have you hugged a man today?

Here are some expressions I dislike. "Man love," "man purse," "man hug," "man date" - and this weekend I became aware of the most bizarre phrase of them all: "man tears". I'd like to rid our language of this collective homophobia, but these constructions only seem to be growing and spreading.

Some heterosexual men, fearing that any display of affection might compromise how others perceive their sexual orientation, now label any action regarding other men with the prefix man. Because if they say man, they're not gay! They can hug their friend without needing a cootie shot.

Apparently the world has advanced to the point where male friends, both heterosexuals, can have a nice dinner together. Yes, men have decided that it's all right to do something other than crack open a beer and eat fast food together. As long as when you go out to dinner, you let it be known that it's a man date. Because if you just go out to dinner together, without the man prefix, you might be gay!!

Many hetero men have also decided that it's ok to do more than shake hands with another man who is not their son or father. It's ok to - gasp! - hug! But only if you're not really hugging! Because real men don't hug! Thus, the man hug.

My personal favourite is the "man crush". When a hetero guy loves a famous man - an athlete, an actor, a singer - he now has a man crush. Look. Just say you love the guy. We won't make you leave your wife.

Newsflash to the boys: hugging your friend does not make you gay. Carrying a bag or organizer does not make you gay. Eating dinner with your friend does not make you gay. Only being gay makes you gay. So if you're not gay, get over it!

Inevitably, someone will try to explain the fine distinction between a hug, just any hug, and a man hug. How a man date differs from two guys hanging out, having a nice meal together. How man love is not just a big fat crush on a man. I've heard all the supposedly subtle distinctions. The more you explain, the more homophobic you sound.

This weekend I heard the expression "man tears" for the first time, and it just put me over the top.

Men, you may have been socialized from the earliest age to withhold tears. From playpen to locker room to board room, you may have learned that tears are for girls, for babies, for sissies, for pussies, for wimps, for faggots. You may have so conditioned yourself to never cry - especially to never cry in public - that you have forgotten that crying is human. Tears are tears. When men cry, they shed tears. When women cry, they shed tears. If you cry, it doesn't make you a woman, and it doesn't make you gay. It just means you're crying.

* * * *

The victims of sexism, homophobia and gender stereotyping aren't only the obvious ones.

If a boy grows up seeing his father or stepfather hit his mother, he is much more likely to hit his own partner later in life. Indeed, the single biggest predictor of intimate-partner violence is growing up in a home where that was the norm.

We know the abused mom is a victim. We know the girl who grows up in that home, then gravitates towards abusive relationships, is a victim. But the boy who grows up to hit his partner is a victim, too. His capacity for healthy relationships has been poisoned. He may be feared, but he's not respected. Somewhere deep down, he's lost a piece of his self-respect and his dignity. He's lost some of his ability to love and be loved.

I've thought and written about this a lot in the context of war, and of torture. I've come to see that every act of torture has two victims, the tortured and the torturer. I would never equate the two. I would never say that someone who perpetrates torture suffers "as much as" his victim. But every person who tortures has lost a piece of their humanity, and they will suffer for it. They may drown the suffering in substance abuse, or mask it under a lifetime of violence, or sink it in depression, or end it with suicide. But a human being will not torture another human being without suffering consequences.

That's the extreme example. On a more mundane level, this is what sexism, homophobia and gender stereotyping do all the time.

When I was younger, I only saw the damage sexism and gender stereotyping did to girls - the opportunities girls were denied, the narrow pigeonholes they were placed in. As I got older, I saw the damage sexism does all around, to everyone. As boys are moulded into men, their choices are also limited - along with a piece of their humanity, as they're taught to deny and repress parts of themselves.

It's easier to see the damage that's done when boys don't fit the mould. That's the obvious stuff. But what about the guys who learn all the right lessons, who grow up heterosexual and conventionally manly? What happens to the rest of them, the part that they learned to repress?

I would never equate queer victims of homophobia and the pain they suffer with the heterosexual world that oppresses them. But in every act of bigotry, and in every stereotype, both sides lose. Sexism hurts men, and homophobia hurts heterosexuals, too. As boys learn how they must behave in order to become "real men" - that is, in order to constantly prove their heterosexuality - they lose a piece of themselves. Many pieces of themselves, filtered out as too girly, too womanly, not manly enough.

[I've spent half my morning searching the internet for a great quote I remember from "King of the Hill"... if I find it, I'll fill in.]

I dream of a world where boys play dolls with their sisters, just as girls play trucks with their brothers. A world where men can hug each other, and love each other, and cry when they want to. No qualifiers needed.

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