Some say gender is a spectrum but I see it as a schizm.
All the things that make me a man were just survival mechanisms.

School was like a prison.
I was ruled by fools cool with cynicism,
miss me with your misgivings.

Dragged down the corridor to settle old scores behind closed doors.
Shoved into a locker like a shiv.
I was thin, I could hide in the dim.

I could never tell a foe from a friend.

My old Sensei Willy would always say to me,
your best defense in a feud was to keep your distance.
You have no chance to react
once someone gets too close to you.

Matter of fact,
I thought Karate could harden my masculinity.

Anger would coil my fingertips into fists like electricity –
my father’s father’s curse: a hot coal thrown by these
burnt palms.
What’s worse:
White-hot eyes that squeezed out tenderness,
a temperament of tempered steel,
reeling in my indignant righteousness.

When I bullied the bully
who had poisoned my teammates against me,
spreading hateful lies about my size,
I became a man.

When I won a fight
by laughing in surprise
to a sucker punch to the gut,
I became a man.

When I was pushed from behind
into the dirt and the grime
because I let my guard down one time,
I became a man.

I learned how to “Man up”,
how to stifle how I felt
because those feelings made me vulnerable.

If being baited into an outburst made you trivial to ridicule,
wouldn’t you trap your feelings like lightning in a bottle?

But one day you awake mid-brake
after going full throttle,
lost control, totaled the vehicle
of your hopes and dreams, you cope and seethe,
you see male role models succeed
because of their toxic masculinity.

That same entitled anger that nearly broke my brother.

As a kid, whenever I was bored,
I would goad him into going overboard,
I explored how to explode
the anger he had stored.

O, how I made him suffer.
How we hurt each other in the ways
men believe
it will make them tougher.

It’s like disarming a bomb trying to tell you all this.
Confronting the mold in the fridge after a long Christmas trip.

The softer side of me knows
it takes strength to be weak,
to speak on it,
to grieve the loss of innocence.

I never wanted to be an old soul as a young child.
I never wanted my gender expression
to be a survival mechanism.