My family used to call me big-headed boy. “Too smart for his own good,” they said. My brain was getting bigger, taking my skull on a ride that my body would have to catch up to later. My grandma said, “Don’t grow up too fast. There’s plenty of time to join this war.” I knew nothing of war. I learned how to fight when I was nine.
My brother taught me that my fists, they could dig a well and I would die of thirst if I ever stopped swinging. People became obstacles, weakness intolerable. “Soundproof the walls of your heart,” they said. “Don’t let anyone hear how loud it’s beating when you lock eyes with the moon.” This is how you survive.
I fell in love when I was 12, with a kind voice and multi-colored barrettes, I don’t remember her name. The name her father whispered into her mother’s belly long before I came along. My cousin said, “Call her body, call her clothing.” He said, “Call her dog, call her anything your insecurities can sink their teeth into.” “Don’t grow up too fast,” he said. “You know nothing of love.” This is how you survive.
I began running up steps two and three at a time, trying to get to manhood a little faster. You see, my father was a pastor who didn’t teach me that being a man meant fearing God, but that being a man meant being God, and being God meant fearing nothing.
That each shed tear pulled me further away from this man I was supposed to be. Forgetting that it was the moment that I cried for the first time, that anyone even knew that I was breathing and this is my inheritance. The struggle between a need to be loved and a want to be worshiped.
My mother taught me that Jesus was a carpenter, so I began building my thrown of masculinity on the corpses of everything that made me human. And they said, “This is how you survive. This is how you win the game,” thinking that they were giving some head start in adjusting to our society. But what’s the use of being well-adjusted to something that’s broken?
Masculinity is getting more and more expensive. They said in order to become a man, I had to abandon the boy, that I had to sacrifice my humanity so I wouldn’t lose my inheritance, but I learned math in my mistakes. I know that when you take away fear, take away love, take away emotion, you don’t get God, you get something less than human. This is not how you survive, these are not lessons for the living. This is how you raise the dead. This is how you sharpen teeth, raising boys to find this world as something for our consumption, that we should never give up until the “no” sounds like “yes.”
This is how you raise boys, to strip the label of human from anyone we don’t deem worthy. These is how you raise boys to believe this is all okay. This is not okay. I learned how to fight when I was nine, and I still haven’t stopped swinging because the road from wolf to human is a fight. A fight of unlearning, of peeling back the layers of coming to terms with privilege, of biting my tongue and trying not to howl at the moon.