It was a flyer that that got me thinking. That simple, gaudy, overly Photoshopped flyer stuck under my windshield wiper: “Grown N’ Sexy Party. 21 and Over Only,” followed by a list of rappers and DJs I never knew existed. The woman pictured on that little rectangle was contorted in an inhuman position and couldn’t have been over 23. The man—his airbrushed abs glistening in obsidian splendor—looked to be in his mid 20s. This was grown and sexy? Made me question if I was either.

What is grown? Or, how do any of us know when we’ve entered that hallowed space of “I’m a grown-ass wo/man”? This is easier to determine; it’s a personal realization. Also, we know it when we experience it. Some people claim grown but really aren’t. But when you’re in the presence of a grown person, you feel it. There is gravity about them; a weight, a special air that signals they are handling business. Isn’t this what being grown is about, taking care of you and yours?

What is sexy? While I understand that this is wholly subjective, the more intriguing question to me is: do I still have it? Whatever elusive quality “it” is, am I in possession of it? Did I ever have it? We all know people who consider themselves sexy, and we think they’re overstating their case. Does it even matter what others think as long as we’re feeling ourselves?

I told my wife what I was going to explore this week, and she immediately offered to “write a couple of paragraphs” supporting that I was, indeed, sexy. She stressed that she wanted me to own my sexiness instead of resorting to the self-deprecation I sometimes engage in. She spoke to me in such a way that I felt sexy. But this was coming from my wife. Isn’t it the job of your spouse/partner to highlight the things we miss or omit about ourselves?

I don’t think that men talk enough about this. Surprise, surprise, we want to be desired. Many of us thoroughly enjoy that rush we feel when we’re sure that someone finds us attractive. We don’t want to be objectified—like too many of us do to women—but we want to feel as if we’re worthy of others’ attention. But it would be too easy for us to just come out and admit this. We have to make it a production.

For many of us men, the need to feel sexy becomes like peacock preening. We can undergo an almost full-scale transformation, approaching this desire to be seen and appreciated with ridiculous bravado and ego-fueled performance. Many men adopt pimp stances and proclaim that they’re entitled to the gazes and affections of women. It becomes a kind of aesthetic bullying: “Look at me! If you don’t, you’re a bitch.”

This has got to stop. No qualifiers. It has to stop. There is no reason why our need to feel sexy should in any way depend on our devaluation of women, if they do not agree with our self-assessment. It should be possible for us to feel sexy on our own terms, regardless of what others think.

Again: what is sexy, anyway? Admittedly, a part of it is how we are perceived. How many heads turn when I walk into a room? Am I wearing the suit, or is the suit wearing me? Is there anyone in my close vicinity whose heart is fluttering as I walk by? But I feel there’s another piece to sexy that needs to be emphasized: does it matter if no one but me finds me sexy? This is where I am.

I’m a husband and a father and so this shouldn’t matter, but it does. It’s taken me a very long time to accept who I am—despite my occasional, “My wife is so incredible, what does she see in me?” It’s been an enormous process to own myself, to look into the mirror and proclaim “I’m the ish!” without needing external confirmation.

In regards to looks and appeal, men rarely have to directly confront this; society reinforces and applauds men of all types. Women are never afforded the same luxury or privilege. This is why I will argue from the loudest platform I can that men need to start being sexy for themselves. Damn the public cosigns—we need to understand that we’re beautiful and desirable on our own merits, and not because our elevation is dependent on women’s depression.  

A side note: I can’t front. When my wife acknowledges my sexy… that’s how we got our daughter. 

Shawn Taylor is the author of Big Black Penis: Misadventures in Race and Masculinity, and People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area with his wife and daughter, and can be found sporadically on Twitter @reallovepunk.