I’m streaming some music videos and come across this oldie but goodie from Sting, a song about a gay man from the 1980s, one that I love. “Englishman in New York” talks about NYC gay icon Quentin Crisp.

A set of lines in the song strike me particularly, what Sting describes what it means to be a man:

Modesty, propriety can lead to notoriety /
You could end up as the only one /
Gentleness, sobriety are rare in this society /
At night a candle’s brighter than the sun…

Takes more than combat gear to make a man /
Takes more than a license for a gun /
Confront your enemies, avoid them when you can /
A gentleman will walk but never run.”

—Sting, “Englishman in New York”

It strikes in particular the ideas we all have of what it means to be a man, despite how we don’t have the tests of manhood of yesteryear, or like those that modern tribal cultures still enforce. Some ideas (none are universal) include the ability to provide, the ability to produce many children, the embodiment of toughness. Others include land/resource ownership (or capital), social stature, possessing certain skills or behaviors, or achieving certain milestones.

Even funnier is the catch-22 US society puts upon transsexual men: why we are trying to expand the meaning of masculinity with cisgender men, trans men who don’t act “manly enough” will have their transition questioned.

person reaching out
Holding out your hand, the idea of always trying to help others when you can…that is the ideal of manhood I’m being taught. If you can’t, that makes you no less a man. It takes equal maturity to know when to ask for it.

I’m the guy who holds doors open for everyone, hoping the courtesy gets passed on. I modernize the ideas my own father is trying to catch me up on, what it means to be a man.

Be yourself, no matter what they say.

—Sting, “Englishman in New York”

What does it mean, exactly, to be a man? It’s the archaic way of saying of being an adult: maturity, responsibility, dependability, reliability, honesty. Working an honest job if you’re able to, instead of relying needlessly on welfare, and trying to show up on time without constant excuses. It means providing for those around you, even the bloke down the street if they fall on hard times. It means paying your share of taxes and tithes. It means opening the door for everyone. It means giving respect, and if you’re not sure, asking for guidance in what to do properly.

It means admitting fault when you cause an accident and paying up as necessary. It means knowing when you need help and asking for it. It means not judging others who are different from you.

It means giving respect, asking how others want to be treated, and always trying your hardest. That’s what it means to be a man…to adult.

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