‘Even before I knew what masculinity and femininity meant, it was clear to me that I was navigating both domains. I never really enjoyed the things boys are supposed to like. In fairy tales, I never identified with the men, always with the female heroines. Most of my friends were girls. Sometimes I put on my mother’s clothes and dreamed of being a grown-up, that is: a strong, fierce woman.
It is not really that I wanted to be a girl, but I felt that my personality would only be accepted if I were. I would often squeeze my eyes shut and pray to God to change my sex, only to be disappointed when I opened my eyes and looked down.
At school, there were boys who mocked me to show they were not like me. Other boys simply ignored me because they did not want to be associated with me. I understood that in order to stop the bullying, I had to compensate for my otherness. Instead of suppressing my feminine behaviour, I came up with something else: I became a really funny kid. The laughs were not about me anymore, even though I knew my popularity was conditional.
For a long time I imagined the world’s male population as an army. A legion that had rejected me and that I had gladly turned away from. In our high school boy’s locker room, I felt more alien than anywhere else. I did not understand why my male classmates were so restless and why they were screaming continuously. I saw guys who wanted to fight, anytime, anywhere, in the showers, on the pitch, and in the schoolyard. I kept quiet and was happy not to be part of them.
I graduated, moved to the big city, and came out without any real problems. Still, fear played a major part in my life, and this time for new reasons.
‘For a long time I imagined the world’s male population as an army. A legion that had rejected me and that I had gladly turned away from’
Like most queer men, I have encountered both verbal and physical harassment. A very common reaction to this is to adjust to the system. As long as gay men comply with the laws of masculinity, as long as we belong to the ranks of the machos, we may survive, and even overcome the shame. But it is all conditional: once we fail to blend in, we run the risk of getting hit again. So, ironically, it was only after my coming out that I started acting like a man. Not as a conscious decision, but as something that just sneaked in. I started to work out, I lowered my voice, and I grew a beard because it made my jaw look bigger and it made me look tougher.
It did not take long before I realised what I was doing: in order to feel safe, I was conforming to a norm. And that in doing so, I was perpetuating that norm. I decided to change. I was a fashion student, and more and more I allowed myself to merge what people might call male and female elements in my work and my personal style. I started to wear intense, eccentric clothing that made me feel good, no matter what people thought.
‘I started to work out, I lowered my voice, and I grew a beard because it made my jaw look bigger and it made me look tougher’
I kept my beard, mainly because it is part of who I am and how I see myself when I look in the mirror. But also because it is an indisputable male signifier that compensates for my feminine elements. As such, my beard creates a safe space where I can act out whatever I want.
I do not identify with masculinity, but I do identify as a man. It is important that I call myself a man. If I did not, I would succumb to a system full of toxic scenarios. No matter what the outside world might think, I claim my own manhood. This is what I am and this is what I look like.
My beard has a very Jewish connotation. In a way, it is a symbol of my membership of a tribe, a place I feel safe and redeemed. I do not care what people think about me. But when a Jew looks at me and says, “You look Jewish, you remind me of my brother,” I feel at home.’