Decolonizing Male Allyship

I’m slowly starting to realize the damage that non-intersectional feminism has done to my thinking and my intimate relationships with Black women. So often we talk about the role that men need to take in checking our privilege as if Black men and white men should address patriarchy in the same way. How often do we falsely assume that white male supremacy and machismo are basically the same thing? How often do we assume that patriarchy in gay male spaces operates on the same internal logic as patriarchy in hetero-male spaces just because some of the symptoms are similar? How often do we not even talk about masculinity in Asian communities despite the umbrella term Asian encompassing the majority of humanity? How can we understand male privilege in non-binary, raced and classed terms?

Recently, I was having a conversation with a group of liberated cis-Black women on dating. I was arguing, foolishly in hindsight, that I should not be expected to pay for dinner just because I suggested the date. All of these women, most of whom are far more active self-advocates, liberated and professionally successful than myself were united on the fact that if you ask someone out on a date, you pay. I was advocating, again foolishly, for the expectation to be that you split the meal. My friend Erika leveled with me and said, “it doesn’t have to make sense, it’s just the way it is. Quoting her sister Shayna she added “do you want to be right or do you want to be effective?” I realize now, that what she was trying to tell me was that this is how Black women think about it, if you want to date Black women then you need to treat them in the way that they ask to be treated.

I realized later, after a lot of self-reflection, that I have dating with a feminist analysis predicated on addressing the needs of white women.

Specifically, the fact that the kind of patriarchy that white women face is one of forced domestication in which men paying for meals assumes that men provide for women materially and women support the man’s career. This model, one that I have been a staunch defender of for years, makes almost no sense in the context of Black women. Black women have historically been unable to be seen as domestic, Black women’s oppression has always been one of forced labor. Black women are expected to provide economic, spiritual and emotional support to the entire community.

So, whereas paying for a middle class, hetero-sexual white women’s meal might often be rightly interpreted as saying “I’m operating under a patriarchal assumption that you cannot take care of yourself;” paying for a professional Black woman’s meal in a hetero context is more like saying “I know you can take care of yourself but for once, I’d like to take care of you.” As my friend Erika put it, “think of it as reparations for all those niggas that came before you.”

If I’m honest, that angered me. I’ve gone far enough along in my journey to recognize if a woman holds me accountable and my first inclination is anger, then I’m probably doing something pretty patriarchal. So I sat in it. I reflected on what I had said and why I was angry. I thought about how much of my identity is still tied to being a “good guy” like all those well-meaning white people who fall out at the mere suggestion that they did something unintentionally racist.

I had a revelation later that night that I am ashamed to admit but was also the catalyst for this post. Addressing the way that the past wrongs of other men has benefited you is in many ways the central tenet of male ally ship. Patriarchy is a system that benefits us, so even if we didn’t create it, we still have to address the ill-gotten gains that it has given us. More importantly, we can’t pretend that patriarchy is not the context in which we are operating even if by some stroke of luck of social location means that we are not contributing to the specific aspects of it in question.

This is something that I readily accept when white women challenge me on issues of gender writ large. It is something that I readily accept when Black women challenge me on issues of gender writ large. However, it is not something I can easily accept when put in terms of things Black men do. I hate it. I hate being pathologized as just another nigger. So the comment was triggering to me because Black men are often held accountable for other Black men’s actions in  way that other groups of men are not.

Now, some of this anger was completely understandable, as collective punishment is an aspect of white supremacy, even though Erika’s comment was about understanding context not collective punishment. I believe that it is important that we be real and honest about how and why we react to statements. Because emotions are complicated and even the most problematic reactions hold a kernel of truth in them; its important to learn to separate the problematic from the truth. So given that, what does it mean for me to readily accept, without question, the faults and trespasses of white men as my own yet bristle when it comes to the actions of fellow Black men. As my friend Omo might say, “that’s fuuucked up.” Or, as Erika did say in this conversation “you sound like a twitter nigga!”

It is one thing for Black women to pathologize Black men. This is a thing that happens. Unfortunately it is something I have seen the women in my family do. It is generally a result of trauma and how internalized anti-Black shows up in hetero-sexual Black relationships. It is crucial to point out that the trauma that those women are reacting from was caused by the systemic activities of individual Black men. However, what my group of liberated Black women were doing was not pathology but accountability and loving agitation [that in all fairness I explicitly asked for]. It is only recently, and only through the grace and wisdom of many of these same liberated Black women, that I was able to realize the difference.

I now realize that we need a new model of allyship for Black men who love Black women. Though, the word allyship seems out of place here. I am not an ally to Black women. We are not, in most respects, separate communities standing together. So, perhaps it would be more accurate to say, that Black men interested in dating liberated Black women need to rethink our solidarity with Black women. Still, this language seems off as it assumes both that all we need to do is sit in quiet reflection or that women like bell hooks, Audre Lorde or Angela Davis have not already done that work for us. Perhaps, as Zoe Samudzi might say, we need to decolonize our understanding of Black solidarity.

For, as much as it might pain me to admit this, my understanding of solidarity with Black women is colonial. Over the past few years I have really started to realize how much emotional energy I spend tending to the emotional needs of white people, especially white women, in my professional and organizing life. It was only until the past couple of months that I have realized that it makes it difficult for me to give emotional support to the Black women in my life [not mentioned too drained to really come to terms with why there are so few Black men in my life.] More to the point, my colonial understanding of feminism in romantic relationships has really put me at loss for how to deal with liberated Black women.

It is easy to for men like me to take a step back in romantic situations. For Black men who grew up in neo-colonial contexts, we are conditioned to step back in most non-male social situations. When we don’t we are often ostracized, feared and shut out from vital economic activity. For professional Black men like myself, strategically stepping back and only asserting ourselves once we are in a stable positon is a tried and true survival mechanism.

It is an odd thing, being raised a Black man in world that teaches men to be hyper masculine in order to survive but also teaches Black men that our hyper masculinity makes us a target. We have to learn to code switch. Yet forced code switching, especially in such emotional vulnerable ways, is not without its consequences. Sometimes this means men taking out the frustration of deferring to white employers out on their Black families. Sometimes this means men like me retreating from male spaces. Sometimes it means male solidarity in homosocial spaces that is based, in part, in misogynoir. Either way, it complicates our relationships with Black women who know what they want and are used to having to get it on their own.

This hit home when my friend Erika posited that, “maybe you’re just not ready to date Black women.” While this might have been true for my past self, I refuse to receive that and let it be true for my current self. But this means that I have to change. I have process what the messages that stepping back to suit the emotional needs of white people forced me to internalize. I have to process what growing up fighting and competing with other men has forced me to internalize. I have to process this hesitancy that an honestly over intellectualized political understanding, itself a product of my clinging on to the lie of control and fear of failure, has bread into me. In short, I need to decolonize my own Black identity and how I relate to liberated Black women romantically.

But, like everything else. It’s a journey. In talking with these same Black liberated Black women, I realize that I’m not the only conscious Black man in a similar position. My hope for this piece is the same as everything I write, that it sparks a mind that sparks a mind, and we create a new model for interacting with each other. Hopefully one that’s a lot less abstract and intellectual and centers a complex understanding of consent and intersectionality. I imagine, somewhere out there, off the internet, where real people live, someone has already figured this out. Yet I think it’s important that we be real about the fact that being “woke” is a continuous journey and growth only happens with agitation and loving accountability.  It is conversations like this one that really make me believe that accountability is a gift.

As James Baldwin said, and my sister Erika constantly reminds me, “if I love you then I have to make your conscious of the things you don’t see.”

Dear Modern Day Feminists with Successful Professional Careers

[***disclaminer this satire…well…its funny and not meant to be taken seriously….unless you want to go on a date with me…then it’s kinda serious….***]

 

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Dear modern day feminist with successful professional careers,

I know dating is very difficult for you. You’re beautiful, intelligent and driven which means you have high standards and precious little free time to spend weeding through semi-inebriated young professionals at the crowded and loud Happy Hours frequented by your profession. I get it. I’m here to make sure your laundry gets done, cook you warm meals and take care of your [by which I mean our] children while you’re busy leaning in. There is no need for you to balance a career, hobbies, hosting parties and children…that’s what husbands are for.

I’ve read enough reviews of Sheryl Sandberg’s book on jezebel to know that one of the many problems of “leaning in” is that it makes it difficult to have the things that make life worth living, namely fulfilling and sustaining friendships and family. Yet what is an ambitious and driven young woman such as yourself to do in today’s modern landscape of 24/7 hours e-mails, virtual conference calls at 3 p.m. Tokyo time and astronomically priced [and sub-par] child care services?

Well, you can either attempt have it all and end up neurotically plunking all of your eyebrow hair every quarter or marry a man secure and strong enough to hold on to the belt of your pant suit and prevent your from leaning in too far.

 

Hi, my name is Aaron Goggans.

I am a single, childless, graduate of University of Chicago who also happens to be an employed African American 25 year old man standing about 5 feet 9 inches tall. I want many things out of life and I consider myself to be very ambitious. However, I don’t want to work [not because I’m lazy mind you]. I hate capitalism and used to view a 9-5 as the most perversely necessary and evil of necessary evils until I thought “is it really necessary for me to work?”

I would like to spend my time volunteering to help those who need it, raising children and supporting you in your chosen career. That’s right. I want to be a house husband. More specifically, I want to be your house husband.

Don’t get me wrong, I have my own goals. For instance, I’d like to write a novel [I’m a currently a freelance writer and my resume with list of publications is attached] but all of these goals are secondary to my desire to be a kind, loving, and supportive husband and father. I love children and after spending my post-collegiate twenties hopping from coffee shop to used bookstore like a character in a Dandy Warhols’ song, I’m ready to settle down and start a family. It is my hope, after reading this cover letter and attached resume, that one of you lovely women would consider marrying me.

I have very few requirements for a life partner. I am open to any race, ethnicity or religious background. I prefer high powered non-profit attorneys, human rights attorneys, politicians, successful writers and artist though I’m also willing to consider seasoned teachers, tenured professors, mid to high level civil servants. As long as my partner is an avid reader, critical thinker, enjoys open and honest communication, and is open to having or adopting children and of course, fine with carrying at least 95% of the families financial burden, I’m good.

I should say that I am an exceptional [and improving] chef, a decent [and coach-able] maid, amazing with children [taught children with special needs for two years], and very good and hosting dinner parties as well as talking up professional women at work events. I am a surprisingly good networker and conversationalist willing to be perfect First Man to your every executive ambition. I

f you are interested please leave a comment and I’ll get back to you shortly. We can go Dutch on the first three dates but after that all further dates, social events, vacations and engagement rings must be funded by your ambitious career.

Thank you for your time, and your consideration.

Your future fiancé,
Aaron Goggans

Life Before The Revolution

Image For Life Before The Revolution

 

Booing Up When All Your Friends Are Lesbians…& You’re Not

 

 

Here it is…the moment [a few of] you have been waiting for. The debut of my play writing prowess…a comedy of queer proportions…the story my dating life as read by my friends…the hilarity that might could be the DC Queer DIY Punk Scene… one my favorite things I’ve ever created.

This play is a compilation of pieces of my life with the boring taken out, names changed and background slightly rewritten. Most of the dialogue is real. Some of the events happened. All of them could happen…at group house near you. I’m really proud of this play as it represents a lot of personal and artistic growth. Not only is is better writing but it is more honest writing. Some of the truths contained within might surprise people who haven’t talked to me in a while…if that is the case, I encourage you to ask about anything that surprised you.  I will probably write more about this play later and will post the script soon but for now…here is my first ever radio theater comedy podcast!

If you like the music [and really how could you not?] check of Spoonboy and Hot Hyms for more!

 

Dating Darcy

Darcy, Moped[**Disclaimer: This account, like all the previous and future posts about my romantic life, are to be considered all almost entirely fictional unless clearly stated otherwise. Any resemblances to real life women who have been unfortunate enough to go on date with me are a result of the statistically common reactions to my many idiosyncrasies**]

Its late afternoon in DMV and I’m running late for the date. My latest addition to my healthy lifestyle involves walking everywhere and I’ve forgotten how long it takes to get to the Café from my house. I’ve walked this route every morning for a week and I can hear my father telling me I need to be more observant as I consider my next move. I debate texting Darcy to let her know that I’m going to be late. It is 10 minutes before I said I’d meet her and I’m about 8-12 minutes away. If I show up exactly on time I’ll seem punctual but I will have to walk fast enough to break out into a sweat to do so. I slow down and decide better to be fashionable late and put together than on time like a hot mess. I consider calling my friend Sam to ask if I should include an exclamation point after the sorry. I decide that Sam is probably too busy having a job and being all responsible to help me compose a text message right now. I decide that go with the exclamation point anyways. My brother always told me not to use smiley faces but I think all other punctuation is kosher.

Sorry! I’m running a little late.

She replies a minute later: no problem at all!!!

 

I pause in the middle of the street to decipher the message. I ignore the horns of oncoming traffic as I try to decide if three exclamation points mean it is really is not a problem at all or if it’s really not a problem…like…at all. As I begin walking again, the exclamation points seem to be more and more angry. Of course she’s mad; I’m going to make her wait. I debate whether or not to text her a joke about a troll underneath the 11th street bridge but I think she needs to see my face for it to be funny. I try and time my burst of quick walking with the gust of autumn air, exerting myself only when the wind will keep me from sweating. I vaguely recognize that this makes me look like a crazy person and vow to stop when I’m within eye sight of my destination. If I’m lucky I’ll arrive with a minute to spare having sent a text message saying that I would be late. That should show that I’m both punctual and considerate.

Two blocks away from the Café I slow down just as I’m starting to get nervous. I wonder if every woman I walk by is actually her. Perhaps she didn’t want to wait in the Cafe itself and is leaning next to her moped smoking a cigaret like a Parisian woman. Could she have dyed her hair, gained 20 pounds and invited her husband on the date or is that someone else? I as I start to look for her, not knowing if she will be waiting causally outside for me or take a sit inside, I marvel at how attractive D.C is. I begin to understand the value of making an effort to look nice and anxiously look at myself in the reflection of the store windows. I cringe at my overweight body made even more awkward by the only clean shirt without holes in it. Check that…my last non overly offensive smelling shirt without major holes in it.  She said that she didn’t like guys who spent more time getting ready than her and she seems to revel in that “I just got out of bed look.” At least she will be put at ease by my homeliness.  15 yards away from the Brown Bonnet, where a local feminist blogger described meeting her partner so vividly that I thought it would hold some the same magic for me and Darcy, I begin to wonder if I want her to be more or less attractive than her pictures.

I begin to think that if she is more attractive than her pictures I may start to feel that I’m not good looking enough for her. Then instead of meeting cool, calm and collected Aaron she’ll get sweaty, voice still somehow cracks at 25 Aaron and even I don’t like that guy. She’s pretty enough in her pictures that if she was less attractive in real life she’d be as attractive as me and therefore easier to approach.

I see her sitting down at the same table I imagined the blogger was sitting at. Life is imitating blog and make sure to note it for my next comment. She’s wearing the same argyle sweater that she was wearing in her profile picture from Vienna. I know I shouldn’t say that though because then she might know how often I looked at her profile. I notice that her back is too the door which means that June was wrong last night she said that the mug shot in the pictures was real. If Darcy spent time in Prison she’d never have her back to the entrance. Before I walk up to her I find myself hoping that she is in fact as pretty as her pictures. I think I could handle that. I remembered to brush my beard so I’m looking pretty good despite the stripped shirt.

I start to approach her from behind. I realize how that would sound in my re-telling of this moment and I pause trying to map out a path through the crowded café that would allow me to casually walk up to her and not seem like a creeper. Instead, my Uchicago awkwardness permeates through the moment and she senses my presence. She turns, rather gracefully I might add, to see me starting at her. I could have saved the moment with my charming smile instead I give her my “well, this is awkward…you caught me” smile.

As I see her face I realize it is worse than I imagined. She actually looks the most like her third picture, the one where she pretending to sing a Britney Spears song at a New Years party. She has the type of face that you know that most people find her attractive but you’re not sure if you do yet. She’s basically Jennifer Garner in in beginning of the movie, before you know if she is the nice character or the stern mean one. I stare at her for a second and sense my face flash the moment’s disappointment.

“Hey, I sorry, I wasn’t sure if that was you” I say knowing that it was her but finally brandishing my charming smile.

[**Disclaimer, for those you who don’t know me, you should be aware that there is no empirical evidence to suggest any difference between my charming smile and my creepy smile. The jury is still out**]

She smiles back. It is a warm smile that instantly makes her seem more attractive. “It’s okay” she says with no understood ellipses.

I take the seat across from her and as I tell myself not to do that thing where I try to figure out if someone is attractive while they are talking to me. I don’t listen though and find myself analyzing her facial features as she describes racing over here because she thought she was going to be late. When she mentions not having enough time to finish getting ready I smile and tell her she looks nice. It’s a temporary lie.

I haven’t decided if she is attractive yet but I noticed that she had brought a copy of Carcassonne and had set it out on the table. I decided that it was inevitable that I would fall for  any girl this smart, nice and with affinity for board games. I knew that eventually I would think that she did in fact look nice, so it wasn’t really a lie.

Before I begin an internal debate of the fact that because she was in fact very well dressed the statement “you look nice” would have been true even if I wasn’t attracted to her, she asks me if I’ve read any John Rawls before. I panic. I was prepared to fall for this girl slowly, with her attractiveness becoming more and more readily apparent over time. My confidence and comfort was supposed to raise as fast if not faster than my attraction. If she started talking about “A Theory of Justice” my voice would almost certainly crack.

I stare at her for a second. Only her slightly inquisitive tilt of the head reminds me that I have yet to answer her question.

“Yes” I say confidently, suddenly proud that I was able to so speak clearly to such an attractive young woman, “I have.”

She smiles again and I get butterflies for the first time since I read her message about how she is surprised at how comic book heroes have started killing their enemies after decades of calling it a line they’d never cross. I decide that she is being super generous in accepting my oddities. She must either be a closet awkward person or just a generous person. I’m personally fine with either but I’m hoping for the first. As she talks about “A Theory of Justice” I lose track of all my dating tips: I forget to manage my eye contact and stare intently into her eyes, I forget ask her if she want dessert and order so much food myself that assumes I expect her to share, and I forget to compliment her three times. Instead I forget that this is a date and allow myself to be dragged into a pleasant intellectual discussion.

The particulars of her argument matter very little to me. I get the sense that though we are both engrossed by the subject matter we a still being too polite to have a real argument. We are mostly discussing feelings about the practicality of the theory and trying to politely disagree. I am fascinated by the way her mind works though and the clarity with which she can reconstruct my arguments as she gets to see is she heard me correctly.

“You really think that democracy is overrated?” She asked with her butter fly producing smile, clearly thinking I’m being sarcastic and loving it. I decide not to press the point and lie for the second and last time that night, “no, I’m just joking. Of course I love Democracy.”

It’s ten o’clock before I realize we have been talking for hours. I’ve developed substantial if somewhat hard to pin down feelings for her by the time she says it’s getting late and she needs to go to bed. This is the moment when all the advice columns tell me I need to make my move. I am supposed to gauge the situation and go in for the kiss [except for maxim, which seems to think I should assume I’m going to bed with her].

I look at her and she has an amused look on her face and I can tell she had a good time. Yet, ultimately I decide that a mutual good time is different than mutual romantic interests. She was pretty, smart, funny, nice and interesting. I’d definitely love to see her again but our connection was one of exciting potential and not immediate lust. I raise my hand to give my signature and slightly boyish two fingered salute good bye as she sticks out her hand to shake mine.

[**Disclaimer my signature salute is not as nearly as creepy as it sounds. It is literally waving goodbye and not something from one of Dave Chappelle’s “Great Moments in Hook Up History”**]

I realize askmen.com would say that I put myself in the friendzone with that move but then I’d just say “you’re a website, what do you know” and walk away confident in my disbelief in the existence of zones…I only believe in having awkward conversations about how we feel about and will you go out with me? [Yes. No. Maybe] notes.

Dating In The Chocolate City? A Humorous But Impotant Excursion Into Beltway Dating Rituals

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You would think, for a man recently reentering the dating game in a new city, living with two beautiful D.C residents would be a huge added benefit. My sisters are both attractive, accomplished young professionals in the DMV with goals and ambition and laid back [broadly speaking] demeanor. They must have insight into the befuddling and majestic alien creature that is a beltway woman. In all seriousness, I recognize that all women are individual human beings with their own wants, desires, strengths, quirks and insecurities. Yet, I also know that each region has it norms and regional ways of going about social interactions. I was hoping my sisters, DMV veterans that they are, could enlighten me. Yet let’s examine how these conversations actually play out.

[**Disclaimer the following account is a fictionalized account of true events. Everything in this account happened but the timeline, names, and minute details of the dates were changed for illustrative and entertainment purposes** **Irritable Bowel Disease is a real condition and if you identify with any of the symptoms, please seek out medical attention**]

Sister #1 [we’ll call her…Lindsey.] is currently wearing sweat pants and flowing flowery shirt. She is rubbing her stomach and smiling a satisfied smile.

Lindsey: Hey, have you noticed anything different about me?

Sister #2 [We’ll call her…June] is currently wearing her red dreads wrapped up the Do-Rags Lindsey bought for the community clean up last month. She eyes Lindsey and gives her a patented “really?” look.

June: [looks at me now, one eye brow raised] Don’t say anything…maybe if we ignore her she will go away.

Lindsey: [Has lifted her floral shirt above her belly and is now unabashedly rubbing her stomach that is significantly smaller that it was yesterday] I finally had a bowel movement…I just lost like four pounds.

Me: [In a true testament to how not-at-all-out-of-the-norm this is] Yeah, you look great Linds. [I give her a proud look like she just chugged a beer and smashed it on her forehead.] That’s a lot of shit kid.

June: [Clearly disgusted] Tsk. Don’t encourage her, she needs to go to the doctor.

Lindsey: No, I think one more bowel movement and I’ll be good.

The Conversation continues like this until we wake up. My sister’s bicker back and forth for about 10 minutes.

June: How was your date?

Me: It was great. She was really nice, smart and pretty. We had a really great conversation; I’m hoping to see her again.

Lindsey: Hm, did you pay for dinner. [June gives Lindsey her “WTF?” look] It may be the 21st century but a man should always pay for the first meal. [June’s look now says seriously cuz?]

Me: Well, I…

June: See this is way you should come to me with this. [Pause. Looks at Lindsey and back to me.] Some people [look back at Lindsey and rolls her eyes] No, I’m playin’. But seriously. What was she like?

Me: She was really cool. I had a really great time. I’m starting to really love the life I’m been building for myself in D.C. Being proactive, meeting great new people…it’s nice. I’m not sure if I should write her today or wait…I

[simultaneously]

June: call her now, it’s not the 90’s

Lindsey: Wait a few days. You’re a grown man, you have shit to do. You don’t have time to be writing her every moment.

Me: Uh…I feel like… I should just be able to…

June: [fainting anger] What kind of shit is that Linds?

Lindsey: What? He shouldn’t appear needy. Just wait a day.

This continues until they get distracted arguing about their exact same opinions of “The Rachel Ray Show.” I have learned nothing from this conversation other than that my sisters are two very different people. I enjoy it because they are hilarious in their sibling bickering. They are polar opposites who have grown eerily similar due to prolonged exposure to each other’s idiosyncrasies. As they continue to argue I turn to Google to solve my dilemma. As I type in “dating advice” into Google I revel in the butterflies flirting through my stomach as I think about the date. It is been a long time since I’ve had butterflies and so they are a welcomed feeling. What is even more welcomed is their background presence in my day. They are a dull echo compared to my college crushes.

The online advice is basically ten different versions of be yourself, don’t do anything borderline rapey or stalkerish. Check. Check and Check. Phew. I’m glad got out of the clear there. It can never hurt to make sure you are not exhibiting rapey or stalkerish tendencies.

[**Disclaimer. For real though, EVERYONE should check themselves for rapey or stalkerish tendencies. Just because I joke about it, doesn’t mean it’s not serious. I’m looking at you “I’ll get few drinks in her before I go for the kiss” Happy Hour Dude**]

While this confirms my hope that I am perhaps not as out of the loop as I thought, it provides little insight into my current situation. Undeterred, I type in “advice for e-mailing after a date,” and I try my best to wade through the sea of rules for dating.  I lack the focus to stay on task and end up reading a series of variations of Men Are From Mars Women Are From Venus [MFMWFV.] I’m fortunate at least that as writer this is now no longer procrastination but will be referred to as “research.”

I continue my research as I try to find the nuggets of truth in the universally misguided and oft times bigoted glimpses into out dated courting rituals and blindly binary hetero-normative written projections of loneliness. I am slightly encouraged by the fact that these thirty and forty somethings whom deem themselves worthy of bestowing their wisdom to my generation still believe in being yourself. A few young millennial writers note that people are just people, and therefore women are in fact not from Venus but Brooklyn and Hyde Park and Tarrytown. I am heartened by this but am still left thinking, great, but do I write her today or tomorrow? How do you tell if a person [any person really ‘cause it might help with these job application follow ups] values immediate communication or if that seems too eager? Do I tell her she’s beautiful or should I tone it down a bit? How do you know whether someone is a hugger?

After about 30 minutes of distress I decide to call back on my sisters. I try and channel my mother and project the face that always gets them to stop bickering pleasantly. They see the face and, reminded of my mother, are ashamed for a second. June in turn imitates my mother’s “I’m listening intently but also kind of mocking you face.”  After listening to my blown-out-of-proportion-because-I’m-really-bored dilemma, June says that older people [read: in their 30’s] call this dating etiquette.  I relax a little and peruse those articles before finally settling on http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/07/dating-rules-better-than-3-day-rule_n_3403137.html.

I silently thank Arianna Huffington for solving my immediate problems and write a heartfelt message about how much I enjoyed the date and plainly asked for another. I feel much better at this point and am glad that, unlike 18 year old me, I feel confident that I can go about my day without waiting for a response. The more I think about the series of MFMWFV articles though, the more unsettled I become. The feeling of unease creeps up on me like after you get off the 90 in D.C or the Redline in Chicago and aren’t sure what to make of the man selling apples out of a biohazard bag. You know it’s not okay but you are unsure as to the extent to which it’s not okay.

I was concerned with the lack of practical non-patriarchal relationship advice for men. Again, I’m super excited that there is a lot of advice on how not to be a creepy needy slightly rapey date. And, admittedly, dating etiquette was helpful for the more banal questions like what to wear, what to say, where to go. Yet what about the more meaningful concerns. Even though I’ve only gone on first dates my mind inevitably wandered to questions about more serious relationships. What does courting look like without patriarchy?

[**Disclaimer. Mom/Dad/ random other adult figures in my life. I’m going to talk about some adult themes so if this is going to make you slightly uncomfortable or[ worse] make me slightly uncomfortable, please stop reading**]

How do you bring up physical intimacy and sex without offending someone or worse pressuring them?  How do you clearly state where you’re at and what you want at the different stages of courtship, dating, and being a couple? What if you’re not sure if you what kind of relationship you want? Is there a way to bring it up without your date being like “dude I’m not even sure if I’m going to peace out on you when my friend calls to see if I need an excuse to leave?”

I tried relationship advice but found that far too broad and again, obvious. Thank you Doctor Phil, now I know that I probably shouldn’t talk about my emotional scars from previous relationships in the first or second date. Really? I probably shouldn’t pretend to be interested in a committed relationship if all I want is sex? I then tried “dating advice for feminist allies.” This advice was only slightly more relevant to me. There were some interesting discussions about not using the word rape to describe things are not rape and how you can show women respect [ http://www.anamardoll.com/2012/11/deconstruction-how-to-be-male-ally.html ]. Don’t get me wrong, I think that the article is awesome. I think everyman should read it and if everyman took it to heart we could end large swaths of rape culture in America.

My concern is, are there really so few men in my position? Most of this discussion is, quite frankly, obvious to me. This would be fine if I were some saint of new age maleness. I would be fine if it meant that I was so far past my Neanderthal-lite contemporaries that I didn’t need this advice. Unfortunately, I struggle with and perpetuate patriarchy every day. I still am not sure how to confidently approach sexual topics with women as equals. How do I make my wants and desires clear and respected while giving her space to do the same? How might I ethically navigate a hypothetical partner’s “sex-positivism” with my odd mix of slightly old fashion views on “common decency” and unique sexual desires? Basically how and when do you create a safe, non-awkward space to talk about physical and emotional intimacy from kissing & sex to commitment issues & mental illness?

To be clear, my concern is less at the practical lack of easily available discussions of these sorts of issues now that I’m dating, it is about the symbolism of the absence in our discussion. Past experience has told me that often these sorts of things resolve themselves organically in my own relationships. I’m fairly confident that if I continue to be the honest, open and caring person I try and often succeed at being it is unlikely that any potential partner will feel uncomfortable pressure or offense. Yet what does it mean that there is no cultural conversation about this. Do people either accept offense and pressure as hazards of dating or possess some sort of brazen honesty on these subjects that risks scarring off potential partners in order to avoid said pressure and offense.

And if I’m perfectly honest with myself [and by myself I of course mean the 20 random people who will read this], it would be practically helpful for me too. What if I’m wrong about things working out organically? What if one of my many unknown unknown’s was that I am doing things in my organically developing relationships to offend women? It’s been known to happen [ “nice guy patriarchy” or back when I used to dance beside girls and pretend like I was dancing with them in college].

So, Facebook friends, random bloggers, fellow allies, womanists, feminist, queer theorists and free thinkers: how do you date ethically in the modern world? I suppose I should also ask, is it reasonable to expect to be able to date, hold true to your needs, wants and beliefs without inadvertently benefiting from or perpetuating patriarchy? I’m not asking about how to date without getting your feelings hurt [mom I know that probably what you’re about to send me a heartfelt message about…send it anyway just in case] I thinking dating, like all human interactions, come with risk and miscommunications. My question is can it come without rape culture, patriarchy, emasculation and WTF moments? Not only would I like to know but I think this conversation (which is undoubtedly taking place somewhere in the interweb) needs to be more main stream. Please, if I’m simply missing out on a great conversation out there, post it in the comment section. Can’t wait to hear from you!

p.s. what’s the deal with :)’s. Is that deal breaker? What if I’m really excited about what I just said?

My Problem With Equality

Defend Equality [face]                                                                                                                                         Defend_Equality [fist]

Sometimes I forget what equality actually means. By that I mean I sometimes forget that equality is a two way street. If I treat others as I would want to be treated then I have to treat myself how I would like to be treated. I have to cut myself the slack I cut others and have to hold people to the same standards I live my life by. If I recognize that this human being in front of me is a worthwhile being with a narrow but valuable slice of the human experience then I must recognize that I too am a worthwhile human being. Equality means that while my sister is a wise, responsible pillar of support for me, she is also needs help from time to time. It means that even my father who seems almost static in his resiliency needs a break every now and then.

I am amazed at how little time I actually spend thinking about people as fully functional entities outside of the role they play in my life and how often certain people in my life are put on pedestals and seem divorced from petty concerns. As my uncle might say, I have slowly come to learn that “everybody’s shit stinks.”  Everybody worries, gets scarred, and everybody has flaws. It is as limiting and bothersome to interact with people as if “their shit doesn’t smell” as it is to assume that they are inferior. By putting people on a pedestal we refuse them room to run, exercise and grow strong. Pedestals are as limiting as chains.

I’m reminded of this more and more as I enter the dating world of new city. This means meeting and interacting not only with different women but different kinds of women. I have learned to appreciate this diversity and try to not go into each date assuming I know more than I’ve been told about them. This is complicated with a personal tendency, a waning tendency but a tendency none the less, to try and place people in some hierarchy in relationship to myself. In terms of dating this usually means that a girl is put so high on a pedestal as to be labeled unattainable or I spend an inordinate and honestly disturbing amount of time finding enough flaws for her to be brought down to a “manageable level”. I used to think that this “manageable level” was the same as equality, that in a sense I was reassuring myself that they were as flawed as me. Yet, over time I’ve come to realize that this is not the case. A manageable level is comfortably below me in some way because, as stated earlier, I have a problem with equality.

In trying to figure out exactly what problem was I was aided, ironically, by a particularly bigoted blog post. A female friend of mine, with whom I would often talk about gender with, recently sent me a blog post called “The Case Against Female Self Esteem.” I won’t post a link to it, as I normally would, because I don’t feel a need to give it more traffic but you can Google it if you feel the need.  The blog post, written by a man with a different problem with equality, makes a few main if illogical points. Most notable are that most girls have done nothing to deserve self-esteem and that vulnerability is inherent to femininity. I will look far beyond the factual inaccuracies of the post, the readily apparent projections of an emasculated psyche and out right bigotry.

The first thing that pique my interest in the post was the claim that most “girls” have done nothing to earn to self-esteem. The author goes on to explain unlike the supposedly lazy female self, a man who is “jacked” has dedicated time to his physique and that dedication is admirable. The author proves this fact by saying that no one would respects a man who sits down and plays video games all day. Women, in his mind, tend to spend their times getting college degrees in puppetry or other soft [i.e. non-STEM] degrees, working in human resources, teaching, nursing and other non-essential industries.  Thus, having done nothing of note, women have no right to self-esteem, which is earned and not inherent (a claim, if not outright dubious, at least begs proof).

What is thought provoking about this to me is how the author clearly gendered his world and proclaimed all things worthwhile are Male and all things supportive or extra are Feminine. Not to mention that my mother was in Human Resources, as was my father, and their dedication to craft far out stripped any body builder I have ever met but is an argument for another time.

Upon reading this piece I began to wonder how this author’s problem with equality compared with my own. Like the author, my world is inherently gendered. I still think of speaking about my emotions as a feminine activity. Even this blog feels slightly feminine to me. I realized in exploring that idea, that of my gendered world, that I have come to think of the world as split between Male and Female as two cooperating forces that seek balance. I don’t intellectual think this feeling has a ton of merit or truth yet it a sense of how I view the world that I have come to realize subconsciously informs my actions. The author of this blog post on the other hand seems to think of Male and Female as complementary forces, each with a specific duty and place within a specific hierarchy.

[I’m still trying to flesh out this idea of a gendered world and would love to hear any thoughts about it]

Like the author against female self-esteem, I do find vulnerability attractive. Yet, I have the sense that what I find attractive about vulnerability defers from his. There was I time when I could sympathize with the desire to be a “real man,” the type of man whom protected women, sheltered women and provided for women. I think that idea, that women have an inherent need to be protected by men, speaks to a great deal of insecurity within men. For me at least, it speaks to a need of mine to be needed. A need which itself arises from feelings of uselessness and a profound lack of self-worth. In this mind set, women become something to give me meaning and value. This either chains women into a role as tools or sets them on pedestals as tokens of self-worth and personal prowess. As I grew up and found my own feelings of self-worth in other endeavors, the need to be needed did not go away but lost a significant facet of it urgency. I eventually found that I wanted to be needed and, honestly, who doesn’t want to be needed every now and again? [Again, commitment phobia is yet another topic for another time]

As I became less insecure I became more open. I developed very strong and sustaining friendships with several women who taught me a valuable lesson: vulnerability allows for intimacy and when someone is allowing themselves to be vulnerable with you, that is as much a sign of strength and security as it is trust. While, problems with intimacy is literally a blog post for another time, I will say that it took be a while to learn the difference between when vulnerability speaks to an inherent weakness and when allowing yourself to be vulnerable in order to increase intimacy is a show of strength. I think this is so fundamental that it is a lesson that men who have learned it need to discuss more often and teach their sons.

It was not an easy lesson to learn and was not learned over night. There were a lot of times when every vulnerable statement had to be stated in the most masculine terms [droping my voice an octave, cracking my knuckles etc]  and qualified a million times over. This posturing before allowing yourself to be vulnerable not only lessens the intimacy between two people but again, speaks to insecurities that should be worked out.

Now my more mature, almost emotionally adult, self views intentional vulnerability as attractive because I have learned to value of intimacy no matter how fleeting. Intimacy allows us to see each other with our walls and guards down and I believe that we have a lot to learn from each other when we do. This intimacy is valuable far beyond the romantic endeavors that many men think off. Intimacy between two human beings is useful not only outside of the bed room but devoid of any sexual or romantic context.

For example, while in Chicago I grew very close with one of my cousins. I talked to him about every aspect of my life in an open and honest way. As I sat and listened him talk about his marriage, trouble and triumph at work and heard stories of fatherhood I learned the value of family as well as the burdens and rewards of being responsible.  The intimate conversations I’ve had with the few men I trust enough to have them have taught me a lot about what if really means to be a man; what it means to be a responsible adult for that matter with all the burdens, chains, freedom and strengths it brings.

Yet speaking to people with your guards down is inherently dangerous. The more you open yourself the more you risk. What if they don’t like what they see? In thinking about this fact, I realized that I solved this problem in a very juvenile way at first. I examined the other person for all of their flaws and gathered enough ammunition to destroy my respect for them if they wounded me. It allowed for an awkward mix of vulnerability and security. It is if instead of building a wall around my self esteem I established a nuclear deterrent. Over time I have consciously tried to build my own confidence and feeling of self-worth up enough to be open to the world without the nuclear option. I believe that that is yet another difference between my problems with equality and the problems of the aforementioned author.

I have trouble seeing anyone as an equal because it means that it would not be fair to stock up ammunition on them. This stems from the fact that if someone doesn’t like me that doesn’t make them a bad person and part of interacting with people as equals is recognizing that. The flip side is that if I show them my vulnerability as my equal I am forced to take their response to heart because I value their opinion. Again, I have to understand that, like me, they have a narrow sliver of the human experience than informs their world view. So like mine, their opinion is just that, and opinion not a statement of fact. This new world view and understanding of equality is tiresome but incredibly rewarding. I have learned so much from conversations among equals in the past few months. Even the phrase “narrow sliver of the human experience” is one paraphrased from statement a friend made during an intimate conversation.

I suspect the author of “The Case Against Female Self Esteem” would disagree with the benefits of intimacy and the basic idea that we have anything to learn from each other’s human experience. That is why spitting fact after fact about equality means nothing to people who hold fast to bigoted ideas. At the end of the day, they fundamentally deny that a women’s narrow slice of the human experience has any value.  I think this is true of most, if not all, prejudice. It stems from a refusal to accept the validity of each other’s human experience. No amount of facts and figures can change someone’s opinion of a group if they refuse to acknowledge that simple fact.

So, with no further ado, I bring you my thoughts on how to treat people:

  1. Treat people as equals.
    1. There are a lot of arguments to be made for the inherent equality of people but I’m not actually sure I agree with them. I treat everyone as an equal because it is the easiest way to learn from the human experience and the most sure way to ensure that the people in your life add real tangible value to your life.
  2. Equality is not only about raising everyone to your level, it is also about raising yourself to theirs.
    1. By refusing to deny the nobility of the least among us we cannot help but affirm our own nobility. If you can value the poise of the women asking for money to feed her family than it should be easier to stay poised when facing your own triumphs.
  3.  Our worldview is determined by our sliver of the human experience and given the vast multitude of lives that are being lived it is important to recognize that that sliver is inherently narrow. We cannot know what it is like to be an orphan because we read Oliver Twist. The most we can seek to do is gain access to the equally narrow human experience of others through honest dialog and expand our world view.
  4. Help other people.
    1. Like equality, there are a lot of arguments for helping people. Some with more merit than others. The only argument I will give is that from my experience compassion and generosity are as much muscles and tools as they are virtues. The more we utilize them, the stronger they get and the more useful they are. We will all be faced with moments where a little more patience would help get us what we want or need. Whether it is teaching a child a lesson or dealing with a difficult boss. The more exercise you have treating being with generosity and compassion the easier it will be to tap into them when it is to your advantage.

What do you think? I’d love to hear from people about their own thoughts for how to treat people or thoughts on mine. Do you also have another problem with equality?