Eduardo Benitez has always had to be silent. As a child he wasn’t allowed to cry during a sad movie. As a teenager he wasn’t allowed to show any affection toward his wounded siblings and as an adult, he wasn’t allowed to come out as a gay man.
In fact, Benitez said he wasn’t allowed to show much of any emotion growing up because, in the Benitez household, emotions were a sign of weakness – and men should never be weak. He stayed silent.
On Thursday, April 18, Benitez will finally break his silence at “CockTales,” an evening of performances held at the McKenna Theatre meant to challenge and redefine how society views masculinity.
Benitez is one of 11 performers who will share their stories through monologues, poetry, music and dance for the event. Now in its fifth year, “CockTales” is sponsored by the Sexual Abuse Free Environment Place, an organization that promotes healthy masculine identities and sexual violence prevention at SF State.
“I didn’t know you could do this,” Benitez said, a 22-year-old senior psychology major. “For me (growing up) it’s like you’re either masculine to the extreme or you’re feminine to the extreme. There was never this in-between.”
Raised in Orange County as the fourth of five boys, Benitez always emulated his older brothers Edgar, 26, and Victor, 25, as models of what a man should be.
His brothers showed him being a man meant being a violent gang member with tattoos, a shaved head, baggy clothes, a short temper and plenty of swag. Benitez admits that it’s a cliché and stereotypical image, but it’s all he knew at the time.
“I’d been growing up being taught that this is what a man is and yet, I didn’t want to be that,” he said.
His father was of no help in the matter. He encouraged such attitudes and his mother had little to say, although it was her strength in dealing with a house full of men that Benitez respected most.
Street fights were an almost daily ritual for his two older brothers. Whenever they’d come home bloodied and bruised, Benitez always felt the need to take care of them, but couldn’t out of fear that he would be viewed as too sensitive.
Instead, his brothers would stage fights in the backyard between Benitez and his younger cousin Juan.
At age 14, Benitez stood 5-foot-1 and weighed no more than 115 pounds. His brothers were substantially bigger and his cousin was significantly smaller. Benitez was caught dead center in a situation he would’ve rather liked to avoid.
“We would usually fight with gloves but this time my brothers didn’t allow it,” he said.
The emotional pain of hitting his cousin was too much for Benitez to bear so he stopped. Not one to give up a bragging opportunity, his cousin took it as a chance to show face and continued to punch a willing Benitez over and over again.
“After a while, my brothers saw that I wasn’t doing anything and so they broke it up,” he said.
It was the last time Benitez ever fought and the first time he began to take ownership of his own identity.
“That just changed everything,” he said.
His disappointed brothers backed off and Benitez spent his high school years in search of himself. It wasn’t until his senior year that he even began to entertain the idea that he might be gay.
“My perception of gay men was just these feminine flamboyant people,” he said.
Once again, Benitez found himself pressured to have to fit the mold of another type of masculinity that didn’t feel natural to him either.
Knowing that his family wouldn’t suspect his motives, Benitez transferred to SF State in an attempt to connect with his sexuality.
During this time his mother was deported back to Mexico and it was her encouragement that kept him in school.
His father visits her in Tijuana every other weekend and it wasn’t until this past Thanksgiving break that Benitez took the opportunity to come out.
It was not long after that Ismael de Guzman, the founder and director of “CockTales” encouraged Benitez to share his story at this year’s event.
For de Guzman, who is also a prevention education specialist for the SAFE Place and the Men Can Stop Violence group, Benitez’s story is a perfect example of the show’s message.
“The worst thing that we could tell our sons and our little brothers is to not cry because we do a disservice for that child to not allow them to experience that natural emotion,” de Guzman said.
He created “CockTales” because he felt the need for a men’s program in addressing violence.
“I’m highly invested in working with men and creating a space for men because I think it’s important for men to have a space to talk about their experiences,” he said.
Although de Guzman has yet to share his own story at “CockTales,” he feels a connection with the work that he helps nourish as a director.
“I suspect that some of my story is intertwined in the many dozens of stories that have been told the last couple of years,” he said.
Aristel de la Cruz, 28, is an SF State alumnus who was been involved as a performer with “CockTales” since the beginning.
“I look forward to “CockTales” in that it reminds me to continue examining male identity and to continue challenging myself in becoming a better ally, son, partner, teacher, student and human being,” de la Cruz said.
“CockTales” runs one night only, April 18 at 7 p.m. in the McKenna Theatre in the Creative Arts Building.