Coffee.

Coffee is something I’ve enjoyed in some form for most of my life. Growing up in my grandparent’s home, it was a constant fixture. A big pot of Maxwell House or Folgers drip coffee, every morning. My Grandma would, and still does, take hers with a bit of sweetened, condensed milk and maybe a bit of half-and-half. My mom would always take hers with a half-and-half; maybe some sugar, maybe not, depending on how she felt that morning. My grandfather, a military man, took his straight black. “If you put a spoon in it and it stands straight up, it’s just about strong enough”, he’d say. The smell of brewing coffee was something I was certainly accustomed to growing up. I can still remember sitting in my grandparent’s living room, watching cartoons while my Grandma and Grandpa sipped their morning coffee.

I’m not entirely sure where my personal love for drinking the stuff came from. Possible candidates for the inception of my adoration include the “Jamocha” milkshake from Arby’s and Starbucks Frappuccinos; both of which I used to love. Most likely, though, it was the warm, sweet, milky Cafe con Leche that my Cuban Father used to drink. I really looked up to my dad, and wanting to connect with him and the Cuban side of my genetics, as well as smelling that incredible sent of a freshly made Cafe con Leche, I was bound to take a sip eventually. That was likely the beginning, or perhaps even little samplings of my Grandmother’s morning mug, which was similarly deliciously milky and sweet.

As I got older and began drinking coffee more regularly, my love coffee only deepened as my mother and I bonded over our common love of coffee, regularly going on runs to Starbucks together. Finally, my love for coffee would be solidified as a permanent fixture of my being when I met the love of my life at a small, quaint, local coffee shop where we sat and sipped coffee and talked for hours. The day I proposed to her our first stop of the day was that same coffee shop.

Over time I slowly started taking out the milk and sugar from my morning coffee until I was drinking it black. Primarily it was a way to reduce my caloric intake during my massive weight loss after high school. However, at the time I think I also subconsciously chose to do it as a way to be cool like my Grandpa, who was the only person I knew who would drink coffee black, and is kinda a badass. I drank my coffee black every morning for a while; primarily K-Cups, Drip Coffee, and the occasional Venti or Trenta Starbucks Cold Brews. I would indulge in seasonal frappes from Starbucks with my mom, and have the occasional espresso-based Starbucks stuff. I drank it semi-regularly throughout the day. When I met my fiancée we started going to local coffee shops and my affection for the warm brown drink was at an all time high.

Unfortunately my love for coffee hit a major roadbump when I was hospitalized and diagnosed with Myocarditis caused by a viral infection. The cardiologist was not pleased with the notion of me having multiple cups of coffee a day, and told me I was to only have one cup a day maximum. It was a massive blow to my general morale. 25 years old, a heart condition caused by factors out of my control when I was the healthiest I had ever been in my life, and to top it all off I had to cut out most of the coffee I drank. One of my favorite small indulgences in life was being taken away. No more multiple-shots-of-espresso drinks from Starbucks, no more big cold brews. One cup of regular joe a day.

This, as it turned out, was just the beginning of my journey into coffee. I would not be defeated. I decided that if I could only have one cup a day, it was gonna be the best goddamn cup of joe I could muster. I researched and experimented and I’m now a full-on coffee nerd who laughs at the basic coffee I used to like. Now it’s only local, freshly roasted beans, ground fresh with a burr-grinder, brewed fresh every morning by hand using a Hario pour-over setup. The only constant is that I still take it black; no cream, no sugar; only now it’s so I can taste all the subtle nuances in the freshly roasted beans. I’m constantly learning more about coffee and experimenting. The restrictions of my condition only made my passion for quality coffee stronger and made me extra critical of every cup, for now I have to savor it.

I love coffee. A unforgivably basic and cringe-worthy statement to some, perhaps, but it means a lot to me and has been a positive force in my life. A source of bonding and connection. Every cup smells of nostalgia and fond memories; rides in my father’s ’96 Chevy Impala while he sipped Cafe con Leche, car drives to look at Christmas lights drinking Chestnut Praline Frappuccinos with my mother, and first conversations with my future wife over Dirty Chai Lattes at a little local coffee shop. When I’m making my morning cup and the smell of the brewing coffee hits me, sometimes I can close my eyes and be right back in my grandparent’s house. Sitting on the carpet watching cartoons while my grandparents sipped from their mugs, the smell of coffee gently permeating the room from the pot in the kitchen nearby. Memories of simple joy, before life became complicated.

Masculinity.

Tampa Pride 2019

I have long had issue with the archaic concept of what constitutes “being a man”; the idea that acting in a certain way was “manly” or “masculine” and acting in another was “feminine”. The typical implication of which, for a man, is that acting in a “feminine” manner is a negative or taboo thing, or, more damningly in our homophobic society, means you must be gay. This, in one swift motion, bolsters the idea that straight “masculine” men are superior to both women and gay men. Masculinity and femininity are a complete societal fabrication and have no bearing on one’s ability to function within society. How someone speaks, talks, walks, dresses, or acts has no effect on their ability to do any given task or job, and neither does their sexual preference. Believing otherwise is both ignorant and hateful. Add to this many of the more “toxic” masculine ideals and things just get worse.

You see it in memes; “if your boyfriend can’t [insert random task], you have a girlfriend.” A braggadocios claim, rooted in insecurity, and typically in reference to some relatively trivial task associated with auto repair, home improvement, or niche “manly” hobby. In reality a person’s ability or inability to perform routine maintenance on an automobile has no bearing on whether they present themselves as “masculine” or “feminine” in society, and vice versa. Similarly, a disinterest in professional sports is typically viewed as “unmanly” when, again, they are completely unrelated. These are some of the more superficial examples, and frankly they’re laughable at best, but people truly believe these things.

What makes a man?

Is it that they like sports, beer, and cars. That they can fix things and build things. They wear shirts and pants or suits; never a dress or skirt. Those are all things typically considered to be “manly”, are they not? Little girls are supposed to play with dolls, little boys are supposed to play with hot wheels. Girls wear dresses, boys play sports. Tired tropes we all know. Let us consider other fundamental things that make one stereotypically “Manly”.

Men are “strong” and never show “weakness”. Men provide for and carry the burdens of the family, financially or otherwise. If the woman provides, the man is not strong enough; he is weak. Men don’t cry or show emotion. Showing emotion is a sign of weakness. Men are “brave”, “courageous”, and “fearless”. Showing fear is a sign of weakness. Men are conquerors who take things by force, and don’t take no for an answer. Backing down or compromising is a sign of weakness. A real man does things for himself, he doesn’t ask for help. Asking or help is a sign of weakness. A man won’t let others tell him what to do or make him submit. Letting others tell you what to do is a sign of weakness. A man keeps his problems to himself. Never tell other people your weaknesses. Men are hard working and tireless. Rest is for the weak. Never show compassion or sympathy. Caring about other people is for fucking pussies.

This, friends, is part of what is known as “toxic masculinity”. The idea that anything that could possibly be construed as “weakness” is not manly, and thus must be avoided at all costs. To be a man you must be ever-strong and unfeeling. You must act under no one’s direction other than your own, and must do things on your own. Anything less means you’re not a “real man”. Sure, some these might be extremes and, yes, typically in most folks minds there’s some wiggle room, but fundamentally this is what society considers being a “man”. This is a tall order. Principles of manhood essentially ask you to be a heartless, tireless, and emotionless robot.

It’s easy to see how this could be toxic. Growing up in a society that teaches young men that this is what is expected of them, and that variation makes them somehow fundamentally flawed. That behaving in a “unmanly” way means that something is wrong with them. How many men out there bottle up every issue they face in their life and suffer in silence to keep up appearances? How many would never consider therapy or counseling, even though they would be healthier mentally if they dealt with their psychological trauma? Not to mention that some of these ideas of what constitutes strength and what constitutes weakness are entirely baseless. Is there more strength in hiding your emotions, or facing them openly? Is there more strength in doing it all alone, or admitting when the help of others would get the job done better or more efficiently? It’s all subjective.

It doesn’t just stop there, though, for what are the other implications of this? What do these ideals of “manhood” imply about those who do not fulfill these requirements or, inversely, are not men? They are weak. Lesser. In not as many words these sentiments imply that men are superior beings to women, and that to act womanly is to act weak, and vice versa. That if you act “feminine” you are acting as inferior.

This is all a huge crock of bullshit. None of that shit makes you a “man”. Literally any person can fulfill those requirements; male, female, or intersex, it makes no difference. Your sex and gender have no bearing on your ability to fulfill those requirements. It stands to reason, then, that just as being a woman does not make you weak or inferior; being a man does not make you strong or superior.

Children are reared in a society that forces them into boxes, when that’s just not how humans are. People hide their true selves for fear of retaliation from a hateful and ignorant society. Men mask their own insecurities by putting on a “manly” bravado and calling other men “pussies”. These gender norms are only the “norm” because we say they are; there’s no reason things must, or even should, be this way.

That’s not all, there are serious implications of the sexism and homophobia that permeates american societal norms. Many men refuse to wear masks during this 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic for fear of being considered weak, just to cite a recent example. Many men have this defense mechanism of acting “hyper-masculine” to cover their insecurities. In my own life I’ve come to notice that most of the folks who present themselves as “manly men”, tend to be the ones who are also too proud or stubborn to support the Black Lives Matter movement, the LGBTQ community, or other fights for equality and justice. Caring about other people, their lives, and their livelihoods isn’t “cool” or “manly”, for being compassionate, by their estimation, makes you weak. They all also tend to be those “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” types; just “be stronger” or “be a man” and you’ll be better off. This show of “manliness” is a sham. A feeble attempt at feeling superior to others that only serves to make you look like an unfeeling asshole.

Terrifyingly, most of those men would take being called an “unfeeling asshole” as a compliment.

Ask yourself this: if all of society would accept you no matter how you presented yourself, would you act the same? Dress the same? Talk the same? I reckon the answer for many folks is “no.” People should be able to be who they really are and be genuine to their true selves without fear. What constitutes “strength” and “weakness” is subjective in the first place, and being weak or strong does not make you “masculine” or “feminine” and vice versa. The more superficial identifiers of masculinity such as general interests, hobbies, and attire are entirely irrelevant to sex and gender. The idea of masculinity and femininity are meaningless social constructs that unnecessarily divide us as human beings and cultivate hate towards those who do not fit neatly into either box.

I feel this won’t be the last time I touch on this topic, as it’s one I’m quite passionate about. In the meantime: Be kind to one another. Be compassionate to your fellow human beings. Be yourself, and encourage others to do the same. Dress however makes you happy.

We’re not men and women, we’re humans, and people should be allowed to be themselves.

A Blog.

I’ve decided to start a blog as a place to chronicle my thoughts. This is the first post of, hopefully, many. I have no real theme, just whatever I feel like writing about. Movies, video games, music, politics, food, etc. Hence the name: “Stray Points”. Tangents and digressions abound on this site, I’m sure. Thanks for dropping by, and a bigger thanks if you stick around.