I grew up in Venezuela in the 80s in 90s in a family with very traditional values; some of these values today can be seen by many as somewhat backward thinking or outdated.

However, it is because of many of these values that I think I can see and adapt to changes in society.

See, the thing about values is that they guide us and not to define us. If you let the values that are instilled in you in your childhood defined who you become as a young person or adult, then you will spend the better part of your life stuck in the past.

The idea that boys are supposed to be strong and manly and not emotional is one of the craziest things that I ever heard. In fact, I thought about this even as a young kid being raised with this mindset.

To me, it was contradicting because my dad and my uncles and pretty much every male around me would tell me boys don’t do that and boys don’t sit that way and boys don’t wear pink and boys don’t play with dolls. Yet my grandfather was probably the best-groomed man I knew. His entire presence was that of a man who cared deeply about how he looked. His hair always on point, skin moisturized, clothes always impeccable, shoes clean, hands and feet meticulously manicured. He had watches and jewelry that, in many cases, were custom pieces he would commission his jeweler to make for him (I remember always being fascinated by his rings and necklaces). And as if that wasn’t enough, his sitting posture was in complete contrast with what all the manly men in my family would tell us kids to follow.

Looking at girls and talking about them was the norm. Sexualizing women and objectifying them was culturally accepted, and it still is in the Latin community. I mean, the entire reggaeton genre is based on it.

I must say, though, that my father did instill in my brother the value of respecting women and not objectify them and me. He is very traditional in that way too. A respectful manly man ;).

I am not sure exactly where I am going with all of this, but I am happy to be still young enough to express myself in any way I want, regardless of my sexual orientation. Growing up, many people would label my twin brother and me as gay, and it wasn’t necessarily in a complementary way.

I never was, and I am not the manliest of man. While I am by definition a “straight man,” I have never really been one to let rules dictate how I want to express myself, and today I find a lot of joy when I see that we are more open to the idea that gender doesn’t define us. Not all genders fit in a box.

I remembered one day back in 2017; I was out exploring some abandoned places with a group of young photographers in new york city. One of the kids in the group asked me to fit a fake blue flower on his hair for a photo in front of the art he had drawn on the wall, and the other guys said that putting a flower on his hair was girly and not manly. Andrew then asked the guy to define masculinity, and the guy stumble his words, and Andrew said something that went along the lines of

“True masculinity is about being secure of our feminine side so that we are not threatened by it”

I remember thinking to myself; this kid is on another level of awareness. Andrew, at 16, was the youngest person in the group and probably the most secure of all.

This was the first time I honestly thought about masculinity and about what it means to be manly and also what it means to be feminine.

In our society, in many parts of the world, people still buy into the idea that boys have to be manly and tough and the girls need to be girly and somewhat dependent on the toughness of men.

And that is something I hope that future generations don’t have to deal with because, well, you know, I think it is better to be who we are than who we are expected to be. We need to tell our boys that it is good to be sensitive and cry and that it is good to express themselves as they want, and the same for our girls.

Harry Styles recently became the first “Man” to have a solo cover shoot for Vogue Magazine. In it, he wore one of the most beautiful gowns I’ve seen; yet, some people in 2020 still gave him and the magazine a ton of backlash for this, saying things such as boys can’t wear dresses, and this is a women’s magazine. But my absolute favorite was one by a somewhat famous person who said the following.

“There is no society that can survive without strong men. The East knows this. In the west, the steady feminization of our men at the same time that Marxism is being taught to our children is not a coincidence. It is an outright attack. Bring back, manly men.”

This sentiment here has a lot to unpack — first of all, what is a strong man? A man so insecure that needs to adhere to a standard because being seen as a weak (feminine man) is too terrifying? — I don’t know about you, but to me, that contradicts the whole strong man thing. Second — The East knows this? Hmmm… I don’t know what this means because, in Asia, the men are not that manly, but maybe she refers to the strong man in NK. Third — The steady feminization of our men — Is she taking possession of the men?! Also Marxism?! I think she is a trump supporter; you know, the strong man who is so weak he can’t even accept losing and people not liking him and the press talking wrong about him. And lastly, “Bring back, manly men” — There are plenty of manly men around who happen to express themselves freely, and I think what she means is that she likes men who are weak and insecure but disguise themselves in a faux belief of masculinity.

Ok, maybe it is time I bring this ramble to an end and say if you are a man/boy reading this and you fit the many shades of masculinity, feel free to express yourself however you see fit. You don’t have to be butch and strong to feel masculine, and you won’t be less masculine or less of a man because you don’t fit the traditional concept of it.

Lastly, being a man is all about being yourself and not what others expect you to be to fit the mold, so to the kids out there, always be you and keep discovering who you are.