Redefining Masculinity’s Core Traits With Sickle Cell Disease
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?
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.
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