In the summer of 2013, I lectured for my local LGBTQ community center on animation. At The Center, Las Vegas, I learned a term that is endemic to Gay Black men : Hypermasculinity.
Jean Shinoda Bolen in her book, Gods in Every Man, called the perception of Black men “ruled by Mars”. Black men are seen as threatening by the non-Black community despite being stereotyped as jovial to the point of excessive merriment. It’s difficult to pinpoint what marks them as threatening; it could be that dark is considered masculine whereas light is considered feminine in the Western imagination. Perhaps it’s the silhouette that shoulder swagger. However, for me, it’s the lack of long hair. Hair is a sign of health and it’s also associated with the feminine ideal. This feature in it’s natural state is rare in the Black community. Our hair rare grows longer than eight inches, so if additional length is desired, one either applies extensions, via weaves or braids or allow dreads. Hair with a cross-sections hates being brushed or combed, and will make off in a huff with threatened with such instruments of destruction. Therefore, if you see a Black person with long hair that is all their own, it’s in the form of dreads. The result is a magical combination of masculine and feminine that softens the aura around Black men.
Knowing How Hard it is to Grow
Some time ago, a high school coach cut the dreads off of one of his players. According to his defense, he was acting according to regulations. I understand how sports, being a warfare without the blood, is a pre-cursor to military life for some, but public shearing is an outrage. That culturally clueless coach has no clue how long it took for those 8” dreads to establish and grow or the implications of being sheared in public. “Black textured” hair is already used against African-Americans as an evidence of being sub-human, so being sheared like a sheep in a stadium galvanized the hypothesis to thousands.
Thankfully, the pain from the shearing was not endured in vain. New laws protecting a person’s hair in its natural state have been passed since the professionalism of cross-section-helixed-hair issue has come into vogue. Although the boy will start his dread all over again, his future locks will be protected under law. I’ll look forward to seeing this happy, handsome lion! He’ll be able to assume his magical androgyny that will make him ever so approachable off the court. Androgyny will propel him into the aura of Hermes the clever pretty boy savvy merchant and with academic achievement, he’ll become Apollo, the young god all men of his age strive to be.
The Apollo’s of the world are rarer than unicorn droppings. The archetype of the ideal son who is studious, successful, ethical, and beautiful is what everyman wishes he could be, or resents that they have to be. Apollo isn’t perfect. He can be negligent to the point of death for those close to him or they at least suffer great strife. Therefore, he should never be left to lead alone. Nevertheless, he is not prone to anger issues, does not ignite wars, does not have fits of jealousy that causes natural disasters and never gets derailed by his second brain. I realize that my bias sheds a negative light on what some men treasure as tenets of manhood; strength from anger brings change, the right to express outrage when there is a great wrong and the pleasure and necessity of sex for them. As a woman, I say these qualities are all find and good, but, I’d forego Ares, Poseidon, and Zeus and learn the art of moderation of Apollo who possesses these traits yet wields them wisely in the most rational way a prince can manage.
Apollo is an archetype who isn’t a king yet, but rather a prince who hasn’t had the life experience to be corrupted. It seems that in a this context one might have a right of passage that teaches the the prince that he must do a little evil in order to do a lot of good to advance to kingship. The result being, which king does a young man want to be? Zeus the jolly lecher? Poseidon the petulant middle-child? Perhaps Hades, the wise ruler of the underworld who had to steal his wife. These three kings have some admirable qualities, but their faults are huge caveats.
I guess what society fears in youth, particularly male youth, is a really difficult rite of passage from prince to sovereign and all the strife for others it entails. What type of prince you are determines how well you manage your flaws that lie in every sovereign god archetype. As Zeus can you stay faithful to your wife as you wander the world making alliances so she won’t fly off the handle and wreak havoc on your paramour’s family or entire civilization? Some will say keep it in your pants, other’s like myself, are more inclined to suggest to choose your next wife more wisely! Bitch Queen Hera needs to marry Hades instead. He ain’t goin’ nowhere. As Poseidon, can you be content with your lot in life and not return home from work abusing your family, because you lost a promotion to a profession rival. Can you inspire change without revolution? Poseidon is really dangerous! Or…for all your wisdom and riches, you still have a penchant for young girls who like to play in the sun who wouldn’t go hear your world, but less spend the rest of their lives in it, so you resort to abducting her. Bad move for a wise man. Sure, Zeus and Poseidon get away with rape, but they are golden boys who live in the known world. You, Hades, live in the underworld and carry the stigma that goes along with it. Like a Black, Brown or poor man, you can’t get away with the same offenses as your more privileged brother’s can. Furthermore, the fact that your spouse is trapped with you and visibly suffering under the surface of a cool facade also adds to the bad press.
I’m looking at you, Bill Cosby and Donald Trump.
“When you live under a good king who has a dark side that breaks your heart, it’s hard not to despair because of the hyper-masculine hyperbole he uses to justify the apparent misery of his mail order wife.”
Hyper-masculinity is a highly subjective concept. I’m oppose to it, but in many cultures it’s an attribute a society is willing to tolerate so long as its energy is channeled to benefit the whole. The military is the traditional rite of passage for those whose anger matures into a yen to protect, but what do you do with that potentially negative energy during peacetime? I’d like to think that it would be re-directed to defend the populace from natural disasters, which I think it does, but to turn the military to such tasks full time is a pipe dream. No government is going to pay to mobilize that many people without some great reward. Therefore, we’re stuck with bull-necked, mean-spirited jocks, gang members and warlike businessmen who can’t leave their battle auras in the boardroom.
It’s a toxic environment and a stigma that sticks to some groups like a disease. A disease that marginalizes the group as a threatening Other. It takes all kinds to constitute a healthy society, but when an archetypes dominates the perception of a group, it becomes problematic. The hybrid of masculine and feminine that is Apollo and his younger brother Hermes is a welcome aspect in young Black men as they rock their manes of dreads. The Mercutio Lion has been a great ambassador to the Black community ever since Bob Marley stepped into the mainstream with this wonderful music and his son Ziggy is a treasure and the personification of the Black man as a nice guy.
It pleases me to see a greater variety of personalities of young Black men in the media. There are unicorn rare love interests of successful women. Big jolly jocks who develop farms as their tax shelters. We even had our own Marcus Aurelius-Apollo as a sovereign. At long last, we figured out the PR. It was refreshing to have an alternative to a gangster rapper representing young Black men for eight years. It is said that intellectuals may be difficult to relate to, but I support the rise in the trend. Jocks may be sexy, but geeks make the best husbands and it would be very nice if there were more around, so the blondes didn’t get all of them!
African-American problems are a long way from being over, but there will be more descendants of slaves who will challenge the monolithic perception of Ares by convincing the world to think differently. The image of the Black has improved in the media, but they are still seen as sexual threats, which was the impetus for Jim Crow. So long as that specter holds, Black men will still have to battle to change that karma. Thanks to the variety of styles, they’re no longer seen as savage, but as a stronger form of beauty that is difficult to attain. Therein perhaps, being to beautiful t is the real reason why the dreads were shorn from that beautiful youth wanted to continue his wrestling match.
Play on, Apollo.
Gods in Every Man, by Jean Shinoda Bolen
Harper Paperbacks (July 15, 2014)