From the grime MC to the model: five men on what masculinity means to them

‘My dad’s given me everything from my calmness to facial expressions’: D Double E, 39, musician

In my head, I’m not masculine because I’m not big, and I’m not physically strong. But I’m powerful as a man in my own way because I know what I want and I know how I want to be.

I’m a lot like my dad, I dress like my dad, we walk the same, I think he’s given me everything from my calmness to facial expressions. He was everything I am, just not an artist. He was famous in the end, had the deepest swagger, 20 chains, and rings. He was a Jamaican Yardie with a Kangol hat, like the one I used to wear when I was doing grime.

I’ve had different stages, but I would say one of my best periods of life was at 21, 22, when I first got my car, first got a few things like a chain, I remember just working and achieving things.

And then when I was 30 was when I felt like I was at a second chapter. I’d made the most money I’ve made in my career when I was 30.

I love being a man because of my mentality and the way I think. I’m mad independent, in terms of following my dream, and as a woman I think it’s harder to do it because you have to give up certain things – I can get married, have kids and still live my dream. But as a woman, you have to kind of split it up.

I see my responsibilities as a dad as being protection and guidance. Just making sure my daughters know that anything they need, anything they want, is achievable depending on them. When they do well in school I’ll reward them. And they always want to impress me, so it’s good.

If you’ve got a boy, people are scared of them getting shot and all sorts of stuff happening.

The internet has made parenting harder – keeping up with what they are doing on their iPads for example, but it’s made all relationships harder. For me, I’m just strictly music online; I don’t put relationships out there. When it comes to your kids, all you can do is hope.

Jack Fowler

Photograph: Joe Maher/Getty Images

‘There are boys from my school year who are dead, married, in prison’: Jack Fowler, 22, semi-professional footballer, personal trainer and Love Island contestant

My mum and dad separated when I was three, but they were always there for me and my brother. My dad lived round the corner, so I never felt as if I was abandoned or didn’t have a dad. He was a very strong role model for me. He’d tell me, “Look, I’ve done things I’m not proud of, but I’m just trying to tell you that’s not how to live your life.”

He always says that without our mum, the whole family would have crumbled. She gave us the best upbringing. She always put the effort in.

I think being a man you have an advantage in life, especially being a white man. Because I think history shows us that people of colour have fewer opportunities to progress in their career, or in life in general. I think it’s getting better, but it’s not perfect. In terms of ideal role models, I’ve always wanted to be Beckham. He’s a baller: good-looking, he’s got his missus who’s a 10/10, he’s got a family, he’s got a nice house, cars, whatever. So on the outside looking in, he looks like the guy.

There’s still expectations for the man to be the breadwinner in the relationship – or to be the top boy within his friendship group. There’s no excuse for crime, but I can see why it happens, especially in some areas where there’s poverty. I feel like it’s either you make money, or you don’t survive. There are boys from my year at school who are dead, others who are married and some in prison. There are boys who are travelling the world and some playing Premier League football. There’s so many avenues I could have gone down.

I freaked out when I didn’t go to university, and my mum said, “Why don’t you do personal training?” I started working at the gym, and my manager now was a member and came to tell me she had a restaurant where there was a ladies’ night once a month and she wanted me to work for her. She told me I’d serve these women topless with a bow tie on, flirt with them. I was like, “I do that anyway on a Saturday night, I might as well get paid.”

I did it once and she was like, “Would you do TV, Jack?” and we just got talking. Next thing I know I’m in ITV studios being interviewed by the executives. And that’s it, I was on a plane going to Mallorca to do Love Island.

Since leaving the villa, I’ve been talking publicly about how I feel about mental health awareness and stuff, and a lot more of my friends talk to me about their problems now. But I have gone through a lot that I don’t talk about in the press usually. Four years ago my nan passed away. I walked her coffin through the church, and then two months later did it for my auntie. My auntie left behind two children – my cousins – who were young teenagers. I told her I would do everything I could for them. Saying goodbye to my auntie was probably the hardest thing I’ve done. It made me realise not everything is guaranteed.

I feel like I’ve got more responsibility now, just to do good, do well. I want to be successful in whatever I do. There’s expectations of me from family and friends.

Singer-songwriter MNEK

Photograph: Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

‘My dad knowing I’m a gay man helps me be who I am’: MNEK, 24, singer-songwriter

I love being a man. I love other men. I love the men who have raised me and I love the men I’ve been around in my life. But it was hard as a gay, black man growing up.

The only real representation of being a man in south London – as a black man – is extremely hypermasculine. There’s no room for vulnerability and there was no one to show me it was OK if I didn’t want to fight, if I didn’t want to be angry.

It meant there was no real space for me to feel comfortable enough to say who I was, or how I felt. All my best friends are gay or women, and I look to women as role models. Gay men always admire women who do whatever they want and have no man telling them they have to be anything.

I was raised by two Nigerian parents and there are definitely some things I understand now that I didn’t at the time, around developing discipline, character and respect – all of those things which I think are integral to teach children. I’d take those on if I were to raise kids, or in a situation where I am fathering someone.

Everyone’s relationship with their dad plays a massive part in who they are. I guess I probably grew up resenting a few things about mine, and hiding a few things from him. Now I can be open about those things – it’s still a work in progress, but things like him knowing I’m gay breaks off so much resistance to being who I am.

I don’t know if I’d be as strict as my dad because I come from a different perspective and I see what that does – you learn discipline, but you also have a mental scar. I don’t want to develop that for my kid. It’s about balance.

In my experience, there will be situations where I’m not accepted because of who I am. I’ve had to remember I’m not the problem. I’m living my truth, I’m happy, and if someone’s unhappy with my happiness, they’re the unhappy one.

Jon Snow

Photograph: Julian Anderson/The Guardian

‘Masculinity is an ugly thing – you don’t need it’: Jon Snow, 71, broadcaster

My father was the headmaster of a boys’ public school; the ethos around him was all about men and boys, and I went to a boys’ public school myself. I didn’t have a close relationship with him. He was an authority and I think this made me develop a bit of an anti-establishment view of life.

I was closer to my mother. She had alopecia, a condition which meant she had no hair. We discovered this when we were about eight years old and it came as a terrible shock. She wanted to confide in me and ask what I thought she should do with her wig, and I wanted absolutely no conversation whatever about it. It was something which deeply worried me, so that was a pretty confusing relationship.

In terms of role models, I remember one teacher in the choir school who clearly had great difficulties with women because he had a few relationships going on at the same time, but he was a very sensitive and very interesting man. He offered me a softer, more sensitive view of what we could all be. It’s interesting because in that period there was a lot of sexual abuse in male boarding schools and you were always wary of what could happen. With this particular guy, you never felt any threat or sense that something would happen that you didn’t want to happen.

I was abused at the age of six by a domestic servant in my father’s school. Fortunately nothing terrible happened, but I was abducted within the school premises, taken away to his room. And that’s something which definitely affects you for the rest of your childhood.

These days I think I’m very lucky, I’ve got a really rewarding job that keeps me relatively sane, I ride a bike every day to and from work, and that makes a huge difference – I pedal off a lot of stuff.

I do worry about my children and all those sorts of things as a father. They’re adults, but they still need what you can give them, and I try to be available for that. When they were younger there were other priorities, and I was a foreign correspondent so I was away a lot. And I’m sorry about that in a way, but that is the big tension between the father and the activist, if you like. War breaks out on the West Bank or something and you think, “Christ, I’ve got to get there”, and suddenly taking them to school and things like that begin to retreat, despite your best intentions.

Masculinity is an ugly thing – you don’t need it. You are what you are. Your sex, your height, your ethnicity, whatever it is, you are what you are, and then the best thing is to make the best of it that serves you as an individual well and society generally. I mean, that seems to me to be the essence of life.

Finn Buchanan

Photograph: Melodie Jeng/Getty Images

‘I started asking to be called “he” by my school friends when I was 13’: Finn Buchanan, 16, model

I grew up in a nuclear household: mum, dad, son, daughter. It was what you’d picture a “normal” family looking like. I never really related more to one parent than the other. But both my parents work, so I always had a sense of equality – that everyone goes out to work. There was never a breadwinner, or a man that looked after a woman.

When people think of a trans person, they want to know, “Did you play with dolls or trucks?” But I was pretty ambiguous as a kid. I didn’t really play with toys in a gendered way, I was very into sport, drawing, art and writing.

As I got older, I could see that everyone was treating me the same way as they were treating girls, which didn’t feel right. I didn’t know what being transgender was, so I didn’t automatically think, “That’s because they’re girls and you’re not.” I wondered if I was bisexual, then I thought maybe I was gay.

I watched a lot of RuPaul’s Drag Race when I was about 11, and one of the contestants, Monica Beverly Hillz, had a breakdown on stage and came out as trans. Something clicked and I thought, “Maybe I don’t want to dress like a boy, maybe I am a boy.” I finally had a label for how I felt. I started asking to be called “he” by my school friends when I was about 13. Everyone found it quite a struggle because I had such a feminine name which really didn’t match having a male pronoun. I was trying to think of a boys’ name for myself and I settled on Finn, which was the name of my best friend in primary school.

I was scouted by a modelling agent when I was 15. It was an agency that only represents girls, and I feel fine modelling womenswear – the shows have nothing to do with me, it’s just a presentation of the clothes with bodies that make the clothes look good. If there’s a feature about me as a person, then I wear menswear.

I started getting booked for men’s runways shows after I walked for Margiela, which is all about gender-blurring. Then I got booked for Celine, which was an all-male cast, and a cool moment for me.

Being trans is quite current in fashion at the moment, so brands are capitalising on it. I was asked to do one campaign where it felt like I was a token trans guy, so I said no. I hope it’s not a trend, because trans people are here to stay.

These interviews feature in Iman Amrani’s YouTube series for the Guardian, launching next month. Finn Buchanan interview by Joe Stone.

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