The Bro Project: What It Means to be a Man or, Paul Bunyan For President
When I was a boy this was my life: my mom abused me. I stood up to her. She slapped be back down. My dad watched and did nothing.
End of story.
But it’s not really the end, is it? No. It’s the beginning. It’s my origin story. Just like in superhero movies. And just like superhero movies it was a fucked-up start. As a result of that Batman start this is what I learned: don’t stand up to anyone because you’ll be shot down AND it’s hurtful to the people you love. I learned how not to be a man, how not to live in my masculinity in a healthy and powerful way watching my dad do nothing.
My dad was awesome. Don’t get me wrong. He was physically abused by his lumberjack of a dad, which brings me to the mythical figure of Paul Bunyan.
The irony that “Bunyan” is close to the spelling of my last name “Bryan” hasn’t escaped me.
I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and Paul Bunyan was everywhere. I’d go camping and there he was. I would go to see my relatives in Montana and there he was. Skiing, to downtown Seattle, to my sister in Yakima, Washington. He was every-fucking-where.
Tall, looming. Ax in hand. Checkered and red flannel shirt on. Muscles bulging, a blue ox by his side (yes, blue ox) called Babe. He was a man ready to take on and save the world.
Whenever I’d see this dude he was always represented in giant sculptures that soared to the sky. Paul was The Dude. He always reminded me of who I was supposed to be some day.
Flash-forward to 1982 and I’m in a gay bar in Seattle and everyone looks like Paul Bunyan. Same beard and mustache. Same flannel shirt. Same muscles except for one difference – they weren’t quite as masculine as him, or, if they appeared to be it felt forced, put on.
In gay culture there used to be two camps of men – big queens, big butch guys. Today, something has shifted. While the two camps do exist, an integration is taking place. It’s not only with gay guys but with straight guys as well.
We are figuring out what it means to go from being a boy to a man. We see that while we love being Paul Bunyan and swing our ax around at the gym at CrossFit and love being ‘swole’ we also know a real man is someone who also comes from his heart while also enjoying his low swinging nuts. Or, the idea of low swinging since some men today do not have low swinging nuts.
Being a man is not about how our bodies may appear, but how we work with that energy and channel it in our life. In truth, the world today is an integration of the energies of being male/female regardless of gender. This is the future, which is why boys today turning into men need to be led into their own identification of it means to be a man on their town terms.
We men today have an obligation to integrate all parts of themselves in service of the new generation of boys who are becoming men. They look to us to see how to act, how to behave, how to feel. Of course, they’d never say that but don’t kid yourself.
They’re watching. Very, very closely.
We men today must now find that sweet spot of balance. That means stop trying so hard to be the swinging dick everywhere. We get it. You’re in charge. Chill. If you’re trying to make sure everyone sees you’re That Guy then you don’t believe you are That Guy. We men today must use our male power to create and support and build, not control, dominate and threaten. We men today must also admit we don’t like to feel. We hate it. I’m a gay guy and you’d think “Oh, he’s a homo. He likes to feel.” Yeah, no. I don’t. Sometimes I feel too much and my work has been to integrate the right side of me with the left side so I’m a whole person.
Why? Because we have an obligation – especially NOW – to be strong and visible examples of fully integrated men.
We men of today lead with decisiveness, clarity and strong focus. We don’t fuck around. We decide, and then we move on. We stay in touch with our emotions. We don’t let them rule us, but we know the value of them. We stop shutting down and brush things off as ‘that’s not what a man does’ and we move into the future.
And we give each other shit endlessly about all of this. We live in that rare balance of not taking it all so seriously, but also being serious as fuck about it. Being an example for the new men coming up in the world is vital right now. It’s everything. For this generation of boys maturing into men, and for the generation now coming up before them.
Paul Bunyan was a man’s man. Ax, beard, muscles. But don’t forget the dude had a blue ox by his side as well. If he can be a man and have a blue ox called Babe follow him around, then the rest of us men today can do the same.