Rings of Truth: Redefining the 90s Male
The hills around Petaluma, about 20 miles north of San Francisco, seem barren. They are spotted with stunted trees and covered in a dry, brown grass. Still, it was an oddly appropriate setting for a ceremony so fertile, so rich with life. It was there, last week, that I watched two men look into each otherÕs eyes, hold hands, and pledge their love and commitment to each other in front of 100 or so friends and family members. Chris Dodd should watch this, I thought. Rosa DeLauro. Bill Clinton. At least one of those "liberals" who supported the Defense of Marriage Act, the new law that deprives same sex couples of the benefits that married heterosexual guys like me enjoy. It wouldnÕt do any good. The politicians know that men love men and that women love women in the same way that men love women. (Some of those who voted for DOMA even have loving relationships with people of the same sex.) The Defense of Marriage Act -- and the accompanying homophobia -- isnÕt about love. It isnÕt even about sex. ItÕs about who we are as men, the roles we play, and how we relate to women. It is, in short, about preserving patriarchy. The man who led the ceremony touched on some of the issues relating to gay marriage. He asked three questions: Who do these men think they are?What are we doing here?What in GodÕs name is going on?His thoughtful answers?These men have the courage to announce their love. We were there to support them and love them. WhatÕs going on was that they were creating a home, "from the windows of whichÓ will radiate warmth, an oasis of life-affirming values that will touch many things and many people. And moments later, after the two men exchanged rings -- one of them in tears, the other comforting and supporting, arm around shoulders -- a more universal significance crept over me. These men -- not the drum-pounding, woods-cavorting Robert Bly-ites, not the New Age house-husbands, certainly not the Promise Keepers -- are at the forefront of redefining what it means to be a man. (Likewise, lesbians are redefining what it means to be a woman.) Watching these men was a peek into the future of what manhood can become. The words alone -- "nurturing,Ó "mutually supportiveÓ -- hardly convey the deeper levels of significance. Traditionally, men are thought of in several limited ways: We are genetically stamped from the prehistoric days of the nomadic hunter. That stamp theoretically accounts for all sorts of carousing, fear of commitment and even goes a long way to explain the popularity of the NFL. And we are Spock -- pure logic, little emotion. That paradigm has been crumbling as our nation has struggled with the dissolution of the nuclear family, the falling standard of living that requires two workers to pay the bills (note to Bob Dole: The second wage-earnerÕs income is needed to buy food, not pay taxes), the rise of alternative lifestyles and, yes, the gay rights movement. Today, many men are reinventing themselves as kinder and gentler people. A few years ago we were calling them Sensitive New Age Guys (or SNAGs for short). But what I watched in San Francisco is different. It is beyond men cooking, putting down the toilet lid and doing the dishes. These guys have discarded the genetic stamp and have discovered deep emotions and connections to other humans that even the most enlightened straight men have a hard time finding.It hasnÕt been easy. Both men had friends and lovers fade away in sickness while they sat by their side. These men have known too many men who have died too soon. They seem like stronger men for that. They also seem to have a much deeper understanding of what is important: People. Honesty (with yourself and with others). Lust for savoring life itself.I donÕt know for sure, but my guess is that as a group, these men have far different priorities than the men who run America. The men I saw get married will be a living example of how men can not only be different, but how relationships can be more vital. Traditional male bonding -- from the upper echelons of the board room and golf course to the lower echelons of Bud drinking at the neighborhood dive -- hardly matter. If these men have any impact, then male relationships will no longer be based on power. Men will view others as equals. They will feel deep emotional fulfillment separate from the worker-drone roles assigned to them at birth.What I saw was a glimpse of the possibility. The gay community has been at the forefront of many of the cultural trends of my lifetime. TheyÕre leading the way in this department, too.