As a New Yorker, you should probably never turn to The Breakfast Club as daily therapy. But, when I’m interested in zoning out, especially on a 10 minute drive to my Brooklyn office, I turn on The Breakfast Club. One random morning, as I was already filtering through random accusations of realness, I tuned it to an uncanny conversation with former RocAFella head, Dame Dash. He lashed out “You are not a real man, if you gossip. You are not a real man if you work for another man.”
Dame later recanted parts of his statement, as anyone who faces public scrutiny does from a quick sound bite of a less than stellar interview.
That however, was my last internal straw with this notion of realness. Realness is so dangerous. Binaries are so dangerous. Either/or and no in betweens are so dangerous. A single standard for how to be a man, a woman, a mother, a goon, a righteous human being is so dangerous. Not only are these notions of realness soaked in Homophobia (i.e. real men aren’t sensitive), transphobia (real women don’t have penises), body shaming (i.e. real women have curves), makeup bashing (i.e. real women don’t wear makeup), parent bashing (i.e. mothers shouldn’t be wearing that), religion defining (i.e. he’s not a real Christian if he’s sleeping with all those women) and so many other things. And these stereotypes that constitute realness for some amounts to dangerous and harmful implications for others. It can amount to low self esteem, putting people in vicious competition with those they feel opposed to, forcing many to alter their look, walk, attitude, and lifestyle.
I’ve always struggled with defining something as real. So long as I could remember, I questioned the integrity of people who put others in very narrow boxes without room for exploration and challenge. Questions of someone’s “realness” is not brilliant criticism, it amounts to a serious shade rooted in devaluation. It’s a look that says You’re fake, You’re invalid, You don’t belong here.
Realness is also problematic because it’s used to reinforce normative behavior; it defines what is worthy of respect. I’ve seen some of the most liberal amongst us claim we don’t support the heteronormative standards of life but in the same breathe declare “…he sitting at home, while she working, he ain’t no real man.” What does his manhood have to do with being unemployed? Why does he have to become a target then of your notions, deeply rooted in patriarchy, because you are unable to understand the various layers to someone’s story?
We love to exclaim the rule, not recognizing that there are more exceptions than we could ever possibly be aware of. For the sake of maturity, we should recognize that. For the sake of being kind, we should understand that there are multiple ways to be real without that compromising our stated gender, sexuality, religion, race, etc. I’m interested in, a more open, more nuanced, more boundaries-less definition of realness that supports all ways of being as authentic. Open your mind.