This is a piece about male feelings. I just want to note that I am confronting a normative masculine paradigm that is traditionally cis-defined. My suggestions for a new “masculinity” are meant to be spectrum-inclusive. The definitions of masculinity in Part 1 can also be a stand- in for a broader culture of patriarchy, which certainly includes people of any gender complicit in preserving a world view of aggressive male dominance.
I knew we were in trouble when David Bowie died. In my formative late teens and early twenties, Bowie gave me the courage to flaunt my flamboyant tendencies, a love of dressing up, embracing a femme-y way of being a straight boy. Damn it, Prince too, though I discovered him as a fully-formed freak later in my 20’s. Masculinity will suffer without these two.
I grew up bullied. But I always had unwavering support from my parents to be myself. And by adolescence, I was able to accept the artistic sissy who I was as I found other weirdos to be myself with (hi Jakub). As an outsider, I embraced people for their differences and developed an inclusive worldview. So thanks bullies, you helped me become an empathetic person.
And I became aware of and resistant to the ways other boys behaved– a culture of aggressive and angry masculinity. I realized that the attitudes and postures of my bullies ultimately masked their repressed fears and insecurities.
I first lost my shit after Orlando. My bestie Carmen posted this pointed piece about “toxic masculinity” in relation to the shooting and it explained so much of how I was processing the violent death of 49 innocent, beautiful people.
Fear did this. I could not see through Omar Mateen’s eyes nor understand the life narrative that brought him to this moment of terror. But I imagine he buckled under the anxiety of fearing those different than him. Maybe he resented people that he viewed as having found the courage to be themselves. He may have been influenced by radical jihadist ideas he read about online, but his fear of others drove this violence.
The dominant paradigm of masculinity does not want you to be yourself, it wants you to conform, to be a soldier, competitive and distrustful, angry and aggressive. This is how a lot of boys were brought up where I come from. This is likely how boys have been raised in so many corners of the world throughout history. Institutions preserve this order– religions of all denominations, schools, military, law enforcement, sports.
I say its time to evolve and become better men.
Yet here we stand, a month away from handing the reigns of our country over to an “alpha-male” narcissist bully. Toxic masculinity is winning! WINNING! WINNING! But are you really winning when you have to take petty shots in the middle of the night on Twitter against such nefarious foes as Alec Baldwin? Here’s what I learned growing up being bullied, bullies are the most insecure, self-loathing part of the pack. Their inner doubts and hang ups manifest as you being the pussy or faggot, when that’s really how they see themselves. This anger is fueled by a fear of appearing weak or feminine, less than.
And this brings me to the hot topic of “feelings”, a popular target of right wing internet trolls and their campaign against political correctness. Apparently Black people not wanting to be harassed (or worse) by cops without probable cause or Trans people using the bathroom of their gender is about their feelings, not basic human rights. And for us, white or straight or cis allies, it must be about our precious feelings and not our altruistic belief in equal rights when we stand up for our friends, people we actually care about. (Part of me truly believes that our current cultural schism boils down to exposure to different types of folks and the bubbles people live in. It’s a lot harder to hate someone you have to say hi to everyday.)
But actually, white supremacists, homophobes, trolls, and Breitbart readers, this is all about your feelings.
I get that poor and working people of all backgrounds are suffering, unable to get their slice of the economic recovery pie that has been dished up for the elites on Wall Street and in Washington– um, guys like Donald Trump and his cabinet choices, the stinkiest filthy-rich fat cats imaginable.
You want to know where white culture has gone? Hardees and Exxon Mobile and Walmart. Big business has eroded not only working class job prospects, but also wiped out the culture of Main Street diners and homemade apple pie. In October, driving through small town Indiana, I spotted a rough-looking, young white dude sitting on his BMX bike waving a confederate flag in the center of the mostly abandoned and shuttered town square. What’s left of Middle America.
But the underlying anxiety seems not entirely economically motivated. There’s a fear that white is becoming a minority. White, which for so long was just the default culture, now has to be defined like “blacks” or “Mexicans”.
You know what all these fears are? Feelings. Feeling less-than, inadequate. Worrying you might have small hands, which means you must have a small dick. Toxic. masculine. feelings.
It creeps me out to type the word, but why do you think these right-wingers are so obsessed with the idea of cuckolding (which is super racially loaded, btw, Google for nasty contemporary examples but remember how many black men were lynched for this very reason). I get that it’s supposed to be us sheep, the “cucks”, following politics-as-usual, who are witnessing our wives get fucked by Trump. Once again, toxic men are projecting onto others what they deep down fear the most– losing what’s theirs to someone that threatens their manhood whether that’s (non-white) immigrants, black guys with big dicks, or liberals. That’s some nasty feelings.
I’m riled up. This was the most intense year of my life. Jessica and I welcomed our son Avery into the world on May 6th. The stakes have suddenly become much higher. I do not want him to grow up in an increasingly hostile and divisive world. I wrote a thing on Facebook addressing toxic masculinity after Orlando and this is how it concluded:
“Jessica and I had a little boy six weeks ago. When we learned his gender, my immediate fear was that he would face the kind of torment that I did at the hands of raised-aggressive, masculinity-obsessed peers. But now I know that it is my imperative to nurture a tolerant, compassionate, diplomatic little person. And I can offer this as a resistance to toxic masculinity.”
I know that bringing a child into the world is actually quite un-extraordinary, and not a revolutionary gesture (and it speaks to my own privilege to even imagine this.) And also, how lucky we are to afford a structure in our lives where Jessica and I are able to equally spend time raising him.
I am absolutely committed to raising our little muffin to be an open minded, empathetic being. And these aren’t traditional father-son lessons, these are values that are deemed feminine, passed down by mothers.
The whole dynamic is much different than how most men-my-age were raised– we are fathers at home as much as we are at work. Fathers that cook, clean, and fold the laundry (no soap operas for me though). We are bucking normative gender roles and this will likely define our sons’ understandings of masculinity.
Being a dad is the most amazing journey I have made in life. But its not without sacrifice– life is not so much about me anymore or my pleasure or my identity (beyond papa.)
The biggest sacrifice, for me, is loss of community. So much of my identity throughout my extended 20’s (which lasted until like age 37) was rooted in my group of tight knit friends.
My family is my community now. A community of three.
But we are often not a whole unit for 12+ hours a day– one of us at work, one of us at home. Sure the little guy fills me with unbridled joy every time I look at him, but he and I obviously can’t do real talk. And in the harrowing last few months of this year, spending so much time alone has been real tough, frankly.
I lost one of my best friends, Ben Seamons, in late September. Ben was a model for a better masculinity. He was one of the most open, kind-hearted, generous men I know. He was patient, forgiving, and loyal. Ben was not afraid of his emotions, he was always upfront with them. I learned so much from him about being a good man and I will emulate him now that he has left this mortal coil.
Ben also had the best virtues of a more traditional masculine paradigm. He knew when to make sacrifices. He always made the harder, better decisions. He was the first to leave our community to start a family.
Ben was also brave. A friend of ours drowned at Ox-Bow in 2008 and Ben was the first one in the water. I hid in my office. I have always chosen a remember-the-dead-through-their-life approach to coping, rather than facing death head on.
Ben was the first loss of someone this close to me. I faced his death by channeling his strength, including the strength to let my own emotions flow.
I was lucky to survive and rise above the behavior of bullies. But that was a different time, a more face-to-face era. I worry that today’s outcast kids can hide behind screen names, becoming a different breed of bully themselves, trolling to seek revenge. Kids are the most susceptible to toxic masculinity, the pecking order is established early. Its up to us to lead by example and be righteous parents, aunts and uncles, big brothers and sisters, neighbors, kind strangers, and teachers.
If we are going to transcend the dark path that seems to lie ahead as a country, as a world, as men, I propose that we recalibrate the expectations of what it means to be a man. A holistic masculinity.
Its time to be in touch with our emotions, be open minded, flexible, and empathetic. But also loyal and courageous and know how and when to make sacrifices for the good of our families and fellow citizens.