Masculinity on a College Campus

(This is a repurposed blog post) *

As I said in last week’s blog entry, I bailed on the college-bound path that was expected of me and opted for vo-tech training and then attempted to live as an auto mechanic. I was a virgin as my high school days came to an end, and wanting a girlfriend (and some sex in my life) was a high priority for me. The blue-collar version of masculinity had a strong appeal: that it was about being good at what you do and being confident in it, of doing as you please and not being subservient to people in order to get along and be promoted, and that the appeal to women seemed to be rooted in who you were, not your social status and earning power.

But my blue-collar aspirations did not work out. I wasn’t good enough or fast enough to get and hold a job in a garage that would pay me well enough for me to be self-supporting. So I let my parents talk me into pursuing a college degree after all.

By now I was 20, and still a virgin and if anything even more obsessed with wanting a real adult sexual relationship. But as the semester began, I tried to keep things light and playful, not wanting to come across as desperate.

Some things were immediately better in this environment: the college students were a lot more sophisticated about sex and sexuality, and there was far less hostility, less expression of a judgmental attitude about being feminine. And it was a mixed-sex environment, so there were women in my classes, women living in my dormitory building, women attending university events and using university facilities, many more opportunities to meet someone.

It all looked very promising but I hit some snags almost immediately. First off, while trying to approach dating and flirting in an easy and breezy nonchalant manner might have been a good idea in many ways, I discovered (or rediscovered) that casual sex and playful flirting and all that lightweight nonserious stuff was more polarized by gender than the soul-baring serious conversational approach — boys act one way, girls act a different way; the behavior of a person means this if he’s a boy, but it means that if she’s a girl. So much of the effortless casual lightness came from playing the roles and using the script, so that no one had to explain what they want or how they want it. I’d always hated the boy-role stuff, with all the assumptions that come with it, but there didn’t seem to be any obvious way to be all suave and smooth and laid-back about sex and wanting a girlfriend without playing into those role scripts.

It didn’t help that I had a pretty bad confidence problem. I didn’t really understand how other guys experienced it, but the popular legend about how it is for guys, the “narrative”, if you will, sort of portrays males growing up and at a certain age they become attracted to girls and as soon as that happens they start trying to act on it, to start fooling around and making out in ways that put them on the road to full-blown sex happening.

I couldn’t relate to that: I had been sexually attracted to girls all along, as far back as I could remember, definitely way before I understood that these were sexual feelings and that it wasn’t weird or unusual to have them, definitely way back before I knew a damn thing about sexual appetite and sexual pleasure, back at the age when all the adults have told you about is how babies get made, an explanation that never included how it feels to have such a fascination with the delicious shapes of someone else’s body, including (to be blatant and coarse about it) a fascination for the delicious shapes of their private parts, what they have inside their underwear. So instead of it being like immediately upon starting to find girls sexy and cute a boy starts trying to make sex happen, my narrative was about not letting on to anyone for years and years that I had such feelings. Because although I didn’t feel like they were bad or harmful, I was sure I’d be mocked and teased pretty awful if anyone knew. I’d be branded a pervert, for sure!

So along comes that “certain age” when behaving as a sexual creature is expected of you, you know, when you’re a teenager, and I was still pretty self-conscous about sexual feelings. I could share with someone special, someone I could trust to be understanding, that yes I had those feelings, but here in particular I did not want to be treated and regarded as a generic boy, boys were so filthy and crude about it and seemed completely without that kind of secretive self-consciousness, how did they get that way? How was it that they hadn’t been hiding their sexual feelings all through elementary school or, if they had been as I had been, how could they not be shy about it now?

The university environment was a lot more accepting of people’s differences. It seemed like it ought to be an okay place for someone like me, a place with more space for variations. What happened was that other students, casual friends and acquaintances and roommates and their friends and all, would drop in little innuendos. Insinuations. Jokes. Double entendres. Oh yes, college students are a lot more sophisticated. Instead of bringing up my femininity to make an issue of it with contempt and disparaging hostility, they invoked it with a wink and a quip, letting me know that they knew.

Oh, sometimes people said things more openly. “You know, you’ll find people are ready to accept you as soon as you accept yourself”. And “Frankly, I’ve always thought the most liberated person is the one who can see anyone as a sexual possibility”. And “I know a lot of people who are out now. I think it’s cool”. It seemed to me that they meant well. They were a lot less snarky about it than the ones doing their clever little insinuendos and raising their eyebrows at each other about me. But they didn’t make me any more comfortable.

Masculinity in the college setting was still written around the notion that men have the responsibility for making sex happen. That women don’t start stuff. Or if they do, everyone laughs at them, mocks them, makes insinuations about them. Which is a big part of why they don’t. When the college folks laugh, the laughing is different than how the blue-collar guys laugh at such things. The guys in the garage would use words like “slut” or tell contempt-laden jokes about what so-and-so did to her because she invited it so openly. The college students would relate a similar tale of a wanton woman and end it with a pretend-embarrassed “well, so, that was interesting, we hadn’t been expecting that”, and everyone chuckles knowingly.

A few months’ worth of all this—with the picking at me to come out and accept myself, while internally I was feeling trapped and isolated—set the stage for what happened next.

  • AHunter3 blogs weekly on the subject of being genderqueer, gender politics issues in general, and his ongoing attempts to get his book published. These blog posts tend to be anywhere from 500 to 2500 words in length and are written in the style of a regular column in a periodical.
    The reposting of these blog posts has been cleared with the moderators in advance.

Nobody else in your school started talking about it? Everyone that went to school with you in elementary school didn’t say anything about girls or boys or whatever?

No, or not in a fashion that I picked up on what they were referring to. Certainly some other kids knew some things before I did — in the summer after 5th grade I was teased specifically about what I didn’t know about sex (that people did it for pleasure, and often, not just when they wanted babies, and that that’s what the word “fuck” meant; that there was an appetite for it), so it’s possible that kids also talked about their own appetite, either then (circa 5th grade) or all along from early childhood, but if so I didn’t get the newsletter about it.

I was unusually isolated at school in 4th and 5th grade, which I’m sure played a role in how oblivious I was, but that was far less the case in 2nd and 3rd grade; I had a fair number of friends back then and no, no one talked about it at that age.

Nobody chased girls at recess? No “Do you like me yes/no” notes passed in class? No school functions like at a skating rink where partner skates were a big thing?

Wow, that’s a completely different experience then I had.

That’s not what I’m talking about. I knew I wasn’t the only person to want a girlfriend / have crushes/ pass notes etc.

I’m talking about having a compelling appetite for looking at the bodyshapes of people, and having specifically erotic feelings about it. Sexual lust. I had it, I didn’t know anyone else had it, and no, no one was talking about it, girls or boys, nothing about how really nice it was to look at them and see their body, or ogling underwear ads in JCPenneys etc, … later, yeah, but not during childhood.

There was often teasing and gossip about looking up some girl’s skirt and seeing her underwear but it seemed to be more about bathroom functions + “that’s forbidden” and without reference to having any tingly excited feelings about seeing there.

No talk about masturbation until around 7th grade either. I remember first hearing it mentioned and wondering “could they conceivably be talking about the thing that I do?”


Neither you nor your friends, I guess 5th or 6th grade, noticed that Susie was getting boobs?

I don’t think I’ve ever talked about masturbation with other people.

What do boobs have to do with anything?

Whether a person has them or doesn’t have them, and whether one notices them or not, the point is the absence or presence of an acknowledged awareness of having a sexual appetite for someone else’s structures. By the time boobs made any semblance of an appearance, I’d been keeping that secret for six years or more. And they’re kind of cute but hardly the main focus of things if you see what I mean.

Well 'boobs have alot to do with appreciation of a woman’s body. And the shape of a body. You said that, saying ‘delicious shapes’. Just saying.

What I said was

… doesn’t that make it compellingly obvious that I’m talking about an age that significantly precedes the arrival of boobs?

I’m talking about years before the age at which there is an expectation of active sexual behavior. There ain’t no boobs then.

Oh, okay. I am sorry I mis-read.
Interesting blog. Will we hear more?

LOL we will be hearing lots more.

I was going to post something like that, but I restrained myself. :slight_smile:

Telemark and Living Well are entirely correct. I committed to one blog post per week at the beginning of the year and I’ve kept up. In the larger sense I’ve been doing this since 1980 and it is fair to assume I’ll continue doing so far into the future.

Do y’all have any thoughts on this part?:

I had started writing something earlier and I felt it was getting too much about me and my background, so I ended up deleting it.

I was very socially awkward. I also grew up an an ultra-religious home, so things like actively trying to lose my viginity were verboten. I have always liked girls (maybe not always in a sexual manner as AHunter has described, but everything about them was swell).

Due to various choices early in HS, I was considered a nerd, so I did not have many interactions with young ladies, I was very shy and could not bring myself to talk to them if it was anything other than about school stuff.

When I hit college, a lot of this came along with me.

I had taken a couple of college classes the summer before I graduated HS, but I was actively trying to not appear HSish. I had gone to study for finals with a couple of folks from class and at some point, they left and I ended up in the dorm room alone with the roommate of one of the ones I was studying with. She was a bit odd, talked a lot about her ex-BF. I thought maybe she was coming on to me, but being socially awkward and shy and not expecting a girl to be interested, I keep just talking.

The other two (a guy and girl I later realized were dating) never came back, so eventually I excused myself and left. They were outside in the common area and said they figured we were getting it on, so they did not want to disturb us. It was the first time I had ever thought of smacking myself and wondering why I did not at least ask her out.

I guess all that is to say, I had no idea what the heck I was doing either and I can relate to feeling like you are stumbling along.

I was not smooth like the other guys.

I was not confident like the other guys.

I had no idea what I was doing, and afraid of looking stupid with the college girls that were surely much more experienced than I was.

Looking back it is amazing I ever dated and even more so that I got married. I was CLUELESS.

So sorry, I am a newbie and never stumbled into your blog posts. Sounds interesting though, I will read more.

:slight_smile: I like the sound of that!

Since early this spring I’ve been echoing them here in In My Humble Opinion, so you can search for threads I’ve started in here.

The native blog environment is on LiveJournal (also echoed on WordPress and Dreamwidth but I still think of the LiveJournal as the “home”); it goes back to 2014. (Table of contents page linked here).

Thanks, I will check it out.

Well, since you ask.

I don’t think being awkward around girls has anything to do with gender identity. Everybody is awkward, especially when they are first starting out. I don’t have any questions about my gender identity - maybe that’s why I didn’t try to figure out what the “boy” role is (whether breezy and nonchalant, or something else) and try to use that role to talk to women. ISTM that you see only two alternatives -[ul][li]fulfilling the male role, or [*]coming across as desperate.[/ul]I wanted to meet women as much as the next guy, but I didn’t consciously adopt a role that I thought was the “male” one - I found the women who I thought were interesting, and talked to them about things that I thought we both would find interesting. I didn’t worry about roles, or sounding desperate. [/li]
I am by no means a player, and never have been. But I dated my share of women in high school, college, and afterwards, and managed to convince a quite attractive woman to marry me.

You seem to me to see a lot of things thru the lens of gender identity. Even in places where, like this one, it doesn’t seem to have much to do with it.

My $.02 worth, and cheap at half the price.


For me, I think I did try to mimic the “guy” role. I tried to be cool and interesting and mysterious and it never worked. Young women that knew me, knew that was not me. And those that did not know me, well, they were not biting either.

I think one of the things that most attracted me to my wife was that it was easy to be around her. We could talk and have fun and I was just me.

Oddly enough, once I was dating/engaged to her, I was not trying to be a “guy” I was just being me, and it seemed that more young women were interested in me. I never acted on any of that, but they sure seemed to be more interested.