Recently a bunch of male friends and I had dinner together. Here is a letter I wrote them the following day.
As we celebrated our friendship last night, there were a number of comments made that upset and offended me. I believe it was twice that I heard someone say, in reference to our two friends who were about to be married, something like, “As long as it is to women.” While I don’t want to hurt anyone, I feel an injury was inflicted by this statement. Injustice, especially unconscious, unintended injustice, must be spoken about among friends, among men, among all.
There are a number of points I would like to make. First, you may think, because I am straight, that I would not be offended, but this fooling around, horsing around, which is such a joy and signature activity for many men, came at other people’s expense. Sure, it was a joke. No, it was not intended hurtfully. Yes, I understand. But consider, if you will, why it is that this horsing around is made relative to gay men. Why does the humor denigrate gay men? Why make the joke at all?
Second, the teasing was not only at the expense of gay men, it was also at our expense — marginalizing a way of relating to each other that including tenderness and warmth, touch, and love. While I enjoy the horsing around, the play, the sarcasm, the wrestling, the hard pats on the back, I also notice that it slightly intimidates me, makes me muscle up. What about my softness, my tenderness, my sweetness, my sensitivity? Is there room for that? To be direct, I feel that the teasing about gayness also adds insult to these qualities in me. I want to love men fiercely: fierce in my muscle, my capacity to stand my ground, and speak my mind, as I do here. I want to love fierce in my capacity to receive, to be soft body flesh, and tender in my caress and touch of a bearded cheek. To have balls, as so many men value, means not only that we can be rough and firm in our courage and risk, but also exquisitely vulnerable to being hurt when kicked.
I do not suggest that we all try to be “nice guys.” I do not feel like a “nice guy” writing this letter. I too am the ram that takes delight in butting heads with other men. I long for this butting to be a direct meeting, and I long for the moment after to be a tender embrace, not a hug or handshake with extra firmness to declare again the power of muscle we can draw on.
Our world relies too much on signals and postures of power cars, houses, degrees, desks to sit behind, or bodies curved by Nautilus machines. As men, we must carve out other structures and forms of communication for ourselves, our friends, our lovers, our children, and all our brothers and sisters. It is not the roughness, but the default to teasing and roughness, that does us an injustice and deepens a well-worn groove of relating and thus stereotyping and projecting.
Straight men, at least some of us, don’t know dick. That makes it the job of those of us who do know to get something straight with those who don’t. If we decline to bear the cost, to pay a little extra tax, then our gay brothers and sisters will; if we do then our lives too can be re-taught its loveliness.
Please, if you differ, or if I have caused hurt with this letter, this “butt of my ram’s head,” speak to me, contact me. If we need to take issue with each other, to butt heads, let us do it directly, in intimate relationship with one another. Not at another’s expense.
DAVID BEDRICK, JD, Dipl. PW, spent eight years on the faculty of the University of Phoenix and has taught courses for the U.S. Navy, 3M, the American Society of Training and Development, the Process Work Institute, and psychological associations. An expert in mediation and conflict resolution, Bedrick blogs for Psychology Today and has received numerous awards for teaching, employee development, and legal services to the community. He is the author of Talking Back to Dr. Phil: Alternatives to Mainstream Psychology.