He is playing masculine. She is playing feminine ...

He wants to make sure that she could never be more masculine than he. She wants to make sure that he could never be more feminine than she. He therefore seeks to destroy the femininity in himself. She therefore seeks to destroy the masculinity in herself ...

He desires her for her femininity, which is his femininity, but which he can never lay claim to ...

She admires him for his masculinity, which is her masculinity, but which she can never lay claim to.

The envy poisons their love ...

He is playing masculine. She is playing feminine. How do we call off the game? -- from "Masculine and Feminine," Betty and Theodore Roszak, editors; published by Harper, 1970

Vivian Gordon paused after reading those words yesterday afternoon. Her audience -- frozen in feminine pumps and dresses; in masculine double-breasted suits and loafers -- stared, rapt.

"I have set you up," said Gordon, a professor at the State University of New York, Albany, to this virtually all-black gathering of 400 souls at the "African American Male-Female Relationships" workshop at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's Legislative Weekend.

The audience nodded.

"Because through the socialization process, we learn this accepted behavior," she continued. "Because we are American, this kind of behavior is part of our experience."

She adjusted red-framed glasses.

"I would suggest that getting rid of the game starts with getting rid of the culture that encourages such behavior."

Shedding the negative notions and gender roles that were foisted on most people as children is tough for anybody. Shedding them when you're black -- when there may be so much anger, so much dislike from society and from self-denigrating voices inside your head -- can be monumentally difficult.

But it can be done.

That -- and the eternally useful love yourself -- was the gospel offered at the workshop, subtitled "Maintaining Positive Relationships." Led by Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.), Gordon -- along with fellow panelists Nsenga Warfield-Coppock, a District psychologist; WDCU-FM radio host Ernest White; and Baltimore community activist Richard Rowe -- led a discussion that was part academic lecture, part spiritual revival and part confessional. Basically, it was a '90s love-in, black style.

There were African proverbs on trust -- "A woman who uses her sister as her hairdresser needs no mirror" -- and poems on appreciation: "I will not tell you who to love or not love," Rowe quoted writer Haki Madhubuti. "But I will tell you, black women have not been loved enough."

There were jokes, calls to action and remembrances. Some, like Gordon's recollection of an incident when she was 12 and living in segregationist Virginia, were poignant:

"I was going downtown, sitting in the back of the bus," she said, "and I sat next to a woman I thought was 'Negro.' ... She shouted, 'You can't sit next to me. Get up! Get up!' I didn't move because I was too frightened. The bus driver came back, pointed a gun at me and said, 'Move, or I'll move you.' "

She paused.

"That was traumatic," she continued. "But the worst part was that after I ran all the way home, I could not tell my father. He was an athletics coach ... a strong man. I was 12 years old and, already, I was protecting a black man."

Other stories were stunningly candid. "I used to show my power through my penis," said White, to a chorus of nods from understanding listeners, male and female. "It was the only thing I felt I controlled in this society. I used it as a way of communicating all kinds of things."

Peals of laughter pierced the silence.

"To show love," he continued, "but also anger. When you're hurting, confused, you go for the thing that works."

It's the third consecutive year that Mfume has sponsored this workshop, one of 45 programs and seminars sponsored by CBC members during their five-day confab. Not surprisingly, it is among the most popular. Mfume -- a grave-looking divorced father of five sons -- told the crowd he often is asked what this relationship stuff has to do with the serious business of African American progress.

"A reporter just asked me what this {session} has to do with the 'legislative thrust,' " explained Mfume, 41. "I said, 'Nothing and everything.' Unless we are able to have significant and meaningful relationships, it will be much more difficult for us to pursue any course, legislative or otherwise. If we are honest with ourselves, the state of relations between our men and women is crucial to our relations to the entire world."

The session's continuing popularity indicates that the congressman "tapped into something more than he originally bargained for," says Mark Clack, an Mfume staffer. "There's such an unexpected outpouring -- he filled a void. It starts to hit issues that go to the heart of some of the community's problems... . It's a very sexy issue."

Anything can, and does, happen. Participants call out fervent amens, shout encouragement to panelists and each other, reveal ancient hurts and provide each other with sweet inspiration. Last year, audience member Shirley Chisholm, the former New York congresswoman, offered a personal insight Clack will never forget.

"She reminded people that they have to look at the whole person you're becoming involved with, to look beyond just what they have to offer. She said she had been married to two men who hadn't gone to college... . She suggested that we should look past the MBAs and BMWs and financial portfolios... . When it boils down to it, it's a matter of who you are in terms of how comfortable you are with yourself... . Chisholm said she had that with these men, and wouldn't have settled for anything else."

Black men's and women's current glories and challenges go way back, D.C. psychologist Warfield-Coppock suggested, long preceding such blame-tossing tomes as Eldridge Cleaver's '60s treatise, "Soul on Ice," and Shahrazad Ali's recent book bashing black women, "The Blackman's Guide to Understanding the Blackwoman."

African Americans "come from a culture where family is the most important thing," she said. "I went to Senegal with my two daughters at the end of 1988; what struck me and my girls was the priorities -- the whole day was structured around the family. People got up at 7, 8 a.m. and worked or attended school till noon. Then they took a three-hour break at midday. Everything closed up, people went home, ate together, then went back to work... .

"What is the priority in Western cultures? 'I got to get this job, stay in this job, the man wants this job done.' Where is the time for the family?"

For those who wonder whether African customs are applicable to blacks who have been in this country for hundreds of years, Warfield-Coppock suggested in an interview prior to the session: "Just because a log has been in the water 10 years doesn't make it a crocodile. It's still a log. And the essence of us is still African."

Some traditions -- the "call back" common in many black churches, where a pastor's sermon is interrupted by shouts of agreement and approval -- were evident during the workshop.

"We have a problematic definition of what a man is," began Mfume, his elegant baritone echoing familiar black-preacher rhythms. "Somebody who rides into town on his horse, pulls out his pistol ..."

"Oh, yeah!" shouted an understanding voice.

"... Kicks down a door and shoots somebody... . Grabs some flirtatious-looking sister and rides off ..."

"That's right!"

"You are not a man because you can kill somebody, but when you learn to heal somebody. That's what the nation needs ... But sisters, there's another side to it -- a first-class man deserves ..."

"A FIRST-CLASS WOMAN!" the congregation responded.

It was almost painful, listening to some memories.

"I grew up in a loving family that didn't always communicate that to us," said White, host of the popular radio talk show "Cross Talk." His parents "never gave me the hugs and embraces that go a long way toward developing self-esteem. ... {My father} told me a man should never cry.

"When I was 30," he continued, "I confronted my father... . He said, 'I grew up in the South, where a black male had to develop some defense mechanisms to survive. One of them was not to cry... . When I began to look at why I did or did not like myself, I realized I had cloaked myself in my father's shield of protection."

Baltimore activist Rowe, who spoke last, admitted immediately that he was nervous, having several tough acts to follow. He began with an African proverb of his own: "Before the fool learns the game, the players have dispersed."

Black people, he said, don't have much time left. "Our children," he said, "are dying."

That lack of time, he said, years ago caused him to approach women with an idea that he admitted would probably get most of its proponents laughed at in their faces. "My whole approach was, 'I want to enter this relationship for the advancement of our race.' For me, it is that serious."

He stared at the crowd.

The idea, he suggested, was not new. "My father was married to my mother for 52 years. If she had not died, he would still be married to her. And I don't need to read another book; I don't need to attend another lecture on the subject. Because I saw a man for 50 years make a commitment to a woman, to raise six children with her. We have men like that. Bill Moyers will never, never, never tell their stories. Ted Koppel will never tell their stories. Well, I'm not going to wait for Ted. We should do it. Now."

He paused, and the crowd paused with him.

"I hear brothers say, 'The man is doing this,' 'George Bush is doing that,' " he continued. "If my father had done that, he couldn't have done what he did. He knew the answers were within. And he knew what manhood was all about."

Obviously, his look suggested, it can be done.