'Mask 1,' Jim Davis Rosenthal

Dualities and a Whole Self:
Taking Pride in Healing
by Steven G. Fullwood

Masculinity is more than penis and testicles, as femininity is more than clitoris and vagina. We mistakenly ascribe these attributes to a person as if they were the only factor in one's mental and spiritual make-up.

While sticking my tongue in my lover's, a-hem, throat the other night, I told him about what I felt about the beauty of being born of both sexes. You have the resources of both your feminine and masculine sides, constantly engaging with other men and women who are made of the same stuff.

If we're born of both sexes, then we also possess the spiritual resources of both sexes. In his seminal essay "Here Be Dragons," the late-great James Baldwin describes the sites in which we conceive ourselves:

There seems to be a vast amount of confusion in the western world concerning these matters, but love and sexual activity are not synonymous: Only by becoming inhuman can the human pretend that they are... In other words, it is not possible for the human being to be as simple as a stallion or a mare, because the human imagination is perpetually required to examine, control and redefine reality, of which we must assume ourselves to be the center and the key. (from "The Price of the Ticket," 1985. Full citation below.)

When we do not recognize, or actively ignore, Baldwin's keen observations, problems arise. Every society has rituals or rites concerned with separating boys and girls, females from males. I question the importance in this ritual: what end does it serve? How is it valuable for anyone to deny one part of himself or herself? Why do we have to be boys and girls, men and women, and that's it? How can one liberate one's soul stuff to become only one? How can one separate this innate quality, this stuff comparable to nothing else in this universe? How can anyone survive (or rather live) and not acknowledge this fact?

It isn't easy to become a man in the United States. Or a woman, for that matter. Problems manifest in childhood when you, the boy child, find out you're acting too much like a girl; or you, the girl child, are told that a lady crosses her legs when she sits down, not leaving the view (meaning herself) wide open. As a child, I remember very vividly what it was like to become a boy. Like most children, boys and girls alike, I wasn't born "that way." I was forced into a social contract based on the shape of my genitalia.

My Uncle Bobby took me and my siblings out on a fishing trip when I was seven years old. While we were loading up the car with fish and supplies, I remember using the word "cute" to describe a dog that happened to pass by.

"Cute?" Uncle Bobby repeated to me.
"Yeah, cute," I answered.
"Boys don't say the word 'cute,' " he stopped and looked me dead in the eye. "Only girls say the word 'cute.' Or a sissy. You ain't a sissy, are you?"
I didn't know what a "sissy" was, but it didn't sound like a good thing, so I said, "no."

No, I wasn't a "sissy." But what was I? Like most children, boys and girls alike, I was facing that social contract: boys do this; boys do that; boys do not use the word "cute." It was a contract I didn't honor, and not because I didn't try -- desperately. It's because, like many, many others, I couldn't.

Several times throughout my childhood, I remember incidents like the one with my uncle. Someone, usually an adult, would tell me, or some other boy or girl, that certain behaviors, words or actions weren't appropriate for our specific gender. Each time it happened, I felt sick. It hurt me to hear it. It hurt me not to be able to say what I wanted, do what I wanted or be what I wanted. It hurt me when I watched other kids be scolded for something I realized then and now, didn't really make any sense at all.

Was my life in danger if I played with dolls, jumped rope or "ran like a girl?" Yes and no. Yes, because the majority of the men and women I've met in my life staunchly believed "girls should act like girls and boys should act like boys," and when you believe that, it's easier to forget how it felt not be able to develop a talent or attribute because some adult said, "no." Being told you can't cook, play with dolls, or "play like a girl," is a form of epistemic violence most of us practice, but very few are aware of it. It's a denial of selfhood. And no, my life wasn't in danger, because the more you choose to follow your heart, doing what you feel is right for you to do, the world isn't so terrifying, and your life is just that -- yours. You have more to share with others because you're not terrified someone is better than you are, or has more than you are or wants what you've got. You are, in a sense, free to live your life.

Selfhood gets a bad rap in general, because it's thought of as divisive in our communities. But there is a difference between being "selfish" and "self-loving." The former is all about one thing -- the ego; the latter can be accomplished within the context of community. I would think developing one's self and loving one's self can only enhance community life. This practice is long overdue. If you believe girls should only do this, and boys should only do that, then you also believe there are things you cannot do, based on either being (or attempting to become) a gender-appropriate "man" or "woman."

Masculinity is more than penis and testicles, as femininity is more than clitoris and vagina. We often mistakenly ascribe these attributes to a person as if they were the only factor in one's mental and spiritual make-up. I suspect we know the truth. Still, we persist. I don't believe we've really ever had the opportunity to see what our lives would look like if we were encouraged to be what I believe might be our true selves. Imagine how open some men would be about their feelings to women and to other men. How some women would be less dependent upon a man to do things for her, because, well, she may be capable of doing these things herself? One of the most exciting things, indeed, is to imagine loving anyone you wanted to love--in the open, without fear of being violated by someone who through cultural norms and legislation sincerely insists that you have no right. I suspect that's because he or she was afraid to love, and made laws so the rest of us couldn't love without fear, either.

In some ways, as far as "gender" goes in the '90s, women seem to practice fuller options. Some women assume more of what I consider to be their full selves, in the workplace, the home, in our communities, and privately, within themselves. Many men, on the other hand, have made the road rougher for themselves to travel because they have signed on to the social contract that it is better to fight, kill or be killed than be considered "less than a man." I say that giving a response to such a challenge isn't worth the trouble, because you stop thinking about what's really right for you. You feel bad, and most likely, you'll be called to defend your manhood over and over again, and for what? So someone will like you? It's useless when you don't like yourself.

Now what does this all mean, you might ask yourself. Well, the way I see it, men shouldn't separate themselves from themselves and our communities based on standards about one's "sexual equipment." Same goes for women. Embracing both the feminine and masculine, as these things are socially coded, liberates one from being mediocre and uncreative. I don't want to hear anymore of the "Let her do it: it's women's work" routine. Children hear us, and start to learn what this world is all about. Being taught early on in life that you are barred and restricted will hinder your development as a full human being. This is a right many haven't even considered, because it's far too scary to challenge conventional wisdom than to fully engage the idea of being happy, healthy human beings. But adults who remember the social norms of the '50s and '60s onward know the truth of how dull it's made us. The gender trap is getting old. It's time to freshen up for the new millenium, giving our communities a new sense of pride starting from the center of our thinking, and the very center of our bodies.

Stopping what's natural in ourselves can leave us unfulfilled, unsatisfied. Our natural selves rarely accept substitutes for what we need and crave. We need to love and to have the space to love freely, without someone or some agency prohibiting it. But how to unlearn, how? We have to be courageous. That would require us to re-evaluate the intrinsic value of "femininity" and "masculinity," and to divest ourselves of the stereotypes of either gender. This is a monumental, invaluable step towards healing.

Consider all the wars fought over the imagined "rights" to Earthland, a woman's body, bodies of color, and other claims to "owned property." The explosive changes that have occured as a result of actively insisting on the acceptance of one's whole self are very challenging. For many of us today, much of what dominates our daily lives is concern rooted in the challenge to love, and the courage to change. Change is ever-present. Change brings forth possibilities for better living. Think about it: we're grown enough and clear enough now to work with one another, sharing in a different kind of loving, a different parenting, and social code that doesn't reserve blue for boys and pink for girls. Arguments can now be resolved along different lines. Respect for one another is a requirement, not a choice. Cultural differences are opportunities to share, rather than deficiencies. Those seeking paradise can now find it in our homes, our sexual partnerships, loving our children and standing tall within our communities.

Forget "gender": identify themselves as same gender loving, lesbian, gay, homosexual, bisexual, transsexual, questioning (whew!) are probably closest than any other groups to the ideal about which I speak. Not that all these folk are healthy or wholeheartedly embrace their perceived differences. Don't confuse what I'm saying: sex roles and social roles are two different things. The former deals with one's capability to reproduce; the latter is sanctioned gender-specific behaviors in any given culture. When you're placed in the fringes of any social structure, it's much easier to see the seams. And you've got to see it to heal it. In this way same gender loving, lesbian, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and questioning folk are closer to realizing healing on vital social level.

You cannot regulate a personality trait or an attribute to a vagina or a penis. Life's much larger that. So forget all those studies done on men and women being from Venus and Mars and how women love too much and how all men are dogs. How would we know? As far as I can tell, we've never had the benefit of living in a society that actively encourages you to be a complete self. I wonder if such an encouragement would lead to many people to lose significant power, money and prestige? Most likely. The so-called "war of the sexes" is a war of power, which means there are some serious vested interests. It keeps the power to live your life in the wallets of very few people, who have no right to tell you how to live. No right at all.

Let me let you in on a little secret. The last person you went out with and she turned you out sexually? Recognize her pride. And that brother you wanna get with--the tough looking one? Understand his pain. That's a true duality that we can heal: we're all stumbling through pride and pain.

Take a look in the mirror.
You are too.


Excerpt from "Here Be Dragons," by James Baldwin. The Price of the Ticket: Collected Nonfiction, 1948-1985. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1985.

Forward to "No Comparative Context:
Historical and Literary Perspectives on Lesbians of Color Raising Children
by Canéla Analucinda Jaramillo
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Text © 1998 by Steven G. Fullwood
Original Graphic © 1998 by
Jim Davis-Rosenthal