“There are some people who live in a dream world, and there are some who face reality; and then there are those who turn one into the other.” — Douglas Everett
When I was in the eighth grade, all I ever wanted to be was a professional basketball player. Okay, that’s actually not true. I wanted to be Michael Jordan. But I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that that was impossible. So I was willing to settle for wearing the number 23, leading the NBA in scoring, and playing shooting guard for the Chicago Bulls after my junior year at the University of North Carolina. That was my dream. That was my plan.
In high school, I dreamed about becoming a public defender or a civil rights lawyer. I wanted to be like Morris Dees at the Southern Poverty Law Center, suing the Ku Klux Klan and fighting for civil rights. I planned on becoming a lawyer for the good guys, on the front line of the right fight, with a shiny Harvard law degree. But then in college I realized that a lawyer’s life is one of unceasing homework assignments and busywork. Or at least that’s how I saw it. I recognized that I would probably lose my mind, and probably my soul, with all that frustrating paperwork and technical jargon. After a false arrest and the absurd process that led to my acquittal, I decided that the legal system was beyond repair, that it had been built by and for the powerful, to protect those original elite landowning white men and few others.
Then, after college, I wanted to be a social worker. After not very long in Harlem and the Bronx working in social services, I quickly learned that more than just the legal system in this country is in shambles. Neither arena felt like the right venue for me to share my gifts with the world or make my dreams become real. And that’s when I found myself at the end of my rope, with nothing but my art keeping me going. Lucky for me, I said Yes to the path life had pushed me toward. Art became my savior and the answer to my most pressing question: How do I make the dream become real?
I wrote Man Up to make the dream real. Every time I have sat down to write, I have wanted to turn “one [world] into the other.” To do that I must confront the varied selves I have been and am, and—most important of all—the man I want to be. At each step on my journey, all three versions have appeared in some form. It is often a one step forward, two steps back trek, without regard to chronology or linear progression. But that is the only way to actualize this dream: Acknowledge the full spectrum of who I am.
I am tired of men dying because they feel alone, feeling like they are destined for prison or monotony or gender role-playing or anything less than their most divine of dreams. I am tired of men hurting women and each other and themselves. I know that I am not alone in this. The men in my life have told me so.
I want to give some men the license, for the first time, to be everything they ever wanted to be. Not what they feel like they should be or ought to be, or have to be, but everything they are. I want them to be able to open themselves to the possibility of living outside of the all-too-familiar clichéd script they’ve been handed. I want to give them the permission needed to unlock all of that magic that the world made them hide.
There are so many dreams I have had in my life—foolish ones and shallow ones, profoundly stupid ones and seemingly “deep” ones. And then there are those that I still cannot shake, some that I am afraid to say aloud. I have always been a daydreamer. But I will not rest until one dream is made real: that we might reimagine what it is to be a man, that we reimagine what it means to say, “man up.”
Borrowing a line from my dear friend/poet/rockstar/genius Andrea Gibson, I hope that we might allow men to be more interested not so much in being but in becoming. Let us each embrace the full range of who we might be, instead of that constrained definition imposed from outside of ourselves. Let us not arrive at some stagnant place, but always continue to grow. Each day. No matter what.
Excerpted from Man Up: Reimagining Modern Manhood by Carlos Andrés Gómez. Copyright © 2014 by Carlos Andrés Gómez. Reprinted with permission from Gotham Books.