Redefining Masculinity’s Core Traits With Sickle Cell Disease

Dunstan Nicol-Wilson avatar

by Dunstan Nicol-Wilson |

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My therapist asked me, “What does it mean to you to be a ‘masculine man,’ and how does having sickle cell disease impact that meaning?”

It’s a question I hadn’t fully considered before, but about the same time I came across a podcast titled, “Unlearn Everything,” which is a discussion with Jason Wilson about society’s definition of masculinity, and how men can move past it. The segment helped me break down my thoughts about being a man with sickle cell disease and showed me how much the definition of masculinity remains a matter of debate within society.

I grew up believing that masculinity was bound up in being strong, being a provider, and being a protector. That was enough to cause me to feel insecure about measuring up, for certain, and developing sickle cell disease only magnified that insecurity. Could I be masculine and have sickle cell disease? When I have a crisis, I am not strong. When I have a crisis, I’m not able to provide because I can barely move. How can I protect those around me when I can’t even protect myself from my triggers?

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But here is what I am learning about myself.

I am strong. Each time I bounce back from a crisis I showcase my strength and my ability to keep moving forward. And I exhibit strength when I allow myself to be vulnerable, to let people in, to communicate my needs, and ask for help. Recovering from a crisis takes strength and being able to show my weakness takes strength, too.

I am a provider. Being a provider isn’t just earning power, and working isn’t always a guarantee for someone with sickle cell disease. But as a man, I am able to provide a space to nurture relationships and allow a range of emotions and feelings to dwell there.

I am a protector. I used to practice wing chun, but I had to discontinue it because of crises. I believed that to be a protector meant being unbeatable. But being a protector isn’t about how well I can fight; it’s about how well I manage my physical body, my mind, and my spirit. Learning how to protect my peace and those around me is imperative especially when a disorder like sickle cell disease can cause a lot of chaos and pain. Being a protector means more than just my physical abilities.

I am continuing to unlearn what I originally believed it meant to be masculine. By focusing on one definition of these traits, I only saw what I couldn’t do because of sickle cell disease. There is more to being a man than just brute strength, earning power, and physical protection. To be a complete man, I must also be nurturing, resilient, mentally strong, and open. There is so much more I can do to be masculine with sickle cell disease.


Note: Sickle Cell Disease News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Sickle Cell Disease News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to sickle cell disease.


efe ates avatar

efe ates

hello, i live in efe turkey, i am sickle cell patient, what you wrote is really true, especially the fact that i am 20 years old makes me feel it, but being a man is not just being tough or muscular or aggressive, i think especially smart people think like that sometimes i feel very weak but sometimes i feel very strong and I use this power to do good things in my life, I wish you a good day


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