It appears (from most Richard Linklater movies) that one’s life and childhood can be summed up in a few moments. Some poignant, powerful moments that are are the bedrock of your emotional and psychological issues, moments that define how we will handle various situations that adulthood will throw at you, moments that turn an endless meadow of picturesque possibilities into an industrial wasteland or a sprawling city.
So picture this. You’re alone on a Friday night. You’ve got your nachos ready, you’re dressed in a loose t-shirt and bermudas on a comfortable bed. Close your eyes, and picture your most vivid memories. Mine were set in the backdrop of an all boys school. Testosterone and masculinity flowed like rivers down the hallways, and every conceivable flat surface was some kind of a race track.
Here are some of my most vivid memories:
- My friend climbs a garage to fetch a lost ball. Slices his hand on an iron rod on the way down. Blood everywhere. You can see his bones. Through what looks like a scene from an armada movie, he whispers, “Okay. No one tells my mom what happened.”
- Boys get together during lunch time to throw tennis balls at each other. There are no rules, no teams and no points. No one wins this game and no one loses. The object is to hurl the ball at whoever is nearest to you and the satisfaction is in hurting the other person.
- Everyone discovers pornography in a particularly puberty stricken year. There are no women to offer perspective. We all learned misogyny on the internet and unleashed it both in and on our world.
- The only acceptable form of emotional expression sanctioned by our nascent ideas of manliness was violence. And violent we were. If I had ten bucks for every time I saw someone laugh at someone else whimpering in pain, I wouldn’t have any student loans to pay off.
- The moral standard you had to live up to soon became gendered. We didn’t have women studying with us, we didn’t spend a lot of time talking to women. We knew other women of course. But not spending enough time with them, caused us to think of them as legends, stories and ideas. And soon even the idea of them were slut-shamed while men were virgin shamed.
- We watched as rape culture creeped in and consumed our masculinity in the dark of the night and the faint light of gently glowing laptop screens under sheets of linen.
- I remember feeling like I wasn’t good enough. Not man enough. Not macho enough. My fists weren’t big enough and I didn’t drink enough beer. It would be a while, years before I’d realize that being humiliated for not living a particular lifestyle is dehumanizing.
- I don’t remember when we started calling each other gay as an insult. I don’t remember when we went out of our way to not look or sound ‘gay’. We accorded sexual identity to foods, music, colors and fabrics. Is that color gay? Is that music gay? Is this shirt gay? Is this expression gay? We grabbed paintbrushes and drew brushstrokes of our prejudice on everything that was true, and sublime and beautiful.
- I learned to play along with the football mania, learned to know the right things to say in a crowd (ManU forever) even though I wasn’t particularly fond of any sports. I learned the right colors to support, the right mascots and would occasionally read the sports sections to motivate myself to find it interesting.
- Careers were gendered too. As men we were raised to be into machines and like the smell of grease. You were socially penalized for liking cooking or poetry or painting. There were 4 metal bands in the school. If you had to be in a band, you gained the maximum amount of social capital from starting a metal band. People harped for ‘Iron Maiden’ at school concerts and danced to DJs as laser disco lights painted their frail bodies.
My boyhood was a Richard Linklater movie. My boyhood was feeling the air brush against my unusually straight hair as I drove my dilapidated two-wheeler down a street littered by yellow flowers in an autumn evening. It was magnetic and attractive like a cigarette but like a cigarette, it also made you hate yourself sometimes.