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Man up! #fail

Man up! #fail

Why we may have women’s lib and the LGBT rights movement to thank for bringing mental illness out of the closet

In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, “Aubrey Huff opens up about his anxiety attacks,” the Giants baseball player revealed the events that led him to seek professional help after experiencing extreme anxiety and panic attacks. For those of us who have experienced similar attacks, even if in a more milder form, the symptoms are the same; shortness of breath and the fear that one is having a heart attack. We can all applaud Aubrey Huff for his willingness to discuss his illness publicly. I believe that Mr. Huff and the rest of us can thank both the feminist and LGBT rights movement for his courage to seek treatment and talk about it in a major newspaper.

Once upon a time, men were expected to suffer mental illness in silence. They were told to “man up” and “take take it like a man.” As Mr. Huff says in the interview, “I was always taught that people who had anxiety issues were just weak-minded people.” Going public with his decision to seek treatment took a lot of courage. Fortunately, Mr. Huff has grown up in a post-Stonewall world. Those of us who came of age before Stonewall remember how the rigid assignment of gender roles imprisoned women and men in a world of unrealistic expectations. Men were expected to be strong, confident, and protective of women. Women were considered weak: emotional, fragile, and dependent on men. That world started to crack with the rise of feminism in the sixties. The gay rights movement, that led to the inclusive LGBT community, was the next logical step after women’s liberation.

Remnants of pre-Stonewall thinking were still caught in Aubrey Huff’s head when he suffered his first panic attack. Mental illness can’t be a real illness. It is all in your mind, in a world of feelings. If you can’t control what is in your mind or control your feelings, you become feminized, and you are no longer a real man. Fortunately, Mr. Huff was able to break out of that outmoded thinking by coming out of the closet of anxiety and seeking the help he needed.

“I almost wish I had broken my leg than had that,” said Mr. Huff. In a world where men are only allowed to feel pain for obvious, physical injury, we can understand this wish. “I can control that,” he added. “I know what’s happening. This, I didn’t know what was happening. You can’t control it. It’s scary.” Men must always be in control in this fantasy, pre-Stonewall world.

Now, as we learn more about the brain and psychology, we know that mental illness is a  real, physical illness. Scientists are discovering the biological origins to diseases of the mind. Failure to treat these illnesses can lead to death. Untreated PTSD has led many of our veterans to commit suicide. Like the male athlete, the male soldier believes he is expected to just “man up” and take care of himself.

For a man, the real fear that exists with homophobia is that he is not man enough. Even if he is not sexually attracted to other men, he fears his own vulnerability and weakness. Homophobic men bash homosexual men because the gay man represents what the homophobic man fears in himself. The homophobic man carries the irrational fear that he may become gay simply because his masculine self identity falls short of an unobtainable ideal.

LGBT people have made tremendous gains in the past few decades, but we still have more work to do. There are those, such as the pastor Sean Harris, who still cling to the values of a pre-Stonewall world. Pastor Harris was recorded telling his congregation in a North Carolina Baptist Church that fathers should “crack” their sons’ limp wrists. The audience responded with cheers and laughter as he urged fathers to punch their boys to ensure they would start acting like men. Although Pastor Harris apologized for his “poor choice of words” that advocated violence against LGBT people, his beliefs remain unchanged. Pastor Harris believes that God created men to be men and to act as men and for women to act and be as women. There is no room for transgender people in that view. Just be what God made you, even if that concept of male and female has no connection to reality. It is not surprising that he focused much of his outrage on the relationship of fathers and sons, advancing the discredited belief that fathers are responsible for making their sons turn into homosexuals. Even the notion that boys who exhibit feminine behavior will always grow up gay is false. Many heterosexual men were once beaten up and bullied when they were boys simply because they acted like sissies. I know a few of such men, myself.

Heterosexual men can thank both women and gay men for their own liberation. They have been liberated to be able to seek treatment for mental illness without fear of stigma. To Aubrey Huff and his family, best wishes for a full and complete recovery. May you be able to truly say in the future, “it gets better.”

Lyrics to Tattoo by Pete Townshend:
Me and my brother
Were talking to each other
‘Bout what makes a man a man
Was it brain or brawn
Or the month you were born
We just couldn’t understand.

Our old man didn’t like our appearance
He said that only women wear long hair.
So me and my brother borrowed money from mother
We knew what we had to do
We went downstairs past the barber and gymnasium
And got our arms tattooed.

Welcome to my life tattoo
I’m a man now, thanks to you
I expect that I’ll regret you
But the skin-graft man won’t get you
You’ll be there till I die
Tattoo

Now I’m older
I’m tattooed all over
My wife is tattooed too
A-roody-to-to
Rooty-tooty-to-to
Rooty-tooty-to, tattoo too
To you

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May 6, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized

2 Comments »

  1. Damn, you had me all excited for a minute. I’m gay and have had a huge crush on Aubrey since he arrived in SF. Darn, I thought you were going to “out” him. It turns out that he just has some mental problems – no big deal. I hope he works them out, but if you ever …

    Comment by Carl | May 8, 2012 | Reply

    • That’s one way to play fantasy baseball. I enjoy watching Tim Lincecum, myself. I even started following him on Twitter, but he doesn’t tweet much.

      Comment by tomyamaguchi | May 8, 2012 | Reply


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