Confidence is one of the few qualities kids unconsciously pick up from the environment in which they live; those from harmonious homes are more loving towards others whereas those from unstable homes usually prey on others to feel better about themselves hence making them bullies of explosive proportions. I had the unfortunate stretch of encountering the latter more often which made primary school the hardest time of my entire academic life.
I was a brilliant pupil, very clean and had many friends especially of the opposite sex. I was a girl magnet; I played, ate, sat with girls. Had it been possible, we would have even used the same bathroom. All my interactions during school time involved my female counterparts mainly because they were mesmerised that a boy wanted to partake in all their activities. However, it was just a matter of time before the other little boys started to notice the differences between me and them and the little bullies spared no chance to get to me. They taunted me, called me ‘girl-boy’ and occasionally when I ignored them through all the name calling, they threw stones, food or drinks at me.
One Saturday morning when I asked my aunt for advice on how to deal with the kids who were bullying me at school. She gave me some cool pointers and yet in a way I felt there was something lingering in her thoughts that just failed to roll off her tongue. It bothered me and I knew she wouldn’t tell me even when I asked so I waited for the evening when she was discussing with her confidant and sneaked up under the window-sill within earshot of their conversation.“It’s a man’s world,” I heard my aunt say, “But my little boy is so sensitive, effeminate, kind and loving that it’s going to be hard for him to be a man with that character.”
I was scared and for the first time in my life, I felt insecure. Like many, I wondered what would become of me in this ‘man’s world’. How would I survive in this man-eat-man society with this feminine demeanour seeing as the qualities which I had once considered strength (kindness, loving, and sensitivity) had now gone down the drain as the very factors that would lead to my doom. To most of the people around me, I wasn’t cut out to be a man at all. I was considered a peculiar boy in a small class of deviant individuals all because I didn’t fit into the social constructs of what a boy should be. In fact, my mother had lamented on several occasions wishing that I should have been born a girl instead. It’s important to realise that manhood in the African setting is defined by violent strength, obscured emotions, sexual dominance and bulky body frames. Anyone who falls short in any of the above often gets their manhood questioned meaning if you are showing characteristics regarded as typical of a woman; you are not considered a man at all.
Most cultures consider effeminacy as a vice or weakness indicative of other negative character traits and often involving a negative insinuation of homosexual tendencies. I remember sometimes getting beatings from my cousins because I was acting ‘girly’ and sometimes getting rejected by the boys in the neighbourhood when playing football; no one wanted to team up with a boy-girl lest they create a weak link (I must add that I was a damn good goal keeper but that didn’t help).
During my adolescence, I developed a good relationship with soap and water unlike my peers and realised that I was underestimated because I was ‘ soft’. The ‘softness' of an effeminate man is considered a potential gender failure that haunts all normative masculinity. This in some cases makes fathers distant to their feminine sons since they assume their existence as an ever-present threat to their own masculinity as well as that of every man in their clan.
Coming from a staunch catholic family didn’t help matters as the bible described effeminacy as lifestyle choices in defiance of a person’s God-given gender. The Old Testament translations use ‘effeminate’ as a description for “male prostitutes” (Deuteronomy 23:17, 1 Kings 22:46) and the New Testament translates it means “soft and delicate” all in derogatory contexts that do no justice to the individuals that we are.
I tried to change-to man-up; but was constantly losing myself and not feeling good enough. I grew very shy, quiet and was often alone because of all the ridicule that was thrown my way. I however realised that the more I caved in, the more animus people were towards me. That was when I decided to just be confidently feminine; to embrace my softness, cleanliness, kindness and sensitivity. These were my strengths and I decided not to let others use them against me.
It wasn’t a snap turn around, it was a process; I learned to love myself, not compromise my values, nurture my work ethic, concentrate on developing my talents and cherry-pick friends that appreciated me for all my strengths. I stopped trying to be someone else, concentrated to being the best version of myself and in turn my self-confidence was boosted. Theodore Roosevelt said that each time we face our fear, we gain strength, courage, and confidence in the doing. The fear sometimes comes from stepping out of our shadows to claim the life that we are supposed to live. We can only be victors in life if we overcome the negativity posed on us. Confidence can be learned, practiced, and mastered. And when you master it, your life will change - BE CONFIDENT.