Issue 10: “Masculinity: Sexuality and Tomorrow”

What is masculinity? What is its relationship to gender or sexuality?

The artists and writers in this issue present their take on those questions. Most of them challenge conventional definitions that rank masculinity within the hetero/homosexual hierarchy by which we are socialized. What is assumed to be biological and “normal” attributes of a man, are instead thought to be culturally constructed and linked through common language.

Historically, ideas of masculinity have been driven by the American patriarchy i.e. the tough military ideal or the handsome Hollywood icon, James Bond. Our contributors show that, in truth, masculinity has no single source or agreed upon set of behaviors. Instead, masculinity is the unique invention of every individual and like the concept of “normal,” in reality few abide by those patriarchal expectations. Performing conventional ideas of masculinity is as much a pose as the “sissy,” one socially acceptable, the other loathed. Yet, masculinity in practice is fluid and those who find men attractive because they are masculine mean different things.

Many men who attempt to conform to traditional expectations of masculinity are  harmed by their sense of failure or illegitimacy. Several who have contributed writing to this issue, paid a heavy price for their failure. Early attempts to conform to family and social definitions of what a good boy should be led to suicide attempts and hospitalizations. You can read their extraordinary stories, respectively, in our columns Defining Moments and The Patient’s Room. 

In my column Intelligent Lust, I write that while there are some gender difference that may influence sexual desire for the most part, it is our individual psychology that makes the greatest difference. Whatever our gender, unfulfilled needs or unresolved conflicts from our early lives drive our desires. Sexual desire is neither masculine or feminine. The feelings, ideas and thoughts that make us orgasm are uniquely individual and based in our personal histories.

History. There may be no bigger male shadow cast over the world of psychology than Sigmund Freud’s and in the world or art, his grandson, Lucian. Our writer, Robert Frashure, interviews celebrated British sculptor Jane McAdam Freud who has stepped out of the shadows of her great-grandfather and father and distinguished her own identity through work that both appropriates their legacies and invents one as brilliant and awesome as either man’s. To find out how, turn to In The Shadows of Sigmund and Lucian: An Interview with Jane McAdam Freud.

In her essay, Masculinity Redux, psychoanalyst Dr. Velleda Ceccoli chronicles the changes in ideas about masculinity through the iconic character of James Bond. Generations of men identified with Bond’s masculinity – “serious, cold, brutal, flawed, tortured and a killer,” but “loyal, dependable, protective and caring with women.” Ceccoli puts ideas of masculinity in context explaining psychoanalytic and cultural theories as it relates to changes in our concept of masculinity over time.

In Alyssa Siegel’s deeply personal column, she examines the complexity of what is to be a female therapist counseling male clients and how that plays out in the therapeutic setting. In addressing her own hesitation in working with men, she gives us the opportunity to examine our own assumptions about power dynamics as it relates to gender in Cross-Gender Therapy: Female Therapist/Male Clients.

Most of us associate meditation with the “feminine” side of ourselves. We sit, cross-legged in loose fitting clothing, our hands on our laps open to the heavens. We pay attention to our breathing and allow our thoughts and feelings to pass through our minds and then gently float away like leaves caught in a breeze. But meditation can have a more “masculine” side too. More meditators and practitioners are beginning to speak openly about the challenges associated with practice. Psychology Tomorrow columnist Jeff Warren reports on this in  Enlightenment’s Evil Twin: Exploring the Shadow Side of Meditation.

In 1978, eleven-year-old Frank Spinelli’s parents signed him up for Boy Scouts. Soon after, he was taken under the wing of Scoutmaster Bill Fox, a cop who sexually and mentally abused him for two years. When Frank told his family, they were convinced to do nothing. Thirty years later, Frank has a thriving medical practice and a comfortable home in Manhattan’s gay community, but still struggles to overcome the physical reminder of his past trauma. Then he learns his former Scoutmaster and abuser has adopted fifteen boys in the decades since they last crossed paths. Part family memoir, part love story, PEE-SHY by Dr. Frank Spinelli gives readers an inspiring message of empowerment with the page-turning suspense of true crime.

Intimate relations between two men – one younger and one older – unite the poems by Scott Bailey and David McLoghlin chosen by our poetry editor, Charif Shanahan. Charif writes, “Those intimacies, though wildly different in nature, equally interrogate the role of silence and intention in expressions of love and desire between men.”

For many, the suit epitomizes masculinity in fashion. It represents more specifically masculine notions of tradition, strictness, rigidity, and conservatism. In fact, the tie was once referred to as “the yolk of responsibility.” Thom Browne started as a designer for men with a passion for the traditional male aesthetic. Yet Browne created a revolution, reinterpreting men’s wear through a highly tailored look casting men’s wear as a medium for reforming these traditional masculine ideals. Read our fashion editor Berglind Thrastardottir’s report in Thom Browne and His Suit: Redefining Man.

Do I look good? Am I comfortable with my own body? How do I rank against other men? These are questions all men ask themselves. Last month, Bulgarian pop singer Alek Sandar decided to find out how far he could push the limit of his comfort zone by agreeing to take his suit off and pose nude for a figure drawing session. He learned a few important lessons.

“Gone are the notions that dance is just for girls, or for ‘girlie’ boys” writes dance editor Velleda C. Ceccoli, PhD in her column, Return of the Man’s Man: BalletBoyz.  The British company BalletBoyz and their celebration of the male form and all that defines masculinity and what it means to embody manliness (both straight and gay): sheer physicality, strength, agility and daringness. Yet, these dancers have a dynamic sensuality that explores androgyny with a corporeality that becomes tactile on the stage. “It takes your breath away. Really.”

We’ve come a long way from the beginning of the twentieth century when the “right” order of society was man as breadwinner and woman as homemaker. Issue Ten gives us a snapshot of contemporary narratives of masculinity in all its diversity. In practice, male identities have increasingly become fluid. As a culture, we are far less burdened by the industrial/military ideal of what a man should be. As it turns out, even James Bond may be bisexual.

by Stanley Siegel, LCSW

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