Men and holding hands

One sunny afternoon, when I was around 13 or 14, I was walking down Tottenham High Road hand-in-hand with one of my uncles. He wasn’t a blood relative but, like many of the older men in my community, I called him uncle. I was born in Kinshasa in the Congo, a society in which men hold hands to show the affection and bond we feel for each other. As we walked on to his housing estate, a group of teenagers spotted us. I could see the looks of disgust on their faces. I heard one of them call out: “Yo, big man. You holding hands, yeah.” I looked over. His eyes punched through my chest. I felt my legs shake as if my knees were going to buckle. I can still remember the sting in my heart. The experience made me question what “normal” was, and highlighted contradictions in my own sense of masculinity. […]

I eventually realised that my issues with masculinity, and not having an outlet for some of these emotions, were part of the problem. My emotions would sometimes turn into pent-up aggression that manifested itself as violence: I’d get into fights; I’d escalate situations rather than calming them down. Violence became normal.

We need to redefine manhood. Our warped ideas are causing a mental health crisis

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