I was sitting on the edge of the bed this morning, on my wife’s flowered bedspread, happily pulling on a new pair of socks.
It’s fall in New England, and the temperature’s been kind of snappy in the mornings. I’d been waiting for this day.
A few months ago, I bought a pair of brown socks online, brown with red and gold leaves printed on the fabric. They’re over-the-calf socks. Colorful socks are a thing in men’s fashion right now, and I was an early adopter.
I’ve got argyle socks, polka-dot socks, plaid socks, striped socks and black socks printed with pieces of bacon. I even own a pair of Snoop Dogg socks with “Gin” printed on the toe of one sock and “Juice” printed on the toe of the other sock, a tribute to his old-school hit.
It’s a fun hobby. I get to standout just a little; my usual drabness is brightened; I can spend time looking for socks online; and my wife always has something to buy me for Christmas.
No down side, right?
You wouldn’t think so, would you?
Ah, but I’m a man.
So, I pull the socks up over my calves and I look down at them for a minute, and I’m happy.
And then I think, “Do these look gay?
“I mean, they’re knee socks, like girls wear, and the pattern makes me look like I’m in the Brownies or something.
“Are the other guys gonna think I look gay?”
And there it is, the thought all men have so fast, we can’t stop ourselves from having it. It takes less time to have the thought than it does to write down that you had the thought.
It’s 2017. I’m 60 years old. It’s a lot more OK to be gay now than it was when I was a kid.
I wasn’t a bullied kid. No one ever beat me up because I “acted like a girl.” I can box. I can shoot. And I can ride a horse. I had a father in my house. I’m not trying to live anything down.
But there, faster than you can write it, was the thought that torments every man in his most quiet moment.
“Does this look gay?”
You’re not worried that you ARE gay; you’re worried that you LOOK gay, at least to other men.
I didn’t ask my wife if the socks looked gay. Nobody but a fool would ask his wife that question. Just asking it, and seeing her eyes roll, would drain at least a juice glass full of testosterone out of my body.
But still, the question. After 60 years, and a number of rounds in a boxing ring, and a wife, and the careful cultivation of a masculine manner, still the question.
Young guys seem less bothered by the question, and guys who didn’t grow up working class or poor, where the outward signs of masculinity still mean a lot. Me? I’m old, and I grew up working class. I’m gonna be like this forever.
I wore the socks because the question doesn’t last that long when you’re older and more sure of yourself. If I were younger, I might have heard the question and never worn the socks
Manhood is rough because we make it rough.
And you ladies, wives, girlfriends, friends, do not ask the man in your life if he ever hears the question in his head.
He’ll say he never does.
You know why?
Because he doesn’t want to sound gay.