Recovering Dickheads: When Tattoos & Earrings Aren't Enough
It started with the tattoo -- a modified "Sisterhood is Powerful" symbol etched onto my right shoulder, the crimson symbols for both woman and man, with a clenched fist raised through the center circle to invoke a sense of both strength and social conscience. I was sure marking myself permanently as a feminist man would somehow balance out Axl Rose hitting his girlfriend over the head with a wine bottle. As a fledgling 43-year-old rock 'n' roll performer, I wanted to send the message that being cool and talented didn't mean you had to be cruel and abusive. Sitting on the stool and watching the stinging needle ink my arm, I had plenty of time to contemplate the bloody irony of drawing on my personal machismo to confront a macho culture. I naively thought the other artists in the studio might be interested in my choice of design for decorating my inner hero, but they were all riveted to the TV in the corner, where John Wayne was busy filling Indians with bullets. Since I was in a parlor named Geronimo's, I was surprised at the apparently universal appeal of the Duke and his blazing guns. After the black line was set and the ink began to mingle with my scarlet blood, I started to feel a little silly. Here I was scarring myself because I wanted to prove I was just as tough, but more principled, than a bandanna-wrapped rock star I would never meet. A week later, I had my next experience with the politics of body adornment when I got my ear pierced. I hadn't realized the complete gravity of choosing the correct ear. Since my tattoo was on my right arm, I wanted to pierce the right lobe to make it easier to pose for publicity photos. The simple logic terrified the $4-a-pair specialist who couldn't quite find the words to tell me such a jewelry location would brand me as a homosexual. Though I didn't share her concern, her prophecy has been born out many times, with passengers even refusing to sit in my taxi cab until my sexual orientation was cleared up. I began to wonder if masculinity was such a fragile condition that merely piercing the wrong ear would jeopardize it. Why are we so hell-bent on preserving its preferential status? Simply standing up to media images of what makes a man and what a woman can expect from him touched a cultural nerve so deeply imbedded that I began to see masculinity itself as an idea requiring immediate and radical surgery. The naked truth is that every rite of passage into the murky, cologne-ridden world of real men requires a lad to sacrifice a self-concept in favor of a curious norm that has given us endless car-chase scenes, Jerry Garcia neckties and the Pentagon budget. Issuing any challenge to the patriotism of manhood generally raises more nostril flaring than the gelding of an Arabian racehorse, yet at the risk of becoming traitor to my gender, I knew I was home at last when I found a lapel button in a local bookstore that read, "Recovering Dickhead." A whole new world began for me. Women opened up heavy glass doors so I could skip through, and muddy rugby players began buying me Full Sail Ale. It seemed that everyone could identify "dickheadedness." It became a new badge of courage to help identify what remains when a man unmasculinizes himself. Now, however, it is time for me to face facts: Any act committed by someone with the proper equipment, whether that act be courageous or cowardly, is manly. Therefore, it would seem that the purpose of masculinity is to divide people by gonad-tropic factors. Staring into my steamy shaving mirror as I attached little pieces of toilet paper to my daily dueling scars, I want to know what exactly the phrase "makes me feel more like a man" means. The committee that governs the brain of any red-blooded American male and constantly measures us against quiche eaters or tobacco chewers is a philosophical virus that has gained epidemic proportions. The notion of gender-based value is merely fuel for superficial economic campaigns. Strong enough for him, mild enough for her is the flip side of using cleavage and hip-to-waist ratios to sell cars and beer. Such a dilemma. How could I bring the insights of my caffeinated meditations to my brother, who bristles at the thought of separating the whites from the coloreds when doing laundry? My solution was to buy the entire inventory of "Recovering Dickhead" buttons and form a 12-step group to help in my recovery from masculinity: "We admit that we were powerless in the face of masculinity and that our lives had become unmanageable." Discounted and now out of stock, the simple words on the face of that button have devastated my mytho-poetic dream. My solitary foray into a new social consciousness has since been thwarted by a faceless bean counter at the button factory. The best they could offer was a Nixon commemorative that explained that the GOP was now a "Dickless Wonder." I had to settle for a lapel decoration that read, "I still miss my ex-husband but my aim is improving." My vindication came from the street when a panhandler noticed my "Recovering Dickhead" button as I was fishing for coins that were larger than the lint balls I carry for such occasions. "Cool button, man," he said as my eyes filled with the righteous joy of a missionary making his first convert. "Does it help you get laid?"