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Friday, May 12, 2017

What Makes a Man?

Written by  Loren A. Olson, MD

Man boobs and the real man

Back in the 1950s we were short on epithets and about the worst thing you could be called was a sissy. “Queer” was used sometimes, but it had none of the sexual connotations it carries today. In rural Nebraska, we didn’t know much about homosexuality.

“Sissy,” on the other hand, meant weak, like a flower that withers soon after it’s picked. Boys were supposed to be strong, independent, self-reliant, and most of all unwilling to show emotion that might make them be considered vulnerable. But inside, I worried that I might be a bit of a sissy, and there on my chest was the evidence. I had man boobs.

Even at the swimming pool, I rarely went without a shirt. I was either in the water up to my shoulders or in a shirt. I was always observing the other boys, trying to mimic their behavior and manner of speaking to make sure that my secret worry remained deeply hidden. If I didn’t feel like one of the boys, at least I would try to act like one of them.

One day after football practice in high school, we were all standing around naked in the locker-room, getting ready to shower. The coach called out to me, “Olson, with tits like that, you should be wearing a bra.” Humiliation is the public exposure of a private shame, and nearly 60 years later, I’m still working on forgiving Coach for that.

When I was about 60 years old, I had enough discretionary money that I thought I’d see a plastic surgeon to have a breast reduction. I asked a surgical nurse who the best plastic surgeon was – nurses always know those things – and she asked, “Are you going to have something done about that hooding?

“Hooding! What the hell is hooding?”

“It’s all that baggy skin hanging down over your eyes that makes it difficult to see.”

I didn’t know I had hooding! Now all I could see was that damn hooding. So I called the surgeon and made an appointment to have the baggy skin over my eyes and on my chest removed.

Now I know that some men like other men with man boobs. Once I was walking along the pool at a men’s resort in my swimsuit, and I met a young man walking the other direction. He put his finger on my chin and slid it all the way down to below my waistband, and said, “Delicious!” and we just kept walking past each other. I thought, Did he just see what I see in the mirror ever morning? But I learned something: What I find sexually attractive (or unattractive) is not the same thing that someone else finds attractive.

As I wrote in Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight, one of the ironies of coming out is that I have felt more like a man since coming out as gay than I ever felt when I was trying to be a heterosexual. I have felt more connected with other men. I no longer have the fear of being exposed, man boobs or no. That pain we carry with us, the fear of being exposed as different or weak or feminine, is an enormous burden.

So, Coach, call me a sissy, queer, faggot, or whatever you like. I know I’m a man, and a jackass like you can’t take that away from me. And it wasn’t having my man boobs reduced that did it.

Loren A. Olson, MD, is a board-certified psychiatrist with over forty years of experience. He is a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and has been named an Exemplary Psychiatrist by the National Alliance for Mental Illness. He is the author of Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight.

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