breakfast at the diner. I dropped the ball a lot with him. Hed give me things to read, but I was lazy and didnt always read them. I di dnt give him the feedback he needed but thats what I was like at that time. I went away to college and Al stayed home. I felt like when I was away, I was away. And he was like lets keep up the friendship. Ive seen that as needy. I m an out of sight out of mind person. Weve actually been out of touch for a long time. Ive been wrenched away from friends because of circumstances. I meet people and circumstances take us apart a nd it hurts and one of the ways I get over it is to forget about it and make ne w friends, Ive only got so much time. Its a marvelous blessing to have a slew of friends, but I cant always manage it, especially to develop a dee p, open, receptive friendship. That kind of relationship can only be developed by spending lots of time together. I had another friend in high school who was the antithesis of Al.
171 Jeff was materialistic and happy go lucky, something I needed then because I was getting too serious and filled with teen angst. Wed just hang out or drive around in his Caddy or go to the dine r and flirt with girls. We talked a lot about girls, and I got him into listening to opera. The three of us didnt pal together th ough. We had separate relationships. Al and Jeff didnt mix. Jeff was more emotionally available. Al was guarded more reserve. Jeff was more open not as cl osed as Al. Jeff could cry. In fact, when we said good-bye and I was going to college, we were sitting in his car. Jeff started to cry and I couldnt handle it. I still cant handle itmy father cried one time at dinner, and I felt uncomfortable. I wanted to stop him from crying, so I changed the subject to cheer him up. Same thi ng with Jeffhe started crying and I got nervous and started trying to get out of the car. But he put his hand out to me to shake and I shook his hand. I feel bad about it to this day, because I didnt allow him to cry about me going away. I didnt think it was that big of a deal. Wed see each other at the next holiday, so it wasnt that big of a deal. But it was to himand I couldnt deal with it. The further away someone is the less you hang out with them. Hanging out is crucial to being friends. But its a big deal for me just to go across town to hang out. Ive done things a friend shouldnt do.
172 I met Tom in college in the dorm. Hes easy to get along with, and we became friends right away. Toms a Princeton Oxford preppy guy. We were good friends. When I graduated college, I went away and he stayed. I left abruptly and didnt say goodbye. We lost touch for thirte en years, and I missed him. Later, I found his address through the Internet, and we reestablished our friendship. When I moved back to Tampa and was in the family business I met another good friend: Art. Hes a tai ch i kung fu master. Having a business and a wife, we didnt get together as much as I did with past friends. We talked about Taoism a lot. My employees were not friends. Wh en you dont see someone outside the context of work or school, then you are not friends but acquaintances. I have students that are like friends, a guy named Joe, for example. We get together just to talk. Hes a hard worker, unlike me, hes driven. Im lazy and like to take it easy. Adam I dont see so much because hes busy. Hed come for no reason just to talk with me. We talk about everything, books, life, etc. Of course, I have you. Interestingly, all of my friends have initiated the relationship, including you. I think I send off signals that say I am open. Im always curious about what people see in me. What they like or why they are drawn to me? Do they like the way I think? My personality? What? I rarely initiate friendships and I dont know why
173 I dont do that with women either I love contact with humans But I love solitude A friend is someone who goes be yond necessary encounters. He seeks to be with you for the sake of being with you. And I can tell when a person enjoys being in my companyIts a precious thing. I appreciate that there are people in this world who care to spend their free time with me, told my mother that the other day, and she said that it shows low selfesteem. I dont think so. I count it as a blessing that I have at least one person in my life that cares about me enough to want to be with me for its own sake. Just being with a friend is enough. *** Sidneys Monologue July 2004 Im making this tape at the request of a friend of mine who asked me to discuss my ideas about masculinity as we ll as the types of friendships Ive had with men. Im not quite sure where to begin. The notion that men have about masculinity or what it means to be a man involves force, the assertion of ones body, the use of itbe that through sports in
174 competition with other males or sometim es violence like fightsit could even be ones voice from speaking loudly to st and up for ones self. In our culture, performing masculinity and even femininity falls into extremes. For a man who finds reading, art, or music pleasurable is to call his masculinity into question and its a sad thing. Its sad because it shows our conceptions of being a man are narrow and that it doesnt allow for a continuum in regard to what people can be or find interesting or the types of f eelings or emotions that they can express. I do believe that race plays a factor in that because I am a black male and our conceptions of masculinity are much narrower than even th e community at large. I think of the sad state of what is considered the hi p hop culture in which thuggish behavior, criminal behavior is celebrated. The opinions that people put forth about women are bifurcated where they show respect for their mothers or grandm others and at the same time women as peers are put down, called names like Ho. In friendships with other males, I wa s a smart kid. I always did well in school. I liked music. I liked to write. I also played sports and there was a certain bonding that took place there. But interestingly enough, as Ive grown older, sports dont hold the same connec tion for me that they once did. Although I enjoyed the bonding experien ce of being around my team mates, I preferred the activity of playing th e sport. Im not the kind of person who wants to memorize all the stats or to watch someone else play unless its the championship game and Im watching the best of the best. I wont follow the whole season on ESPN or
175 have a favorite team. I dont really care that much. Its a generic conversation like talking about the weather. I know the format and some people get very passionate about it bu t I dont really care about it. Its a joke. You have grown men getting paid millions of dollars to play a childs game. Ill stop there for a second. Ill talk about my friendships with men. Ive always had male best friends, and Ive always had female best friends. And that makes a difference in my understanding of what it means to be a man and relating to women because Im not overly masculine. If I want to know something about women, I ask women. They know more about themselves than we do. I dont spend a lot of time asking guys about women. Women ar e probably more introspective about themselves than guys are so how much could a guy really tell you about a woman? Other than some stereotype they heard from another guy who knows even less than they do. That may sound foul, but really most of my male friends arent really like that. My closest male friends arent the ones I played sports with. They had other interests: classical piano, sculpture, ar t, people who like to write or are interested in science, physicspeople who really had thoughts. I find those people more inte resting on the whole. Most of my close male friends are li ke me. Though I have the ability to play sports, I dont value it as much as I do the ability to do intellectual things, which explains my backgroundworking towa rd a Ph.D. I intentionally have sought out things that would broaden my in tellectual horizons. They have more value and though they may not in our culture seem like masculine things as
176 opposed to playing a sport or beco ming a rapper. Hip hop things dont interest me, so I really consider myself different. When you ask me about being a man or masculinity the answers youd probably get are different than what youd typically find. I honestly find conversations with women more interesti ng than those with most men. The men that I do talk to or relate to are rare and atypical. Three of my closest friends share the exact same personality type which is common to only 1% of the populatio n if that tells you anything. Male friendship is always a little detached. Youre not going to cry around your male friends. When a guy cries around another guy it shows vulnerabilityhes really on the brink. Its not something that men tend to do around other men. Theres a lot of posturing, a need to be cool. And its a lot of crap. Unfortunately, the relationships th at men have with other men bleed over into their relationships with their wives or children. Especially, the crap they teach their male children about being tough. This over emphasis on not showing emotion really screws us later on in life. Was this person taught to be compassionate early on in lifenobecause those things are associated with being feminine? God forbid that the kid should actually show emotion. Hes a sissy or a fag or whatever. It really limits the types of experiences we can have or th e type of person we can be. You end up with a person who is more like a robot. Ill stop there for a second.
177 I would say that men do need to work on changing the types of relationships that they do have with one a nother. It will be a difficult thing to do. The types of projects that I see people in the Communication Department work on such as Jay and Matt are important. Im not sure how many people understand the nature of or the importance of that wo rk but over time people will because it is necessary. Men do need to change men but unfort unately it gets associated with a mens movement where people go out in the woods and bang drums and hugging and stuff like that. It gets a bad rap because its seen as extreme. I think a middle ground needs to be found in regard to how we relate to each other. Me, Ive had relationships with males outside of friends hip, the mentoring onesmale teachers. I had the football coach who was also an English teacher. He recommended books for me to read. He was a person who encouraged me to keep up my scholarly endeavors. Ive b een fortunate in that my mentors have been friends to me and given me ideas about different ways to live and be, especially as an African American man where the ideas of being a man are even narrower. I also think that Ive been fortunate in regard to birth. My grandmother raised me and Ive had two wonderful pare nts and a great stepmother who have taught me to be respectful of other people s culture to want to learn about them. To understand ways of being a man that ar e not so patriarchal that necessitate domination. I, like other males, can and do portray those roles, but I am more
178 cognizant of doing it. To be able to step back is crucial. The person who has had the most influence in the type of man Ive become, the way in which I understand manhood, is my father. Although my father was a military man, he is someone youd say the still waters run deep. Though he did live and work and breathe in this very hierarchical culture, my father is also a very gentle man. He is not a man who is afraid to cry or show compassion. He is very loving and very family oriented. Morality and ethics are a priority for him. Those are things that I have always admired about my father and hes tried to teach me over the years. That made a big difference for me. I can say I had a father figure. Im very proud of him and hope to make him proud to have characteristics that he displays. Being an African Am erican male it can be more difficult because you might not know who your father is or never spent much time with him. Ive got to wonder how that affect s our relationships with other men and even the women in our lives. I didnt grow up in a household where I heard bad things about my dad. Many guys I knew had mothers who bad talked their fathers. I never heard that, I always heard that my father was a go od man and living with him I saw proof. As far as how I see the world changing Im not really sure a plurality of men are going to see it as necessary to change the way in which they relate to each other. It takes something bad happe ning and then, and only then, do they see a need for change. Not to place the bur den on women, but I think its imperative
179 for men to learn a great deal from them Men need to have a movement for themselves but they have to listen to women more. We need a woman president. Id vote for one. We need to see larger ways of being in the world and being ourselves. We need to go beyond the money thing, the dog-eat-dog world we seem to live in, to see others needs connected to our own. If these kinds of qualities have come to be more associated with women, then fi ne, we need to learn something from women and that these things are assets to human beings not just women. As guys, we need to learn to listen more, to try not dominating conversations. Just watching other guys talkand Im guilty of thisits a competition. We talk loudly. We cut each other off. We dont listen the way women listen to each other and truly respond to what the other is saying. Even something as simple as that would go far in changing the types of relationships we have. It would give us a deeper unders tanding of each other as people in times other than crisis. Since this guys world is so screwed up, its ok to hug him now to show compassion and vulnerabilityif we learne d to do those things sooner we might save someone or ourselves from coming to bad ends. I am hopeful that it can be done, but I place more faith in generations to come because its difficult to teach an old dawg new tricks; literally these people become set in their ways. Th eyre not interested in change. Weve got to get over our obsession with sports. We need to teach young men to do things that are helpful to people. Search for the cure for cancer instead
180 of working on your jump shot. To shift our focus form creating bigger, faster toyscars, planes, and so on. How does th is help? What we do with our lives shapes what we are and as long as those choices are narrow you will have narrow people. Beauty is something to be appr eciated. Doing that instead of watching movies where destruction is valued. That would be a start. Men posses these qualities; we just ignore them. *** Kirks Monologue July 2004 I met Leonard my freshman year at university. We were roommates. Im 18 years old and struggling with my pare nts divorce, dealing with chronic stomach problems, facing a long distance rela tionship with my girlfriend at the time, and I had never lived away from home. Ambivalent. I was ambivalent. Like me, Leonard was moving away fr om home for the first time. We were both green and uncertain about our iden tities. The first six months of living together were spent figuring each other out. We got along. But its hard being forced into a re lationship and whether you come to love this other person or you hate them. Thrown together under new and mystifying experiences bonded us. And we changed.
181 Two essential breakthroughs happene d to Leonard and me our second semester: We dabbled in drugs and experimented with sex. We bought our first bag of weed from a guy who lived on our hall. He loaned us a bong too. Then we went back to our room and smoked it all. When youre high, you relax. You can open up. Doped or sober, we talked and talk ed about sex. Leonard was the first person I really communicated with on th e subjectespecially masturbation. I admitted to jerking off and even said, I love it. He was shocked at first, but then we started talking about it: how we masturbated, when we started masturbating, where we masturbated and how we hid it from our parents. You knowthe standard talk. One day we even masturbated together. He under his sheet and me under mine. We didnt ejaculatewe were too nervous. But we measured our penises at full erection. It was funny comparing and who knows if we were telling the truth. I probably added inches to my dick. These moments established vulnerab ility and honesty that has been emblematic of our friendship. Weve been friends now for twelve years. By the end of our first year at school you could say Leonard and I werein loveenamored. We had taken classes together and st ruggling with them trying to explain our thoughts and feelings to one another. Girls, of course. We talked a lot about girls.
182 Talking about our parents was, perhaps, more meaningful. And those twelve months of being together were ripe with possibility for expressing ourselves. He and I shared our feelings about who we were as individuals and who we wanted to be. Openly. Frequently. We spent our next year off campus in a house with two other people who ended up not being close friends. Honestly, I dont remember much about that year, because I tore ligaments in my knee and had to have reconstruc tive surgery. It was a traumatic and emotional time for me. When I think b ack, I dont remember much about that year. I know Leonard was there. He lost hi s virginity in that house. I still hadnt had sex. That was a big moment for me living vicariously through his experience with women. Though we continued to progress as fr iends, my body troubles put me into a reclusive mood. At the end of the second year, we de cided to drop out of university and move homemaybe go to a Jr. College. He lived about an hour south of where I grew up... He didnt tell either of his parents. I told my mom but not my dad. We drove back together stopping off in a fe w places on the way. Leonard stayed with me at my house for a couple of days, a nd then I took him to the train station.
183 I remember wondering if our friendship would survive and hoped we would find a way to see one another. Ov er the summer he visited and we played golf. We went to the beach one day too. At the end of the summer, after talking with my father, I decided to apply to another university. Leonard stayed home and went to the community college. This decision didnt alter our relationship but it changed the direction of our lives. I went far away. I met lots of cool people. I met my future wife. I did a lot of drugs. All without him. And I changed. I evolved from being introverted to being extroverted. The drugs helped me to express myself. I felt more confident in my identity. I invited Leonard out several times and he was amazed by my drug use. He was also interested in join ing my ball game so to speak. We did mushrooms. Drank a ton. Smoked enough weed to kill an elephant. Played Frisbee. He loved my friends. It was really a good time. He eventually transferred to another university. By the time I graduated, he was a few years behind me and still livi ng at home. Leonard did a ton of drugs toohis parents oblivious in the other room. I dont know how he pulled that off. But Leonard is a fickle and frugal indi vidual. When it comes to money he likes to do whatever he can to preven t himself from opening his wallet book.
184 That was probably his main reason for staying home even though I know he hated it. (Long pausethe tape shuts off) Back to it. The seminal moments in my relation ship with Leonard revolved around drug use and masturbation, as well as ta lking about women and fornication. I think its fascinating. It might be common; it might not be. But it certainly set the tone for our relationship. Although I think these are common e xperiences among male friends, at least early in a mans life, they do not al ways sustain that friendship over time. For some reason my relationship with Leonard has lasted. The most important times have been our camping expeditions. Leonard is a huge outdoorsman. He was raised in a family where being outdoors was a vital part of living. Before I met Leonard, I had done two or three outdoor excursions, but they were minimal. Leonard and I did some extreme hikes up in the mountains,000-17,000 feet. Massive climbs. Pushing each other to climb faster-harde r-better. Challengi ng each other. The competitive spirit is part of the bonds formed on those treks. But I dont think we have manly relati onships as such. We engage each other emotionally, although I dont think Leonard has pr ovided me with as much personal insight into his life.
185 Weve had some good talks, but our relationship hasnt been based on long in depth conversations. Its been more a bodily experience, a shared bodily experience with the world around us. Camping is a prime example. Something that comes back to drug use but is crucial that we talk about is doing acid. We did acid toge ther for the first time. And that was a HUGE moment in our lives. We were in a high fern gully playing cards and we dosed these acids. About an hour into the trip, I let a card go and it just kept falling from my hand and never hit the ground. For anyone who has never done acid its impossible to describebut the moment of dropping that tab onto your tongue is not the important part, where as with weed the smoking of it is crucial to the experience. With acid there is that one second wher e reality shifts a nd youre in an altered state full of tran sformative potential. Watc hing it happen to yourself through another human being who is al so simultaneously seeing themselves through youphenomenal. Ecstatic. Working through that trip together connected Leonard and me in a sublime way, and we often talk about it when we return to each other. Maybe thats a nice place to take th is conversationLeonard and I have always kept in contact either through conversations on the phone or getting
186 together. As time passes, I can think of only three individuals I regularly talk with on the phonelike once a month. Leonard had always been there and I think one of the biggest growing years, aside from infancy, is the tw enties. Leonard was my twenties. He has always been honest. That is his greatest character trait. I have never met anyone more honest than Leonar d. He has a high degree of personal self worth. What he says and does w ith his life he lives by. Ive never experienced him saying one thing and then doing something else. Whenever Ive asked him about how he feels, he always tells me. Theres no one Id turn to more in a time of crisis than Leonard. Another crucial aspect of our friendship is that hes in the academic world as well. Hes getting a PhD in microbio logy. We have lots of similarities in terms of our struggles and passions for le arning. We share books. Hes always been an avid reader. He takes me in directions I would have never imagined. Like music. Crucial. The big thing was Steely Dan. During our early years together we listened to Steely Dan. We went to concerts. We got all the albums. We sang songs in Karaoke bars. Anything we could do to listen to Steely Dan. Whenever I go home, I always make sure I go see him. Just a month ago I went home and spent two days with him. We played golf, we got drunk, and we played pool. We talked about the old times. We talked about the future. We do that every time we get together.
187 I feel guilty that I di dnt go see him for two years when he was living in Seattle. Another interesting thing about our relationship is that we always have a lot of big plans, but we rarely see them come to fruition. Weve wanted to go canoeing up in the boundary waters in Canada. Wev e wanted to hike Mt. Whitney. Weve wanted to go kayaking down in Baja, and we havent done any of those things. Weve come close a few times. That doesnt say so much about our relationship as it does about us both being kind of flaky with our lives. Another thing that I real ly appreciate about him is that I have a very contentious relationship with my father and one of the ways my father and I bond is through golf. Ive often asked Leonard to join us. Hes very honest with my dad and my dad respects Leonard. Wev e all enjoyed playin g golf together over the years. Besides sitting around a tabl e drinking scotch, Leonard and I will always be able to play golf together. Ju st last summer he was the best man in my wedding. He was a rock as usual. Leonards very passionate about my relationship with my wife. He gave one of the most eloquent speeches Ive ev er heard in my life for the best man toast. He really showed his true grit. Im not here to criticize and Ive go t a lot of my own weaknesses but one thing that I do fear for Leonard is that he likes to drink. He got into drinking when we were in college together and he continues to drink. Would I say hes an
188 alcoholic, yeah, I probably would. Not in the sense of going to work drunk but drinking everyday. And hes dating so meone now who enables that behavior. I worry about him. I got an email from him the other day and it was laced with drunken connotations. Im all for having a good time, but being 30 years oldhes doing well in schoolbut his mother just died of colon cancer a few years ago. And hes not always expressive about that loss. I know its hurt him tremendously. He was very close with his mother. His father and he have always had a tight lipped relationship. His dad is very quiet and they cant express how they feel with each other even to me. I dont know if Im his best friend, but I think Id be pretty close. I regret that we havent b een together more these last twelve years. I learn a lot about myself being with him and know he learned a lot about himself too. It makes me sad that we werent ab le to share more moments together, because I know as we get older they are going to be fewer and fewer. I have few individuals who have influenced me in as powerful a way as Leonard has. I sometimes wonder: Could it have been anybody? Was Leonard just filling a role? Was he just there at a time in my life when I was growing up? And it doesnt really matter who it was, but it was him, that lightening rod who helped me evolve as a human being. Ive spent a lot of time with people over the years and Leonard seems to, hands down, be able to resonate with me most eloquently. Ther es just a vibration that he and I share that I havent been able to find in anyone else. I would be
189 heartbroken if our relationship ever e nded or one of us left this Earth unexpectedly. He has taught me so much. I can think of so many times we would go to the beach in the summers and lay in the sand and go in the water and swim and ride waves and play Frisbee and Look at girls Those are moments I cherish deeply. Im sure that he does too. I wish I lived closer to Leonard because he provides me with the sustenance that I dont get from many other men. He makes my life more sound and secure. That is something we talk about fr equently: Living clos e to one another again and how influential that would be on our lives. I dont say that about many people. Ive spent my life running from relationships whether a family member or a previous lover or a man friend. To want to spend more time with a male is very rare for me. With close friends I find that I need to have something to look forward to with them. Something that we can share. Something that we can do together.
190 Im always putting together vacations around being with friends because thats what gets me through my days. Will I see him before in the meantime? Probably. I go home often maybe once or twice a year to see my famil y. Hopefully, Ill see him again soon. Whether or not its this summerProba bly not. And I really dont know where his life is going to take him. Hes going to be a professor soon. Hard saying. Hard saying. I hope that he and I find a way to work it out and be closer than we have been since those first times in college 10 years ago. Its been about 10 years to the day that he and I left the university together. Amazing I miss him. I miss his laugh. I miss being able to ride the waves with him and walk. Play Frisbee. Li sten to music. Just feed off his vibe. He provides me with such nourishment that is why we ar e such good friends. I dont get that from many other individuals. I strive for it. Again, its something that you cant make happen. It has to happen naturally. Somehow, Leonard and I just have it. I hope it never ends. The guy is crazy. Ive watched him skateboard down a hill doing about 40 through rush hour traffic and almost kill himself. Ive been on the back of a dune buggy with him in the desert going 90 and almost slipping off to our deaths.
191 Ive been in the high mountains of Colorado hiking with him in the winter and our sleeping bags werent rate d properly and almost freezing to death. Weve done some foolish things together The least of which has been our drugs. Those moments have shown us how fallible we are and hopefully he realizes that too because I would be deva stated if something were to happen to him. I worry that him drinking and driving as hes been known to do would be somethingits only a matter of time. Thats something Ive never brought up with him. Im not sure how he would take it. I dont know. I cant think about too many people who could talk to him about his drinking. Ive just neve r had the courage to do it yet. I dont think it would end our relationship. Maybe its something I need to do someday but Im not sure. I just hope hes able to right the ship. There have been times when hes asked me to help him with his drug usethrowing away all the bongs and burying them in the desert. But hes al ways come back to using drugs. Hes never seen drinking as a problem, but the man can put back a few. I just hope that somehow he is able to figure it out. I dont know if it will happen with the current woman. Well see what happens. I woul d love for him to get married and soon. Hes the romantic type. He loves women. He loves to caress and care for women. But for some reason he hasnt re ally seriously datedthats not truehe did date a woman for almost three years, and he came to me when it was time to quit. He came to me, and I said to get out while he could and Im glad he did. Other than that, his relations hips with women have been short lived. I dont know why. Ive met all his girlfriends and they all seemed nice. But Leonard is a
192 single child and has a lot of personal desi res and hasnt had to share much and I think he gets a little preoccupied with whats best for him. You have to think about whats best for the other as well. Sometimes I wonder if he does that. It remains to be seen what will happen with the current woman. I spent th e evening with them recently, and they seemed very much in love and willing to give to one another. They may have issues with alcohol, but well see. Hopefully, it will work out. Its hard for me to put into words. Its like having a kid. You want so much for them to succeed and make a difference and be happy. How could I not want him to be with someone he loves someone who gives him joy? Its hard for me to say, Leonard I dont want you to be with this person because they are contributing to your alcohol problem. Maybe thats why he loves her so much; I dunno. Well see. Ive come across a lot of guys, and I ha ve a strong relationship with a few of them. But why has Leonards remained while others have fallen away? Ive had relations that went on for a long time and then suddenly stopped. With Leonard, weve maintained momentum even picked some up over time. Its a matter of perspective. He and I share a lot of similar values and beliefs. Im not talking about politics or the color of hair we like on women. Im talking about a general, natura l sense of living that he a nd I are very much in tune with. Were comfortable with each other.
193 I get frustrated and overwhelmed by people whose approaches to life are frenetic and out of control. Leonar d is relaxedhow Id like to be in some situations. (Tape ran out. Flipped sides) Leonard is my catalyst in life. He is the person I go to when I want to go do something that Ive never done befo re. If Im going to go bungee cord jumping, then who do I want as my right hand man? And its Leonard. Its not because hes going to tell me not to do itits because when I go and do it hes with me. And we are going to have a c onversation afterwards that will enhance the experience. Thats what Im getting at. We give each other clarity. And that makes those experiences that much more potent and powerful more epiphany like because they included him. It doesnt have to be extrem e things like climbing mountains Its going to a wine auction in Idaho. Or going to see the movie Heat Its throwing a Frisbee. Or driving across country. Its listening to music albums. Or hanging out in his backyard wa tching the Jets of Miramar fly overheadthese little things th at just continue to happen. Its helpful that my wife loves him. And he loves my wife. Weve all done wonderful things together. He gets along with my other friends too. Its
194 rare that you can bring one friend from one time in your life together with another from a different time, and they get along. He gets along with everyone marvelously. I admire his ability to get along. He doesnt hold grudges. He remains friends with Xs. I dont know how he doe s it, but he does. He goes to his high school reunions and everyone knows him a nd talks about him. Hes a very likable guy. He doesnt make it difficult to be around him. You dont have to work hard or put energy into the relationshi p. Its just feels natural to be with him. When you can have someone like th at, why wouldnt you want to be with that person? We help each other feel good about ourselves. What more can you say? I hope this helps. Im not sure how long Ive taken it. Ive flipped the tape over. But if you need anything else let me know. Bye-bye.
195 Chapter Nine: Hard Habits to Break August 2004 We will probably never be good friends, I am thinking while driving down interstate 275 toward my second formal meeting with Kirk. The road is so familiar; I unconsciously change lanes to avoid an almost imperceptible hole at the end of a tight curve known as malfunction junction. The heat rising from the asphalt mesmerizes. I want to avoid th e hierarchiesthe typical demarcations that divide and diminish the possibility betw een us. I want to say that as long as there is something between us; then, we are friends, but my growing disappointment turns the need for openness into a struggle (see Brooks, 2006). The canceled activities, the unreturned emails, and the rescheduled meetings all play on a growing desire to protect myself and to blame myself regardless of my education in relational communication. But we lead demanding lives, I rati onalize. Being graduate students, our precious time cannot always be spent main taining or cultivating new friendships, even when there is a strong mutual at traction (see Miller, 1983). My warm feelings for Kirk do not override the other obligations that inevitably take us away from one another. I feel insecure. I want to share this insecurity with Kirk, but know, today, I will keep it a secret. Not because I fear showing weakness to another male, but because I am convinced of the relationships decline. The old
196 habits of the military brat in me k eep my heart moving on, and, tragically, it never moves an inch. I am also painfully aware of being a researcher and how this role often seems incompatible with that of being a friend (see Tillman-Healy, 2003). I close myself off because of fear of violat ing ethical mandatesfear that I am unconsciously manipulating people (see Goffman, 1989). Just the other day Bert caught up with me in the computer lab; we hadnt spoken in a few weeks. Many times I had been on the verge of calling him, but hesitatedwhy? Fatigue from too much wo rk, I think, or as a way to avoid my feelings. Now, we are in the habit of not hanging out, not talking (see Kupers, 1993; Miller, 1983; Osherson, 1992). He jokingly asks, Have you been testing me? No. But I feel ashamed anyway. I should have called and a litany of excuses sounds off in my head. We ma ke plans, and looking at Bert I wonder, Has some of the sparkle gone out of his eyes? We hug, and I hold onto him a second longer trying to let him know that he doesnt have to go. I exit the highway. Moments later, I am pulling into the parking lot of the diner where Kirk and I habitually meet. I dont see his truck, but I am ten minutes early as usual. I shut my eyes and take a few deep breat hsmeditating. The cool air trapped in my car begins to dissipate and sweat beads build up on my forehead. I am concentrating on the drip at the end of my nose when a knock on the glass startles
197 me. Kirk is peering into the window w ith a huge grin pasted on his face. I smile and grab my satchel. The interior of the diner invites nostalg ia not only for an idealized past but also for being on the road. License plates decorate the walls. Middle-aged men with potbellies sit on stools that are bolte d to the floor, and tell dirty jokes to a seemingly interested waitress. I imagin e she will spout, Kiss my grits, any second. The brown Formica counter top s hows signs of discoloration from the multitude of elbows that have propped up greasy burgers. I am aware of having stepped into a clich, and, for some ine xplicable reason, I am pleased. As if on cue, the song drifting from the speakers in the ceiling provides a soundtrack for my wistfulness: Give me the beat boys, and free my soul I want to get lost in your rock-n-roll And drift away And drift away, I sing quietly to my self, as we look around for an empty booth. Kirk, typical of his character, beams ove r all that he surveys. Drinking in the details, I can see that my friend cher ishes, perhaps irreverently, the kitschy flavor of this place. I know he apprecia tes the opportunity to eat what can only be described as grub. As is the case for many men, we forgo various pleasures in deference to a significant other. Things that we enjoyed in our teens and twenties seldom fit into our committed relationsh ips with women. Our friendships with
198 other men are often occasions for revisiti ng a past life to resample the things given up out of love (see Kupers 1993; Miller, 1983; Osherson, 1992). I recall the childish pacts made and oaths sworn with a beloved male companionthat a woman would never come between usthat nothing would ever change: We would howl at the moon until our dying day. I wonder if that desire to keep things the same is what fuels a sense of emptiness in many middle aged men? As a man who is approachi ng middle age, am I like other such men swept away by the contradictions of performing normative masculinity, because that social narrative compels us to both stay the same and to change: Retain our youthful camaraderie and get married. Th e idea that these things can exist simultaneously seems foreign. What is a man to do? Despite my earlier misgivings, I am se ttling into the routine of being with Kirk. His customary excitement infects me and much of my fear and loathing evaporates. When I am with my friends, lost in the moment, the feeling of being more myself often consumes me (see Brooks, 2006). The habit of being men together reaches out across time and space. We die hard. The social role we have practiced since childhood does have its advantages. Even though I havent seen him all summer, we assume our old relationship as though a day hasnt gone by, a familiar occurrence in nearly all of my relationships with men. Studying my friend, I notice he seems skinni er and that his head is shaved. After exchanging a bit of small talk, we are soon conversing about topics that routinely come up between graduate students: teaching, major professors, the job
199 market, and the upcoming deadline for submitting papers to the national convention. Much of what we discuss is ritual complaining that I imagine most coworkers engage in. For us that amounts to sharing our displeasure about the undergraduates we teach, and the fact th at we are underpaid for our efforts. Some of what we talk ab out is personaltoo personal to reveal. After all, keeping each others confidence is an impor tant part of being friends and being a researcher (see Tillman-Healy, 2003). Sens ing Kirks need to discuss an issue hes having with his major professor, I d ecide to leave my tape recorder off, a convenient way of choosing roles in the mo ment. If only it were so easy to turn off being a researcher. I wonder why I pr ivilege one role over the other; as though being a friend is always diametrically opposed to being a researcher (see Tillman-Healy, 2003). If anything, at least for a little whil e, research gives us the necessary excuse to get together, to make time for another man. I cannot escape the fact that our relationships require an activity, a reason beyond just being with one another and these reasonswhatever they may bea llow us to ask permission from our significant others and, perhaps more impor tantly, from ourselves. Is this the bottom line of hetero-normalcy? Finally, after a half hour or more of talking, I pull out my tape recorder and turn it on. Having disrupted our convers ation, I feel the need to explain my actions, This thing makes me feel self -conscious, I say, looking at the tape recorder I just laid on the middle of the table.
200 I know what you mean, Kirk replies, We could have turned it on from the beginning. Is this statement pe rmission to let read ers into our earlier conversation? Perhaps. But I know neith er of us would want our exact words on the record. When we gripe about the pressures of being students, and the powerlessness we sometimes feel, the wo rds shift from the jocular to the derogatory, and the meanness of our words is inexact, overstated. I was enjoying myself too much. When I turn it on, I say, looking at the recorder again, I feel like Im a different person. I pause for a moment to think about what to say next. With the record er on, I am a researcher. I am not just hanging out with a friend. Wh ile its on, if I try to be just a friend, even while its presence fades into the background, ther es something inauthentic about it. Thats interesting, because when I am being interviewed, I respond with an extra awareness. I want to say the right thing, Kirk says a bit selfconsciously. I worry about betraying my fr iendships, maybe, because I feel ethnographers can turn out to be, as Go ffman (1989) claims, a bunch of finks, I say and know that this comment is more a harsh critique of my self and an expression of how my self-worth in ne gotiating these complex roles sometimes slips away. Explain that. Remember that conference pape r of his they published in The Journal of Contemporary Ethnography? I ask. Refresh my memory.
201 An ethnographers job, according to Goffman (1989), is to insinuate themselves into peoples lives, to observe them, and to steal away in the night with the collected data, adopting my teach ing persona, my voice gets louder as I continue to speak, Positing the ethnogr apher as fink configures relationships according to a parasitic rather than part icipatory view. Sounding more and more like one of my own long-winded professo rs, I ramble on, When we think of the ethnographer as friend, there is a radical shift in our perspective. People are participants rather than objects. Im no longer asking what can you do for me or even what can I do for you, but rather what can we do together? It means maintaining relationships after a project ends, my friend interjects. Yes. I think the friendly ethnographer attempts research that is mutually beneficial to all involved (see Tillman-Healy 2003). But the fact that it becomes research affects the way you have a relationship, Kirk states. Right. I answer. Seems tragic, Kirk says sadly and th en asks, Why cant you just have a relationship with someone and let it go at th at? A silence envelopes us, and I can see by my friends wrinkled brow that he is thinking of a what if scenario. I keep quiet to see where he takes the conversation. My best friend, this man Ive known since I was a freshman in college, his mother died a number of years ago. Weve had several conversations about how that death altered his relationship with his father. He has no other family and
202 it is interesting watching the two of them working out their emotional baggage. There hasnt been much resear ch done on those types of relationships. If I write a paper about widowers and their children and decide to include my experiences with my friend, then sudden ly I have to treat that friendship differently. Kirk states then exclaims in a hushed voice, thats fucked up. Perhaps, but how do you respect his privacy? He had those conversations with you in confidence and in the knowledge that you were his friend not a communication rese archer, I challenge. Thats true, Kirk says. However, I continue, you have re lational truths youve uncovered and you have obligations to the scholarly comm unity and they dont neatly fit with your obligations to your friend. I know I ll wrestle with that during my research project, I say, thinking of our earlier unrecorded conversation. I am struggling with a need to voice my disappointment about our relationship. Isnt one of the points of my research not only to observe men in friendship but also to introduce alternative ways of communicating together? I began this project by respondi ng to Millers (1983) obser vation that the emotional state of modern men was abysmal at best ? Had there been any progress in the convening years? My courage to speak is watered down with fear of the truth. Kirk and I liked one another. We could be good friends, but I wanted to avoid the reality that the relationship had run out of time. Unconsciously, I begin to speak indirectlyI circle the truth like a carrion eater when I open my lips again.
203 Honesty between men is interesting when it comes to their friendships, I say tentatively, As friends we keep secrets not only for each other but also from each other. As a researcher, I want to know why and that may require revealing painful truthsadd to th at my ignorance; I am not sure how to talk about our own relationship: What is it? What does it mean? These are questions we might address more overtly with women as we negotiate our emotional and, especially, our sexual desire s. As men, we seldom have that kind of overt meta-communication about our friendships. I do that with my friend Leonard to some extent, Kirk interrupts indicating that they meta-t alk about their relationship. How often do we talk about our fu ture as friendsits as though time operates differently between men, I continue. There is a past but mostly there is just the now, he adds with a Zen like expression. When I approach you as a researcher, I risk introducing matters foreign to our relational habits, I theorize. Funny that you should mention honest y, because when my friend is talking to me, I believe everything between us is true. But, he pauses, leans forward, and continues in a hushed voice, but the instant I put it down on paper, readers will question the tr uth of itbringing up the issu e of representation. Will you try to weave that into your research? Kirk asks, his hand now propping up his chin.
204 My writing usually ends up calling atte ntion to itself as writing but I wonder if this postmodern fascination with representation is, perhaps, a narcissistic dead end. At some point regardless of the chosen mediums imperfection and the impossibility of truth with a capital T, we have to get down to representing. As excited as I am to wax quixotic over pomo-relativism, I feel the need to return to friendship and sa y, On the tape you made for me you speak about the nourishment you receive from sp ending time with Leonard. I wonder if that is something that can be purposefully cultivated with other people. I know that feeling of nourishment and have experienced it in some unlikely places. There seems to be something organic or, perhaps, fateful about it. You cant make it happen, but there is this desire to have it with this person or that person. He says pointing to me and then to one of the men sitting at the diner counter. How is it possible for two men to talk about that when they dont already have that nourishment? I wonder out l oud and am thinking about the restriction feelings of homophobia places on many men. Well, Ill tell you something. I studie d Durkheim (1975) in social theory fall semester, and he talks about the collective consciousness that directs individuals behavior with out them realizing it. Thes e beliefs are ingrained but result from participation in moments of collective effervescence, which are transformational experiences that through ritualized action merge into our daily lives. We may forget that first moment
205 Reminds me of Freuds (1995) pr imal sceneit expl ains the incest taboo, I toss in. Kirk continues his explanation, The en ergy that pulls peop le together into pairs or larger groups is felt to be an external agent. We might call it serendipity; others might call it God. But this force is manifested in getting together and living. Durkheim (1975) even posited that nations are built upon these small relationships that combust when individua ls share similar experiences. When you get more and more people sharing the same routine Larger and larger social configurati ons occur that eventually lead to nations, I guess out loud. So, I would say the reason that I obtain nourishment from certain friendships has to do with sharing transf ormational moments as a result of living life together. Weve shared in wa ys that somehow and I dont know the terminology for thislet me know if you do Kirk looks at me. I dont know if there needs to be a terminology for it, I say and realize that my life with these men has been fille d with the use and mastery of words. Theoretical language is something we th row around like footballs. Some might consider the competitive spirit of our ve rbal play oppressive, but, for me, it has been mostly stimulating. What I have no ticed is a habit of talking over the other to exert control of a conv ersationnot so much out of a need for dominance but out of excitement for expressing the inne r workings of ones own brain. Using the brain, we may forgetbecause its common to think of the mind as separate from the bodyis a physically pleasurable experience: th e adrenaline flows, the
206 heart rate increases, and the nostrils flar e. A hidden sensuality permeates our exchanges: we move closer almost touching; we whisper; we shout; we gesticulate wildly. The blood runs hot a nd ideas spurt from our lips in epiphionic joy. We talk about ourselves with one another by sharing ideas. Sometimes, we use the indirect language of a theory to reach inside the other and leave something of ourselves behind. I look across the table at my frie nd and am grateful for his presence in my life, however fleeting it may turn out to be. As always, Kirk reminds me of Jack Kerouac and his Dh arma Bums. Every word he utters, however nonsensical, seem s filled with potential and ultimate purpose. It is that epiphany shit, man. He says sounding like Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now These things happen all the time. Near misses of the soul, manthey knock you off course changi ng something way down insideyour constantly vectoring betw een points of profound awaren ess and the confusion of everyday life. Kirk sits b ack in the booth and puts his hands behind his head in a self-congratulatory pose. And off you go, I exclaim, slapping my hands together and gesturing toward the sky. Ive had a lot of those with Leonard, Kirk says. Many of the moments you shared on tape were instances of vulnerability. That history with Leonard, according to your articulation of Durkheim (1975), increases the possibility of it reoccurring. I surmise. Its manna for our relationship.
207 That UR moment of trust intrigues me It must have taken courage to open up the way you did at such a young age, I state. My three closest friends exude more fe minine qualities. The friends that have fallen off were more masculine and dom inant than I am. I think that is why I dont have a good relationship with my fath er, because he is such a manly man. My grandfather isnt; I can be more emotional with him, Kirk says. What makes those moments of vulnera bility possible in a relationship between men, especially given the st ate of masculinity depicted by many scholars? I wonder. I think luck and just spending enoug h time together is what it takes. Eventually, life will collude in ways that, Bam! There it is, and youre dealing with it and, afterward, you can reflect, holy shit man, you, Have something to remini sce about, I interrupt. Thats the only way to understand itt here it isthats the crux, Kirk says glowingly. Theres lots of shit that goes on in my day that could be serendipitous, but it isnt, because I live it alone. Those moments require a dialogic context. When I call up friends we reminisce about experiences we shared together. Sure, well talk about what were doing in our daily lives, and well turn to one another if were str uggling, but a lot of our time is spent reflecting about our past toge ther, Kirk reveals then slaps his palm on the table, Man, Ive got to take a piss. During our talk the waitresssomehow the word server in this place seems a liehas been dutifully refilling our la rge iced teas; we have been just as
208 dutifully draining them. I reach over and press the stop button on the tape recorder while Kirk excuses himself. I am alone and faced with the idea that my desire to change the status quo relies entirely on luck. Despite our socialization as males, some of us do manage to connect across the emotional distance proscribed by our performance of masc ulinity (see Brooks, 2006). My mind goes quiet, all thought recedes into unconsciousness, the sounds of the diner fill me, and the routine clinks and clanks of the kitchen st ir something inside my chest: the feeling that I have been here before overwhelm s meits then that I notice the oldies station on the radio is playing a Beatles song: I get by with a little help from my friends I get high with a little help from my friends I will try with a little help from my friends I see my friend sauntering down the aisle betw een the counter and the booths. The songs questioning line: Could it be anybody reverberates through my blood and I think, with a little he lp. I am reminded of the absurdity that accidents can happen on purpose and resolve to keep tr yingtrying to understand the forces behind serendipity. Maybe we are in our own special moment where the ecstasy of being becomes memory, but I have my doubt s, as Kirk slides back into his spot across from me. I push the play button, and we resume our dialogue. Maybe these moments of vulnerabi lity you described, I begin, just happen. And maybe its the communication student in me, but I wonder if there are things that make those occurrences more possible?
209 I think youre right, but Im pessimis tic. I feel hypocritical when I try to teach them in a speech class or ho w textbooks always ta lk about ways of improving your communication apprehension. Sometimes, I dont even bring them up in class, because I think they re a bunch of bullshit, Kirk says. Its something to teach so we have a job, I joke. Yeah, Kirk snorts. I feel your pessimism, I say. My relationship with you isnt emerging because Im working hard to do one thing or another that gets in the way of us having better experiences. It just happens, Kirk says. I know, I reply and in just a few words Kirk captures the disappointment Ive been feeling abou t our relationship: It isnt emerging I swallow the lump in my throat and realize that I have been bl aming myself and take solace in his other three words: it just happens but my heart is still aching. So, can I just walk up to someone and make a relationship out of it based on effort? Doing things that a textbook from a co mmunication class has taught me? Would I be able to manifest an outcome like the one I had with Leonard? Kirk asks rhetorically. How to win friends and infl uence people, I joke again. Friendship is essentially like walking or breathing; its something thats instinctual to us as social beings. Sure how we engage others is influenced by childhood experiences, especially with parents, but, as you age, I think its harder to change those patterns, Kirks says.
210 If they arent natural, then they ce rtainly feel that way, I interject. Am I more in tune with how to comm unicate my emotions or to listen to others because of all the classes Ive taken as a Ph.D. student? You bet. But can I teach that to someone? Kirk shrugs. You have to experience those things first hand, I say. Its a complex beast talking about communication and changing it, Kirk replies while drawing in a br eath. A lot of times, Im like, this is a complete waste of time; there aint nothing I can do to have you experience this ecstasy of dialogue. Maybe you can become more aware of it; maybe Im not giving the pedagogy enough credit, but until youre aw are of your communication dynamic, you cant change it. Its like learning a new word. You never heard it before until youve learned it, then you hear it on the radio the next morningthats odd, you say, now I hear it everywhere. He is looking around as he utters these last words. Im not after an equation for achieving success in male friendships, I state. But your study is that space betw een the friendship and you cant understand that unless you have a friends hip. You can reflect on the ones youve had in the past, but you want to be in the now. Again, youre not going out systematically to make one equate, but there is definitely a need for effort. You have to go do things together, Kirk replies, and I feel admonished by that last thought. Had I made enough of an effort?
211 Commitment, I say resolutely, I guess thats essential. When I reflect on my relationship with you or with the other participan ts, a lot of times its not so much our masculinity that gets in the way, but all our other commitments. Were all getting Ph.D.s ; were all seriously involved with a significant other, I say making excuses. Our school and our care ers, Kirk interjects. Yes, I concur. And our wives. Those relationships are HUGE. His last word seems to echo in his mouth. And they take up almost all of our time, I say. All of our time, Kirk agrees. And that little bit of time, That you have for yourself, he says reading my mind. That you have for yourself, I repeat, Do I want to make the twenty minute drive to see you? I ask myself. Most of the time, Im too tired and would rather stay home, I grumble. I know, Kirk says sadly. But I often feel unhappy about that because I think weve missed out on a lot over the last couple of years. We ju st dont seem to have the time, I lament. When I was in high school, I did ev erything in my power to spend time with my best friend, Kirk replies.
212 Thats the thing though, in high sch ool and early college, were in a context that makes it easier for us to hang out with the guys to be in those kinds of relationships, I rationalize. No doubt. Its amazing how much of a grip our careers and marriages have on us, Kirk says. Right. Because when you start trying to get into those other kinds of relationships you feel gui lty, Kirk posits. Youre giving time to someone else th at you could be giving to your wife or job, I say. Bingo, and it fucks with you, Kirk exclaims. I felt guilty that one time we went canoeing because Kimberly was home by herself, and we hadnt spent much time together because of school, I complain. It shouldnt be that way, Kirk says. No it shouldnt, but, I pause for a second not wanting to seem as though I blame her, I dont think our wives make us feel guilty for getting together. In fact, Kimberly encourages me to do th ings with my friends. Ive found, and maybe this is also a product of getting ol der and getting married, that the things I used to do with male friends like go ing out drinking I leave it hanging. Oh my god yes, Kirk laughs. It just doesnt happen anymore, I say. No way could we do that,
213 No way would we go out, get drunk, come home at 3 in the morning, and crawl into bed. I conclude. Sometimes you want to be able to go and do whatever, Kirk speculates. But we usually dont. I wonder what makes us different? I ask, thinking about how language constructs our pers pective on the world. Though we both crave the rowdy companionship of the past to some extent, we respect the needs of our romantic relationshipssomething that cultivates its own longings. We use words like settled down or being responsible, while some of our single friends claim that we are pussy whipped (see Murphy 2001). Kirk and I see our lives with our spouses as a communion not an exercise in domination. Again, I am reminded that masculinity requires us to negotiate contradictions that both perspectives are part of a social narrative that ask us to be a man. The choices we make in how we story our life separates us from one friend and draw us closer to another. With this thought in mind I sa y, At some point we diverge; we change in ways that pull us apart from other men. In the last couple of years my politic al views have changed dramatically and that has reversed some relationships big time. Another friendship ended because of the way someone treated me. His actions were, for me, symbolic of disrespect and a lack of empathy towards how I feel and was the first time, as an adult, that I felt betrayed. At that moment, I said, Im fucking done, and I havent Had any contact with him since, I interject. Were done, Kirk pauses and says with more emphasis, done!
214 Would it be improper to ask about specifics? No, no. He stutters a little. It doesn t even seem like that big of a deal. In fact, I was talking about it with myse lf yesterday. How I would articulate my feelings toward him if I saw him. We we re in Cape Cod for a wedding. My wife and I had dinner reservations at an Italia n restaurant and this friend came up to me and said, where are you two going? and I said, this awesome Italian restaurant. Do you guys want to come? and he said, Im not sure were going to be able to make it. We exchange numbers and I said, give us a ca ll if you change your mind. We never get a phone call and we get to the re staurant and theres my friend with six other couplesguys I was in a fraternity with and there they are all sitting around this table. I thought to myself, h e didnt fucking call me, Because he didnt want to include you, I state. Right. But I had been the one to initiate getting together and I felt betrayed big time. Hes getting married this summer and a lot of my friends are going. We were great friends in college. We spent a lot of time together. I didnt invite him to my wedding last summer. He called me in September and left a message, and I never called him back, Ki rk pauses, then says, My other friend came here about two months ago and said, you and Josh just arent talking, and I said, no. I think a couple of my friends are aghast by it. Another of my good friends who came to my wedding has had the same split with Josh. Josh is very masculine. Theres a friendship thats imploded, he finishes.
215 Most of my friendships have disso lved over time probably because of my constant moving around. And though I ha ve very many feminine qualities, I say, alluding to Kirks earlier comments. Youre very open, he observes, cutting off my thoughts. Yes, but there is a line. I only let my self get so close with people because of moving every couple of years. It was hard for me to establish good friendships when I was young. Im good at the acquain tance thing. The few times I let myself get close to someone it was like, okay, its time to move. That was agonizing. When youre a kid, you dont have the power to jump in a car and go see a person, I pause then add, And yet when youre an adult you feel powerless too. Right, Kirk sighs, followed by a l ong silence, its funny because those experiences Ive had with men are so much different than the ones Ive had with women. Id like to spend some time talki ng about that, especially your idea of nourishment. The nourishment I get from another man is not the same as what I get in relationship with my wife. I cant quite articulate the difference. What is the exact difference? Its absurd but is it just that youre with somebody who understands your life experience better becau se they also have a penis? I talk about a lot of the same things with my wife, but my relationships with men are different somehow, I say.
216 I think it has to do with sexual attrac tion and being able to be close in a bodily way. I dont have that kind of attraction for my best friends who are men, Kirk answers. Thats interesting because Ive r ead that sexual attraction between straight men is always th ere but unconscious. Still, when Im with my male friends, Im never thinking how can I get in to their pants? And with women we are socialized to be thinking that and I t oo often let that happen to me too. Its something that many men need to work on and makes me avoid friendships with women, I remark. Yes, there isnt a relationship that I develop with a woman that I dont sometime in that process think, wha t would it be like? Kirk says. Fascinating. When were together I never objectif y you. I dont notice your crotch the way I might notice a womans cleavage. I dont look at you and say, what nice abs you have; what a great package, but you do that with women, I ask. Absolutely. Much of the time we find ourselves looking, I am amazed by my use of inclusive language like we or deflectiv e language like you to describe this phenomenon. Even as two feminist friendl y men, we come, perhaps too close, to unquestioning objectification of women. Absolutely, Kirk says grimly. I think I need to pee, I reveal a little embarrassed. Do you think you could, ah, he pauses and looks at his watch.
217 For the sake of resear ch Ill hold it. We have another quarter hour or so and then Ive got to go check out the film Im showing to my class tonight, I say. Why dont we hit it for another 10 or 15 minutes, then I need to head out too, Kirk suggests, as we begin paying our tab. After the waitress leaves, he continues, You know, Ive also found that I have relationships with men who are on a similar financial level, because we can do things together more easily. That is a big thing too. Economicall y, its been more difficult for me to do things with my friends. Were down to one car, and I feel like most of my money isnt my money anymor e, I say, perhaps unfairly. Right, sure. The amount of my mone y that goes into bills or the house doesnt leave much left over for doing thi ngs with friends or whatever, Kirk agrees. Were more responsible now. In my twenties, I would have blown off the bills to go hang out with friends, I say. Shit man, I almost couldnt buy my house, because I did too much of that in my early twenties, Kirk says then c ontinues, Im fucking paying for it now, but at that time in my life it was more impor tant for me to have a jack and coke in one hand and a pool cue in the other talk ing shit with my friendstalking about the women we wanted to fuck. Right. That was definitely one of the biggest topics of conversation between my friends and me when I was in my teens and early tw enties, I agree.
218 Oh yeah, oh yeah, Kirk laughs, that still happens, in a sense, but I find it more so with my friends who are not married. Im always asking them, how its going? but they never as k me especially since I married. They just assume youre getting laid, I reply, dropping into the familiar coarseness that goes along with sex talk between two buddies. Single pals dont want to know about the other things like the fight you had about leaving the toilet seat up or whatever because theyre relationship issues. Right. You want to commiserate, but you dont have the same things to commiserate about, I add. Exactly, but I still try to make time for those friends to continue creating a history. Im looking forward to spending ti me this July with one of my friends without my wife around. Im going to miss her, but well both have a great time without the other, Kirk says. For me, its sometimes difficult having great times apart from my spouse. Im going up to Iowa to spend time with one of my friends too, but I dont want to leave Kimberly. But youre looking forward to having a great time in a place you used to live and going places you use to hang out. It ll be great. You re setting yourself up for a continued experience of colle ctive effervescence. Kirk says. You have to make it a ritual. I agree.
219 It doesnt happen every time, but sometimes it doesand you can live off of that for the next 50 years. Thats what keeps those friendships going. You dont have time to do that with everybody, Kirk laments. There are only so many relationships you can have because of time, energy, and money, I shrug and pause to look forlornly at my friend. The familiar chords of Sweet Home Alabama waft from the ceiling. The lyrics never appealed to me, but the tune always makes my skin prickl e. Like the diner we are sitting in, the guitar riff calls me home to that place in the mind called perfection and the impossibility of it a ll inspires longing. We idealize the past in order to live through the absence of our friends. Its a depressing routine and the lighthearted song creates the illusion of purpose, reminding me that the big wheels keep on turning, that theyll carry me home again one day. Can we end it on that note, Kirk asks, looking at his watch. We can, I say and turn off the tape recorder.
220 Chapter Ten: Speak Your Heart and the Rest Will Follow July 2004 On my way to meet Sidney, I trot through a throng of people hanging out in the quad between the library and co mmunication building, where my office is housed. I see a couple of guysfresh-l ooking undergradscaught up in some debate. I have no idea what they are ta lking about, but the passion of their exchange moves me; it reminds me of why I love college and something I value in my various friendships, the intense ex change of new or opposing ideas. I like to be challenged by my friends. I also realize there is comfort in facing, together, the changes inevitably wrought by such conversations. As a man, I seldom voice my fears a nd longings to other men and rarely show affection for most of my male frie nds. The warm embraces that are typical of my time with Bert are not repeated in my relationship with Sidney. I wonder why? I feel love for them both and like being with them, though the way we are together is so differe nt. With Bert, I sip tea and tell storieshe lets me do most of the talking. With Sidney, I shoot ba skets or paddle the Myakka looking for gatorsI let him do most of the talking. I watch the two menboys reallyplay at verbal combat and wonder if they ever hug one another. They seem on the verge of touchingtheir bodies so close and caught up in the heat of talk. Are they even good friends or just mere acquaintances? If they feel genuine affection for one another, do they ever get
221 that tense knot in their guts I sometime s experience when emotions threaten to bubble out? There is so much I want to say to Sidney about how I feel not because of my project but because he will be graduating soon. He will be living far away and I might not see him for a couple of year s. My experience of being a military bratyears of constant movi ngtell me I will never see him again. My habit has been to lose touch and forgetto move on, well, almost. I think my study of friendship among men is, in part, a need to heal the old wounds of my childhood. A litany of lost boys occasionally creeps into my consciousness: Jimmy, Barry, Fred, Eric, Mike, Brad, Greg, Chris, Ed, Paul, Craig, Dan There are so many other friends I wish were still part of my life but they are gone and so it goes. I remember them with fondness and sometimes regret. I quickly climb the flights of stairs leading to the communication department. When I get to the top, I am out of breath. My friend is waiting outside my office. Sidney. I feel myself being more careful with him than I want to be. Hey, I say. What up, he replies. Why dont we go somewhere more comfortable, I suggest. Okay, Sidney agrees. How about the Comm. Lounge? I say, and he follows me down the hall. The lounge is a corner office with large floor to ceiling windows that look down over the quad. Inside the room there are plush futons and shelves filled with
222 unwanted journals and outdated textbooks It is a good place for a nap or casual chat. We settle in and I turn on my tape recorder. Where should we start, my fr iend asks with his usual grin. Maybe we can begin by talking about some of your specific male friends like the best man at your wedding, I say remembering him from Sidneys monologue. Brian was the best man at my wedding. I met him because he was my roommates friend freshman year. He hung out at our place a lot. They were both musicianshe plays piano. And my othe r friend who was at the wedding, Dave, was also my roommate at the time. Most of my friends are not athletes, even though I played sports. Theyre artists, musi cians, scientistsIm closer to those types of guys, he relates. Right, right, I add. Hes very smart. And Brian hung out in our room a lot. Id see him and say, hi, but he was Owens friend. It wasnt until sophomore year that we got closer. Over time, he got to be one of my best friends. I thought he was interesting, once I got to know him. He was in the Marines for about 5 years. Usually, when you think Marinereally machohardcore Yeah, yeah, I nod. But hes not. Its kind of like a j ob. He knew all the stuff. He could do the job. But the five years he spent in the Marines, while everyone else was drinking or whatever, he was playing classical music. He got interested in it when he turned 13. And thats what he came to school for. My friendships are atypical.
223 Most of my closest male friendships involve talking more than physical activity. We will get a bottle of wine and just sit and talk about life. Because of who my friends are, I go to art exhibi ts or museums. With Brian, Id go to concerts. Often times, during the summers, we d go to this bar, pay the cover, not really drink, just go there to listen to the live musi c for three or four hours. We went there so much that the guys in the band knew us, Sidney says. You used the word close in describing that friendship. What sort of things do you think made you close, I ask. It was definitely more mental. He was interesting to be around. Even if we werent doing anything, he was a cool personyou could actually talk to him. But most of my close friendships are limited. Ive always had the same small handful of friends. I know lots of pe ople my friend pauses, but you know I was sort of a nerdy kid. A nd while I could play sports and that shielded me from jibes, I could also fight. Thats funny, I laugh not really th inking of my friend as a brawler. People watched what they said. On the whole, I didnt bond with jocks though. Ive always had a close female frie nd. And Id talk to her about things I wouldnt talk to my male friends about. Like other women, I ask. Yeah, if I want a real answer, Im not going to ask my guy friends. Im going to ask a woman. I feel that they know more than the average guy. Ive always had a close female friend, which ma de me different from most of the guys growing up in the neighborhood. They were the ones who taught me how to
224 dance or how to be more comfortable in social situations. I was always more into school or sports. I didnt spend a lo t of time outside of school on the social scene. If you werent in school, you we re probably going to be fighting. Guys didnt sit around and convers e about much. You play sports or you get into trouble. I dont know if this is true or not but the kind of talk you were describing as having with your close friends, in some ways, it can be like a sport. Its an activity you do together. Were there times when that talkyou alluded to in you monologue about being able to be vuln erable or show empathy for another manand it was interesting to me that you ha ve to get to a crisis point, I say. Usually with most guys you have to do that. With my closest friends, we tend to share things you wouldnt feel co mfortable sharing with most people or the average guy I played sports with b ecause theyre going to rag you about it. Something that separates my friends from the people I just know is that they tend to be very introspective. They unders tand a lot about themselves. Something I think most people havent a clue about. Thats true, I say and we both laugh. Even when they dont understand w hy they do something, I like this about them, theyll ask questions. They want to understand. They dont want to stay stupid. Why do I do thator if we are people watchingwhy do they do thatmy friends and I are students of hu man nature. We watch and have fun trying to predict what people will do from our observations. Someone would come into the cafeteria and wed try to figure out what theyd do next. What do
225 they look like? Are they with this crew or this crew or this crew? Do they know anybody? We would play games where, not to mess with people, but out of curiosity, we would see a random person that we thought looked interesting, however you define that, and one of us would go talk with that person not hit on them but just start a conversat ion. But before hand, we take all kinds of little bets about where wed think they were from or whatever just based on the way they looked or walked or dressed. One of us would go talk to that person and come back and fill the rest of us in just out of curiosity, Sidney relates. I figure that their intended victims were more than likely female and wonder what it would have been like ha d they gone up to a random guy. But I dont feel ready to start ta lking about our fears of homosexuality and say, Thats talk that is centered on intellectual pursuits. What aboutand maybe this is something that happened more with female friends...the kind of conversations that are started for reasons of comfort of tr ying to deal with something that is happening in your life Before I can finish my thought, Sidney jumps in and he says, Of course, as guys, when we have those conversations they usually tend to be around dating and that sort of thing. With my friends you get some real thought; they will tell me what I need to hear not what I want to hear. Brian, he once said that when I decide I dont like a woman anymore and want to break up, its always for some trivial thing that I knew about from the st art. And Im like, what are you talking about. And hes like, no, you do this. When Im ready to go, I fixate on some
226 trivial thing and I use that as my excuse And I was so pissed; we didnt talk for three days. But after the f act, I was like, youre right. Thats fascinating. It reminds me th at friends can act as a repository for our bad behaviors. They are another memory of who we are and what we do. And from the beginning of the project Iv e wondered about the clich: what are friends for? Friends are a source of confidence, Sidney begins, I actually taught one of my guy friends to dance. And I asked one of my female friends to dance with him at my wedding, to please do it for me. Even at the wedding, it was kind of a joke, because he was like, I dont dance. Thats funny, but what do you talk about? We tend to talk about our lives, plans, things of that naturesometimes family. As for me, and friendship in gene ral, they are like extended family only better. Friendship is a two-way street in which both people choose to be around the other, which is very different from family. Im born into a family. And you cant stand them some of the time, but there is nothing to be done about it. Youre related to them for the rest of your life, no matter what. Where as a friend, there is nothing that says you have to be around these people. Its a choice and the fact that you would choose to interact with this person more than others means you genuinely like this person, Sidney repl ies and I am aware that he is also talking about our friendship. We almost never come out and say it, but we do genuinely like one another, a feeling that emerges from sharing activity together. We canoe, shoot hoops, lift weights, and (b efore my feet gave out) hike state
227 parks. We talk about rhetorical theo ry. We groan about our students. And our spouses like each other. So Sidney and I like one another all the more. I find myself on the verge of wanti ng to say it our loud and directly I like you I feel embarrassed. I can not muster the courage to speak and, as is most often the case, settle for indirect ways of expressing my affection. There is a long silence while we think and finally I say, I wonder about not just what are friends for but what are male friends for that s where we start getting into how masculinity comes into play in those relationships. And Sidney cuts in again, The first thing that comes to mind: my male friends tend to be people very much like me. Not in every way but generally speaking they are atypical males. They are not jo cks and dont fit in wi th that crowd. Me, I can sit at a table of hocke y players without a problem. And they will quiz me to find out what its like to be with those people. But there are a lot of stereotypes about jocks that I dont like to fit into. I tend to pi ck friends who emphasize aspects of me that dont fit your typical male. Like my friend Brianhes a 6 non basketball playing man and classical mu sic expert. Friends affirm things about you that a way of being is okay. As much as I like to play sports, I cant see myself hanging around with the average jock. I dont usually find those guys interesting. We dont have a nything significant in common. Speaking of sports, I say, Compe tition is something that comes up when thinking about male friendships and I was curious about how competitive or how does competition come into play in your close friendships? Like with Brian.
228 Do you ever feel that in those friendshi ps that you are always trying to one up the other or are you, for the most part, equal? Its pretty equal. Do they challenge you not just mentally but emotionally? I and two of my friends have the ex act personality type. If anything, it makes it easier to read each other because its like looking in the mirror. They can tell me things about my self that I dont want to hear. But when they say it it rings true. They put it in a way I find palatable. My friend Brian one of the things we talk about we have very sim ilar personalities and our other friend Owen and You mentioned this personality type before that it was 1% of the population. INTJ. Oh, youre using Myers-Briggs (1985), I say. Right, we are INTJs. Describe that. Its called the mastermind personality. Were expert strategists and we tend to be more intuitive. Were introve rts, but introverts who can often display extroverted talents. We ge t our ideas about the world from inside rather than outside. INTJs dont always want to assume leadership, but will if they have too, especially if others have shown themselv es to be incompetent. Then its like, okay, Ill do it, but Im not asking to do it. And no one else can do it. Theres another personality type, I forget the acr onym. Its the architect. And they are
229 good at building systems and they fit well with INTJs because we are good implementers. Its cool. Were good at implementing ideas and making systems more efficientmore practical, Sidney says. You are definitely a very practic al man, I say and we both laugh, Maybe this is a change of topic, but it seems to me that even in our peer relationships that even as equals we are, as men, still struggling for dominance. My friend Brian he one time read this article about fish and the research found that this one fish is more beautiful than the othe r one but they still hung out in pairs. Brian looked at me and asked which one of us is the more beautiful fish, Sidney explains and we both laugh, W ell, the beautiful fish hangs out with the uglier one to look better and the ugly fish hangs out with the beautiful one because he gets a vibe off him too. So, which of us is the dominant fish? The sly one or the beautiful one? Its funny a nd though we are similar, over time, we have all chosen to emphasize different areas a nd so its a split. I dont look at it in terms of dominance. Were each good at diffe rent things and that helps all of us. Were more complementary. But I am probably seen as the leader more in a spokesperson way. But Im not the smartest, just the most social of my friends. Im the talker. Theres not always a huge disparity, but I was thinking more along the lines ofand were both guilty of thiswe both cut people off and try to control the conversation. Its very combative, I say. Its very male and Im guilty. Ive tr ied to learn from my female friends to listen more, but... he trails off.
230 There is a long silen ce then I say, Weve been talking about friendships that you are stil l in and I wonder about frie ndships that ended and Rarely do I have friendships where I say I dont want to be your friend anymore, Sidney cuts in, and then after a short pause says, I accept that people come into my life at certain times and that they sometimes leave for whatever reason. And they might even be replaced, like at different times in my life I had different best friends. My be st friend freshman year wa s not my best friend senior year. We still have contact and talk a lot but the nature of the relationship changed as things changed in my life or th eir life. Other people help us grow in different ways and sometimes a person take s you as far as they can and its not that you dont like them anymore or whatever. From 10 th grade to 12 th grade I had the same best friend. But I was alwa ys more focused on school than he was, and I applied to top colleges. There s no reason he couldnt have gone, but he didnt apply. He was one of the top people in our class but ended up going to college locally and did okay career-wise. He could have done so much better. In some ways, friendship has less to do with how its maintained but where you are at in life. My friend from high schoolour lives are so very different. And a lot of that is motivation. Our lives separated too much educationally and materially; its difficult to relate at that pointI think that mo re than anything governs how friendships last; our ability to relate. Your friends trajectory needs to stay the same as yours. I think about Sidneys idea for a moment and then say, I had a similar situation with a very close friend in high school. While I was taking AP classes,
231 he was taking shop classes. When high school was over, he didnt go to college, and I havent seen him since 1994 when I was the best man in his wedding. And that was the last time I saw him or even talked to him. He was going to be a mechanic and by that point I was almost done with my BA and on my way to an MA. We had different pe rspectives on the world; mine changed from our teen years and his stayed the same. That and geographyhes in Texas and at the time I was in Iowathat dist anceI do have a couple of friends from college that Im still in contact with and youre obviously still friends with people from your undergraduate days. I wonder about that time too and we are both in a place where were starting our careers and families and makes me wonder how good we will be at maintaining the friends hips we started in college, even our own friendship, I say. I think college is different because you often physically live with your friends. I think grad school, even though you dont necessari ly live with your peers, on an academic level you do, so I thi nk those friendships are more likely to be maintained than those from high school Even with greater distances, youre more inclined to stay in touch, my frie nd replies. Ive noticed that my father will be out of touch with someone for years and suddenly theyll contact him and theyre seemingly right back to where they were years before. With the invention of the internet, hes in contact with buddies from Vietnam and its like theyve neve r missed a day and that seems to be a typical experience for lots of guys, I say.
232 My best friend from freshman year is like that. We still have that bond; we still feel close. Bu t its still different, because I dont really talk to him as much, so there is a gap. And that came up when choosing a best man. Who do I talk to the most now? Sidney says. So you chose Brian. I chose Brian. When I got to be best man at my friends wedding we hadnt really hung out in four yearshadnt re ally been friends. He cont acted me out of the blue and asked me to come down because we had talked about it a lot when we were in high school. We were going to be the best man at each others wedding. I dropped everything and went ju st like that. But I didnt ask him to be the best man at my wedding, because at that point we hadnt spoken in seven or eight years. I dont even know if hes still in Texas, I relate and feel a small lump in my throat. The sudden surge of emotion surprises me and hurts me. I fear the loss that I face with each of my new friends knowing that distance will eventually separate us. After a few long seconds, I continue, we can keep talking about Brian or, and Im curious and nervous about it, our own friendship. One of the things that a lot of research says is that men dont typically meta-communicate about their friendships. Whereas with our significant others, we might say, oh this is going well or we need to work on that. I was wondering if that held true with your friends. With guys there is less of an on going chat unless someone pisses you off, Sidney replies.
233 There has to be a point of c ontention, a bone to pick, I say. If nothing is said, we are going to assume its going well. If it aint broke dont fix it. And we both laugh, then I suggest, As communication scholars, we would agree th at talking about re lationships is an important part of having better ones a ndyou also talked about this on your tapeits crucial to changing the conditions of masculinity that sometimes blocks that talk. If we are talk ing about our relationship, ar ent we automatically being counter-hegemonic? It makes sense, but its still hard to talk about it unless something is wrong. Grad school is interesting because we are, many of us, also in significant relationships and trying to manage school at the same time; friendships end up in third place, Sidney states. Yeah, I agree. Before I can hang out with friends, I have to check with my wife, do I have work I need to get done, and if all thats okay, then if time remains Ive met a lot of people who are cool and Id like to hang out with, but I dont want to over commit. Its protection. I dont want to have to pull back, he explains. I know exactly what you mean. Its hard not to meet interesting people when youre getting your Ph.D. but, and lik e you said, I often lack time. There are lots of relationships with people in the department that I havent maintained or developed because I dont want to spread myself too thin. There have been a couple of relationships that have just stopped, I think of my other old friend, Jack and then say, Since Ive been with Kimb erly, we also get into the couple thing.
234 That is definitely a factor, Sidney replies. Does that make it easier for us to ma intain, I say pointing back and forth between us, because we have that couple thing? Yeah, and it also creates friendships. If your wife is hanging out with my wife, then were going to be around each ot her more. We might as well make the best of it. Thats interesting because Im fr iends with Bill. You know him? Yeah, Sidney replies. Ive become good friends with him because of Kimberly. We probably wouldnt have hung out otherwise. He is completely opposite of me, actually, hes a lot like you. Part of me is thankful for that because we maintain friendships that might have never gone anywhere or fizzled. It does factor in, he says. We are quiet for some time and I am thinking about our spouses and the impact they have on our emotional live s. Sidney is a tough guy and I wonder about his tender moments, and ask, Hav e you ever cried in front of Melissa? Once maybe, he begins, Its one of those things. With some things you might see that there is no loss of ma nhood, but with crying you just dont do that very often. That I can crypart of it could be that I have lots of sisters. My dad was also always a factor, not like other families where I lived. Most guys in my neighborhood didnt have role models for ma sculinity. They learned to be hard from the streets. I didnt l earn it from the street. And th at makes a big difference. Still, my neighborhood influenced that big tim e. I wasnt allowed to be soft. The
235 alternative was getting the crap beat out of you all the time. Unless you want to take a beating, you learn to be hard. I notice that weve gone over time an d dont want to keep my friend from his day too much longer. I look at Si dney and smile. We should probably wrap things up. Yeah, yours is an interesting project because it asks questions that people dont always think about. I was just r eading the recent book on black masculinity that bell hooks (2003) came out with a nd thought it fit your pr oject perfectly. I saw that one and thought it would be good for my gender class. Ive had difficulty in the past trying to get st udents to see how masculinity for a black man in one context would be different fr om the experience of a white man in a different context. A big one is sexuality, Sidney says, I remember talking to someone in college about gay black people. You mean there are gay black people, I say jokingly. There is no queer eye for the straig ht guy with black pe ople in it, Sidney says. Theyre on the down low, I reply. Theres not the same level of acceptance in the African American community, not that theres high ac ceptance in general anyway. True, I say sadly, then, Speaking of the importance of the project Friendship can be an important contex t for altering our perceptions about masculinity. Being able to talk about it, being aware of itis important. I know
236 Im different for having talked about it even while I still sometimes do dumb male things. Self awareness teaches me how to start to listen, I say. It takes lots of introspection about what you do and monitoring your behaviors so much that your new awar eness becomes habit, Sidney replies. You have to be able to see it, ch ange it, and forget about, I add. Forget about it, yeah, my friend agrees. Fogit about it, I sa y, trying out my best Goodfellas impersonation. Sidney laughs and rolls gracefully out of the futon hes been sitting in. His voice is deep and soothing when he says, Ill catch you later aright. We still on for that canoe trip to Myakka this weekend? Yup, he responds and heads back down the hall toward his office. I walk over to the window and look out onto the activity below. Various groups, pairs, and individuals congregat e in and around concrete slabs that encircle a sun dial. I s ee another pair of young ment hey seem more and more like boys to me every dayspeaking excite dly to one another. They are laughing and joshing, so close they can almost touch. I concentrate on their eyes and know there is a glowing affection there. It s a look Ive seen on Sidneys face from time to time. Have they given it voice I wonder and want to run down there to show them how to be gentle with one another, to speak their hearts, and realize I still have a lot to learn myself. I cant even tell my friend that I love him. I can only hint at it and wait for the right moment, a moment that never seems to come.
237 Chapter Eleven: Man, I Love You July 2004 Ill be back in a few hours, I sa y and kiss my wife, Kimberly, on the lips. Take your time, she replies and smile s at me. Its a smile that never fails to disarm me or raise my spirits. Th ese days I need my spirits lifted. I walk out the door of our cramped apartment and mosey to the end of the driveway. My feet seem OK. Maybe Ill be fine. Ea rly on in the fall semester, I began to experience excruciating foot pain, especially in the mornings. Some days I would even need to crawl from my bed to th e bathroom because the ache of standing was too much for me to bear. The physic al pain was tough but not as tough as the mental anguish I felt from losing my mobility. Before being diagnosed with plantar fasciitis, a foot condition where the connective tissue becomes inflamed due to a loss in elasticity, I walked everywhere all the time. Now, I seldom leave the house. Most depressing was the end of what had once been a morning ritual. During the previous year, my friend Bert and I would meet outside his townhouse every other day for what we called our constitutional. We would sp eed walk through the neighborhood for a couple of hours and talk. We talked about everything. As I near the end of my driveway, my brain clicks into heavy thought mode. My mind is seldom quite. Walking used to be a great way to calm the
238 inner voices in my headt he ones that turned me into a worry wart, but not today. Even though it is only a few blocks from my house, I fear the walk to Panera Bread will kill me and a torrent of thoughts washes over me. Maybe Im trying to prove to myself that I can walk through the pain, I think, I feel crippledheld back. I put my head down and pick up the pace. My foot condition ended one of the mo st important activities Bert and I shared: our frequent walks. During thes e walks we talked, really talked. Our conversations ranged from complaining a bout teaching to exploring the complex subject matter of the courses we were ta king. We also talked about life. We explored our ideas about religion, philo sophy, politics, and love. Sometimes we even spoke about personal dilemmas but not too often. When I couldnt walk anymore, our daily meetings dropped off to a few times a month. Bert often picked me up, and we would go over to the bookstore for iced tea and a chat. These chats were just as stimulating, but I feel sad that we do nt hang out as much anymore. Men, Ive learned, require more than the simple pleasure of another mans company. Men require an activity to go along with the act of just being together. Our walks fulfilled that requ irement. We could justify our being together by saying to ourselves or a spouse, Were getting into shape. I cant say I like being with Bert beca use he completes me or some other corny sentiment we learn from the movies. Those are romantic notions reserved for the women in our lives. But when Im w ith him, I feel at ease. I feel more myself. I dont have to pretend. I dont have to be as civilized. I become less aware of my being gruff. And I thin k maybe the mythopoets like Robert Bly
239 (1990) are onto something. Maybe some of us do need to go into the wilderness and beat on drums. Isnt th at the problemindividual men are not so easily pegged by an all encompassing theory of masculinity. We only sometimes fit the proscribed narrative about manhood, and maybe the old saying boys will be boys is true but only sometimes. My thoughts cease as I come to the cu rb and face the danger of crossing Kennedy, a major street in south Tampa. On the other side is a strip mall that houses Panera Bread. I step over the edge and sprint for my life to the grassy median, where I stop to catch my breath and recheck the traffic. When the sedans and SUVs seem a manageable distance away, I hobble-skip acr oss the road and seconds later am standing in front of glass double doors. I open the left door and cold air fogs my glassesmy bare legs prickle at the change in temperature and I limp through the entrance wh ere I am greeted by loud violin music playing over the intercom There is a long line at the counter and I reserve a spot knowing my friend will arrive any second. I crane my neck to see out the window into the parking lotnothing yet. I am desperate to sit down and shift my ample weight to my left footmy best foot. The throbbing depresses me. I just turned thirty-two but feel like the wrecks you see in junkyards, th e ones with weeds and rust I imagine this is how a senior citizen must feel and kick myself for succumbing to our cultures ageism. And lament that I havent enjoyed a long walk with Bert since last summer. I have also gained twenty pounds and wonder: Am I worthless? I peer out the window againnothing.
240 I have no doubts about his impending arrival; we talked on the phone ten minutes before I left the house. Hes probably fixing his ha ir or pressing his jeans and I whisper to my self, Youre a slob. I am wearing a ragged t-shir t and cargo shorts. I ha vent shaved in several days and the stubble is starting to itch. Too fatigued to fix my hair, I wear a ball capthe rim stained and smelling like an armpit. I see Berts car, a well-maintained, late model hatchback, pull into an empty slot. Stepping from his sensible ca r, my friend, as usual, is impeccably, though comfortably dressed. I watch hi m stroll between parked vehicles, a characteristic smile on his face. Ive never seen him miserable or un happyangryyes, but not in pain. I dont think he would admit it to me or anyone else if he did feel sad, not because hes a tough guy but, maybe, because he imagines himself as a sidekick. While the macho man will suck up any pain, his less powerful subordinate may see no value in his personal suffering; thus, maki ng it difficult to reveal. Besides, I can hear my friend say, I dont want to be a drag or anything In making pleasure a way of life, Bert avoids circumstances that could result in sorrow or regret. He expresses few bad feelings. I dont fault his way of being, but often wonder what it means to pl ay it safe in relationshipsin life. What are the possibilities for personal gr owth? As part of his definition of friendship, Bert points out that the significant other actively reveals your selfidentity whenever contact is made and c ontact is achieved thr ough mutual respect. To be able to be yourself, to remove the masks held in place by family or society
241 is the true purpose of friendship. Su ch performances for Bert are joint ventures in self-pleasure. Today, I feel almost incapable of keeping up my end. Though my friend knows I suffer, I will not go into it. I will not discuss my emotional turmoil convinced that sharing enables my depres sion. What can we do about it anyway? Crying on his shoulder wont reduce the infl ammation. I dont want to be a drag either. Bert spots me standing in line and st rides over to hug me. I melt into his arms and our physical contact sooths me. He is always glad to see me, and I perceive his delight as genuine. His eyes get bigger and his smile widens. He almost dances a jig, as he explodes with excitement. My self -loathing diminishes in his presence and for that I am thankful. Been here long? Bert asks. No, just a few minutes, I reply and pu ll out my tape recorder. I turn it on while were waiting in line and my frie nd signals his consent with a nod of his head. We exchange a few more pleasantries before reaching the counter to place our order. Bert almost never orders food. He has peculiar eating habits, something he developed while working in the health food business for many years. He limits himself to one real meal a day. No m eat or processed foods. If he were known by his eating habits alone, he might be mistaken for a new age hippy. My friend is anything but new age or hippy in his character. His eating habits set him apart as a non-conformist. His relationship with food is peculiar to him, an eccentricity
242 that is not the result of fad marketing. His eating doesnt make him part of a crowd. This maverick sense of self, this rugged individuality is, perhaps, one of the few ways he performs orthodox masc ulinity and is something I admire. Bert orders lemonade and I settle for a bagel and iced tea. I decide to treat my friend and pay the tab. We make our way though the masses of people to an empty table and sit down. Hows class going? he asks. Not too bad. We finished up last week with the film Shadowlands. I think they loved it even though they thought I was being hokey. Thats the one with Anthony Hopkins and whats her name, Bert interrupts. Yes. What did you say? I claimed that the movie teaches us that telling someone that you love them and meaning it makes all the difference in the world. Sappy as it may be, such emotional exchanges are sustenance necessary for bearing life. We need other people to speak their connection to us as much as we need to speak our connection to them, I relate. Its interesting that you bring that up because its somewhat problematic for meI have found that actually sayi ng I love you is a jinx. Ive had bad experiences where Ive said that to some one. There was this one girl in high school I remember you told me that story, I interrupt.
243 All you have to do is do it. We, we, we, Bert repeats while pointing back and forth between us, do it so we dont really have to say it. If its really there, then you dont have to say it. I do think if you say it, then you have to mean it. But if you do mean it, then I w onder if it is even necessary to say it, Bert argues. But you cant just say it in replacem ent of the action. I think your actions in a relationship make those words more possible. Kimberly and I say, I love you all the time. Much of the time it is a greeting but not all of the time. There are significant moments of connectedness around those words, I describe, And to me its a verbaliz ation of a very impor tant realization. I think its a good thing to do, but I dont know, maybe its just a male way of thinking, but it seems redundant. If youre in the middle of it, if youre a good listener or you make dinner or you do all these things, then duhI mean you and me. You call mewe do stuff together. I can tell by the way you talk to me or the way you look at me that you love me, Bert explains. With men its even more embarrassing to verbalize with other men than with a woman or family member. Only tw ice in my life have I said those words to another man and with one of them thos e were the last words I ever spoke to him. Wow! Really? He was my friend from High School. I traveled back to Texas to be the best man in his wedding. I was finishing my BA at Northern Iowa at the time. The day after the ceremony and before I headed home, I drove over to my friends
244 apartment to say goodbye. We were sta nding out in the parking lot talking and I just looked at him and said, I love you, and I hugged him. I was caught up in the nostalgia of seeing him again a nd I had been listening to the old songs. Something sublime had crept under my skin. I wanted him to feel it too but he was embarrassed and mumbled, You too. And I hope you dont want to get into my butt, Bert jokes. That is a reason many men often wont verbalize their love to other men because there is sexual tension and fear of homose xuality between straight men. No doubt, Bert agrees. That was the last time I talked to him. Its been over 10 years. The last thing I ever got from him was a Christmas car d and I think his wife sent it. I still have that card. Its packed away with all my other memorabilia. Ive often thought about tracking him down like you did with the friends you lost touch with, but I always hold back. I worry that all we have in common is the past and nothing else. That wh at we shared was only a fantasy. I rationalize that we went in different directions afte r high school. I went to college and he went into automotives. He really loves cars. A nd I love books. Our past was based on shared activities: We played pool, road bikes, went fishing or camping whatever. We didnt really have any deep conversations that I can recall. But still, there was a moment in 9 th grade when I needed a friend, and he was there. When the world seemed against me, he sat next to me on the bus. When no one else would have anything to do with me either for being the new kid or being weird and I was weird he accepted me. He hung out with me. I loved him for that moment.
245 When I saw him again, I was longing for that sweet understanding of my otherness. You were lonely? Bert asks. Yes. Did you know he is the only guy w ho has ever cried in front of me? I held him for almost an hour while he s obbed over a devastating breakup. It was over the woman he eventually married. They dated for most of high school. Your story reminds me of the time my friend cried. Its strange how uncomfortable it makes me feel like wh en my dad cried while remembering how his father would come watch him play softba ll. His father woul d sit in left field with his dog and just watch my dad play. It was me and my wife and my mother at the table and I felt like I had to, Bert says. Change the subject, I interrupt. I couldnt just sit there and let him cry. He was remembering his father. I think its hard not to love your father even if they are lacking in lots of ways, I say. I dont feel like Im alienated from my emotions. I can cry when its time to cry. There is something private about it. Even when we cry at movies and it is a public place, our experience of it is private, I say. Its still surprising, es pecially if its an emotion connected to you somehow. When my friend said goodbye to me, he was shaking from it, Bert says.
246 But he really loved you and he knew you probably wouldnt see much of each other again. While I was listening to your tape, you play that off youre just going away to college and youd see each other at holidaybut when you were saying that, it doesnt matter, you werent taking into account that the dynamic of the friendship was going to be changed by that distance and lack of time. He may not have been consciously aware of it, but he had to know the relationship wasnt going to be the same. He knew we couldnt see each other as often, Bert rationalizes. It was a change. I dont know if Im heartless that way because my other friend said exactly the same thing. Sure you go away to college but you end up not ever seeing each other again. I dont knowI had to move a lot and was ripped away from friends when I was young. Maybe I learned to put up a wall to protect myself, Bert explains. Thats been my experience too. How many times did you move? Bert asks knowing that my father is retired military. Seemed like every couple of years. Even though we might have been in the same city, for example, I lived in San Antonio two different times. But those two times that my family lived there we moved like five times. When we first moved there I started Kindergarten and we lived off base. Then we moved on base. Then we moved away for three year s. Then we moved back and we lived off base. Then we moved on base. Then we moved off base again when I was
247 half way through the ninth grade. I di dnt have close friends and I certainly didnt maintain any friendships from t hose different neighborhoods. When I was listening to your tape, I was thinking about those leave taking moments and there was a place in your monologue where you didnt say good-bye to your friend and that was someone you later got back in touch with, I say. I felt overwhelmed at the time. I had gotten fired from my job and I didnt know what I was going to do, Bert sighs, We had always wanted to move back to Florida so my wife looked to see if there was any need for her skills. She found something and we needed to make a quick move. So it was hurry up and go. I didnt think of it. I di dnt think of it. He wasnt a friend that I got together with every week. There was never that sense of obligation about it. We got together when we had the time. To this day Ill email him and hell immediately respond backI might take 4 or 5 weeks. Sometimes I feel like I dont have anything to say, Bert laments. It takes time. For me to write a pe rsonal email, I commit an hour or more of my time because Im trying to think of something thoughtful to say as opposed to a quick note. My emails come out to about 3 or 4 paragraphs because more than that then I have to read a long email. I have this friend who emailed me in April and it was huge. I still havent gotten back because I just dont feel like it, Bert says. Its a lot of work. I think we have that in common; we are both lazy, I chide and Bert laughs.
248 Absolutely, He agrees in a tone th at acknowledges the lie. We both work too hard at tasks that require solitude. Get in the way of my jerk off tim e, I joke and we both double over in laughter. Its not uncommon for us to refer to our intellectual pursuits as mental masturbation. We enjoy the coarseness of th e language. When its just the two of us we often prefer the ri bald to the polite. Got to have my three hours for that, Bert adds and we are both tearing up from laughing. Exactly, Id rather spend 3 hours jerki ng my brain than writing a note to a friendwhat does that mean. Seems sad, but its true we spend a lot of time doing things that are self-absorbed, I say. Its hard to reconcile yo ur desire to do important relevant things with your life andTony Robbins says this thinghow many people really want to change the world? How many people just want to lie on the beach? What do you have when you have those two things: Inner civil war? And I think that his last phrase speak s volumes about what men face when attempting to maintain close friendships with other men. How should we divide our time? How should we perform our masc ulinity? Instead of trying to examine this idea, I make another joke. Speaki ng of inner civil war, Ive got to piss, I say. Me too, Bert responds. We gather our things and head for the bathroom. It is a single occupancy f acility and I let my friend go first. After we are done relieving ourselves, we decide to move outside because the Bread Company keeps
249 the restaurant too cold. When we are seated at our new table, Bert asks abruptly, We have about an hour before th e matinee starts. What other things do you want to talk about? He reminds me that we are going to go see the Spiderman II premiere and somehow our c onversation suddenly feels like work. Your ideas about obligation and frie ndship intrigue me. In friendships we are, whether we like it our not, under obl igation. The trick seems to be that as a friend you shouldnt feel obligated. Like when I ask you to come over and feed my cats while Im out of town. I dont expe ct you to do it, but its still one of those things that friends do for one another. Doesnt th at fall under obligation? I know what you mean that if you feel like it s expected then the relationship feels more business likeyoure doing something because you have to, not because you want to, I say. Its hard to escape the thought, well he did this for me, so maybe I should do this for him in a friendship. If a person is voluntarily very giving to you, then youre almost out of necessity in their debt. They may not have been trying to get you to do something in retu rn but youre still, in a sense, obligatedin their debt. It s like that old saying if you save a persons life then their life belongs to you. You do things for people, and its not supposed to be accounting, but sometimes it gets that way. When I take care of your pets its because I want toI see it as an opport unity to give you, my friend, something. The obligatory part comes when your fr iend seems to be pushing youtrying to make you feel obligated Like using guilt, I interrupt.
250 Yes, Bert agrees. Weve had this conversation before. I was thinking about how sometimes I do feel obligated but its not necessarily bad. My friend, Chris, from high school, we had this thi ng where one person would pa y for the other when we played pool or whatever. We never kept track but every now and then wed talk about it, I say. By the way, thanks for the lemonade, Bert says holding up the drink I bought for him earlier. My pleasure, but no, wed have this conversation about were friends and we dont have to keep record because we know theres going to be a time when the other person doesnt have money. Wh at I found interesting is that we didnt have that conversation one time; we had it a number of times over the years that we were friends. When you were talki ng about obligation on your tape, you got me thinking about that and wondering what purpose that conversation served? Was it reminding us of the obligation without being a discussion of obligation? I never felt like I was imposing on him when he had to pay for things and vice versus. Perhaps it was also a reminder that we had each others back. But if you were a moocher? Bert dangles. But you could always tell when some one was a moocher. There were some situations with guys like, man you never pay for anything. That wasnt the case with him. I think the other r eason we had that conversationand this may be a man thingis that the exchange qualified our interdependence. If we were going to do things besides hang out at his house like go play pool for
251 example, which was one of the things we loved to do together, you needed money. In my culture Ive seen two men get into a fight about who is going to pay, Im going to pay. Then no, no Im going to pay. All right, fine, you win, Bert says. I have a hard time with that kind of stuff. If you say youre going to pay Ill probably ask one time, Are you sure? if you say yeah then Im like, Ok, Ill get you next time. Im honest about that I will pay other times. Im not a stingy person with my money, even t hough I prefer spending it on myself. I wish I could be more like my wife, Bert says, My wife is the greatest. She takes a walk every weekend to the mall and she buys stuff for every body. Sometimes she brings back something for me. When Im out, I dont go, Matt would like that or so an d so would like this. That goes back to us being selfish, I add, but remind me of something else interesting in talking about friendsh ip. What about the convenience factor? With us, its made all the difference that we live so close to one another; its been easier having a friendship. Compared to my other friends, its easier for us to hang out. We might get toge ther several times a month while Im lucky to see my other friends once a month, I say. You have to center it on school, Bert explains. Its a lot of work to arrange times to meet and to drive across town, I say.
252 That makes a difference. Of cour se, it depends on the value of the relationship. Is it worth it to make the trek? Its a balancing act. Sometimes I have to kick myself. You cant be that fucking lazy. Important things require effort, he says. Forcing myself to get out of the house is often very hard. I could sit all day and watch TV even if there is no thing onI can flip channels and watch pieces of shows all day long. I could lie in bed all day. I have my whole library in there. My TV is in there. I could lie in bed all day too, Bert agrees. If I didnt have to get up to go to the refrigerator, I joke. I wouldnt do that eith er, Bert finishes. What does that say about us? I would like to be more driven. Sometimes I wonder what it is that gets me up in the morning. I need public commitments. Our conversation trails off for a moment and we are lost in private thought. I know we are talking about being lazy but the truth is we spend most of our time reading hundreds if not thousands of pages of text every week. We spend hours sitting at the computer tryi ng to make sense out of our knowledge through writing. Why do we chastise ourse lves? Why do we negate the pleasure gotten from spending time foolishly? Must we always be accomplishing something? Am I bitching? I think then say, Ive noticed that with all of my friends we have a habit of bitching. When we get together; we spend a lot of time
253 complaining, which seems to be integral to doing the relationship. Probably has to do with the shared context of school or work. I didnt have many friends from work at all, Bert changes the subject. Some of that probably had to do with the power dynamic. You were the boss. I did pursue this one friendship. He was the shy not very talkative type and I just sort of went after him. I ha ve this habit of picking up strays. The person who doesnt have a friend at all or is ostracized is a pers on I want to adopt. For the most part though frie ndships have been mutual or they pursued me. You pursued me. And that was somewhat from the class and the project for qualitative methods, Bert says. Thats something Ive been reflectin g on when I was listening to your tape. I was attracted to you because you seemed so obviously open, I say. Cool. Thats nice. You didnt strike me as someone who was belligerent or hypermasculine, which are things that tend to keep me at a distance from other men, to make me wary in their pres ence. You didnt automatically make me feel wary. Thats cool, Bert repeats. I knew that feeling was important to my project. I felt that you had the ability to be open, something that would ma ke it easier for us to talk. And that also came up in your tape. I wonder how th at is related to your perception of being a sidekick.
254 I think so and Im like that in my relationships with females too. The relationships happened because they came after me. Im similar because I seldom pursue people. It goes back to our failures and rejections. Yet, weve always been ab le to maintain the appearance if not the reality of being open. Still, its always an effort for me to get to know people. I have a good sense of people right away probably because I moved around so much. I know quickly whether or not Im going to like someone. With you I knew right awayI knew we had plenty of things in common even if we are not exactly the same. The commonness helps. You just ca nt have a friendship without it. How are you going to connect? What are you going to relate too? You have to have enough of a common ground, Bert says. I decide to change the subject and say, I cant think of any friendship where there wasnt at least some pain involved. Either I moved away or something happened to change the rela tionship. One example you gave was the fight you had with that one friend and you went back with your candy to apologize and that was very painful. I wouldnt think of that as the painfu l part of the friendship. It was the strength of the friendship that motivated me to do that. If I hadnt cared that much about him, then Id just blow it off, Bert says. When you were telling that story it re minded me of a friendship when I was in 8 th grade. My buddy Jim lived 2 or 3 houses down from me, and we were on the swim team together. That was one of those relationships where I was the
255 sidekick and he was the leader. He was better looking than me and had already reached puberty. I was chubby and not very coordinated. He would always put me down. I was always the bu tt of the joke and hed do that two for flinching thing. He was always doing th atpunching me as hard as he could on my arm. Frogging me, we called it froggi ng, I dont remember why. One time, he did it and I got angry enough to hit him b ack. I hit him back real hard and said, Im tired of being hit. You cant treat me like this all the time. I actually stood up to him, which was out of character fo r me at the time. He went home and I went home. I thought our friendship was over. I went upstairs and I was crying and crying. I was sad that I had lost a friend. A coupl e of hours later, he came over and apologized. When I reflected on it though, I felt that it wasnt genuine that maybe his mom put him up to it. We shook hands and I took a risk and told him how I felt, about how upset I was. I told him I had cried. Then we were never friends again. He completely He couldnt deal with it, Bert adds. He rejected me, I say. Because you cried? Yeah, but also, probably, because I stood up to him. That rebellious act changed the dynamic How old were you? Twelve or thirteen. I dont know, maybe I was just more emotionally mature. We were just kids. Its not like we had been friends that longwed been hanging out for about a year. In my childhood that was a long time. But
256 that was the last time I was that open w ith a guy friend until much later in life. Maybe with my friend Chris from high school, but even then it was more him being vulnerable with me. That time he cried. I didnt reject him, but I never opened up to him. Because of that? I dont know. Maybe. Its one of t hose things you learn. You learn to be more closed off as a guy, you know. But he opened up to you. I mean he cried and thats like opening up, Bert says then pauses for a second before continuing, Speaking of vulnerability, I came back to Wisconsin after trying to ge t into acting out in New York and was feeling rejected. I had tried, then given up. I talked to an old friend who was still living in Tampa and told him I didnt know what was happening in my life, that I was adrift. He said, well, most people are adrift. He comforted me and Ive always thought that was kind. Its not like I want my friend to coddle me. And he could have just told me to get it to gether like my father would have, Bert relates. Pull yourself up by you bootstraps. Yeah all that stuff. But he didnt. He listened to me. Sometimes you just need somebody to listen to you. Even if you didnt have a nything to say even if you just validate what they say. It he lps. You dont have to supply a solution. Thats the traditional male thing to do, Bert says. Sometimes you just need your pain acknowledged.
257 It would be nice sometimes if someone had a solution but mostly you just want to be heard. But there has to be some reciprocation, I add. I was talking with a friend the othe r day, and I feel the same way, that when youre sharing a lot and the other person isnt sharing anything that you start censoring yourself. It had to be a tit for tat thing, a gesture of good faith. If I told you The irony for me, at that time in my lifeduring high school, I needed someone to talk to and many times I wanted to talk with my friend Chris about what my grandpa did to my sister. That he molested her, but I kept it all to myself. I didnt go to him and tell him how I was feeling. I was angry and I was sad, all these things, but I couldnt share it; I was too ashamed. And I wonder if that is a sign of true friendship, and goes along with what you were saying about being yourself, that you are able to share te rrible, confusing events with the other and be understood. Yes, at least accepted. It helps to be accepted. Sometimes it goes hand in hand. Hopefully, the other person is nt going to reject or judge youbecause other people will or your parents will and so on. Something that has come up on th e other tapes is moments of vulnerability with a best friend. Whethe r its talking about how you really feel about women because at that younger age there was a lot more bravado when it came to discussing the opposite sex. We had a hard time expressing our genuine
258 fear about approaching gi rls not being able to co me to terms with our hormones and our emotions, I say. There was never any of that brav ado stuff with me, Bert says. Can you recall any other moments of vulnerability with your good friends? Talk a little about vulnerabilityin the sense of opening up and crying? Opening up. I think its those rare mo ments of authenticity when another person shares something of the self. We talk about how we feel inside. Then there are those times that we need other people either for feedback or succor. How do we negotiate those times as men while performing masculinity, or despite our masculinity? Im trying to think. I can remember formulating the theory that a friend is somebody who actually has enough inform ation or insight into your character that they could hurt you, Bert says. Sometimes I wonder if that comes out in our bitch sessions because I have a hard time believing that you didnt bitch about your father to your friends for example, I say. I had trouble with my dad in junior high and I remember thinking hes a pain. Hes overbearing. Honestly, in ma king that recording I realized that Ive had few friends across the years, fewer afte r college. I cant think of any from college that immediately come to mind. Like the childhood ones?
259 Theres a certain age when you have a friend, like when youre 12. Youre more impressionable, Bert says. You have a lot more emotional in stability at that time perhaps? I had a friend for a while who was a Kung Fu master but I didnt see him much the whole time I was working the store. It was pretty much just my wife. Thats not surprising. Mo st of the literature suggests that men, as they move out of their 20s, get married, and ar e working more, that their relationships revolve around work and home. Unle ss you had couple friends that you hung out with, most guys do not maintain those oneon-one friendships. Some of that has to do with not having the time. You sp end 8 hours a day at a job and when you get home your wife or your kids want your attention and you want to give it. Exactly, Bert agrees. During that period of time mo st men end up not having as many friendships but with women its different. They seem to be able to maintain those relationships to juggle the demands put on them or at least thats what the literature suggests (see Baumli, 1985; Ca rdelle, 1990; Garfinkel, 1989; McGill, 1985). I have my friend, Joe. Hes some one who actively sought me out. We dont see each other all the time, but when we do, we cant wait to connect. He works a lot and finding timeits hard. People have a way of coming and going. They just leave. Youre the first ma le friend that Ive cultivated a decent relationship with in awhile.
260 I know, I say, me too. Bert smiles and we sit silently for a moment gazing warmly at one another. I look at my watch and gesture toward the mall where we will go to watch Spiderma n swing into battle against an evil villain. We stand up and stretch our ti red limbs and on impulse I hug my friend. And under his breath I am sure I hear him say: I love you too man.
261 Chapter Twelve: Reflections at a Rest Stop The End? My head is pounding as I exit the turnpi ke into one of the service stations that appear too infrequently along the way. The days activ itythe driving, the talking, the drivinghas finally taken its toll. Migraines havent bothered me since high school, and I want to die to e nd the pain. I need to puke. As I hobble to the restroom seeking an empty stall, I smell urine a nd road-sweat. I close the door and secure the latch, then empty my stomach into the toilet. When I am done heaving, the automated American Standa rd spits in my face and I turn away. Some graffiti tempts me to call Bert for a good time. I leave the stall and head over to the row of sinks to wash up. My deliberate hand motions fail to summon any wa ter, so I jerk my right palm as fast as I can under the faucet. A red light b links and a short spur t of lukewarm liquid gushes out. Looking at the blow dryer with skepticism, I wipe my wet hands over my face and use my shirt to dry off the remaining water before walking out into the common area. I find a booth and for a long time I slump forward with my head on the table. When my head starts to clear, I notice a familiar Marvin Gaye song drifting down from speakers mounted in the ceiling: Somebody tell me whats going on, yeah, whats going on ?
262 As I struggle to recover my senses among the familiar seeming strangers of rest stops, familiar because they too are trying to find their way home while locked up in the solitude of personal dramas, I push myself to think back over years of conversation about and resear ch on masculinity and friendship: I remember negotiating time with my wife, Ki mberly, to write the stories that make up this dissertation; I unde rstand that the journey has been one that recognizes and validates both a flexible identity a nd the good stuff of close relationships, where friendship through dialogue can some times open a gap that allows us to run counter to the socially pros cribed norm for men; But our friendships, I also know, uplift and reinvigor ate the norm. The danger is in keeping quiet, in goi ng along to keep from being singled out or rejected or worse the object of vi olence, something that reminds me that fear figures highly in being a man. Sadly, there are some places in my dissertation where I hold back, hold my tongue, hold on too tightly to myself out of fear. It is a fear learned in the se cluded corner of a school yard, in the foggy confines of a locker room shower, in th e porno laden closet of a father, in the oppressive smiles of a family dinner, and even around the heady seminar table of a classroom. It is a fear that sweetly calls me home to a place I do not belong, but know all too well: Be a man my boy, be a manjust be a man Even with the fears surrounding my manliness that sometimes hold me back, the stories that make up this di ssertation matter. There are many places where, together with my friends, we converse openly about subjects many men prefer to leave unspoken.
263 I hope the openness of this text helps to awaken those male readers, to nudge them out of their self imposed isola tion, whose socialized need to play the part of Man has cut them off from the joy of commitment, intimacy, and dialogue with other men. And I look forward to hearing from those readers, whose fear of being found out has kept them silent about their distinction from the norm (see Heasley, 2005). Just so, the open-ended quality of our text, this text, magnifies the space where change and difference are welcome. It is a space that needs to be constantly revisited and give n the time of days and days. For I found there is too little time as it is: to be a friend my man, be a friendjust be a friend I learned, and maybe its an obvious f act, being a man is something I do not do alone; it is something I do with othe r people, especially other men. But through conversations, through writing a bout the conversations, I uncovered a boy who had, for most of his life, gone it alone, saw manhood as an individual accomplishmentsomething to be, finally achieved. I realized that the man of my dreams, the one firmly rooted in my past, the one I longed to be was an unconscious co llusion with my fathera co-illusion shared among friendsof perfection: the man who is impenetrable, indestructible, unforgiving, without flaw and made of steel. I can hear Jack lamenting: I constantly imagine that I can get rid of whats around my waist I can also hear Kirk talking about his father: I think to this day my dad could whip my ass, even though Im taller and str onger because mentally I fear him I can hear Sidney revealing: You werent allowed to be soft. The alternative was
264 getting the crap beat out of you all the time. Unless you want to take a beating, you learn to be hard I can still hear Bert sa ying at the end of our first conversation: Ive got a picture from when I was a kid flexing my muscles. It said: Im a man. Im strong. Dont mess with me And this was the man I wanted to expose, whose skin I wanted to shed. The man who, my father jokes: Belches lightning and shits thunder and is the baddest mother fucker in the valley This was the man who really did stand alone, could do nothing but stand alone, a statue, a monument, something that every man one of usme and my friendshas worshipped at some point, if not through our fathers, then through the di sembodied images that permeate this culture. And together, with my male friends of all people, we can use our friendship to undo the bow of masculinity, offer up a counte r-narrative that opens the box and lets out the possibility of being more lovi ng and more caring, more open and more free more humansubjects of fallibility. And with my friends, being a man doesnt seem as lonely a prospect or even as big a deal anymore. However, at the end of my work I am still troubled by the thought: am I a good man and a good friend? And I realize that my uneasiness is part of performing an identity that is a self oriented on the i ndividual not the relational, a self stuck in the past. Sitting in the present moment and looking forward, some thoughts occur to me about the dissertati on, thoughts that are certainly not firm advice but suggestions, a notion or two to help us on our way. ***
265 Analysis In Chapter One I emphasized four themes that tend to run through the various scholarly conversations abou t male friendship and masculinity: homoerotism/homophobia; pa in, discomfort, and emotions; time; and fathers. Returning to these themes in the analys is, and rather than highlighting them separately, I allow them to surface an d recede while considering first the contradictions men face when performing orthodox masculinity. I then move into a discussion that seeks unde rstanding about the differe nce between being just a friend and a good friend along with the ways my research method may have aided the process of friendship. I end by reflecting about my relationship and conversation with each man. Masculinity and Contradiction My journey, though sometimes a painful struggle, and still incomplete, has been meaningful and challenging. As Miller (1983) reminds me: Personal initiatives, however, will not be wholly sufficient. The fact that male friendship is as dead as it is re quires collective ac tion. So often in the personal quest for friendship, thinki ng a lack of a true male friend is a problem to solve alone, a man finds himself feeling crazy (p. 196). The compulsion to solve a problem alone is a demonstration of how the cultural discourse of masculinity writes itself ont o the body and asserts itself into the performance of masculinity. Acting toge ther to form better friendships and acknowledging their importance in shaping how we act as men is an important step toward rewriting th e story of masculinity.
266 Part of rewriting this story is recognizing many of th e contradictions men face while simultaneously performing the orthodox standard of manhood and attending to the necessary behaviors of a good friendship. Rawlins (1983) says: The existence of opposing demands m eans that certain tensions are common in relationships. These tensions constitute subtle and covert dilemmas that must be managed effec tively if a relationship is to flourish (p. 256). Managing these contradicti ons does not mean eliminating them. Taking a dialectical approach, Rawlins (1983) sugge sts, means seeing contradiction as a starting place for explanation. From contradiction comes a sense of the interrelatedness of behaviors such that contradiction is seen not only as persistent in interpersonal life but essential to th e development of close personal bonds (p. 256). Contradictions are present at the onset of friendshi p, in the middle, and at the end, maybe even before and after. Time in friendship is not just a matter of negotiating how much is necessary but also at what time cer tain behaviors and events will happen. This orientation on time is especially important when considering the various contradictions inhe rent in any close personal relationship. Analyzing the functions of communica tion in close personal relationships, Bochner (1984) points out: Several ways in which talk may i nhibit what it exhibitsexpressiveness mandating protectiveness, reveali ng necessitating concealing, openness petitioning discretion, weakness used to dominate, freedom as a constraint (p. 192). When thinking about the order of these pa irs, I wonder if these behaviors can be reversed. Can protectiveness mandate expressiveness, concealing necessitate
267 revealing, discretion petition openness, domination used to allow weakness, and constraint as a freedom? For that matter, at what point in interpersonal relationships are these behaviors manife st? It would seem that initiating a friendship, for example, would require being expressive fi rst before being protective, that something must first be re vealed before it can be concealed and so forth. Rawlins (1983) in Openness as Pr oblematic in Ongoing Friendships: Two conversational Dilemmas says: People have to reveal their personal thoughts and feelings to others in order to emerge from the shadow s of typification and change relationships from impersonal to interpersonal. Indeed, mutual expressiveness is necessary to achieve intimacy (p. 4). However, when thinking about orthodox masculinity and the ways that I am called on to prove my manhood to myself and other men, I see the reverse happening all too often. To make friends with other men I must first demonstrate my protectiveness, ability to concea l, discretion, desire to dominate, determination to be closed off, and on an on. Adhering to normative masculinity from this perspective would seem to run counter to forming friendships, something maintained by many other scholars (McGill, 1985; Miller, 1983; Osherson, 1992; Morman & Floyd, 1998; Wagner-Raphael, Seal, & Ehrhardt, 2001). Observing Rawlins again (1983), Im fasc inated that certain behaviors in the contradictions he studies seem to be not only privileged but predominantly illustrated by examples from male-male friendships. As I said in Chapter 1, for
268 example, independence seems to trump dependence as a de sirable trait in close relationships. Men, even while bound by orthodox masculinity, find ways to get together and become friends, but what kind of friends remains to be seen. Perhaps, instead of negating the possibility of friends hip, orthodox masculinity heightens the anxiety of forming such bonds because such bonds begin with the seemingly impossible task of moving from independence to dependence, from invulnerability to vulnerability from being insensitive to being sensitive. Perhaps the function of activity in male-male friends hips is one of time. Pitting ourselves against one another in the various compe titive activities most men seem drawn to provides sufficient time to play out ou r need to be manly. And having been manly, perhaps a fleeting chance at frie ndship opens. But when, how? From within the crucible of adversity? From within a context that both secures manliness while wounding us enough to requ ire the succor of a true friend? Being thrown together and overcoming hardships seems to be the only way for two men from within the confines of or thodox masculinity to become friends let alone close friends. It is no wonder that some men love war. Still, even if friendships form, orthodox masculinity compels men to continue devaluing the behaviors that deepen interpersonal bonds (openness, vulnerability, intimacy, and so on). In devaluing these quali ties men who would be manly must continually reassert their stance as closed, invulnerable, and cold hearted, something possibly reinforced wh en the dyad belongs to a group. So once formed, friendships between men, likely as not, will become as impenetrable
269 as the solitary male. No wonder, as Miller (1983) claims, talking about our male friendships with other male friends is so taboo. And something that closes men off from a valuable tool for building closeness in relationships: reflexivity. Facing the taboo takes courage. Expl oring our friendships, revising the social norms for being a man is not something done in a day or in one dissertation. To write this new st ory may require men to face a double contradiction: to risk vulnerability wit hout first establishing their invulnerability, to assert their dependence before prov ing their independence. It may also necessitate expressing a n eed for one another from the start and, I hope, avoid going it alone. Knowing a Good Friendship and Sticking to it My journey has been a search for se lfa self troubled by masculinityin and through friendship. Through the convers ations, I learned that to define friendship, to use it for changing lives, requires balancing between taking those relationships as they are and infusing them with an ideal. Such a balance seems to me an act that moves between being just friends or true friends to being good friends. For menmost mento reach such a balance means nurturing the possibility of a close relationship with another man by tending to a variety of communication practices: our willingness to be vulnerable, intimate, committed, complicit, reflexive, validating, challe nging, and caring in dialogue with one another matters not only to our own rela tional wellbeing but also to the wellbeing of future generations. Miller (1983) says:
270 By no longer kidding ourselves, hom ogenizing every fond relationship into an indiscriminately general friend ship, some of my male friends and I are able to exist for one another, clea r eyed, in a middle distance that has more engagement than before. This middle position, a product of greater hard-mindedness about what male frie ndship is, is expressed subjectively by more tenderness, by firmer and keen er looks, and also by a generalized sense of the opening of possibilities: a sense that perhaps we can gradually explore more fully the true meaning of friendship between us (p. 193194). Attending to friendship this way redefine s masculinity, implying a change in how we see ourselves as men and how we behave. The difference between what does it look like and what should it look like and sometimes all we can hope for maybe all we needis a middle gr ound and a little more time. In thinking about this middle ground, I can see why it is hard, has been hard, to be friends with men. After te n years of looking for and working toward close male friendship, Miller (1983) made a serious connection with only one other man, Larry. There is a moment, in conversation with Jacqueline, his wife, that Miller realizes that he is imitati ng his friends mannerisms. This simple bodily or embodied experience demonstrates the extent these men have softened with one another. As Miller (1983) says: When you start to love someone, you take him into you. You unconsciously take parts of his being and, with them, some of the outer appearances, the manners that are the sy mbols of deeper realities (p. 187). Kimberly, my partner, has pointed out numerous times how I emulate my friends: how when I adopt an author itative tone, I sound like Sidney or how when I beam over something, I smile like Bert. I am reminded that orthodox masculinity is experienced as a hardening of the body, not the kind of hardening that comes from hours at the gym, but the kind of te nsion in the neck and assa painthat
271 comes from years of fearing and competi ng with other males. When I am able to let my male friends inside, I soften. I soften toward them and, perhaps more importantly, I soften toward myself. I can look at my gut and not feel embarrassed. I can look at my difference from the norm without feeling shame. This therapeutic turn in the relationship is something experienced by each man in this dissertation, and I realize that part of being at ease with one another comes from spending the kind of quality time required by my research method. While I wouldnt advocate the method of this dissertation as a fail proof way of sparking a good friendship, I rec ognize the powerful way friendship as method, the use of dialogue, and autoethnography create conditions where getting close and staying close are increasingly possible. Tillman-Healy (2003) says of friendship as method that, it is a level of investment in participants lives that puts fieldwork re lationships on par with the project that when asked, we keep secr ets, even if they would add compelling twists to our research report or narrativ e (p. 735). That I have kept confidences is an important part of the trust I share with my friends. There are some moments in my relationships with each man that I will keep to myself out of love. This kind of care is, I think, a result of the hyperaware nessthe reflexivitythat comes from invoking friendship as method In my conversations with each of th ese men, on the record and off, we had, on more than one occasion, what Maslow (1962) referred to as a peak experience. Goodall and Kellette (2005) recognize the conditions of a peak
272 experience as important elements of getting in the habit of dialogue; in a personal account of such an experience Goodall describes: We got into things neither one of us had ever spoken out loud to anyone elseI know my heart was pumping fa st, too, and by the time we came to the end of itmore an a rrival than a destination we were both exhausted but knew we had been somewhere special together. I remember the stars that night, the moon, the feel of th e aireverything around us was alive and deeply meaningfulAnd Ill never forget it because Ive spent so much of my life since th en trying to get there again. Trying to find that special place where true communica tion happensI would learn to call this meaningful conversation dialo gue. And I would learn that it happens not just in talk, but in mu sic, in lovemaking, in communion with nature and Spiritin a whole lot of what makes this life interesting and memorable (p. 160). When this communication experience coal esces in the body of a friend, it is equally hard to forget that person. The de sire to get back in touch with them is deeper. With Bert, especially, I sometim es found it difficult to leave his side. I turn my attention again to Raymon d Carver (2001) who in a meditation, a piece of sociological introspection (s ee Ellis, 1991), shared a line from Saint Teresa, Words lead to deedsThey prep are the soul, make it ready, and move it to tenderness (p. 123). My words, in writing through my experience of masculinity and male friends, allow tenderne ss back into the stor y of being a man. Carver (2001) says: Long after what Ive said has passed from your minds, whether it be weeks or months, and all that remains is the sensation of having attended a large public occasion, marking the e nd of one significant period in your lives and the beginning of another, try then, as you work out your individual destinies, to remember that words, the right and true words, can have the power of deeds (p. 125.) Through friendship as method, dialogue and autoethnography my friends and I experienced a degree of intimacy and complicity that many men seldom
273 have with other men (see Baumli, 1985; Cordelle, 1990; Rabinowitz, 1991; Osherson, 1992; Farrell, 1993; and Kupers, 1993). While these conversations in and of them selves do not make a good friendship, they set the conditions whereby that friendship and the emotiona l engagement necessary to sustain it happens more easily. The peak experien ce paves the way for continued emotional involvement. Miller (1983) says: Intimacy and complicity, however, do not by themselves make friendship. Even familiaritycoziness and trust and occasional supportivenesscan be mistaken for friendship. True frie ndship must be true engagement with the frienda very frequent mutual holding in the mind and heartMale friendship can thus be thought of as a place in a mans inner being, a space in his life, that is daily occupied by another man, a place that is regularly charged with love, concern, thoughtf ulnessand, sometimes, resentment, anger, even deep hurt. Engagement means emotional involvement (p. 191). What does he mean by emotional involvement? Sure, my friends and I show affection for one another. We hug one another. We grin when we see one another. We slap each other on the b ack to show support. And we talk, boy do we talk. But there is another side to emotional involvement that with other men we usually prefer to avoid, prefer not to show: sadness and pain. And I am reminded that in an intimate moment with a man (friend or father) I have never cried, never shared in an unqualifie d way my pain: had a catharsis. My Friends; My Self And I can hear Bert saying: What if you dont have anything to cry about ? And Bert isnt one to cry about anything. Yet, he is not a tough guy and he doesnt think life is ab sent of pain. I can also hear him say: Besides, being overwhelmed by emotion is somethi ng that just happen syou cant force it But I
274 can stamp it down when it comes up. And with Bert I held back in getting him to talk about anything that might be too painful for him. I had the opportunity, but I did not ask him: Have you ever wept ? In our conversations we both reveal edand maybe it speaks to the kind of men we arethat male friends have cried in front of us. In front of us this is how my gut phrased it, and I think of Berger (1972) who stated, Men act and women appear (p. 47). A simple linguistic c onstruction shows how deep in the bones gender acts on our behavior. We fear the crying man because he exhibits vulnerability, weakness, and need, something seen as feminine, to be avoided. Bert in his monologue reveals: We were sitting in his ca r. Jeff started to cry and I couldnt handle it. I still cant handle itmy father cr ied one time at dinner, and I felt uncomfortable. I wanted to stop him from crying, so I changed the subject to cheer him up. Same thing with Jeffhe started crying and I got nervous and started trying to get out of the car. But he put his hand out to me to shake and I shook his hand. I feel bad about it to this day, because I didnt allow him to cry about me going away. I didnt think it was that big of a deal. Wed see each other at the next holiday, so it wasnt that big of a deal. But it was to himand I couldnt deal with it When this happened to Bert all those years ago, it made him uncomfortable and he just sat there. Then he tried to escape. I believe our conversations changed that about Bert. First, th e tenor of our talk allowed him to reveal this painful moment. Being able to self-disclose is an important step toward acting reflexively on the self and changing. Th is experience also shows how being a man in the orthodox sense wounds us. And when I think of my own experience of being with a crying man, I see how we are doubly wounded by orthodox masculinity.
275 With my high school friend, I rememb er standing in the road outside his house, his head pressed against my chest, while he wept over a break up with his girlfriend. I remember stroking his back and repeating the words as a quiet shush: I know, I know, I know until he was finished crying. I imagine this is how Bert wishes he acted with his boyhood friend, why he carried it around for so longthe succor apparent in this moment is how we ought to behave. But being seventeen and doing the right thi ng, neither of us felt good for long. Embarrassment took over. I remember my friend taking a step back; we looked into each others eyes and something clicked, a moment of recognition slipped between us. Without saying it, both of us knewthe straightening of our posture, the hardening of our chest muscles told uswe had been acting like a couple of girls. And we didnt speak for several da ys or even a week, long enough to act as though it never happened. But like Bert I cant forget. Epstein (2006) would say I am making a big deal out of nothing, but to be able to dissolve in front of, no, with another man matters. I am hopeful that if the time ever came, if I needed to, Bert w ould sit with me, hold my hand, and cradle me to his chest while I wept. And that I would reciprocate. And both of us would be finebetter in showing our love for one another. *** I lost touch with Jack. His gradua ting and moving away scared me. Ive always associated moving away with m oving onan old habit hard to break. I wish I had been a good enough friendgood enough researcher to pursue him more aggressively. But, in the end, we let each other go. When looking over our
276 conversation, I always stop for a chuckle when I come to the repair guy moment. While Jack and I talk about overeating, hitt ing puberty, pot-bellies, fear of bigger men, having emotions, needing to express emotions with other men, aging and appearance, plastic surgery, and feminism, Billy the repair guy is in the kitchena traditionally feminine spacewo rking on the refrigerator. Maybe he overhears us. And when he returns, part way through our conversation, standing there in his tan overalls and chunky boots, looking like the most typical guy in the world, he says: Its fixed As a writer, I am tempted to use the repair guys presence, rich in metaphor, for all hes worth. Where hi s announcement shows up, that he even shows up, matters. I could move his st atement around or erase him from the research. I have that power. I am glad I left him in his place at the middle. And I wonder, after he leaves the scene, if our conversation fixes anything. Jack and I continue to talk about the same topics the typical guy and his metaphors lingering over us, filling each other in with more personal details from our lives: how we fantasized about and struggled with the image of rugged masculinity portrayed by actors like Clint Eastwoodimages that never seem to age or lose their vitality how we validated each others queerness in disclosing some of the ways we carried our bodies or, in Jacks case mo re than mine, cared for our bodies. How we talked and the way we negotiated our bodies adds, Heasley (2005) claims, legitimacy to other ways of presenting manliness; he says, naming the diversity of masculinity and its relationship to queerness will ideally provoke greater discourse on the topic and extended awareness of the influence of the
277 hegemonically straight masculine, not only for gay men, but straight men as well (p. 319). In validating our queerness, I am startled at how easy it was by the end of our conversation to talk about faile d erections. Penis talk between men typically amounts to boasting about ones si ze or belittling the size of the other man (see Murphy, 2001). With Jack, on that day, it was a caring and validating moment that in the press of time I wish we could have explored further. I see how easy it is, in our masculinity, to ge t caught up on how well our bodies perform something reinforced by the other men in our liveshow easy it is to get stuck tending to how good we are in bed rather th an how good we are in relationships. When we reveal some of our early sexual experiences, Jacks words surprise me: I didnt have a body. I just had a penis And when I think back over manytoo manyof my experiences with women, I know he is right. While talking about erectile dysfunction has beco me more common these days, it is a subject brought up only as a medical issue, something that can be fixed with a little blue pill. And I w onder, when looking back over my own experience, how many of those failed erections had more to do with failing relationships. A pill might have made it possible to perform in bed, but what about everywhere else? Everywhere el se is the stuff good friends should mull over; rather than point my friend to the nearest pharmacy, I might ask him to talk about it, to open up to me about what is going on with him and his lover. ***
278 I believe Kirk and his friend Leonard share a specia l connection, the kind where two men could open up about and share the sometimes painful side of married or coupled life. That I know a nother pair of men share such a close bond, a friendship like the one I want and have with Bert, is heartening. I am drawn to Kirks monologue because it is keenly focused on one man. My other friends spoke more broadly about various men, ne ver zeroing in on one significant still ongoing relationship. What does this say a bout male-male friendships? That its too embarrassing to talk openly about them ? That men dont feel as strongly toward their friends as they do their lovers and family? That they just dont last? Kirks story about Leonard reminds me of all the ways I misbehaved and explored identity with other males in my teens and twenties. He says about an acid trip with his friend: Watching it happen to yourself through another human being who is also simultaneously seeing themselves through youphenomenal And his words sound shockingly like a partial definition for what happens while being a friend, something that reminds me of a line about friendship from C. S. Lewis (1960), And in stantly they stand together in an immense solitude (p. 65). Coming out of that solitude is a risky move. The threat of disapproval and disruption of the relationship, from with in or without, are just as immense, especially in how the behavi or between friends separate s them from the herd of men, of being men. First, there are the embarrassing details; that Kirk shared these is a gift. For example, talk ing candidly about masturbation, even masturbating together, are experiences straight men seldom admit. There are also
279 the emotional disclosures, the sharing of pain about fathers. Kirk shows that he and Leonard comfort one another about how difficult it is to relate to their respective dads and how their friendship ma kes it a little easier to be with the old man. Kirks sharing of intimate details of his relationship with Leonard violates the idea that its just between us So, friendship between these two men is, then, not just about going off together, it is also about coming back. When thinking about going off together, I think of misbehaving again. In rereading my conversation with Kirk, I am startled by the use of coarse language and remember, while rewriting, taking out some of those words. In marking up my text later, I write in the margins: I am intrigued by the coarseness in our relationship; Ive noticed that I cuss more with some friends and not at all with others. Why is that? Am I following his lead? Kirk did use the word fuck a lot and vulgarity is something Im good at, so mething I picked up from my career military father. It protects us. Its a way of feeling the other man out. It makes us comfortable enough to trust and come t ogether but also keeps us apart, at a distance. And when we do disclose about our life experience, the cursing keeps the conversation about sexa moment full of potential for intimacy and tender understandingthat comes out of our mouths in a torrent of epithets that turns on our competitive selves, and our need to s how off our exploits instead of sharing our experience. Still, our bar room banter seduces me. I am reminded that the foul language in my friendships with men often went hand in hand with a cold beer, a lot of cold beer. While none of my conversations for th is dissertation were helped
280 along by alcohol or drugs, Kirks mo nologue and our cussing recalls past friendships, where getting wasted seemed to be the only way for a couple of guys to get away from themselves, overcome th eir inhibitions, long enough to relate. I can remember seeking that buzz mome nt with other men where drunk enough meant being loose enough to speak open ly, still coherent enough to know, and only a drink or two away from falling o ff the stool. While I still enjoy the occasional glass of wine or even a couple of lagers, I realize that I dont need it to be with other men emotionally, someth ing this dissertation reinforced. Kirk realizes it too and is troubled by his friend Leonards continued need of the influence. He reveals: Im not here to criticiz e and Ive got a lot of my own weaknesses but one thing that I do fear for Leonard is that he likes to drink. He got into drinking when we were in college together and he continues to drink. Would I say hes an alcoholic, yeah, I probably would. Not in the sense of going to work drunk but drinking every day. And hes dating someone now who enables that behavior. I worry about him. I got an email from him the other day and it was laced with drunken connotations. Im all for having a good time, but being 30 years oldhes doing well in schoolbut his mother just died of colon cancer a few years ago. And hes not always expressive about th at loss. I know its hurt him tremendously. He was very close with his mother. His father and he have always had a tight lipped relationshi p. His dad is very quiet and they cant express how they feel with each other, even to me This moment brings home to me the need for continuing work on engaging the emotional lives of the men we call friend. *** Of all the friends in this dissert ation, I have known Sidney the longest. But when looking back through our convers ations, I have a hard time seeing the man I love. What I see is the man everyone thinks they know: strong, closed off,
281 theoretically deft, a debate r. And I think of something I learned early on in my education: the best stuff often ha ppens outside of class in the hallway between lectures. I realize, especially for this work, that some of the best moments took place off the page outside of the research inside the solitary space of a friendship. In the spirit of coming back, I want to share a couple of memories before turning my attention to some of the harder things evoked by my conversations with Sidney. Once, during my second semester, I presented an evocative and painful story about my childhood in a class we took together. It was the kind of story that my fellow students praised me for having th e courage to share but it was also one, I sensed, that made it uncomfortable fo r them to look me in the eye, an awkwardness I hadnt yet learned to write through. Sidney was there Later, in the hallway, both of us heading toward each other to get back to class after break, we made eye contact. He didnt look awa y. He didnt frown solemnly either. He grinned. It was a facial e xpression that allowed me to keep my head up. I smiled too and we stopped near the classroom door to gaze at e ach other a second longer than was necessary. Hey, cool I thought. And he pa tted me on the shoulder when we turned to go inside, together. Another time, I brought my infant son to school; and I bumped into Sidney on my way to CIS. May I hold him? he asked right off. I handed my son over and Sidney cradled him in his arms wit hout the usual clumsiness I had come to expect from most guys. And they bot h grinned, together. I smiled inside knowing I could leave my son in this mans care. There are other times, but these
282 two are enough for now. They show a tender side of Sidney through my eyes, something good friends ought to demonstrate for one another, and that takes me back to the conversation we had fo r my research where, I asked: what are friends for ? Sidney responded: Friends are a source of confid ence. I actua lly taught one of my guy friends to dance. One thing friends do is help us through awkward momentsare willing to get awkward. They nudge us out of our complacency to get us to try new things, and we try out of love for our friend. I tried to nudge Sidney about our friendship. I said: Im curious and nervous about it, our own relationship. Research shows that men dont typically meta-communicate about their friendships. Whereas with our significant others, we might say, oh this is going well or we need to work on that. I was wondering if that held true with your friends. We do not talk directly about our friendship. The way I ended my statement allowed Sidney to navigate away from a potentially intimate moment. He speaks generally. He thinks men assume all is we ll if their actions do not evoke anger, something that on reflection tells me th at our friendship must be going ok. I havent, in his words, pissed him off enough to speak about it. I am surprised by the layers of indirectness in our communication. And I push a li ttle harder. I tell him: I think you would agree that talking about relationships is an important part of having better ones andyou also talk about this on your tapeits crucial to changing the conditions of masc ulinity that sometimes blo ck that talk. If we are talking about our relationship, arent we automatically being counter-hegemonic ? And Sidney agreed. But lamented that time constraints and other obligations always made it so friendships end up in third place.
283 In reviewing our talk, I wonder, give n the layers of indirectness, if my friend hadnt been poking at me too. And th is is the hardest thing for me to bring up, because it is something so potentially hurtful: My friend is a black man. And I weep inside over my frustrat ion at not wanting to bring it up, while urgently wanting to talk with him about the color of our skin. I weep over it because I notice in looking back that we danced around this issue like a teen couple out of the 1950sbarely touching, unc omfortable with our difference, and knowing that we are being watched. In our initial conversation, when we are talking about our bodies, Sidney only hints at the issue of race. Caught up in the moment and seeing him as just my friend just another one of the guys and without thinking, I asked: Can you recall any other time wh en you felt more aware or conscious of being in your body He recounts being an undergraduate at an elite College, where the norm for men was, according to Sidney, short and stocky He said: Being a tall guy, I stood out. I was also conscious of being skinnier. Even though my body was good, it was not the norm, not what most women were looking for And I asked: Do you feel that you acted differently toward yourself ? And he said: I think it impacts confidence Sidney shifts our talk away from the physical body to the clothes we wear, and neither one of us seems to want to acknowledge how, given the racial divide still present in the U.S., being one of the few black bodies among a host of white bodies had to matter. And I wonder what it takes to allow ourselv es this awkward moment, the word
284 confidence chiding my ear. I should have more confidence in my friend, more confidence in myself. Who should be showing whom how to dance? In rewriting our first conversation I struggle over whether or not to directly identify my friend as black. I chose to only hint. In his monologue, Sidney discusses the dangers of a narrowly defined masculinity, especially for the African-American community (see Hooks 2003; Majors and Billson, 2002; and Boykin, 2005), especially because, he says: I am a black male A male Not a man, a male. Orthodox masculinity calls men to work hard at distancing themselves from pain, from emotional wounds. And who am I to say what hurts my friend? But I cant help asking: whats going on ? Black men, it has been observed feel compelled, out of a need to surviv e in a racist and patriarchal culture, like the U.S., to ratchet up their masculinity to intensify their performance into something of a caricature of the white norm that serves as both a critique and an affront to a society that is unwilling to acknowledge them on their own terms, as men. Thus, it is not an accident that Sidney rebukes one of our cultures signs of success, something open to and pushed upon black men, as a childs territory: sports. He is careful to point out that the men he chooses for friends are outside the norm, by which he means, wit hout saying it, the African-American Communitys norm. Brian, his best fr iend and also African-American, is a classical pianist and an X-Ma rine. Sidney, himself, is a scholar and an X-athlete. I see two men, two friends, struggling to move from the hyper-masculine space
285 carved out for them by an insidious racism into a broader definition of what it means to be not only a black man but just a man. When trying to work through our masculinity Sidney says: To be able to step back is crucial. He also acknowledges the role of fathers in making this journey. And of all my friends, he speaks the most respectfully of his father: The person who has had the most influence on the type of man Ive become, the way in which I understand manhood, is my father. Although my father was a military man, he is someone youd say the still waters run deep. Though he did live and work and br eathe in this very hierarchical culture, my father is also a very gentle man. He is not a man who is afraid to cry or show compassion. He is very loving and very family oriented. Morality and ethics are a priority for him. Those are things that I have always admired about my father and hes tried to teach me over the years. That made a big difference for me. I can say I had a father figure In this part of his monologue, Sidney is speaking more to the African-American community of men than he is to all men. He is acknowledging the need of fathers to be there, to be present in the lives of native sons. As Ive already revealed, I fictiona lized my friends names. I chose Sidney as a moniker, because the acto r I borrowed it from reminds me of my friend. I thought it would be easier to br ing up the color of our skineasier to talk about openly, and this is another place where Ive held back. And thinking about Sidney Poitiers career, the movies he starred in, those films, from a modern perspective, seem flawed, ma ybe a little too cookie-cutter; awkward. Yes, those films are awkward, but they forced a conversation; nudged subjects into the public consciousness at a heated time in our cultural history. And maybe its time to push again.
286 There is a scene in Look Whos Coming to Dinner where Poitiers character, in speaking with his father, says: You see yourself as a colored man; I just see myself as a man And this line captures th e dilemma of my friendship with Sidney. As much as my friend struggl es to be a man, he is called on to be a black man by two different pl aces in our culture. And it hurts I avoid the issue because, perhaps, it points a laser beam at my privilege to walkto pass through this world as just a man But I think my avoidance comes from an even more selfish place; race, as it plays out in our culture, accentuates differences, separates us, makes it harder to be just good friends Calling Home And, finally, I wonder, is the kind of friendship I seek with men, any man, possible for others? Yes. But not un like a marriage or anything worth doing, its damn hardsubject to digres sions, disappointments, lapses and the press of time. Almost three years after data collection en ded, what am I to make of the fact I am only in regular contact with one of my friends? Dash a quick note on a card at Christmas time with another? I can say that because of our dialogueshaving shared peak experiencesI could assume the habit of friendship we could assume the habit more easily when time and distance permits. But it never seems to! True enough, writing about these men, my friends, has imprinted them under my skin. Until we meet again, I hold each of these men in my heart and keep faith, believing as Raymond Carver (2001) does when contemplating his friends: When I think about friendship, which is, in at least one regard anyway, like
287 marriageanother shared dreamsomething the participants have to believe in and put their faith in, trusting th at it will go on forever (p. 118). My reflections are inte rrupted by the melodic voice of Frank Sinatra drifting down from speakers: and I did it my way My way I laugh. Did I do it my way? Did it matter? As much as my project is about the self, it is also about the community I live in. By ac ting reflexively on my self through dialogue, autoethnography, and frie ndship, I open the possibility for intense recognition of self in community, a recogniti on that sometimes disrupts and reorganizes relationships. But it is also a powerful ally for the status-quo, and while that self sustains norms, my writi ng opens it to critique and transformation by others. My reliance on self has been ironicis still ironic for there are always others; significant ot hers. I lurch from the booth a nd plod over to the pay phone. I pick up the receiver and stare at it, th en rub the mouth piece against my t-shirt hoping to wash away any germs. I dial my calling card number and wait for the familiar jingle and computerized voice asking for my pin number; I punch it in, wait, then enter my home phone. Afte r the third ring, Kimb erly picks up. Hello, she says in a sweet contralto. Hey, its me, I say even though she knows my voice. You OK? she asks. Yes. But my head hurts.
288 Where you at? Rest stop. Do you have any medicine? No, I say. When do you think youll be home? In an hour or so. Is Benjamin asleep? Yes, he just went down. He misse s his daddy. All day he kept saying, dada home. Dada home. And he wouldnt take a nap. Im sorry, I say, You must have had a rough day. Just the last couple of hours were hard. How was your day? Fine, Did you see Bert? Kimberly asks. Yes, I answer. Did you have fun? We did. Thats good. Yes. It is. Take care of yourself and get home s oon, she says and then adds, as a way of ending the conversation, I love you. Me too I think. And I nestle the receiver in its cradle and walk out of the rest stop ready to continue my journey.
289 Epilogue November 4, 2007 A couple of days have passed since defending my dissertation. I want to celebrate, to rest, but the j ourney is not over. My committee asked me to write an epilogue, which I am doing now. The point of this epilogue is to raise a couple of important issues brought up during the defense; issues that cant be resolved today will guide my future research. Arts idea was to write the story of the defense, but I find my memory inadequate. Who spoke first? What exactly did I say? My memory of that day is impressionistic, not precise, maybe because my bodys heightened anxiety pushed my brain into fight or flight mode. I should have been entirely at ease; after all, as Art reminded me before the defense, I know practically everything about my research. Knowing what I know, perhaps I had a feeling, a premonition, about the way Jim and Stacy would react. But even before the defense, my feelings about the dissertation have been mixed. And toda y, as always, I feel satisfied with what I accomplished but also frustrated by the desire to do more, to express more evocatively what I know. So here I amalone againin the library writing something for my dissertation, tasked with communicating a couple of concerns raised by the committee. Ill begin with Jim Kings r eactions. He wanted to know, given the suggestive elements of my writing, why I didnt go all the way, why I didnt bring him to the point of orgasm. What did I fear?
290 The suggestive elements, he felt, re ad like gay porn, but without the money shot. Part of the frustration and confusion he experienced in reading several of my stories, I thi nk, is first trusting that the wr iting is intentionally queer and intentionally seductive. Yes, I consci ously wrote with an erotic sensibility, especially in the ch apters with Bert and Jack. Writing without knowing about this latent content submerges the sensual in the unconscious mind where the homophobia that is so much a part of performing orthodox masculinity does its dirty work, which brings me to the second part of Jims frustration and confusion. Though my writing is disruptive, it is not forceful enough at capturing and accounting for why my friends and I do not go all the way. My writing does not adequately convey or cr itique the orthodox males c onfusion of intimacy with sex, the fear that showing emotions can only lead to sex. The money shot for Jim is not the fucking implied by my tongue and cheek use of language, but the love making necessary for intimate, emotional contact. This confusion for men caught by orthodox masculinitys narrative is part of the perceived need to protect the anus from penetration th at is also a metaphorical pr otection of the heart from being broken. In performing orthodox masculinity, I s hy away from complete emotional surrender, the kind of vulne rability I saw in a photograph the day before my defense. It was a picture of two men ly ing side-by-side on the grass in a public park. Their feet point in opposite dir ections, their heads cocked to face one another. The photographer snapped the shot from above and at an angle. The positioning of the bodies of the two men resembled a crooked line that pulls me
291 into their eyes and the delight for one another that shone there. Without thinking about it, I ask the photographer if the two men are gay. It is the wrong response, the wrong question. How do I stee r myself away from this confusion, this need to protect myself? But that picture represents for me Jims money shot, where he wants me to go. It is ch ildlike, casual, innocen t, a picture of pure joy, a moment of meeting not unlike an or gasm and not at all about sex. But why cant I get there? How do I go all the way? The confusion of sex with intimacy is only part of the story and, perhaps, only a product of something deeper. My fear of intimacy with other men resides in a couple of other places as well. I thi nk first of my father, a thought that occurs to me because of my pres ent relationship with my son, Benjaminwho, I am sad to reveal, is already learni ng to live with his daddy s prolonged absences. He lives with my absence by guarding, or w ithholding, his delight in my presenceit breaks my heart. I try to e xplain to him that I must go to work or that I must go write my dissertation, because it is how da ddy earns a living, is able to provide for our family. I will play with him later, al ways later. What does he know? All he knows is that his daddy is gone a lot mo re, and that, maybe, his daddy doesnt love him as much. He sobs when I leave the house. I resist telling him to be strong. I try to make up for leaving by giving extra hugs and kisses. But I know, one day, he will stop crying just as he has stopped running into my arms when I get home in the evening. My sons pain reminds me of an early memory. I wasnt much older than Benjamin, a little more than three. My family lived in California on an Air force
292 base near Sacramento. My daddy was home for a change, maybe he had some time off after working too many grueling sw ing shifts, but he needed to run an errand. He had to pick up a prescription from the base hospital. I desperately wanted to go with him, to be with him. He didnt want to bring me. There may have been a good reason, but not a good enough reason for a three year old. He said hed be back, and then he left. I sobbed ove r the injustice. I dont know how, but I got out of th e house and into the neighborhood. I wandered in the direction of the hospital. I was going to catch up with my daddy and surprise him. But I got lost. Luckily, a woman picked me up and helped me get back home. But in looki ng back, I think Ive been lost since that day. I spent my childhood urgently wanting to be with my daddy, I adored him, but he was absent most of the time, at worktrying to support his family. I learned to protect myself from the pain of his absen ce. I learned to ho ld back my delight; until, one day, I didnt feel that delight anymore. Instead, I remember feeling angry, wa nting to express anger about his absence but also feeling ashamed for being angry, because, by then, as an elementary school aged boy, I was man enough to know that dad was gone out of duty. It wasnt his fault he had to go to work. And, in my childs mind, it was even noble that his work involved protect ing Americas fragil e democracy. What did I know? What could any boy possibly know? But I learned to protect my father from my feelings, to hold ba ck my rage, my desire to shout: I am right here, and I need your love more than this country will ever need your death!
293 Protecting myself and pr otecting the other is al l over my dissertation. When I get to the cum shot, to use Jims phrase, I pull back. I dont want to be rejected, and Im angryfrustrated. What if my friend doesnt feel the same way about me? What if dad doesnt feel the same way about me? Fuck me! Besides confusing sex and intimacy and the compulsion to protect myself, my father, my friends, is how both of these strains in the narrative of orthodox masculinity express themselves in my ro mantic relationship with Kimberly. Jim acknowledges the possible discomfort of having her present at the defense in a moment that, for the untrained ear, ca n provoke doubt about my sexuality. Am I gay? Is Jim outing me? Like my bl urted question about the two men in the photograph these are the wrong responses. But the doubts and the questions are there. Later, in bed with my wife, she joki ngly asks if I am on the down low. If I know anything about Freud, jokes are an expression, a cover-up for serious matters. Is getting too close with a male friend allowing that relationship to cross into emotional territory my wife claims fo r herself? Sexual or otherwise? Am I committing emotional adultery? Having done the emotional work for men for centuries, are women conditioned to auto matically suspect two men who show love for one another? Or do I hold bac k, because I think this is what she may think and its not what I want her to think. Can she and I talk about this so I dont have to guess this is what she may be thinking and protect her from it? Or by not talking about it, am I really protecting my self? Im not sure where to draw the line or whether just to erase it entirely.
294 I tried during my defense to ar ticulate the way my network of interpersonal relationships prohibited me from going too far in my friendships with men. I wonder if the emotional dist ance I experience with other men is part of a compulsion to continually prove my st raightness to my spouse. Is this what the culture of masculinity has come to now? If you maintain deep friendships with me, then you must have at least a gay side. Youre not all man (as if gay is not manly). This just reinfor ces the binary, gay/straight man. And off all people, I thought Kimberly would understand and I feel a little resentment when she raised the issue again, even as a joke. Do I voice my disappointment? No. I go on the defens ive. And going on the defensive only makes her doubt my sexual intent even more. Am I gay? Would it matter if I say I have had sex with another man? I shouldnt have to answer those questi ons. I am queer though, which means I delight in subverting orthodox masculinity, in performing alternatives, something that doesnt get full enough expression in the dissertation, something that is necessary for going all the way. And, how, as a passionate researcher, do I better write a queer narrative? Shouldnt a mo re compelling story about friendship be co-authored? Why, even at the last s econd, do I see myself going it alone? Am I alone in this effort? Maybe the reason I cant answer that question or any of the questions satisfactorily is because I don t trust enough. I dont trust the people of this dissertation enough to allow myself the luxury of complete openness, complete vulnerability. I am always caught in a struggle to protect, to prohibit, something that is reinforced in all of my interpersonal relationships. But, then
295 again, is anyone capable of complete vulnerability, of expressing everything he or she thinks and desires without any restraint? Woul d I want to be in such a relationship? Do I believe Kimberley is completely open with and vulnerable to me? If she were, would she have raised the issue the way she did? Indeed, maybe she was saying, there are things I dont want to know, places to which I dont want to go. How, then, if I cant overcome this need to protect myself, to protect my father, to protect my friend, to protect my lover, to protect the reader am I going to explore the painful nuances of race that also come between Sidney and me? I know Stacy Holman Jones wants me to quest ion whether gender trumps race. If gender does trump race, then this learned pr otection, part of my socialization into orthodox masculinity, is how it happens. How can I ta lk openly about the ways race separate us, when it takes all my effort to bypass my masculine persona to become momentarily vulnerable? With Sidney I never got there, ne ver went all the way, never felt comfortable enough to let my guard comp letely down. But to use the dance metaphor I developed in my reflection about our relationship, part of my role as a researcher is to lead us there; however, as a friend, I must also collaborate. To have a meaningful dialogue about race as it happens in our relationship requires us both to risk vulnerability, for both of us to lead, for both of us to follow. What is wrong is for me to put the burden of bringing up race or even resolving it on my friend, to evoke the narrative of white guiltto copout as Stacy suggests. But how am I supposed to take a risk with a man who is so adept at being the
296 orthodox male? In trying to see the flip side of this question, in trying to see from my friends perspective, I realize th at gender trumps race for me. But for him, these social narratives are, perhap s, at play simultaneously. I dont doubt for Sidney race trumps gender, because race intensifies his performance of masculinity, intensifies everything that I have already expressed about myself. So, how can he possibly see his way to vulne rability with me? So we are stuck at arms length, playing it safe. How do we stop playing it safe? How do we reach that golden moment of connection where it no longer matters who is leading or who is following? As I bring these thoughts to a close, I am reminded of my literature review and reflections. To go all the way with another man requires a reversal of the dialectical oppositions at work in our fr iendshipswe need to learn how to lead with alternative terms. To write our new story requires us to face a double contradiction: to risk vulnerability without first establishing our invulnerability, to assert our dependence before insistin g on our independence. It may also necessitate expressing a need for one another from the start and, I hope, avoid going it alone. The question remains: but how? I dont even know how to conclude this epilogue just as I dont seem to know how to finish this dissert ation. At the end of this pr oject, I feel desperate. I feel an urgent need to get on with my lif e, to leave this solitude behind. I know that when I am finished writing for today, I will go home. I long for home. When I get there, I will probably gripe at my s on at some point, because he will resist washing up and getting into bed; but, finall y, he will settle down. I will lie next to
297 him. I will turn to face him and while there is still a measure of delight in his eyes, I will tell him a story.
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About the Author Matthew Brooks earned his Bachelors degree in English from the University of Northern Iowa in 1996. In 1998 he earned a Masters degree in English at Kansas State University. After teaching for tw o years at Des Moines Area Community College, he applied and was accepted into the University of South Floridas Communication Ph. D. program, where he focused his studies on narrative ethnography and interpersonal communicati on. He is currently an Assistant Professor at Indian River College. Fi nally, Matthew is a devoted husband and father.