I listen to the sounds of my father making his way around the house, getting ready for work. Every day his routine is identical - after a shower, he does his hair, gets dressed, prays for a couple of minutes, and puts some cologne on. He is ready to go. He is gone almost all day - never in one place. He drives around, meets people, talks business. When his day is finally over, he spends his evenings on the sofa, having tea, watching action films, and speaking loudly on the phone in Arabic.
My father is very much the kind of man society wants him to be. He is the head of the household, and earns the money in the family. He is strong, well-built, masculine in every sense of the word. He enjoys taking care of himself, and he’s always well-groomed and well-dressed. He goes to the gym regularly, even though he’s in his late 40s. He’s charming, sociable and liked by everyone he meets. He’s a family man, looks out for his loved ones. He is a strict father, and his rules are never to be disobeyed. He never cries, never gets vulnerable, and never talks about his feelings. He likes to command, rather than be commanded. He is not soft, nor weak, because he was taught all his life those are not traits of a ‘real’ man. Growing up with him created a very clear picture in my mind of what masculinity is.
I listen to the sounds of Bucharest. Every weekend, it’s the same - loud music coming from the clubs and bars all around the city centre, people drunkenly laughing and talking, street artists playing the accordion and singing old love songs, taxis driving around in noisy cars. It’s a big city, but it doesn’t feel like one. Everyone knows everyone, in a way or another. If you step in the right club and look around, you’re going to see a multitude of colours, of people, drunk and happy. No one is ashamed - there’s drag queens, men in dresses, well-known actors, students, all together in one spot.
You’ve entered a community of people who are worth knowing, which means you’re worth being known as well. These people are tired of a traditional Romania, looking for innovation. They’re very much the opposite of what society wants them to be. Bold, bright, controversial, different. They don’t want to conform. They follow the Western world closely, and try to bring much of it in their Eastern European home.
At first, I observed, analysed, learnt. This fluidity of expression was not something I was familiar with. Watching my father, someone so profoundly masculine, and watching these individuals, who play with both masculinity and femininity, was like witnessing two parallel worlds. Yet, they both exist, simultaneously. It is a beautiful thing - the contrasts of the traditional and the new.