The Dangerous & Important Wildness of Our Young Men
Being a teen age boy must be a whole lot like being the universe as it was creating itself, one galaxy, one beautiful planet, one scary, sucking, deep black hole, one brilliantly exploding super nova at a time. Cataclysmic implodings, neural rewiring, oceans of chemical-flooding, pulsing and ebbing, the somatic, non-verbal knowing that everything is possible, beyond imagination, within this one body. And of course, the natural assumption then, that the world is colluding with this process making everything outside the body possible as well; an hypothesis he is eager to (and must) test, over and over and over again. I am raising two young men - one 13 and one 15 - and I have watched as they discover, sometimes painfully, that the culture around them does not welcome the power coming online within them. They are confronted, in ways both subtle and assaultive, with the fact that the culture is becoming increasingly terrified of, and hostile toward, them. They are beginning to discern a culture whose attention must go not to the miracle in them and of them, but to the containment of them - the neutering of them. As we have created it, the Western World cannot afford to allow them to make it to their adulthood, cannot allow them to reach their full height and weight, with their wild masculine wisdom and drive intact. It is a culture which survives only through obedience - offering shame, isolation and adversity as its three main initiatory experiences into a fraught pseudo-adulthood. A wild young man for whom True North is the biddings of the larger world and of his own soul, is enemy of the state No. 1 in our culture.
Depending on who we believe or where we stand, we can imagine the culture is doing our young men a favor. It's in their best interest to make themselves smaller. As it is defined in this country, being an adult man has nothing to do with truth and individuality and everything to do with bearing the weight of externally imposed responsibility (a requirement in a culture that survives solely based on the number of individuals who are willing to subordinate their own lives in service of it). In order for our men to be recognized by the culture as respectable adults, they must learn how to find a reliable job, make a decent living, procure a wife and kids, buy a mortgage, settle down. Knowing their sense of belonging and acknowledgment requires all that, perhaps it is in their best interests to learn how to wear the cloak of a gelding (and pay the price as time goes on with, among many other things, alienation, substance abuse, depression, explosive rage, [what we call] 'erectile dysfunction' and more).
Given this, I cannot imagine what it must be like to be a teenage boy. Literally overflowing with the most powerful surges and desires on the planet. Driven by unseen forces stronger than anything he has experienced so far, to push himself to his edges, to see what he is truly made of, to actually see his own flesh, blood and bones so he can determine where he ends and death begins, to find out how useful he is when his people really need him to solve a problem, to protect, to stand strong, to hold firm. I can't imagine what it must be like to have the magnitude of this BEAUTY pulsing and exploding within me, in fact exploding out of me.....and then to witness the current reality all around me, of acculturated masculine and eviscerated wildness. I can't imagine what it must feel like in a young masculine wild body, in desperate need of role models that will help him navigate this extraordinary terrain, only to find men who, without their own role models, long-ago gave in to the culture's sinister but alluring demand for their own castration. I can't imagine how a young man - newly filled with the urgency of life itself - navigates and integrates the emotional ocean that would be his natural response to the realization of his gender's fate.
When I was 11 or so I discovered Lewis Thomas' "Late Night Thoughts On Listening to Mahler's 9th Symphony". It, like the Margaret Atwood quote, made it impossible for me to go back to sleep. Made my young suburban life extremely messy. But now, when I read Thomas' essay, I don't necessarily imagine nuclear devastation as much as I imagine the littered battlefield of the once-vibrant young masculine. I mourn the devastation of our young ones, girls and boys alike. I mourn their inheritance, one that is growing with compound interest, of despair and longing, rage and hopelessness and worst of all a story that they are not part of the wildness from which they've come. I grieve that their initiation into adulthood requires them to scorn their wildest parts, domesticating themselves to a much smaller story of fear and isolation. As a woman in love with The World I mourn the evisceration of their wildest and most potent dreams. Were we to live in a culture which honored Life, we would be sitting in circle as elders witnessing and reflecting the glorious dance of the universe story swirling within them. We would be reverently honoring the wise and primal energy of our young adults, feeding the fire of their wild dreams knowing these visions are the seedlings from which naturally sprouts the wisdom for a vibrant, benevolent, breathtaking human presence on the planet.