Sometimes when my brother and I are hanging out, his phone rings. This is how his side of the conversation goes:
“Hey man, how’s it going?
“No way, man, I had no idea.”
“Really, man, that’s cool.”
“I’m just hanging with my sister, man. We’re eating dinner and relaxing. We might get some beers.”
“Yeah, man. I’m around tomorrow. Let’s do it”
I’m not exaggerating. For some reason, my mature, intelligent, educated, well-spoken brother develops a tourettic “man” tic when he talks to his friends. It’s not even special friends, although it should be more than clear that it is only when talking to male friends.
A couple weeks ago, I bumped into a co-worker at a restaurant. He greeted me with an excited, “Hey man, how’s it going?” I rode high for the rest of the night, convinced that he saw something in me that I see in myself, and outside the workplace, fueled by a dinner buzz, the words just naturally spilled out. This probably isn’t that case. He probably meant it the way some people think “dude” and “guys” is a gender-neutral form of address, which is way too big of a discussion to get into here, but suffice to say, there is a part of me (not the only part of me) that hears the gender-neutrality of those words, or connotations that transcend gender, like two friends (neither of whom were me) ripping bong hits in a tapestry-decorated college dorm room while listening to Cypress Hill’s “I Wanna Get High” and referring to each other as “dude.”
For me, at least, it’s a bit harder to hear anything other than the man in “man.” It’s the beginning of it all, Adam and Eve, mankind, the Founding Fathers and ”all men are created equal.” It’s biblical, heteronormative, the binary of man and woman and a union defined with the words, ”Do you take this man.” It’s the evil we fight against, the Man. It’s the burden to “Be a Man.” It’s the silent destroyer in the word that should unite us all: “human.” It’s a greedy bastard, taking up space and infiltrating the one place it isn’t welcome: “woman.”
As I’m becoming more vocal about myself, expressing that which is unspoken by my chromosomes, my hormones, my flesh, people are responding. The other day, I did a nice thing for a friend. “Thanks, man,” he said. A few days later, I made a new friend and he offered me a nod of understanding, “I’ll see you later, man.”
The word sounds funny on me. New. I equate it with hoary white guys, eighteen year old boys, and those with dick-size insecurity. ”Man” doesn’t sting my ears the way an address of “lady” or “girl” or “woman” does, but like a pair of unworn snowboard boots, it hasn’t been broken in yet.
Last night, I had dinner with a good friend, the queerest person I know, and someone who sees me so clearly that I sometimes wonder if she’d be as shocked as I am upon sight of my unclothed female body. “Does it bother you when I talk about my man-hatred?” she asked. “Like how I was offended that you didn’t consider yourself a woman?”
She was referring to a discussion we’d had months before, after my outrage post at being referred to as a “woman” in Curve magazine. At the time, she’d told me that a small part of her took my response personally, that she was slighlty offended because deep down, she was a “big old lesbian,” and I was rejecting that. I thought about wearing my rugby jacket to the Indigo Girls concert it ’98, the older woman with feathered bangs and a softball player’s phsyique who kissed me and then cracked a joke about her toaster collection. Deep down there is a place in my heart where I hold the big old lesbian in me.
“No, I’m not offended,” I said. “I hate men, too.” There was this guy sucking face with this girl on the sidewalk in front of her apartment building. I admired his stubble.
“Well, I don’t hate men,” she said. I rolled my eyes a little, internally. She has a live-in boyfriend. Of course, she doesn’t.
Today, I got an email with the double “man,” a greeting of “hey man” and a closing of “take care, man.” I don’t want to ever hear someone talk to me like my brother talks to his friends, dropping the word constantly the way I did with “like” in high school. I know that there is some calcluation gone into this form of address, especially with me. When I hear it, the man-hater in me wants to try on a frilly yellow dress one more time. But the man in me is appreciative for the recognition, for the invitation into the brotherhood; I just hope it doesn’t mean giving up the key I already have. I may not use it regularly, but I always sleep with it under my pillow.