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[This is an op-ed I wrote for The Skewer, a consistently dang-wonderful monthly satirical show hosted at Cafe Moustache in Logan Square. Tom Harrison and erica dreisbach are crushing it, gathering different writers and performers to every month to share their insights on the current political hellscape, If you find yourself in Chicago on the first Wednesday of the month, come on through, donate some money, and have a giggle in this oppressive hellscape! All shows and op-eds like the one below can be found on on The Skewer podcast at Soundcloud.com/TheSkewer .
[This piece is personal, researched, frightening, a little everywhere, and, I like to think, a kneeslapper.]
With June being Mens’ Health Awareness Month, I’ve spent the last few weeks researching incels, men’s rights activists, pick up artists, the lads subculture in the UK, men going their own way, and other branches of toxic masculinity that have contributed directly to 4 mass shootings like Parkland and and a terrorist action in Toronto.
And throughout all this research, do you know what I discovered?
I’d rather not research these groups.
A hard “no thank you.”
It’s not that I have had my blinders up to Incels or other hate-groups. In fact, I find myself spending an inordinate amount of time researching and exploring the current state of masculinity. What is it? What isn’t it? And why did I try to fit my life to it?
When it comes to poring over the details of the rise of masculine supremacy, now recognized as a hate movement by the Southern Poverty Law Center, I am reminded of what actor, artist, former-athlete, and amazing human-being Terry Crews said as part of a panel during international women’s day: “Masculinity is a cult.”
And that makes sense to me as someone who is slowly crawling out of the shadows because I feel like… as a person, I am very susceptible to joining cults. I don’t want to make light of cults. If someone started talking to me, I would let them keep talking out of Midwestern politeness. If they said they had a way for me to feel validation and love from others, yes, totally in. I’d aim to appease any shadowy figure who would grant me salvation Plus I crave structure.
So given the base of knowledge and darkness that I’ve opened myself up to, reopening old wounds of masculinity, I’d like to talk about how absolutely common, pervasive and invisible toxic masculinity is based on this research and my own experience in my own words.
Yup, this is going to be a white person raised in masculinity writing about primarily white dudes.
Not since the halcyon days of AMC’s Talking Bad with Chris Hardwick have the masses been driven to shrug so apathetically. [Note – This was written before the allegations of emotional and sexual abuse by Hardwick’s ex-girlfriend Chloe Dykstra – M.H.]
One thing that struck me in researching deep in the belly of hate, from afar, on the internet – Yeah, I wasn’t like imbedded in a group of involuntary celibates or anything – what I learned was how easily I could have identified as incel in the late 2000s.
As a senior in high school, I was some white boy who felt horribly awkward, tried his best to be a loud funny person (I’m sorry,) and desired to have sex before leaving high school. This was due to me being worried after reading a study in AP Psyche that tied having your first sexual experience after 18 to having problems in your sex life later on.
Looking back, what the fuck was that study even?
I was living my own indie-film twee comedy, like if Noah Baumbach parodied American Pie. I tried dating websites, while a senior in high school. In community college and beyond I frequented the Casual Encounters section on Craigslist (rest in peace) without ever encountering anyone casually, despite hundreds of sent emails and listings and drives.
Some of these listings were women who asked at the last moment “hey, is it okay if I’m a dude?” which is more of a problem of integrity and upfront deception than sexual orientation. Per Craigslist categories, some of listings were women that I was excited to meet, others were men I got the courage to message with the application of alcohol… but no matter their place among the gender spectrum, I got cold feet.
“Cold feet” doesn’t quite cover the extent of this. My feet were blocks of ice, leaving me to shuffle aflail my arms to keep balance on the the black ice on the my soles.”Sorry, too late,” or “Oh no, I got lost, gonna head back and regroup,” or the worst, “just received odd medical news, everything is okay, let’s call it off,” and
Looking back, it’s probably because I’m more gay/queer than previously thought, or was abused, or at least needed to form an emotional connection before desiring sex. But that’s something that was never compatible with masculine identity imposed on me by neighborhood boys and school friends. It’s a weight I carried into every social interaction.
So instead I did what masculinity teaches in what’s referred to as “deaths of despair.” drank a whole lot, smoked entirely too much of whatever was handed to me, let sex happen to me. I felt a sense of belonging and achievement losing my virginity… and from there on out sex happened. In the moment, I felt absent. Looking back, I never wanted to hurt anyone but figured that this was what sex was for everyone.
So imagine, 11 years ago during my twee-ass American Pie high school life, there existed a support group of nurturing people who also felt like they’ll never have sex. Either because of awkwardness, mental illness, or history of abuse, a space exists for people discover themselves before pursuing a relationship. Cool, right?
Now imagine what exists in its absence: a community that espouses misogyny and sexual assault as a form of brotherhood. Oh, and the community is very racist, too. In the terms of intersectionality, masculine supremacy is a dead end street leading to an old eerie mansion, haunted by the idea of female Ghostbusters.
In the absence of emotional discussions about sex is absence encourages it’s users to take the black pill. Different from the red pill swallowed by Mens Rights Activists in which a men see how women control the world, to swallow the black pill is a life-long promise to hate, to commit violence, and to meme about it until death.
Speaking of pills, let’s circle back to men’s health.
This past May was the first time in the publication’s 32 year backcatalog of damn fine abs that it overtly called attention to mental health problems facing men.
But, if you didn’t know that Men’s Health Magazine offered this coverage for the month of May, it was hard to find. There was no mention of it on their actual physical magazine cover, instead those were reserved for headlines like
“100% Energy, All Day”
“Your Best Body Ever”
“Two Women at Once: How It works”
“Two Women at Once: How it Works” – Is there a guy even there? Define the “it.”
“Two Women At Once: How It Works” sounds like a guide for writing a scene that passes the Bechdel-Wallace test.
How it works, dudes, from what I read from one of Men’s Health’s mental health articles consisting of interviews of sex workers and the loneliness epidemic in men they witness first hand… is that one of the women is the patient sex worker you go to to confess your loneliness to, and the second woman is your significant other who is on-hold because the you fear the feelings you denied yourself will be denied by those closest to you.
These are the same men, with the Best Bodies Ever and “100% Energy All Day,” that are committing suicide at a rate 3.5 times more than women.
Even Men’s Health’s best articles about mental health, they dance around guns a whole lot. There is no reference to mentally unwell men forming hate groups. The existence of masculine supremacy linked shootings is ultimately the cause for articles Men’s Health featured, and yet to say “mass shooting” takes too much focus from those “Regular Guys Who Like Abs And Want To Know What To Do If ‘Two Women At The Same Time.”
The gap between intentions on the internet, and our physical-copy appearances is the same gap of wordless and aimless pain that silences boys, radicalizes men, and makes them start taking a whole bunch of colorful pills. And yes, as men it’s something we do entirely to ourselves.
Our current form of masculinity is a dude riding a rickety elevator while holding a knife out: Yes, he’s not threatening anyone, but anyone else who needs to share the ride is accidentally held hostage out of their captor’s own unwitting ineptness.
Our present definition of toxic masculinity was derived from observing the lives of prisoners and finding the same pressure-cooker animosity outside cell walls. Masculinity is literally a prison, and vice versa.
This is not a call for blanket forgiveness of masculine supremacy (besides, I think masculinity detests compassion more,) but we do find ourselves in a problem that needs to be untangled. It’s weird to talk about all my personal stuff here, but if we’re living in a reality where masculinity is a silent killer…