Sunday, 12 February 2012

How Not To Be A Man

I’ve just signed up for this: Warrior Dash

5 kilometres of partially-dressed men smothered in cold mud, screaming abuse as they tug one another over sheer walls, under barb wire, across freezing swamp pits, before packing into a mass shower to wash each other down and apply talcum powder to delicate male areas. It sounds just like my visit to that really colourful nightclub in Brighton. What could be manlier?

Ever since the first drop of testosterone hit my blood stream, like a hardened convict banished to community service in a kitten-grooming centre, I’ve been obsessed with trying to be more of a man. School was an extensive exercise in emasculation. My weight granted me a curiously asexual rotundity. When my friends wrote Valentine’s cards to the girls they had taken to harassing on the journey to school, one of them referred to me as ‘Lonely Red Coat’ and apologised for my mere presence at their encounters. Each and every PE lesson was preceded by a joyful chorus of ‘Boobies!’ when I removed my shirt.

So upon shedding 7 stone (98 pounds) I had rather a lot of ground to make up. There were guys to punch! Women to conquer! Overpriced sports cars to drive off bridges before parachuting improbably to safety in a silhouette of roiling fire. I would be a man!

(Chronologically, what I did instead was grow my hair long, wear tie-dye in public, and generally make myself the least desirable male specimen this side of Andrew Lloyd Webber. However, I’m skimming over this three-year period as it interrupts the already clumsy development of my narrative.)

At university I took to tackling my male friends and dry humping them in a bestial display of dominance until they begged for mercy. In hindsight, doing this in front of numerous girls I had a crush on may be responsible for my gargantuan lack of sex during my university years.

When I tried to equal the bench press of the bigger guys at my gym, I got trapped beneath the bar for five minutes before someone noticed and hauled it off me one-handed.

Last year I did a bungee jump so that I could add adrenaline-junkie to my list of less manly pseudo-addictions; ice-cream junkie; fragrant shower gel junkie; sing-a-long-a-Sound of Music junkie. Hurling myself over a 300ft drop would make me a man! Except that I accidentally jumped feet first, pulled my back so that for a subsequent 3 months it hurt when I breathed, and made this face as I leapt:


I’ll leave the caption blank and let you offer your own. The best wins a delightful My Little Pony play set.  

I enrolled in a mixed martial arts class so that I would be able to punch/choke/lay perspiringly on top of any other man that questioned my masculinity. After ten minutes of the boxing session, my sparring partner informed me that I throw punches ‘like a T-Rex with a stick up its arse.’ The humiliation continued in the grappling session, where a fat guy farted on my head while choking me unconscious. I never went back.

It’s only until I took a look around that I realised I was doing it all wrong. To be a modern day man, I need to spend over half an hour in the morning preening my hair into symmetrical spikes more rigid than a Rhino’s horn, scrub my face with overpriced designer exfoliator sourced from the most perilous depths of the rainforest (or a warehouse in Bolton), and douse my morning’s 5 Weetabix in milk directly from the cow’s udder because I murdered the milkman with a sharpened lip balm and mounted his head on the satellite dish.

I don’t belong. I haven’t started capping every sentence off with a mock-cockney exclamation of ‘Mate!’ and eloquently referring to bad news as ‘gash!’ My gut isn’t so pregnant with beer that I can barely tuck it under the football shirt of whichever team happens to be doing well this year. So far, I haven’t contracted medicinally-resistant gonorrhoea from a sexually ambiguous Thai masseuse.

Most damning of all: I don’t find The Hangover remotely amusing.

If this is what it takes to be a man today, I’ll happily remain the frowned-upon outsider. Although it occurs to me, now I’ve already signed up, that it will likely be thousands of just this kind of man accompanying me over 5 kilometres of faintly homoerotic obstacles this summer. Perhaps it will be transformative? I’ll start the race a stringy whelp whimpering for his mother’s breast, and, like a snivelling conscript beaten in his bed with soap-crammed pillow cases, emerge the other side with flawlessly sculpted hair, a destructive disdain for anything in a skirt, and my genitalia rotting off from disease. A boy can only dream. 


  1. You have given me such a laugh! I have been near sleepless and in the worst of moods, but I don't see how anyone who taps into your fountain of mirth could not come away with at least a grin.

    Personally, I think those "man" games are for the insecure and it doesn't really prove anything. I believe a real man is someone, whatever the package, who loves others sincerely; has a genuine level of selflessness; retains good manners at least most of the time; respects his body enough to take care with it; and does not decide how to conduct himself by using base societal norms as the yardstick.

    If my calculations are correct, I'm pretty sure you are a real man. Plus, you have boy parts. We must not forget that important, defining detail.

    Happy Sunday!

    1. Thank very much for your kind words. Your comments are very insightful, much more so than my own. I'm very aware that this entry is based on sweeping generalisation (as they usually are) and is entirely a result of my own perception. Just a few words with guys at my gym is usually enough to demonstrate that my impression of them was all wrong.

  2. I would call you a breath of fresh air, David, but then you'd think me a horrible writer for starting with a cliche. I'll just say this made me smile. A huge smile. Anyone who can make mistakes, learn from them, and laugh at themselves is someone worth knowing. I too have fought with trying to fit a mold by looking and acting the "right" way only to realize there is no such thing. I have to be me, and those who embrace that get to join me in life's journey. You are smart, funny, and a gifted writer. Best of luck in all you do.

    1. If this made you smile then I'm very glad! Unfortunately I haven't quite come to terms with just being myself. But I think that helps me write, so it's all good!

  3. You forgot the ability to eloquently belch the alphabet while simultaneously doing a keg stand. Then it will be OFFICIAL.

    1. As an Englishman/loser, I'm not sure what a keg stand is. Could you guide me?