That's a frequent question from men who were sexually molested in childhood. "What does it mean to be a man—a real man?"
We have cultural attitudes and expectations within our own social communities about masculinity. But no matter how it's said, most of us survivors face uncertainty about our manhood. Many of us feel challenged and unsure about our masculinity. We say to ourselves, "If I were a real man, I would (or I wouldn't). . ."
For example, he was a victim of sexual abuse, so he can't be a real man, because true men are never victims. If he thinks of the word victim when he thinks of himself, he may struggle or be aware of something he says that will make others think he's not a real male.
If he cries, his friends may laugh at him, imply that's he's a sissy or behaves like a girl. Maybe he's not athletic or doesn't enjoy watching football. Or perhaps he's too thin or too fat—almost anything can cause him to struggle with deeper issues.
It's sad but too often it's a silent, inner battle he can't share with others. He feels that to talk freely opens him to further criticism.
Years ago my friend Charlie said he played with paper dolls. He was an only child and the dolls entertained him. One day he was with a friend and they saw two girls playing with paper dolls. "Only girls play with real dolls or paper dolls."
"After that," Charlie said, "I played only in my room and made sure no one else would find them." He later said that he started dating girls at age sixteen, and even though he liked girls, later married, and was never involved in any homosexual relationships, he still wonders if he's really a man.
"How do I know if I'm a real man?" he asked.
What would you say to Charlie or to any man like him? Please email me at cec_haraka (at) msn.com if you'd like to respond, and I'll post all the comments at one time.