The question of what male role models we looked up to growing up and now as we’re transitioning showed up on one of my message boards recently and it really got me thinking. Currently, I don’t think I really have any role models of any gender. I look around my life and it’s not that I don’t admire certain traits of some people I know, but I can’t point to any one person and say, “I want to be like them.” But if I think back to childhood and my teenage years I definitely had some role models. In fact, what I find disturbing about this whole question for myself is that I didn’t just look up to some of those people, I got obsessed with them and tried to be like them as much as possible. I’ve come to the conclusion that I was going through a complete identity crisis and had no idea who I was or I was disassociating from who I was by trying to be someone else. I often confused some of these obsessions with crushes and thought that my fascination with them was sexual in nature when it wasn’t at all. When given the opportunity to have sex with one of my “crushes” I quickly said no thank you. He was confused why I would not want to have sex since he knew I had crushed on him for several years. I was confused too.
But the thing I know now is that I didn’t want to be with them sexually. I wanted to BE them. Or at least be LIKE them. I wanted to look like them and act like them and have other people treat me like they were treated. Most of my crushes were on male pop stars of my youth. I’m ashamed to name them because it would show everyone what a sap I was back then. But, I’ll be brave and name a few here. First there was Joe Namath of the New York Jets. Sonny of Sonny and Cher. The Captain from Captain and Tennille. Shaun Cassidy. David Cassidy. My trumpet teacher from college. The tuba teacher in college (different college). A couple boys who played trumpet in music groups I was involved with. All of these guys/men made an impact on me in some way. When I was obsessing about them I would become them and in my fantasy world I WAS them. I can look at some of my school pictures and tell you what celebrity or real life person I was obsessing about at that time. Ninth grade picture, I’m in a navy blue turtle neck. If I had been able to wear a captain’s cap and round sun glasses I would have. Tenth grade I had grown out my hair and was trying to pull off the David Cassidy look. Eleventh I was channeling one of the boys in the band and then, as some of you may remember, in 12th grade I had turned into a man with a mustache. Haha, kidding, but my senior picture got replaced with a picture of a dude in the yearbook. Senior pictures for girls at my school entailed stripping down to your bra and trying to keep this velvet drape thingy over your shoulders to look like you were wearing an evening gown. Somehow I pulled it off and it wasn’t too bad. Then in freshman year of college I was crushing on the tuba teacher who wore Frye boots and suddenly I wanted Frye boots really badly. Sophomore year I was doing my hair like my trumpet teacher wore his and dressing like him.
Where was I in all of this? Hiding, I guess.
There was a war going on inside me that I wasn’t even aware of. My fantasy world was rich with all these characters I was playing in my head. Male role models? Umm…my uncles? My dad that I didn’t even know? I don’t know. Before, when I thought I was female I would tell you that Eleanor Roosevelt and Amelia Earhart were my role models. Well, I looked up to them at least and I still do. I could do a lot worse than to have them as my role models. There are men I admire, of course, at least in some regards. Hemingway, Teddy Roosevelt, Gene Kelly, John F. Kennedy. In real life, I had a couple neighbors who were Navy men and I admire both of them very much. One of them passed away a while back and his funeral moved me in a way that funerals never have before or since. I’ve never seen so many grown men kneel down by a casket in Arlington cemetery (or any cemetery) and weep the way his friends did at the end of his funeral. It chokes me up to recall it in my memory. The Eulogy his best friend gave before the burial is something that Candace and I still talk about to this day. It was moving beyond anything you’ve ever seen in a movie or on TV. I left his funeral feeling like a changed person. The other neighbor battled cancer at a very young age and it nearly killed him. Somehow he has survived and thrived through it. I saw family and friends from all over, including myself, come to his and his family’s aid during this trying time. To make things worse, his wife had just given birth to twins when he got his diagnosis. I’m happy to report that they are all doing great now and the twins are in 7th grade. What’s extraordinary about him is not just the amount of respect and love that was poured on him and his family at that time, but also the strength and determination he showed to be here for his family today. It was a bad time, but he always kept a light spirit and gratitude for the generosity he was receiving from others. He’s a very humble man, yet he’s a Navy commander and is deeply respected by his peers and friends alike. I respect both of these men tremendously. If I have to pick male role models it would be both of them. They are the kind of man I want to be. And I don’t want to BE them. Professionally, I look to several people who shaped me as a young musician and the joy and love of music that they infectiously shared with me. They’re my role models too.
I can’t point to one single person as my “role model”. Instead, I take the best of these people and try to integrate their morality, ethics, work ethic, value systems into my own and use that to upgrade what I already have. People we’re attracted to are like mirrors of ourselves. What we admire in them is already within us. They’re simply here to show us how we could be better than we currently are. No one person is perfect. I admire Teddy Roosevelt for his determination, curious nature, and spirit with which he lived his life. Benjamin Franklin is another man I admire for all of the amazing things he was able to accomplish in his lifetime. A wiser man I couldn’t ever hope to find. Hemingway I think of as a man’s man and ultra masculine in an old fashioned sense. Many don’t like him for the same reasons I find him interesting. That’s ok. JFK, well, his handsome, youthful idealism is still intriguing to much of the population. We all hunger for a leader like JFK again. I’m nothing like him, but I still admire him and once upon a time I was a little bit like him. Maybe. Maybe in my fantasies at least.
Today, it’s scary to pick a role model or “hero” to follow. We live in such a transparent world that someone can be a hero one day and a chump (or convict) the next. Anybody here used to look up to OJ Simpson or Tiger Woods? Nope, me neither. But a lot of people did. I used to really like Pete Rose. Now he’s a chump. Even a lot of my real life “heroes” have fallen off their white horse after I got to know them better. Bill Cosby used to make me laugh and I thought he was a great guy. Wrong! I guess it’s best just to take the best parts of people and work with that and don’t look for one person to fill the shoes of hero in your life. Be your own hero. And remember that even heroes have flaws so don’t get too hard on yourself for not measuring up to your fantasy of someone else.