BEING A MAN
Josue de Castro Filho is a doctoral student at the University of São Paulo in Brazil studying gender and sexuality among religious issues. In this article, he shares how masculinity is (re)constructed between the gay men who interact on the SDA Kinship Men's Facebook group.
As a gay man, growing up in a very conservative environment is sometimes very difficult, especially if you are the pastor's son.
The fact that some of your desires and feelings are different from most of the other men in the community brings questions that challenge your sense of identity as a member of a specific group and as a human being. Being different can generate fear, guilt, and confusion. It can be the reason for physical and psychological violence, but it can also spark a search for meaning and a reinterpretation (that goes beyond the social rules) of what it is to be a man.
Lately, there has been a greater interest from liberal branches of society to revisit and rethink the concepts of gender and sexuality created throughout time. However, not only the liberals are willing to revise these issues, but also social scientists and religious people are now discussing what those concepts represent in postmodern times.
Let’s take gender, for instance. Discussions on the relation of power in society first dealt with the differences between men and women, and how women have been excluded and diminished for much of history. Most recently, the differences between some members of the male community have also been discussed after many years of discrimination and prejudice against gay, bisexual, and transgender men. Not only these men, but other straight men can be excluded as well for not having the same social performance that men are expected to have.
Inside the church, it is even more complicated to face these matters. There, social performance is not only based on the imitation of other people’s acts, but it is also influenced by sacred teachings and spiritual guidance from prophets and pastors. These are usually hard to confront. In the Seventh-day Adventist Church, some of Ellen G. White's writings give guidance that is specifically directed at men's and women’s behaviors, and how they should act at home, with their family, with their community, and with their church.
Given these circumstances, I was intrigued by how SDA Kinship men deal with all these issues together. What is their response as a group when they think about their masculinity and when they discuss what it means to be a man? From May 2015 to January 2016,
I did a digital ethnography in the Facebook SDA Kinship Men’s Group, observing their posts, comments, discussions, and reactions. I analyzed all 507 posts and this is what I found:
• SDA Kinship men break the limits the church imposes on masculine behavior with their welcoming attitudes that accept diversity and respect different ways of being a man.
• The male body, not male behavior, is very important to what it means to be a man. Although there are many discussions about what is beauty, there is no doubt that the male body is one of the core symbols of Of 137 posts related to masculinity, 81 were about the male body, compared with 39 posts about male behavior and 17 posts about male clothing.
• When SDA Kinship men get together, they’re more interested in sharing other things rather than sexuality and gender issues. Being in a safe place encourages them to be who they really are; they are not fixed on these subjects, but rather they explore other themes and personal desires. Of 507 posts, 217 (42%) dealt with other things that were not related to gender or sexuality.
After all, being a man (or a woman, I might say) isn't defined by the things you are or aren't supposed to do. Being a man involves all the innumerable possibilities that you can be with this body that gives you life.