Navigating the Man God Complex
Ever since I was a kid, manhood was presented to me as the solution to everything. All around me men were the center of attention even more than babies. Every Sunday we prayed to a man God. At home whenever food was discussed it was a man who issued money to cook it. At school the headmaster roared out rules. On the TV, the man drove big cars and had a lot of women surrounding him. On Saturday nights, he got drunk and got carried home by his fellow men. He fought other men in the streets when he wasn’t happy.
All the sports I watched were played by men only except for a few like athletics. In the village, grandpa’s house was in the middle of the boma. His word always final. If he raised his voice the heavens shook. It was as though everywhere I went I met the same man in different bodies. I remember I used to ask myself when I was 7; does God have a penis like me?
But my mother was clever. She didn’t care for my impending male privilege. I was her son. I was going to light the jiko, clean the lamp, cook dinner, do dishes, do my laundry and fold them, account for the 10/- I withdrew from kerosene money, but still sit with me to watch La Revancha.
Even so, it was still difficult to navigate life at home since dad controlled everything. If you asked for permission to go play and his team had been beaten that weekend it meant you had to suffer with him so stay indoors. The quality of food we ate depended on how much he made. The annual Christmas shopping for clothes – the only time of the year we got new raiment, depended on how well behaved we were during that period. And then on lucky Sundays when the Lord had touched his soul, he’d buy 1 Litre soda for us to energize our guts for the week.
Only one day of my life have I seen that man shed a tear. That mean stream of salty water snailed itself out of his eyes that night of 1998 during a fight with mum, as if it had to take its time to be seen. To feel the skin on his face savouring the rare opportunity. To flaunt itself to the world for being free. That man never cried. At least before us. Not even when his father died.
He expressed only three emotions: happiness; and he laughed; anger, and he fought; and silence, which you were never quite sure what he thought. He was the True North. Him, God and every other man I knew. It was one person.
The older I grew the more the questions nudged. Who was a man? What was expected of me when I grew up since I looked like them?
If anything, I just wanted to be a child. But that’s not how society wanted it. I wasn’t supposed to play with girls nor cry nor not have a solution nor show weakness. I had to be on top of things 99% of the time my face was seen in public. Weakness was allowed, as it was taught, only for girls. And dolls. And múcene.
I drew closer to my answers one morning in a heavy January 2015 when dad told me, “I don’t come to you with my problems because you’ll think I’m weak.”
It suddenly struck me that oh wait! Something’s going on here. Something’s going on. Can’t talk to me about your shit? Me? Your (first-born) son?
Was that something I wanted for myself? Definitely not. But being a man in the environment I grew up in meant I had to silence the child within. Because the world was apparently mean. It needed me to be harsh, and fast and first, to survive. And what better way to do it than be a man?
It was difficult to later understand the difference between my sex and gender. That social identity was distinct from biological identity. That masculinity is an idea. It is not cast in stone. That I could formulate mine and live a more balanced life. That I am a man but I don’t have to live out the story of men I found here. To accept it would alienate me from corporate privileges that sculpt beliefs.
But after spending all my childhood barely using my own nose to breathe, I cannot stand living the rest of my life controlled by another man’s idea of who I should be just because I look like him – that he, because of the power he holds in his forte, would create a performance track and fix me in those lines.
What does agency look like for me then? How do I detach from the primal scourge of patriarchy and still thrive?
From my end, it’s going back to my roots. To learn my language and the culture of my people, robbed from me by poor and deliberately expensive education. And a systemic erasure of my history. To investigate the impetus of yesterday’s sociology. To understand my mind. To define myself in the clearest form available to my faculties – and to continually labor to see through myself. To veer off the road crashing into the bushes for my own truth, than slowly wither in the treacherous mass wisdom shoved down upon us by the powers that be.
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
“ادخل من خلال البوابة الضيقة. بالنسبة للبوابة العريضة ، فالطريق هو الطريق الذي يؤدي إلى الدمار ، والكثيرون يدخلون من خلالها. ولكن الصغيرة هي البوابة وتضييق الطريق الذي يؤدي إلى الحياة ، وقلة قليلة منهم يجدونها.”
– Matthew 7:13-14
And that includes being my own man.