I sat down with Mark Jen at a local coffee shop to chat about male insecurity and pressures that are rooted in a societal view of masculinity. This is the first conversation I ever had with Mark, which just makes me all the more excited to share it. I asked him a series of questions: what are some insecurities you've experienced in your life? What comes to mind when you think of 'masculinity'? Think of men in your life that you respect, what qualities and characteristics cause you to respect them? I had my list of questions ready but as I anticipated, conversation just kind of flowed naturally. This is my first entry in this segment on male insecurity, and definitely not my last. Thank you, Mark, for sitting down with me for this interview.
"I think I probably felt the most insecure in high school, mainly during the adolescent stage, which I think is pretty universal. An insecurity that started at a young age was wanting to be masculine enough. I was a late bloomer and had a higher voice through my junior year of high school...people made fun of me for that. It was an insecurity because I was constantly aware of it. I also had a fear of people and being social. I can remember not wanting to walk around campus because I was afraid people were talking about me; I had a fear of not being liked or accepted. I've dealt with self-hatred and rejection."
"At this point in my life I don't carry those insecurities anymore. I found a community of people who helped me process through a lot of that stuff. I got to experience intense, intentional, loving community that affirmed who I was. It's important to be affirmed by others, I think that's how we find freedom from insecurity and rejection. I'm blessed to have had those experiences. Honestly, I wouldn't be doing this interview right now if I still carried those insecurities. We need community, and we need to know that we are loved by others because I think that helps us love ourselves."
"I think society views masculinity as leadership, strong-willed, determined, sometimes aggressive...and entitled to respect, and all of those things manifest differently in different people. I think a man is stronger and more trustworthy if he is able to express emotion. That's just my personal belief. I think it comes down to our own parents...whether you had an emotional dad, or an emotional mom...witnessing the way your dad treated your mom, or how he treated you...those things have a huge impact. I've only seen my dad cry once, and honestly it was amazing. It was like a box was opened and I got to see a part of my dad that I didn't know was in there"
"My dad is an immigrant, he came to the US when he was in college. As a Chinese man trying to adapt to a different culture and different society, he needed to be strong, and even defensive at times...independent. I think he has played that roll most of my life. Maybe he felt like he couldn't show weakness to me because of everyone's need for him to be a strong and secure person. I've reconciled with my dad as I've gotten older...we are the closest now that we've ever been. We weren't close when I was in high school, really through any of my adolescence. But it was after I started experiencing communal healing from all of my rejection problems and insecurities that I was able to start forgiving him. Through my own healing, I was able to open myself up and give him the room to do the same"
"When I think of respectable qualities in men, I think of compassion and being able to speak up about injustices. I admire when someone doesn't try to be the center of attention, someone that is empathetic and able to stand firm in the truths they believe, no matter how it makes them look. I've experienced a lot of healing through community and people being intentional. Intentionality costs you something. It costs time, energy and emotion. You are choosing to give a little of yourself away and invest. But it's through intentionality that we become better."