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Colombian-American award-winning poet and actor Carlos Andrés Gómez, 36, is pretty open about his emotions and his active role as a father.
“I cry every day, I change my daughter's diapers,” Gómez told NBC News.
But it wasn’t always like that.
The author of the memoir Man Up: Reimagining Modern Manhood and actor (he was in Spike Lee's "Inside Man") remembers growing up believing that in order to be a man he needed to be ready to fight at all times, objectify women and suppress his emotional self.
“I think of myself at 17, I remember feeling this pressure to conform to this one dimension of masculinity... be part of a culture that doesn’t represent the person that I’m inside,” Gómez said.
After making a life in New York with his wife and two little girls, Gómez decided to unlearn what he was taught about masculinity and embarked on a mission “to dismantle the stereotype about what it means to be a man.”
Gómez’s tipping point was years ago when he was a very young man. He accidentally bumped into another man at a club, immediately triggering a confrontation. But just when they were about to start fighting, Gómez experienced a sudden surge of emotions that brought him to tears. He was taken aback by how people reacted to his emotional display “as if crying, or showing vulnerability, was the most insane thing.”
Since then, Gómez has been on a mission to promote positivity and self-expression, going around the country and spreading the message through spoken word, poetry, TEDx Talks and a book, challenging toxic masculinity behaviors that often fuel bullying and “locker room talk.”
Some scholars have used the term toxic masculinity to refer to what are considered “stereotypical masculine gender roles” such as limiting the kinds of emotions boys and men are allowed to express and imposing social expectations that men seek to be dominant or aggressive.
In some parts of Latin America, aggressive concepts of masculine pride are perpetrated by what’s known as machismo culture.
In one of Gómez’s most recent efforts to eradicate these behaviors, he partnered with AXE and rapper KYLE for #SeniorOrientation, an initiative that Grammy-award winning artist John Legend launched last year to encourage high school seniors to foster an environment of inclusive masculinity.
Gómez and KYLE visited high schools in California and Chicago during the month of October, which is considered to be National Bullying Prevention Month, to motivate high school seniors to encourage others to own the way they each express their masculinity setting an example by allowing themselves to be vulnerable and honest about their emotions.
“There’s no one way to be a man,” Gómez said. “Even though change is a scary thing, even if it's for the better, we can set that tone to act unapologetically.”