Essay of the Week: One Son, Two Moms and a Search for Masculinity, By Alexander Romero-Ruffo

My light-up velcro sneakers sank into the plush carpet of a large room on the second floor of my preschool.  Like every other small child in the room, we were all intimidated by one another, and stayed close to the safety of our parents’ legs.  Around each child was one man and one woman. When I looked up at mine, I saw two women; I saw my moms. 

 

While I had seen fathers before, I had not been surrounded by them and their sons, my peers.  I knew that my grandfather was my mom’s father, yet seeing them around my friends somehow felt different.  That first day, I realized that my friends had something that I did not. What’s the difference between two moms and one mom and one dad?  The question lingered as I grew up. I witnessed father-son interaction and sometimes felt like I was missing something. 

 

“Don’t quit! Be a man!” I heard an animated father yell as his son was being pinned to the mat.  In high school, I joined the wrestling team with my closest friends, who seemed to be on the team to please their fathers.  My friends had done it all — Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, boxing, and wrestling — every time with their fathers in the stands pushing them to be better, stronger, manlier.  I was envious.

 

I looked to my cousin William as a role model.  When I was thirteen, I visited him in Atlanta, determined to bond and gain his acceptance.  We had gone to a shooting range to celebrate his law school graduation. He placed the small revolver in my hand, and I fired, pretending the recoil was not jarring. Afterwards, he suggested we go to his favorite restaurant, a local steakhouse.  I had not eaten meat in a year. Without mentioning my recent vegetarianism, I made an exception to taste the food about which he raved. Yet, after the trip, I began eating meat. In doing so, I altered my taste to be like him.

 

A few months passed, and Thanksgiving rolled around.  At dinner, we talked about my parents’ coming out stories which shifted my perspective on identity.  I had heard Anita’s coming out story dozens of times, but Marie-Elena always remained quiet on the subject.  Finally, she shared that in trying to be someone whom her parents would approve of, she never had a chance to come out to her mother before she died.  In her story, though obviously different from my own, I drew multiple parallels to my inner struggles.  I had imposed a one-dimensional masculine character on myself. Fearing how others would perceive me, I sought to hide parts of my true self that might not align with that character.  Through my mom’s story, I realized that I’m not the only one who has ever tried to craft a specific image to satisfy others. I came to understand the value of being authentic. 

 

Although I’ve grown to see the value of authenticity, I recognize my search for a stereotypical masculine self as a formative experience; it was a process that made me aware of my true identity.  Masculinity is what I make of it; I shouldn’t seek out how society defines it. Yet, I am not done defining it as it pertains to me.  

 

I still see my peers interact with their fathers and ask myself, “Would I be different if I had a father?” The answer is yes, I would be different.  Maybe I would still wrestle. Maybe I would have never entertained the thought of becoming a vegetarian. But now I’ve become aware of my overcompensating and noticed the absurdity of that question.  Having two moms cannot be reduced to either good or bad. It is, however, something different. Difference gave me a chance to see things from another perspective, and because of it, I feel more responsible for my identity and individuality.  

 

Alexander Romero-Ruffo, a graduate of The Dalton School, will be a freshman at Yale.