Recently, Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri said in a speech that masculinity is under attack in our society. His words walked me back to an indecent incident at IU in September 1988 when I was a happy-go-lucky undergraduate.
I wrote a letter to the editor about the terrifying experience I had as a sophomore. The very issue of masculinity was involved on that evening that could have easily been my last.
The unsettling episode occurred when a group of fraternity brothers wanted to beat me badly and throw me onto the lawn outside their storied house. They suspected I was gay, and the thought of me being different in that way threatened their masculinity.
Just how masculine are guys if something like my sexual orientation made them feel that uncomfortable? So much so that those half-dozen brothers would want to take turns pummeling me with their fists, six against one, and then leave me unconscious.
This is toxic masculinity. This is not alright. This is what most certainly should be under attack.
This was typical behavior several decades ago on Jordan Avenue, on Third Street and in the halls of Willkie where I resided. Being gay was very much associated with being feminine during my IU years.
Today, the traditionalists still hold on to that antiquated view. It’s kind of like the transitive law in mathematics. If I am gay, then I am feminine. If I am feminine, then I can’t be masculine. Therefore, I am gay, so I can’t be masculine.
We’re not becoming less masculine in our society. We’re becoming more understanding that guys don’t need to be defined by traditional norms that were widely prevalent in bygone days when women couldn’t vote or when Black people were relegated to “colored only” bathrooms.
We saw the error of our ways. We are evolving as a society and becoming better.
Perhaps, we should rethink Hoosier boys playing the classic victory song “We are the Champions” in locker rooms after playoff wins. It might be a bit feminine to have them embracing an anthem sung by Queen’s flamboyant Freddie Mercury. He’s a music idol for the ages but also identified as part of the LGBTQ community.
There was a popular movie hitting theaters at just about the exact time I experienced that fraternity house hatred cloaked as masculinity. This flick beautifully captured the essence of what it is to be a man.
In the beloved film “Dead Poets Society,” the legendary actor Robin Williams plays the main character, Mr. Keating, a teacher at an all-boys prep school. He inspires his pupils to get excited about poetry.
Poetry is a subject that is all too often seen as dripping with sappiness and sentimentality. It’s something conventionally masculine men don’t really do. They don’t get in touch with those sorts of things.
Mr. Keating gets the boys to open up their minds. To see the world in a different way. To seize the day by getting in touch with their feelings and emotions.
At the end of the movie, the boys defiantly stand on their desks and repeat the opening from one of the greatest poems of all time as they give a final heartfelt message to their departing teacher.
The male students one at a time exclaim, “O Captain! My Captain!” from the masterpiece written by famed poet Walt Whitman. Yes, that author. Another gay man.
But possibly the most important words Robin Williams’ character tells one of his students is “Stay true to yourself.” And isn’t that what masculinity is all about? Being true to who you are takes a lot of guts. It’s brave to face the world and proudly say, “This is who I am.”
Let’s keep attacking toxic masculinity in our society. Let’s never forget my 1988 fraternity encounter. Let’s continue evolving IU.
Ron Blake is a 1994 MPA graduate of IU and is a former City Councilman for Hobart, Indiana.