You are not alone. Be who you are. Inspire people with your great single story. Most importantly, love and believe in your own skin. I am talking to all of you; but specifically, to those of you who are effeminate.
“Be a real boy,” my father has said to me almost my entire life. “You have to be bold, educated, and able to support your family.”
What does it mean to be a “real boy?” Does “real” even mean anything? Is there such a thing as a “fake boy?” And how is he different from a “real boy?” Many societies all around the world believe that “feminine” boys go against the norms of society, especially with regards to expectations of physical strength and emotional resilience.
These criticisms scar effeminate young men; without support, love, and recognition from their families and communities, effeminate boys and men can lead complicated lives of struggle and depression. Cambodian society has not yet fully accepted this concept and still reinforces the notion that boys and men must be muscular, not caring much about appearance, and emotionally apathetic. What the Cambodian public may not realize, however, is that effeminate men may also be brave and effeminate, strong and effeminate.
I am a feminine Khmer boy. Living within my country’s society is quite challenging. There are people who are providing me support and encouragement, but there are also people who always contradict me verbally. Potential bullying could be the main consequence if someone realizes that I am feminine. “Also, [being feminine] may lead to many depression and suicides,” stated Makara Poy, a student at Liger Leadership Academy in Phnom Penh.
Every year, close to 800,000 people (1 person every 40 seconds) die by committing suicide. It is the second leading cause of death in the world. In fact, “in just about every country, men commit suicide more frequently than women, which is intriguing, since women typically have higher (at least, reported) rates of mental health disorders like depression,” according to “Why Are Men At Such High Risk” in Forbes magazine.
Why is this happening?
“It has to do with the society,” Makara said. Societal histories establish many modern-day perspectives and expectations that indoctrinate people’s minds to accept what is considered “normal”and what is “abnormal.” Most societies around the world, including Cambodian, believe in a ‘patriarchal’ ideology, wherein boys and men are expected to display themselves as externally and internally masculine.
Makara added that society also influences the family. Families learn effeminate behavior is “wrong,” and therefore boys and men struggle with to uphold these unrealistic expectations of masculinity when they are effeminate.
“I think it is a lot harder for a man or boy to be more feminine than it is for a woman or girl to be masculine,” stated Caroline Bell, Lead Learning Facilitator at Liger Leadership Academy. “I also think there is a lot of blending between masculine and feminine.”
Effeminate boys and men are limited and pressured to live their lives within the society and family. “[Boys and men are] not supposed to show other feelings, like vulnerability”, said Tony Porter, co-founder of A Call to Men, an education and advocacy group. In other words, they can’t express their feelings, emotions, and identities because in doing so they will expose their inner selves to harsh judgement from society. As expressed in a gender equity class at Liger Leadership Academy, people see these weaknesses in the form of:
- Emotional expression, mainly crying
- Being inactive
- Fashion (apparel, beauty, etc.)
- Participating in some certain type of activities (dancing, beauty care, etc.)
- Not being masculine
Aside from all of these negative pressures, effeminate boys and men are often supported and befriended by girls and women. Makara stated, “[To be honest,] I used to have friends in my government school who were effeminate and I liked to play with them. I didn’t actually discriminate; I felt more open with them because they understood more about girls.” According to the article “How to Raise a Feminist Son” in the New York Times, “Children who are encouraged to play with friends of the opposite sex learn better problem-solving and communication.” Furthermore, “Boys who have friendships with girls are also less likely to think of women as sexual conquests,” said Mr. Porter.
Personally, I feel more comfortable playing with female friends in my school. There is just this affectionate friendship between us. I observe that girls provide me with more kindness and love. But when I interact with some of the boys, it is sometimes difficult for me to communicate with them because they are so serious most of the time. It is neither their fault nor mine, but I am sure that, identifying as an effeminate boy, I prefer the company of girls.
But what do parents think of having a effeminate son?
“At first, I would be just fine with my kid experimenting with whatever they want, doing whatever they want, and being whoever they want,” said Ms. Bell. “[But,] it starts to get scary when your kid gets to school…you start to get worried about your kid being safe and not being bullied…but still, you have to be realistic with your kids.”
It is now 2018: women and girls are still dealing with many serious problems, but boys and men are also facing several challenges. Dealing with your surrounding environment, especially when it is influenced by strict societal norms, is really tough. You need to raise your voice and take some actions, for example, participating with the activists in your society, to prove to people that it is okay for boys and men to be effeminate.
“I think that there have been a lot of people who have had struggles…if you are a boy and you are very feminine; you are just following the footsteps of other people who have had to fight for their rights.” Ms. Bell stated. “So, you should feel supported by that community and know that it is an unfortunate part of the process, but it is part of it and hopefully, you can be yourself.”
My last hopeful words to all those boys and men who identify as more effeminate is that you must not deny who you really are; remember that you are a human being not a programmed robot from your society.
And most of all, it is 100% okay to cry.
Author: Venghour Than