This is one of several essays from my private cancer journal. It is not intended as anything than a record of my states of mind as I struggled with the disease and the effects of the treatment.
The Expendability of Men
February 4, 2000
Several years ago I had what (for me) was a staggering insight about the nature of men in this country, or at least men of my generation.
Unlike women, men were raised to die.
It had been so subtly ingrained in me that I had never realized it.
For example, I was taught that I had to be prepared to go off to war, that "women and children" came first and that it was the role of the man to defend his home.
In other words, we were expected to give our lives for home and country.
Put more bluntly, men were expendable.
I was expendable.
The realization stunned me. It wasn't that I objected. It was that I was never consulted or asked if I minded. It was simply one of those unspoken everybody-knows-but-nobody-will-really-say assumptions. That's why draft dodgers were so hated. Yes, it was their legal duty to serve in the military but it was more basic than that. They were expected to serve and die if needed.
Yes, my belated insight may well reflect my own lack of social awareness. I just couldn't imagine I was the only man who had never really realized the hard, blunt nature of it. I had even served in the Marine Corps and knew what that meant. I had just never realized that men are viewed as more expendable than women and children.
I am sure some can climb all over me and say I'm a typical insensitive, self-centered and callused male. Well, take a number and get in line. Besides, it wasn't my point. I didn't mind having that as a responsibility. In fact, I think it is a given role of men to protect. I think diluting that or giving it to others takes away some of our responsibilities. I just objected to no one telling me directly or asking me if I minded. Maybe if I had been taken under wing and raised by my father (Freudians, take note), I might have learned it earlier.
Regardless, I came to the realization circa 1984 or 1985 when I was reading books on feminism that my then-wife Stacy had been consuming. Because of some of the resulting conversations, I began to read them: Feminine Mystique, The Second Sex, Fear of Flying and some others that took men to task and urged women to regain themselves. Fair enough, I figured. There were a lot of good points being made. But it was finally like ingesting a too-rich diet for too long. I needed some roughage. So I went looking and found Sam Keene, Robert Bly and the excellent "king-magician-warrior-lover" series by Robert Gillette to regain some balance. They helped but it was clear that "being a man" was not as simple as it once was.
But prostate cancer gave me a new perspective.
The diagnosis came about a year after the divorce, which was its own kick in the balls. Then came the hormone therapy, with the warning that I would lose my sex drive, which is a polite way of saying being impotent. It was fine with me. I was in such crippling pain that sex was the last thing on my mind. So I got the Zoladex shot and the nilutamide and it helped. But it was a remark by my urologist that kicked me in the stomach.
"You might consider castration," she said casually.
"Excuse me?" I said. I couldn't believe I had heard the word.
"If the shots and pills are a bother, you might consider castration." Yes, there was the word. "You don't have to decided now but you might give it some thought for later."
I nodded silently, unable to talk. I was too stunned. Cut off my balls?
I could feel my stomach falling as she made some notations for my file. Is this what cancer means?
When I walked out of the hospital, that was all I could think of, her casual remark how I might consider castration if I found the shots and pills inconvenient.
That night while lying in bed and trying to go to sleep, I slid my hand down between my legs and felt my scrotum, trying to imagine what it would be like to reach down and feel nothing. The sack was soft and pliable and the balls rolled over my fingers.
If the shots and pills are inconvenient.
I pulled my hand out and the blanket up around me and fought the meaning of her words.
No, I thought. No, not that. You've taken enough.
Two months later, I still physically have them but characteristic of hormone therapy, they have lessened in size. It is called, I learned, "chemical castration." They may be merely symbolic to me, but they are there.
I will die before I let them be taken. Call it stupid or foolish but I have few choices left to me as a man. That one I will not relinquish.