The Anti-Pussification Program
Despite what it might look like to the casual eye, T Nation isn't just about lifting weights and building a body that is, as we like to say, "built for bad." Since day one, it's also been about being a man, only just what a man is these days has become as muddled and murky as the water in your washing machine after you launder your shorts.
Building a superior male body without having a sense or even a definition of manhood seems to us like building a missile but leaving out the internal guidance system. Sure, you can point it at something and hope it lands in the vicinity, but without the guidance, it's more likely to blow up Mrs. Edgerton's Sanctuary for Beautiful Young Virgins and Puppy Dogs than it is the lair of bad guys.
That''s why we occasionally feature this column. It might not always be right on target, but it's usually damn close, and at the very least it raises awareness of the issue of manhood and in this age of half men, half hamsters, that ain't bad at all.
Kyle...or what was left of him...was in a brown cardboard box on the kitchen table where I was seated.
It was all too freaky. Only a few days had passed since I'd gotten the cryptic email from his mother announcing his death:
I just wanted you all to know that Kyle passed away in his sleep last night...
It never said how he died and it concluded abruptly with that horribly cliché stuff about him "being in a better place now." Fuck, Kyle lived in La Jolla, California, and I'm not sure there is a better place, but that's not the point. Kyle was 19 years old, and 19-year-olds aren't supposed to die in their sleep.
I couldn't take not knowing what had happened, so after a week passed by I went to see his mother. Jackie invited me in and offered me a seat at her kitchen table while she fetched me a cup of coffee.
It was Saturday afternoon and in what seemed like a bit of Hollywood cinematic foreshadowing, bright sunlight was streaming through the windows and illuminating a brown cardboard box on the kitchen table.
I sat down and looked at the return address on the box and saw that it was from The Neptune Society Crematorium.
"Yep, that's Kyle," said Jackie as she placed the cup of coffee in front of me.
She told me that he'd been totally clean for a year; hadn't been drinking or smoking and definitely hadn''t used any more heroin. But for some reason, coincidentally on the same night Whitney Houston overdosed, Kyle gave into his demons and scored some black tar heroin.
Smarts, street or otherwise, were never one of Kyle's strengths, so when he shot up alone in his room that night, he used the same amount he'd used when he was a druggie, never thinking for a moment that his tolerance for the stuff had ebbed. He passed out and never woke up and now his cremated remains were sitting on the kitchen table next to the sugar bowl and the toast crumbs and the advertisements for radial tires that came in the mail.
So it goes.
I met Kyle twelve years ago when he was just a sweet, exceptionally gregarious kid. I'd be out walking my dog and he and his mother, a single parent, would see us from afar and come running. Kyle would get on all fours and play with my dog, all the while lamenting that he didn''t have one of his own.
So when one of my friends had to find a home for his dog – a littermate of my dog – I immediately thought of Kyle and his mother. They adopted it and we all became an extended canine family of sorts.
Kyle continued to be what seemed a prototypical good kid, but then puberty struck. I saw him becoming sullen at times and only somewhat jokingly, I shook his hand and wished him goodbye: "Hey, you're about to enter the Dark Side and hang with Darth Maul. You're going to think that I'm an asshole for the next 6 years or so and be unconscionably rude, but it's okay, I forgive you. I know the hormones are doing the talking, so see you in about 6 years."
But it was worse than run-of-the-mill adolescent hormonal rebellion. He withdrew completely. The walls around his mother's house were ventilated with holes from his angry fists. He skipped school as much as he attended. He failed to come home several nights a week. He stole from his mother's purse. But most of all he got high.
That was all he was interested in, well, except for the par-for-the-course head banger music. He didn't really have any girlfriends except for the ones he got high with, and he never even expressed any interest in learning how to drive. He got a job once at a grocery store that was nuts enough to hire him, but that didn''t last long.
I reached out to him and I invited him over to work out with me. Weight lifting has saved more than a few damaged lives, so I hoped that maybe, just maybe, he'd show some interest in it. I took him through a light but mildly challenging workout and he seemed to like it. I praised his strength and his potential. We arranged to do another workout two days later, but he didn''t show and that was the end of my brief Charles Xavier/Wolverine save-the-damaged-kid project.
I hadn't seen him for almost a year when I got the email about his death. And in the weeks that have passed since I sat at his mother's kitchen table, staring at the cardboard box that held his incinerated remains, I couldn't help thinking about how this tragedy – and countless other tragedies that ended either in death or just living rudderless, destructive, wasted lives – might have been averted.
If Kyle had grown up with a competent father or some evolved and consistent male figure, it might have made a lot of difference. Of course, very few men have mastered manhood themselves (look around you), so it's possible he would have still been in the same boat, or box, as it were.
And I'm not suggesting dedicated and enlightened single mothers or lesbian parents can't succeed, it's just that they'd have to understand what they were dealing with. The trouble is, most females have never had balls and thus are at a disadvantage in assuming a young male's perspective.
Barring all that, some sort of manhood initiation could well have helped Kyle, some sort of rite of passage that let him know that it was time for masculinity to evolve into manhood. At the very least, it might have helped prevent him from devolving into pussyhood.
Note that there's a big difference between the two words, masculinity and manhood. Masculinity is a psychological characteristic that evolved to support the demands of being male. It manifested itself in a need to compete with other males for resources and sex. If resources and sex weren''t an issue, it sometimes manifested itself in destruction, rebellion, and anger.
Manhood, however, is culturally defined. It channels the energy of Testosterone into socially acceptable or downright pro-social activities. Without the right kind of socialization, you and I might be in street gangs or have ended up in jail. We might be serial wife beaters or strung out on drugs. We might be too aggressive or hostile to even hold down a job. Or, we could go in the opposite but equally lamentable direction and turn into Ryan Seacrest.
A less dramatic or severe reaction to a nation-wide dearth of manhood might be a generation of witless fools who find it impossible to consider two opposing viewpoints; who think that any questioning of their beliefs, whether they be political, philosophical, or something as mundane as who they think is the best football team, is an assault on their fantasy of manhood. In short, they turn into bitchy pussies.
I'll give you an example from the animal kingdom on what can happen when the power of Testosterone isn't channeled appropriately. In 1978, Kruger National Park in Africa started culling their herds of elephants and as a result made orphans of about 600 young males who were then shipped to various parks and reserves.
Now in a natural herd, young males are responsible for keeping the younger ones in line and this is particularly true during periods of musth, when their Testosterone levels peak. With no adult role models, young males started going into musth at 20 years of age instead of the typical 30, and they stayed in the throes of this high Testosterone fog for months instead of days.
As a result the young males started to get into trouble. They started fights. They even killed white rhinos, seemingly for the sport of it. They probably smoked and sassed their elders, too. They likely refused to take out the trash. Kruger Park no longer culls older elephants and when they ship them out, they ship them in family groups.
Other societies, either by evolved instincts or from direct experience, realize that their young people, men in particular, need to be given the keys to manhood at a certain age.
In Japan, every January 15th, in every city and town, everybody who's turned 20 goes to the town hall where they have a kind of adulthood initiation. They're given the right to vote and drink and all the rest and then they're told – again and again in terms that are anything but inscrutable – that they now have responsibility towards society.
(Too bad the participation rate has been in decline for 5 straight years, with just less than 50% of young men and women now participating in the Japanese coming-of-age ceremony. It'll be interesting to see what kind of social repercussions will emanate from this decline.)
Other cultures employ slightly less refined rituals. In the island of Vanuatu, manhood candidates must strip naked, ascend a rickety 100-foot high platform, tie a vine to their ankle, and jump. "Big deal, a bungee jump," is what you're likely thinking, but there's a catch. First of all, the vine isn't a rubber cord. Oh, it can stretch, but the more likely outcome is that it'll break. Secondly, in order to conduct a successful jump, your head must touch, or more often, hit the ground. If you live, you're a man and your future wife can use the top of your head to roll out flat bread.
Members of the Matis tribe in Brazil, upon reaching a certain age, must rub poison in their eyes, after which they're beaten and whipped. A portion of their skin is then burned and the exposed tissue is then injected, via a wooden stick, with the poison of the Phyllomedusa bicolor frog, which induces projectile vomiting, violent diarrhea, and extreme lightheadedness. If and when you recover, you're admitted into the ranks of adulthood. In fact, the whole thing is pretty much indistinguishable from the hazing you undergo to join the Delta Tau Chi fraternity.
Young men of the Xhosa tribe of the Eastern Cape of South Africa who are to be initiated into the manhood club have it a lot easier. All they have to do is get circumcised without any anesthesia. Hopefully someone remembers to bring the Bactine.
The only thing that comes remotely close to any kind of rite of passage manhood ritual in the U.S. is the Jewish Bar Mitzvah where a boy, upon reaching 13 (which coincides roughly with the age of puberty), becomes responsible for his actions.
I'd like to see America embrace a manhood ritual for our young men. We probably don't have to lop off any penises or rub poison in anyone's eyes, but it's an idea worth exploring.
It might save guys like Kyle. Moreover, it might inject a much-needed maturity, sense of purpose, and social responsibility into the ones that don't manage to off themselves. It might make for better friends, boyfriends, husbands, employees, and citizens and simultaneously put a cock block on the pussification epidemic.
It's been my experience that the raw masculine qualities of Testosterone need to be transformed and channeled into manhood, which is largely based on being protective, altruistic, and heroic. Manhood, perhaps counter intuitively, also draws on certain feminine traits like empathy, cooperation, and the ability to support and nurture.
These things don't usually just happen on their own.
It's easy to see that men have the potential for tremendous violence, but their Testosterone also is the lifeblood of positive traits like fearlessness, competitiveness, persistence, and risk taking. This is the stuff that built the modern world, but men need to learn how to channel these traits into doing good.
I've observed that the majority of fathers – the ones that even think it''s important – try to teach it by rote. They scowl and tell Junior again and again some horseshit about how "men don't cry," or that "winning is all the counts." If that doesn't work, they teach him how to gut a fish, thinking that this stuff will automatically convey unto him the secrets of how a man should act.
Yeah, sure, you stifled a tear when your zipper caught your dick in your skinny jeans, so now you're a man.
It doesn''t work that way. It's like telling bratty kids to say "please" and "thank you." After hundreds of reminders, they eventually learn to say these things, but they never learn why they're saying them. The concept of gratitude remains alien to them well into adulthood.
The same goes for manhood. It must be tied to responsibility, but maybe we'd better define responsibility: taking care of your body, your health, the people and animals that you love, and showing a caring attitude towards society, the environment, and to life itself.
We'd need a name for this American rite of passage. I've kicked it around a considerable amount and all these grandiose names came to me, usually after a couple fingers of tequila, but they all seemed corny. Maybe you can help me think of one.
Anyhow, I've got a couple of ideas of what these "coming of age" ceremonies might consist of. A father could easily do this alone with his son by coming up with a list of tasks for him to perform. They don't necessarily have to be as difficult as the 12 labors of Hercules, but they should require learning some new skills and mastering them.
Upon completion of the tasks, the father might choose to reveal the "secrets" of manhood, much of which involves the responsibility to life that I defined above. It might also involve receiving some memento as a reward and as a reminder of the event.
Single mothers might enlist the aid of the more evolved males in her life to arrange a group coming-of-age ceremony for her son. Each male might take turns explaining the inductee's role as a man and what the group expects of him. Again, some sort of memento or medal might be involved.
The possibilities are endless. Anything I organized would probably involve strippers, but that's why I should probably be put in charge of hors d'oeuvres instead of entertainment.
In any case, the kid should know that a threshold has been passed; many of the silly preoccupations of childhood have to be put away, or at least contained. All that Testosterone fueled aggression and frustration? It's now time to channel it into doing good. With great power comes great responsibility, right Spider Boy? Well now's the time to be the super hero instead of the petulant, crabby little pussy who blames the world for his troubles.
If someone tries one of these methods, I'd recommend not letting the seriousness of it, the formality of it, degenerate. It has to mean something for it to have a fighting chance of working.
I wrote a little about this rites of passage thing about 10 years ago. I hoped it would catch on, or at least someone would try it, but it seems I struck out on both counts. Maybe this time it'll work a bit better.
By the way, I suggested the rites-of-passage thing to Kyle's mother a couple of years ago. She said it sounded like a good idea, but she never got around to it. Jackie probably lacked the motivation because most people aren't usually spurred to take action until something serious happens, only this time the extent of the seriousness – death – pretty much negated any future planning.
Here's hoping they take this type of thing more seriously in the better place he's gone to.