Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Alpha-Male, Boots and Leather

A friend sent me a guest blog post which appeared yesterday, titled, "Is the Alpha-Male a Real Person?" He described his emergence through youth to adulthood, and pondered a question that I have asked myself a lot -- does wearing boots (and in my case, leather garments as well) indicate anything about one's self-perception of his masculinity?

Like my friend, I wasn't good at "guy things" when I was a kid. Throw a ball to me, and I would miss it. When he talked about "being beamed by the ball in dodgeball," I could so relate. Last picked for any team in physical education classes in school, picked on and bullied by others who felt a need to demonstrate their self-perceived superiority, and being interested in activities like cooking -- all of these things were "me" in my teen years, too.

Also like my friend, when I was a kid, I found a pair of boots that belonged to an alpha male. In my friend's example, the boots he found and tried on were his father's. In my case, the boots that I found belonged to a ranch hand on a family horse ranch in Oklahoma where I spent a lot of time as a kid. The boots I found were an old pair of well-worn, dirty cowboy boots. Man, I admired those boots for the ruggedness that they presented by the the Marlboro Man who wore them.

I have said that I got into boots when I was ten, and haven't worn other footwear since then. I just liked to wear boots. Made me feel a bit taller, and a bit more proud. I guess one could say, boots made me feel more masculine, too -- though as a teen and 20-something, I continued to have doubts.

I got into motorcycling in my very late teens, and have enjoyed riding ever since. I was influenced to learn to ride a motorcycle by an alpha-male friend who was a year older in high school -- the taller, leaner, graceful and athletic guy who befriended his "little buddy." He wore engineer boots to school with a Levi jacket with the sleeves torn off, white pocket t-shirt, shoulder-length hair, and in many ways appealed to my inner sense of "coolness" as a guy. He was admired by many, dated a lot of girls, and usually was the center of attention though he didn't seek it. Yet he took time to spend with me to take me as a passenger on motorcycle rides and then teach me how to ride when I was old enough (and helped me convince my Mom to let me.)

Becoming a "biker" meant adopting certain attire -- the leather. First a leather bomber jacket, then chaps, then some vests, then I took the real plunge and got a pair of leather jeans and a leather shirt. Man, I loved how the gear felt -- and used the "excuse" that I had to wear the gear for my protection when riding my motorcycle. My Mom "bought it" in that she actually bought me some leather gear for Christmas and some birthdays during my first few years of motorcycling.

As I often say, I wear leather garments regularly, not just for once-a-year events. I ask myself (and have been asked by others,) "do you wear leather because you want to project a masculine appearance?" Come to think of it, the answer to that is "yes" -- but it is not the main reason why I do. I return to restating that I like how it feels, keeps me warm, protects me from road hazards when I ride my Harley, and is so versatile.

Sure, most guys do not wear leather as much as I do. And these days, there are some perceptions from some people that guys who wear leather all the time are always gay. I think that comes from perceptions still held from the campy performances of The Village People and the tune, in particular, Macho Man. One of the performers was always dressed in full leather, and they all were gay. Thus, the linking of wearing full leather and being gay stuck in the minds of many men and women who grew up when The Village People were popular.

In converse to this, there are some guys -- particularly motorcyclists -- who probably would like to wear leather more often, but choose not to do that because they do not want people to think they are gay, or they themselves believe that wearing leather is a "gay thing." Thinking aloud here, perhaps I am fulfilling that prophecy by showing up in full leather at all my straight-biker events.

Regardless, I have learned that there are differences in what makes a man a man -- not by the choice of what he wears (boots, leather, etc.), but by how he behaves and interacts with others. To me, a "real man" is a guy who is successful in his work and in his relationships with people. He demonstrates that he cares by the actions he takes. Fortunately these days, one's masculinity is not questioned (much) if a man takes care of children, pays attention to his parents and elders, and is involved in community groups like the PTA or civic organizations.

Yes, I choose to wear boots and leather, but that's a reflection of the person who I am, as well as my disdain for dressing in suits & ties or gym clothes or wearing sneakers.

According to many websites and blogs, like this one as an example, an alpha male is comfortable in his own skin, doesn't care what other people think about him, can and often does put his ego aside and knows that only insecure men need to protect their ego at the expense of learning and growing, has a good sense of humor, and is dominant.

By hook or crook, perhaps practice, or due to my upbringing, I have most of those characteristics: I am definitely comfortable in my own skin (and the skin of cows), I don't give a rat's patootee about what other people think of me (personally) or what I'm wearing, and I do not have much of an ego. I would not say that I am dominant, but in a way if you observe me in a group, I am usually in the center and serve in leadership rather than following roles. I guess the only alpha male trait that I don't have is a good sense of humor. I really struggle with that; my humor is more like bad puns, corny jokes, and double-entendre.

But I am not self-centered nor think that I am superior to others. That's just not me. I work hard at caring for other people, and consider most people my equal (save for the few who feel that they have to take shots at me, this blog, my videos, or my website because they have issues of their own to resolve. People who behave like that are below my standards and I choose not to associate with them if I can avoid it.)

As my friend summed up in his post yesterday, "be who you are, and be proud of who you are." I have learned to be who I am and proud of it as I have matured and have become self-confident. I give no credence to what other people think (or sometimes say) about my wearing leather or boots. Those in my life know the man I am. I would hope they would say, "he is a caring, thoughtful man." That's it -- my "manliness" is defined by my actions and behavior, not by the costume I wear or trying to be someone I am not.

It took a long time for me to learn that. And it also took a long time for me to learn that one can be a Man -- and be gay. One can carry himself in a masculine manner -- and be gay. To me, the two are not related.

Life is short: know yourself and be yourself.

No comments: