A Blog about Sensory Processing Sensitivity from the Worldview of a High Sensing Male
Ennis Del Mar: This is a one-shot thing we got goin' on here.
Jack Twist: It's nobody's business but ours.
Ennis Del Mar: You know I ain't queer.
Jack Twist: Me neither.
From Brokeback Mountain
It dawned on me recently that many of the gay men, I’ve met over the years had a certain sensibility about them; a wit and intelligence that suggested an awareness of things, things that are not just physical, but things that were just lying beneath the surface in a different realm. I’ve been thinking that its intuition or emotional intelligence qualities that they might share with highly sensitive people. Being men, perhaps there was a common link with highly sensitive men that we as humans might share. A quality more developed in HSMs and gay men. Something decidedly non-sexual, like how our brains might be wired for processing emotional content.
Writing a blog article about gay men or gay culture and being a straight man has some inherent issues. It’s kind of like a white male writer, penning a novel from a black males POV. You can read all you want, do your research, make generalizations, but you will never be sure if you’ve nailed it because it is not your experience. Nevertheless, pushing on bravely, I have a sense, that as a highly sensitive man, that there may be some characteristics that gay men and HSMs do share. And, you have to believe there are intersections between the two groups – such as gay men who are also HSMs. Both groups suffer from some of the same issues with the current prevailing paradigm on masculinity. Both groups know there need to be changes made with our culture’s definition of masculinity.
As an HSP male, I have found myself sometimes balking at the idea of comparing high sensitivity with being a quality associated with females or gay men. It always hits a core issue on internalizing what masculinity is to me. Not easily fitting into the idealized American masculine model, basically means you are either all man and all in, or you are effeminate (acting like a woman) or gay (which by that definition is not a real man).
This disregards the notion that sensitivity is a human characteristic and not a sexually derived or gender trait. We as HSP males need to recognize that in ourselves. We are part of a toxic masculine culture by proximity that downplays sensitivity in males. This definition is narrow and exclusive. Being something by association is not a true definition and fails to understand the complex nature of human personality, which is so nuanced, so wide-ranging, so infinitely complex that simplistic definitions are beyond utility. Individuals want to be recognized for their uniqueness. And so I say, damn the tiny and rigid boundaries of small boxes that small box people want to place people in.
Are there perceived characteristics among many straight HSMs that are shared with gay men? The idea that men of different sexual preferences could share other qualities, such as sensitivity, a difficult quality for many men to absorb about themselves, makes comparisons seem problematic --like if we share one thing, we must share all things. This flies in the face of science, which has over the years expanded the notions about what the human genome is capable of producing. The diversity of humanity where bits on, bits off, in gene expression is mind-boggling. For straight men, the notion that being gay is a contagious condition that too close of an association could make you gay by contact is ludicrous – yet, it makes the simple discussion about shared characteristics almost taboo for straight men in the larger context of masculinity. This could explain why I have hardly found anything online about this topic.
How is sensitivity in men perceived in the gay community in lieu of the traditional American masculine definition, which would include sensitivity as a primary feminine trait? From a straight male’s point of view, I would have thought it would have been highly prized, but perhaps, not as much as I would have imagined.
Traditional masculine values affect how many gay men feel about themselves and their same-sex relationships. These rules include: 1) men should not be feminine, 2) men must be respected and admired, 3) men should never show fear, 4) and, men should seek out risk and adventure. In addition, 5) men should be successful, 6) achieve power and status, 7) compete with other men, 8) restrict their emotions, 9) restrict affectionate behavior with other men and, finally, 10) men should be work and career driven. Sound familiar?
Since all men raised in our culture are subject to the “boy or man” code, we are all influenced by the biases of this masculine codex. Some gay men embrace these very same masculine values. Therefore, there are some gay men who prefer themselves and their partners be “manly” men, causing some to have biases against potential partners because they display traditional female traits, i.e., sensitivity. This may affect the perception of the characteristic of sensitivity as a pejorative trait for those gay men who are attempting to live up to the same masculine role model that highly sensitive straight men struggle with. Now, this might not be true for all gay men, but the effects of these man rules affect at some level all men.
Studies show that men, who have issues with living the traditional male role model, tend to have insecurities, shame and psychological issues in interpersonal relationships (gay and straight). Why? Largely, because, there is a failure to live up to internalizing this value of masculinity, most men don’t see themselves measuring up. Add in persistence in dysfunctional behaviors due to these masculine values or even worse some carry trauma experienced early in life during masculine role socialization. With these cumulative effects damaging psychological wellbeing; you have the making of our current toxic stew.
Many gay men in these studies hardly found any positive characteristics associated with masculine characteristics but, found adverse effects in not living up to the masculine ideals. The subsequent results found that these same men had to “butch” it up to feel adequate. Many gay men feel traditional male role models forced them to objectify their bodies and found a conflict of being masculine enough due to their sexual preferences. Imagine being the subject and object of this idealized masculine role model.
To add further complexity, some studies suggest that gay men have many common biological traits with heterosexual women: spatial reasoning, hearing and voice cadence and tone, finger length (index and ring finger) and other biological markers. Many gay men prefer female-oriented occupations (this may include teaching, counseling, fashion, etc.).
Gay men’s brains are more like straight women’s in that they have common wiring. The anterior commissure is bigger in gay men’s brains versus straight men’s. This serves as a link between the temporal lobes and with a more active amygdala, produces more intuitive, empathetic and spiritual natures, not to mention more emotional processing. In addition, gay men and straight women may have more symmetrical shaped brains than straight men and lesbians.
What does this mean? Are gay men, masculine versions of the feminine? Of course not. None of this is to suggest that gay men are not masculine or should be perceived to be more feminine. My point in bringing this to light is actually looking at commonalities and shared problems with highly sensitive men, who are often seen because of their sensitivity as being more feminine. Frankly, I wonder if the characteristics of sensitivity, truly a non-gender characteristic, may have found through genetic expression, more ways to express itself in the population. Brain wiring for sensitivity maybe something that needs to be further explored.
Some of the biological markers gay men share with straight women are flipped in lesbian women. Lesbians have more in common with straight men. These biological anomalies are just another example of how nature creates diversity by the expression of utilizing a rich palette of human genes. It should be noted, that all HSPs have the characteristic of a hyper-responsive amygdala. Incidentally, there is no research that suggests that there are higher incidences of HSMs that are gay than there are in the general population, although you would think there might be. Although I don’t know that studies are now available determining the brain differences between HSP males and non-HSP males, it would be interesting to see, what if any there are in the wiring of the brains.
If you have been following this blog, you can clearly see that some of the highlighted characteristics that are often associated with women (intuition, empathy, and sensitivity), gay men (in a general sense) and highly sensitive males are quite striking. These are higher levels of emotional processing, greater intuition, higher empathy and a greater level of spiritual focus.
Now granted, none of this is evidenced-based or backed by studies, but I would suspect that a population of HSPs, gay men, and straight women, would be a significant amount of humans sharing these common characteristics of empathy, intuition, compassion, and emotional processing. This would also be a group of individuals that would have been impacted greatly by the current masculine role models espoused by the U.S. and the U.K.
Why is this significant? We are all subject to and live within the domain of the current toxic masculine milieu, which has been tolerated by all of the aforementioned communities. At the root of this is the idea of hegemonic masculinity, which legitimizes, white male dominance and justifies the subjugation of women and minorities of all stripes. This would include the gay and lesbian communities. This has been the role model for centuries with its characteristics of violence and aggression, stoicism, risk-taking, emotional suppression, lack of empathy, competitiveness and subjugation of women, gays, and people of color.
This toxic masculinity views gender roles as binary with no grey areas. Gender roles or for that matter sexual preference, as we now know are not polar, but rather lay along a continuum with much diversity and variation. Role models for men need to reflect that. Hegemonic masculinity is not a reality for most modern men, and the consequences of continuing to follow this paradigm are to risk physical and mental health for a large swath of men.
Since gene expression influences so much of our personality and preferences and the emerging science of epigenetics tells us that expression can be influenced by environment, we are going to continue to see the expression of a variety of male/female roles elaborated as our culture’s needs dictate and as we evolve as humans. Rigidity is not the answer.
These stereotypical labels we associate with feminity, sexual preference behaviors, masculinity and gender roles are almost becoming archaic. The labels have been defined by historical and sometimes religious rules and should now be seen as the variegated expressions of the human genome. What is it mean to be human -- is the question we should be asking.
How can gay men and HSP straight males ally to help redefine masculinity in a new way that is relevant to our world? We could start with new boy codes for our young men. One in which we allow them to tell us where they fall on the continuum. No shame, no guilt, no fitting into narrow boxes. Let them grow into what they are. Some will be traditional; others will not. But let them find themselves with wise guidance from parents and responsible feeling adults. By doing this can we aid women, and others that have been victimized by this toxic masculinity, by allowing boys and men to choose a more beneficial form of masculinity. By eliminating toxic patriarchal masculinity to free men from a role model that chokes us all, would allow us as men to be more empathetic, less hung up on dominance and focus on cooperation and rejuvenation.
In the end, it is all about power. Your power comes from within you. You express it with your life. However, to use that power to squelch someone else’s power is toxic, not only to them but to you as well. Men, we need to wake up to this. We can brand a new type of masculinity, a masculinity that expresses the male energy (yang), but recognizes and embraces the balancing female energy (yin) within us. It is not weakness, but strength. Our innate human strength.
Jack Twist: You know friend, this is a god damn bitch of an unsatisfactory situation.
From Brokeback Mountain.
A Blog about Sensory Processing Sensitivity from the Worldview of a High Sensing Male
Alex: What we were after now was the old surprise visit. That was a real kick and good for laughs and lashings of the old ultraviolent.
From: A Clockwork Orange
Somewhere along the way as I was growing, violence took a wrong turn in the media. Movies, TV, print; all began to show more graphic violence. I don’t know what the starting point was, or when; I just know that it started getting more detailed, more bloody. Of course, there were horror movies, slasher types that were full of gaudy special effects and makeup, but somewhere along the way, the technology got really good, and bloodletting began in full swing. For a highly sensing boy, I saw this is as a turnoff. What happened to the days, when a gunshot went off, there was a quick cut and a dead body laid on the ground? Sometimes with blood, sometimes without. I got the message; the character was dead, I didn’t need to see him bleed out, to make that point. The excessive reliance on violence for dramatic conflict seems like lazy writing to me. The subtlety of death and dying died, and so did a certain naivete upon the viewing public.
Modeling of violence in the media can desensitize us all into the acceptance of violence or at least aggression as an acceptable method for resolving egregious problems or for seeking justice. Whether it is an endless war against perceived enemies, capital punishment as a means of justice or at a personal level arming oneself to the teeth, to protect against “bad guys.”
I’m not interested in playing video games, but nowadays watching almost any historical drama on television or in films is rife with realistic and I could argue hyper-real blood and guts, as villains are slain to exact justice. One can simply no longer turn away from the violence and even as adults, the visceral and subtle unconscious effects alter all of us.
There have been many studies over the years vilifying the effects of passively watching violence in the media. The National Institute of Mental Health found that children watching violent media may become desensitized to other’s pain and suffering , may become more fearful and may be more likely to behave in aggressive and harmful ways to others. It has even been suggested that this learned behavior may follow into adulthood. Violent video games have a similar effect. Ninety-eight percent of video games contain violence and since 97% of adolescents play video games the reach of violent modeling goes way beyond Saturday morning cartoons.
Violence is found in music, YouTube, radio, on cell phones, the internet and now especially in social media. This constant exposure to aggression creates aggressive thoughts and can produce less empathy towards others. The focus of aggression is the intent to harm another, where the other is looking to avoid this harm. It takes many forms: relational aggression, i.e., spreading harmful rumors; cyber-aggression via electronic messages; and, verbal aggression. With over 42.5 aggressive acts per hour on television and with a clear increase in violence in movies over the last 40 years, it is no wonder that the effect culturally on children is growing. These children, of course, grow up to be adults. When these acts of aggression take a more severe form, we are looking at violent actions.
Now, I know many of you may be saying, well, all these studies have not been able to prove long-term effects or that many of the studies are flawed or invalid. Some would even argue that viewing violence has a cathartic effect on aggression. Yet, there are no studies showing this to be true. It is very difficult, if not ethically impossible to construct a study in which a cause and effect relationship can be established by watching violent media with behavior in which murder or violence is the end result of the study.
Yet, it is clear we can measure arousal rates when watching violent media, heart rate, respiration, and higher blood pressure. In fact, there have been MRI (magnetic resonance imagery) studies where noticeable differences in brain activity have been shown after just one week of watching violent video games. Other studies have noted short and long-term effects associated with this video violence. Primary among the short-term effects have been the arousal via emotional stimulation, which causes a visceral response. And, of course, mimicry, which causes the viewer to imitate behavior watched, in a less violent, but nonetheless aggressive way – generally more aggressive thoughts.
The long-term effects may affect observational learning skills and alter emotional state, thought schemas, normative beliefs about violence and executable behavior scripts. It may cause desensitization with increased exposure, aggressive behavior, bullying, increased fears, depression, nightmares, and other sleep disturbances. The key to all of this is repetition. Repeating the viewing, especially with video gaming, where repetition increases skill level, increases the retention and acceptance of violence as a means to an end.
This clearly affects children and adults. The continuous bombardment of violence or aggressive behavior, especially with the actions of hero characters, models that the world is a dangerous place and that justice is only served by righteous indignation, often in violent form. Because this is constantly presented as reality via the media, the unconscious mind, not the greatest at distinguishing reality from fiction learns that violence, if not honorable, is at least tolerable to settle injustices.
How does violence in the media effect HSPs and in particular HSMs? Why would we watch it, if it is offensive and abhorrent to our sensibilities? I personally find excessive violence in film or television to be distracting to the story. It creates a strong visceral reaction, a shock if you will, that I feel in my body. I never get sick to the stomach, but feel a slight, steady revulsion to excessive violence, even knowing that it’s not real. If it is severe enough, I will turn my head, but as of late, I force myself to bear through it. It’s over soon enough, but the story is altered for me. Even with plot justification for the violence, I tend to be tenser watching the remainder, as if waiting for someone to jump out from behind me, to startle me. Gratuitous violence is just that – plugged into storylines at regular intervals to give the mind and body a shock. It sells tickets.
My larger concern is what is all of this violence doing to us as a culture? Is it altering the way our brains perceive violence? I mean, one could argue that we have always been violent, aggressive creatures. But, at what point do we rise above our baser instincts and evolve, moving past violence. If it is affecting us all, does it mean we HSPs are being altered along with the rest of humanity?
Why does violence appeal to us? Is it like sex, just a primal force of nature that our higher level cognitive powers haven’t learned to deal with. It seems that we crave violence, like sex, drugs and rock and roll. But, unlike sex, aggression is not a drive in humans. Sure there might have been evolutionary reasons for aggressive behavior to protect territory, but is it really necessary now? Perhaps, we see violence as a prelude to death. Pushed and pulled, drawing us in towards our warlike nature.
In the U.S. alone child abuse occurs about every 10 seconds. We have the highest rates of youth homicides and suicides in the industrialized world. School shootings and mass shootings have sadly become commonplace. Americans are more than seven times as likely to be murdered than in the largest industrialized countries. We spend more of our tax revenue on defense, weapons, and wars than all countries combined. We spend more on prisons than on education, emphasizing the punishment instead of the cause. See the patterns?
And I don’t know if there is a violence watching threshold. Are we getting close to the point where we have no reaction to watched violence? Denial of the effects of media violence is partly due to psychological reactance, which states that the more forbidden the fruit, the more attractive it is, the more we seek it, and the angrier we get towards those that would deny it.
I’m not about censorship or restricting artistic freedom. But to what detail do we need to see death, to get the point. We are a violent and bloodthirsty people. We justify the bloodbath, by some type of screwed up divine sanction. Manifest destiny, or preservers of freedom, vindication or justice, sanctimonious crusades, we take our wrath out in blood. And we model it in our art. Then we wonder about violence in our world. Violence in our words, our actions, we eat drink and sleep violence. Our heroes are vampire sucking, life-destroying robots of violence. In fact, we equate good with righteous violence.
As HSMs we need to aid in tamping down the violence in our sphere of influence. Perhaps, taking more care with our children in monitoring or sanctioning violent media viewing. If you are teachers, counselors, therapist, ministers or others in the helping professions, use your opportunities wisely to offer suggestions to caregivers and parents about the effects of violent media watching on children and adults. We can lead efforts to offer guidelines, based in part on our sensibilities to the media themselves for acceptable levels of dramatic aggression that serves a dramatic purpose without sensationalizing extreme blood, mutilation or gore. This should be gentle guidance, not out and out restrictive suggestions. We react differently to violence than non-HSPs, we do more feeling, thinking, recounting and I would say more reviewing with emotion and arousal. Maybe some throttling is in order to offer our wise counsel. Others may enjoy or thrill to the exploitative violence in the media, much like a teenager thrills at a joy ride in a stolen car. But repeated exposure, with the consequences sinking unconscious and manifesting in unsavory ways, is something that we as a society must guard against.
Watch the news, read a paper, listen to the radio. It’s already happening.
Alex: It's funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen.
From: A Clockwork Orange
Bill Allen currently lives in Lutz, Florida. He previously lived in Bend, Oregon. He is a certified hypnotist and brain training coach at BrainPilots.com. He believes that male sensitivity is not so rare, but it can be confounding for most males living in a culture of masculine insensitivity which teaches boys and men to disconnect from their feelings and emotions. His intent is to use this blog to chronicle his personal journey and share with others.