Tonight I sat in the Japanese baths, a Saturday night ritual I am called to recently. Sitting on a cedarwood stool, bathing my body intimately, from head to toe, scrubbing each and every corner, paying it the direct attention it rarely receives. A beautiful peace lives in this place. And here too is an energetic power that I am drawn to explore. I have come here and had awakenings happen, and again tonight it happened.
Tonight I stepped into being a man.
For my so-far 46 years of life I have both rejected myself as not good enough to be a man, and have simultaneously rejected all men because of their wars. Men have brought so much pain and suffering to this world, in so many ways, for millennia after millennia. Deep, entrenched, torturous suffering inflicted on women, on children, on other sentient animals, and other men. In the steam room tonight, I sat and nearby me two men started to touch each other. A shoulder rub. A touch on the ear. Intimate but non sexual. From deep inside me I felt the homophobia roar up, shockingly strong, ferocious. A deep oppressive hatred, a desire to control. Stop touching each other. Don’t make me found out as gay by you touching him. If you touch him, then the other real men will start checking out the rest of the room to see who is gay from their reactions, and they will find me out. They will see I am gay. Then they will kill me viciously. You touching another man means my death. STOP, STOP, STOP or we will die. This wretched fear is still in there, buried deep in my body. Entrenched through decades of upbringing in an extremely homophobic culture, and millennia of ingrained herited trauma wrought by men, passed through DNA. It rose within me tonight in this steam room, as strong as ever it has. I could feel it, taste it coming up through my throat.
And yet tonight I can acknowledge it without absorbing its shame into me. Thank it for keeping me safe all those many years when I needed it to survive. Men kill other men every day still today because of touch just like this, so this ferocious fear kept me safe as a young boy and man. And yet tonight I can let this energy pass through me — it is needed no longer for me, this me. The man that this war was visited upon no longer is ashamed of himself. This year, after journeying deep and far inside, I have been able to transform my experience so that shame has no home any more. There is no fertile ground now for shame to land, to breed and to fester inside, as it did for so many years, calling my life home.
In the very first deep spiritual journey I went on, I found my inner young self, and talked to him, around 6 years old. I found that it was non gender specific. It didn’t know why everyone was making him be a boy. I have always had far more in common with women than men in areas of sex, food, relationships and others. And I have been terrified of men since school, when I was bullied, pushed into toilets, called into fights, had my underwear ripped out through my ass, and generally terrorized, as an incredibly sensitive boy that could not make any sense of this world of war he had been born into. Even as I love men who love other men, I have hated men. And not counted myself as one. I have lived in an enclave of other gay men in San Francisco. We have created safety through creating our own neighborhood. Places we can go for coffee or do laundry and not be terrified of being killed by men for looking the wrong way — looking wrong or looking at wrong.
And yet men bring love and touch and peace and work and inspiration and creation and compassion to this world too. Tonight as I felt the fear roar through me I looked at the naked man, a stranger, beside me. I imagined the touch he gives his wife, an affectionate stroke of the cheek. The joy he would bring her. The joy he might bring to his children. The work he puts in at his job. The creation he does each day. The love he has for his friends. I thought of each man here at the baths, all the relationships they are building, all the projects they are designing, all the love they are creating with others. And that this is one tiny corner of this city, in this world — how many men are bringing joy to others right now. My heart burst open, overflowing with an overwhelm of appreciation it could not contain. I have for all of my life stood outside the brotherhood of man. I have denied myself this particular birthright, both because I believed I didn’t deserve it due to my brokenness, and they didn’t deserve me because of their hatred.
The concept of man is so flawed, so challenging, so fraught with danger and hatred and toxicity and confusion, particularly in these days. And I am not the definition of a man for so many men, being who I am. And yet here I am. This past year it has felt that I have been born a baby dragon. Tonight I know I am no baby any more, I am flying free and uncaged, a full grown dragon. And this dragon is powerful enough to create himself into this flawed murkiness of man, because I am whole, and can ride the currents of shame and homophobia and genocide that man creates, that I have in other forms created. They can flow through me, not live in me, I am porous, fluid, yet powerful. And I know now that my being a man, my version of that, helps move us all closer to a future with a stronger clearer more compassionate definition of what it is to be a man.