Last year I wrote a blog called “To the daughter I never had” where I shared my experiences spending time with an ex-boyfriend's budding-into-teenager daughter (read that blog here).
I received so many emails from women who were deeply touched by the writing and message of that blog and were so grateful to share it with their daughters. I also received several emails from men asking, “can you please write a blog like that so I can share it with my son?”
So here are my thoughts on what I would want my son to know as he grew into adulthood.
This is also a love letter to all men who are on a path of healing and working toward dismantling the old paradigm of domination, patriarchy, and repression. I see you and am grateful for you. May these words help clear the old structures and wounding so that we may all step beyond the shackles of harmful gender-based roles and agreements.
An important reminder: there are many beings who do not identify with the limited and binary definitions of men and women. These people are the visionaries and leaders of a new way of being, the vanguards helping us all to move beyond the stereotypes and false simplicity of masculine vs feminine. I'm not meaning to exclude anyone from this blog. “My son” is for anyone who is male-identified or gender fluid.
We live in changing and exciting times. We are in the midst of a paradigm shift, and you are a part of that new wave. And while this time brings new possibilities and ways of being it can also bring confusion, mixed messages, and a sense of not knowing where you fit in or how to respond.
In my parent's lifetime, your grandparents, the world was very different. Roles for men and women were highly segregated and formulaic; men were supposed to make the money and take care of all the finances and women were supposed to stay home and take care of the children. Men were seen as superior; women were seen as inferior. Men were taught not to have feelings or get too attached; they were supposed to be stoic, solid, and always in control. Women were seen as overly emotional, needing of protection, and weak. And women were believed to be good at housekeeping and child raising only, except when we were at war and women were brought into the workplace.
Of course, there were exceptions even 50 to 60 years ago; women became pilots or doctors, men stayed home and took care of the children. However, it was extremely rare, and there was a lot of pushback whenever someone stepped out of those old designated roles.
I'm telling you this because it is important to understand where we have been, in order to know how to step more mindfully into where we are going. The attitudes and beliefs of your great grandparents, your grandparents, and your parents will continue to be carried forward by you in many subtle ways unless you very consciously choose to change them. Many of these old beliefs are still held in obvious and subtle ways by our culture and by the people in power. And you also need to understand, so you are not surprised or confused by people's reactions to you, why there may be times you get very strong messages from your elders or your peers to be different or “toe the line.” You might be called “sissy” or “pussy” or “just like a girl.” You might be harassed for being too “feminine” or for “being pussy-whipped.” But these insults only work if you believe that being likened to a girl is bad. And that is what the culture is still trying to use to keep men and women in boxes and behaving “as they should.”
Being a man does not mean you have to be tough or unemotional or responsible for everything. Growing from a boy to a man is about finding your center, living from your heart, and fiercely loving.
Whether you are sexually attracted to boys or girls, how you choose to dress, what you are passionate about, and how you want to show up in the world is part of the adventure of learning who you are. Please don't let anyone outside of you tell you that you should be different. There will always be people who will tell you that you are doing it “wrong” or who will judge you because of your choices. I will always stand by your right to choose. That is your birthright. And your choices are precious and powerful and I will support them unconditionally.
Know, however, that not everyone will. If you stray from the invisible line of what is “proper” according to someone else’s standards, you may find they demean or even actively try to hurt you. But there are also so many role models that can inspire you to be fully yourself. These are people who have gone against the old rigid definitions of “masculine” and “feminine,” people who step outside of those fixed and tiring gender lines, and have blazed a new trail. You will also be blazing a new trail with your being.
In regards to your sexuality, which is a beautiful and powerful part of you...
Get to know your own body. Everyone is different, and as your hormones come on line you'll find lots of things changing with your body. It is natural and beautiful to feel desire and to feel turned on by some of the people around you. And it can be confusing to know how to be in those relationships. Start by getting to know how you like to be touched, where your body is sensitive, and what makes you feel good. Pleasure is one of the greatest gifts of being human, and your body is a buffet of sensations and experiences, from learning what textures, smells, and colors you like, to learning how to bring yourself to climax using your hands while being connected to your heart.
Take your time being sexual with others. There is no rush to connect sexually with someone else; no end goal as to what it should look like. Go slow. Listen to your own body and heart. Learn to “court” lovers by getting to know them: what they like, where they struggle, what they dream about. Share who you are. Be vulnerable. The best sexual relationships come from intimacy, though there is nothing wrong with being sexual with a willing partner that you don't know... this can be a wonderful exchange of energy and passion! But always remember there is no rush. Savor the moment of touch and connection.
Why consent is so important. This is hard to talk about, but it is so very important. There are as many as 1 in 3 girls and women who are sexually assaulted at some time in their life, and as many as 1 in 8 boys and men. There is a tremendous amount of wounding around sexuality for many people, both intentional and unintentional. Women are especially wired to “freeze” if they feel they are in danger. There is an old belief that women should be sexual even if they don't want to be. It can be easy to overstep boundaries if you fail (even unintentionally) to communicate clearly with your partner. First, never be sexual with someone who has been drinking or doing drugs and cannot truly give consent, because their normal functioning brain is impaired; they may not be acting from their most centered place. If you are not sure, ask. If you feel there is a wobble or a hesitation, ask more questions or wait until your partner is clear headed and they tell you they are really ready and willing. And always check in with yourself about whether or not you are wanting to be sexual; never let yourself get pressured to do something you do not want to. Honor your body.
Learn to hold your desires and respect others. Being sexually turned on by someone does not mean that you must be sexual with them! You will be excited and lit up by many people in your life, whether you are single or in a committed relationship. This is one of the lovely things about being in a body, feeling that sense of desire and yumminess around other people. You don't have to repress it or pretend you are not turned on, and you also do not have to act on it or share it with others. Learn to feel that inner fire and use it to fuel your joy, creativity, and passion for life. If you are in a committed relationship take the energy that sparks you and share it with your partner (I mean share energetically, not necessarily verbally unless your partner is very open!) Don't be ashamed of your sexuality or feel you have to deny that life force moving through you. And know that you get to decide how you run that energy through your body.
Get to know your partner's body. In movies and books, people effortlessly and passionately fall into each other's arms and know exactly how to please each other. That is not always the reality! Sometimes it takes time to learn how to pleasure your partner, and to show them how to pleasure you. Be an open-minded and open-hearted student of each person you connect with sexually, as all bodies and people are different. Ask questions, try new things. Variety and exploration are the spice of sensual connection. And know that especially for women, you can do something one day that will drive her wild, and then do the exact same thing the next day and she will hate it. Women's hormones change so drastically from week to week that you will need to learn to read where she is in her cycle and how she likes to be touched or held, for example when she is ovulating vs when she is menstruating. There are books and videos that can help you learn how to pleasure a woman or a man to have multiple orgasms, to ejaculate (woman), or to orgasm without ejaculating (man).
Lead with kindness and compassion. The old model of “manhood” is tied up with always being strong and never showing emotions. Many men have not been allowed, or have not allowed themselves, to connect with their emotions and inner needs. Because this is modeled so strongly by many men in business, in the movies, and in the media, the old model can be easy to slip into. Always remember that knowing your emotions and being vulnerable is your superpower. When you are in touch and fluid with your emotional body you are connected to your intuition, your wisdom, and your heart. Emotional intelligence is a kind of literacy that you can learn; it will serve you well, so don't be afraid to get the support and resources you need to connect and work with your emotional body.
Many thanks to the women and men I've talked to who have raised or are raising boys, who are not afraid to be their full selves. It makes me cry every time one of my students writes to me to share how her son is saying things like, “I don't mind if you call me a girl, girls are powerful” (from a young boy with long hair who is called a girl by a stranger) or “Yes, I'd like the pink shirt, mom. I'm not insecure around my masculinity” (from a young man whose mom double checks his choice of shirts). The paradigm is shifting, boy by boy, man by man. Yes!
High five to everyone raising conscious boys, and to all the men reparenting themselves and healing their wounded inner child. We need you. We see you. We love you. Thank you.
P.S. If you are a woman who has a male-bodied or gender fluid partner, friend, or sibling, share your love and appreciation with them today.
Resources for boys or for raising boys:
Guy Stuff: The Body Book for Boys by Cara Natterson
It's Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
Resources for men:
Fire in the Belly by Sam Keen
The Superior Man by David Deida
The Mask of Masculinity by Lewis Howes
Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson
The Hidden Spirituality of Men by Matthew Fox
King Warrior Magician Lover by Robert Moore
To Be A Man by Robert Augustus Masters
The Mankind Project: https://mankindproject.org/
The Good Men Project: https://goodmenproject.com/
Ask Men: https://www.askmen.com/
Lewis Howes' podcast: https://lewishowes.com/podcast
HeatherAsh Amara is the bestselling author of the Warrior Goddess Training books as well as the recently released Big Freedom: Discover the Four Elements of Transformation, and the coauthor with Don Miguel Ruiz Jr. of The Seven Secrets to Healthy, Happy Relationships. You can find out more about HeatherAsh’s powerful work here.