Mini Issue Work

Xenophobia

by Xander Hancock

I am not a man. It doesn’t matter what my birth certificate says, I am not a man. According to society and the media’s standards, I don’t act like a man, therefore I’m not. Whether they like it or not, most men have adopted this perspective into their own being. It’s so profuse that it’s almost like it’s genetic.

I don’t act like a typical man, I’ll give them that. My mannerisms are flamboyant and I don’t like to call every guy “dude,” “man,” or “bro;” instead, I call everyone “honey.” I also don’t prefer to make snide or sexual comments about women, but that’s out of decency. Now, I know this is the stereotype of a man, but it is exactly the men that fit this stereotype that have a problem with my existence. They’ve so completely adopted the idea of what a man should be in society – what we’ll call a heteronormative man – that any guy who doesn’t fit those standards are seen as “other,” not belonging to or deserving of the male gender. So, they treat them as any person in history treats someone who’s different from society’s standards: as subhuman.

All of this I’ve learned from experience with such men, who are unfortunately common in my life. My main exposure to any kind of man, especially these men, has been through sports, particularly when I was younger. The field provided fertile ground for heteronormative men to do their gender policing – where they enforce gender norms on those who don’t fit heteronormative standards – since sports are a “masculine thing.” Obviously, early on I had been identified as one of these people who doesn’t classify as a heteronormative man, and afterward these guys treated me accordingly. To them, I was little more than the dirt that was underneath their feet.

One of my first sports experiences (where my teammates and I were old enough to subscribe to the heteronormative ideas of gender and therefore judge whether someone fit into those or not) was baseball in first grade. For the first quarter or so of the time that I played baseball, I fit these gender stereotypes just fine. However, when someone new came, I was threatened by his outsider-ness. So, I teased him for it. This, he didn’t take kindly to and went from a gentle giant to a full-on warring tyrant. He bullied me from there on out and oppressed me. I’ll admit, it was because I had been a jerk to him, but that wasn’t why he continued to bully me. Since I was now the outsider who no one was allowed to associate with, I realized the error of my ways and wanted to be rid of that jerk I was before and who this guy was now. So, I changed who I was; I became more soft-spoken and introverted, kinder, and more feminine – as I refused to have the toxic masculinity my teammate did. Although out of spite, I kept furthering my personal growth, becoming less masculine to avoid its toxicity: if being masculine meant being a jerk, I wanted no part of that. For the rest of my time on that field and off, I was bullied for being different. As for my other teammates, they too saw my change in personality but decided not to join him in bullying me, but instead ignoring me. To them, I just wasn’t there. It didn’t really matter if I hit a home-run, the point would be void coming from me. Such were my years spent in elementary school sports: full of turmoil that never stopped until I graduated.

Moving into high school, I had a lot more agency, but nothing other than that changed. I still was the same feminine man I was before, except possibly even more feminine after years of enduring oppressive masculinity. Things seemed to be for the better since I got into high school and was more socially accepted, so I joined the track team. I hoped that my overall sports experience now would be significantly better, but no luck for me. The experience was barely different: still the other men saw me as something other than a man. The field was mostly silent except for the clomping of feet whenever we had our practices. Eventually, people began to talk as they got to know one another but, again, I wasn’t included. I know they knew I existed but just chose not to acknowledge it. Whenever they talked in my direction, it was always through me. I suppose I should applaud them for finding a way to make someone absolutely invisible. 

I did find someone from my male peers who would talk to me, but it was someone who was also excluded from the dialogue of the team – I’ll call him “Mac.” Mac was a nice enough person, except for his odd jokes about women – my guess as to why he was excluded, although masculine, was his physique. Mac didn’t have what people would consider a great physique for track. He was relatively shorter but mainly heavier-set than all the guys on the team. Thus, not an “ideal” track athlete.

There were many times and situations where my status as an “other” was flown in my face. I never dressed in the locker room. I knew it would be suicide. I also knew the other guys saw three scarlet letters stitched into my sports clothes: G-A-Y or F-A-G. It didn’t matter which one they viewed me as, or if their assumption was actually wrong, the end result was the same. If I walked into that dressing room, there would be annoyed mutters and faces made or, worse, complete silence. There would be discomfort and disgust. 

“Ugh, he’s going to get turned on by us, I know he will.” 

“I bet he’s going to stare once I drop towel, watch.” 

“Can’t I just dress without a fag watching me?” 

Etc. Thus, I shunned the locker room and changed in the weight room’s bathroom. This had its own problems. Once the other guys finished changing, some of them would come over for a drink of water and then use the restroom. That restroom was relatively small with only two or three stalls and three or four urinals. Since Mac and I changed in the stalls, often times a guy would come in to use the toilet and cuss when he found them all occupied. They would often linger until one of us finished and look annoyed as we walked past them, but wouldn’t say anything, except to their friends or the coach. 

Then there was Weights Day. The one time of the week where we worked out in the weight room doing certain workout routines, most requiring a partner. Of course, I always tried to avoid the workouts that needed partners: taking longer than necessary on the ones that I could do by myself and awkwardly standing around trying to look busy when I ran out of workouts to do without a partner. I managed to avoid the partner exercises most of the time but sometimes the coach would catch me trying to do them myself or not doing anything at all, and he would assign me a couple of partners (who were never Mac). Whenever my coach told the other guys that he was pairing us up, there would be a slightly reluctant “okay” as we went to the station where he told us to work out. Whoever I was assigned to always held a blank stare and refused to look me in the eyes. We didn’t talk except for the times when they needed to count for me. What made it even worse was what the workouts usually required: having to look at the other guys while I worked out and them needing to take the bar from me whenever I did reps and benched. They would either stare into the distance or intensely at the bar while I struggled and when they took the bar away from me their hands would grab the parts of the bar that were furthest away from mine. 

After a semester of this suffocating silence, I felt so intensely excluded that I quit after a single semester. I didn’t go back to sports after that, except for one semester in bowling– in order to graduate. I had become tired and cynical of the way “real men” treated me. I was nothing to them but an outsider whose existence they merely had to tolerate. I wasn’t like them, so they were afraid of me: typical xenophobia – the fear of what is foreign and strange. Sometimes they would put me into “my place” and sometimes they didn’t acknowledge my sheer existence. Either way, I wasn’t a man to them, I was an “other”– someone who didn’t abide by society’s gender rules and thereby threatened all they knew and believed. I existed in a gray area – a nebulous zone where they put people like me. To them, there was a clear line of what constituted a man and anything outside of that was separated from them and put into their own defined space from which they weren’t allowed to stray. 

I think this is all ridiculous. We are all humans that deserve equity. To deny me respect because of how I am is so strange. What happened to treating each other with respect? These qualities aren’t emphasized in men, sadly. Whenever the media shows how men respect each other, it’s always between heteronormative men. Although they used these rules to design their discrimination, they couldn’t uphold the value of good sportsmanship, undermining their use of sports as a means of unity and teamwork. Those who are different are the butt of the jokes or are ostracized and ridiculed, or just completely removed. How can a man claim to represent positive values when they rebuke those who don’t act like what society says a man should? That’s not a man, that’s a tyrant. 

So, a note to all the men who are guilty of being xenophobes and elevating themselves above those who are different: know that there are always people who won’t be like you and that what gender should be is a construct. Everything you know about what it means to be a man is not the truth. You can be a man, and be whoever you want to be. If this pill is too hard to swallow now, that’s fine, eventually, you’ll have to taste your own medicine and, trust me, it will be even more bitter then. Because I am not a man, but neither are you.

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