What Black Queer Feminism Has Taught Me: Intersectionality, Nurturance Culture and Transformative Relationships

Last week I had the honor of speaking on a panel at American University put on by a coalition of POC student groups. My fellow panelist Zoe Samudzi, a dope Black Queer Womanist based in San Francisco, gave one of the most useful definitions of intersectionality that I have ever heard. While I can’t give her articulation of it justice, the basic idea is that, contrary to mainstream white feminism’s use of the term, intersectionality isn’t just about multiple layers of oppression. It is not a simple listing of privileges and oppressions. Intersectionality means that Black women face a kind of oppression that is a result of capitalist, white supremacist, cis-hetero-patriarchal re-imaginings of Black Womanhood. To put it another way, one cannot understand the mechanism of misogynoir [the oppression of Black women] by listing the oppression of Black people and the oppression of women and merging the list.

For instance, misogynoir often hyper-masculinizes Black women, robbing them of the protection afforded to the inherently domestic and nationally protected white womanhood but their femme identity robs them of the fear and mythologies of strength that offer Black men some measure of social protection. In essence, this means misogynoir has its own twisted logic that is more than just a mix of patriarchy and white supremacy.

Her brilliance has greatly informed my growing understanding of the term. The most profound moment on the panel for me however, was when Venus Selenite talked about how the idea of intersectionality is often misused to further tokenize multiply-marginalized people. Venus is Black Trans activist and public intellectual who spoke at an event on the murder of Black Trans Women that I helped organize. She stated that she regretted speaking at the rally because it was merely the performance of solidarity. She never even heard of the campaign again after that. All of the promises of follow through never really materialized.

As a main organizer of that event I would have to agree, at least for my involvement in it. It was the performance of solidarity with a lack of follow through that betrayed a lack of actual solidarity with Black Transwomen.

These two opening comments hit me very profoundly. Suddenly, something clicked intellectually that I had been working out in my mind for months. While Venus’ critique did make me uncomfortable, months of internal emotional work as allowed me to understand this discomfort for what it is: a gift. It was a reminder that not only must I do better but that I am capable of better, of more. Rather than “getting all up in my feelings” I took responsibility for my inaction not only publically but internally. I tried, as best as I could, to channel the wisdom of my friend and teacher Elle Hearns, in regards to teachable moments and collaborative solidarity. I explained the reason for my failure, not only to attempt to practice restorative justice and accountability but to illustrate a larger point: making mistakes does not make us mistakes and our failures can be powerful lessons when we hold each in love.

I explained to Venus and the audience how the event, while problematic, helped me recognize that I have a lot of issues with internalized transphobia, especially transmisogynoir [the hatred and oppression of Black Trans Women]. Like any leftist, I felt the political pressure of the moment to be intersectional in my organizing. Yet, because I rarely practice collaborative solidarity with my Black trans siblings, my organizing around trans issues tends to be transactional.

Often times we pretend that our relationships are not transactional when we don’t explicitly ask for anything in return. Under this logic, it is not transactional to provide a “safe space” for Venus to speak her truth. Let’s push aside the false notion that I, as an organizer, actually did the work to make sure the sure the space was safe for Venus. There are many ways in which I used Venus’ story to perform solidarity and prove that I am “down.”

This is not to say that I consciously used Venus to show how intersectional I was. Yet, as I often write about, intent matters much less than we usually say it does. When my friend Elle put out the call for cis Black men to organize an event I jumped at the chance. I wanted to “give back” to all the Black transwomen who had helped me [directly and indirectly] and address this nagging feeling that I had not done enough to help Black transwomen in my organizing. Aside from the paternalism inherent in how I conceived of “giving back,” I don’t think that my desire to answer this call was in itself problematic.

What was problematic was the fact that I conceived of my relationship with Elle and Black Trans people more broadly, in transactional terms i.e. you did something for me so I will do something for you. That is not solidarity. Equally problematic was the tokenism involved in using Elle as a stand in for the broader Trans community which I did not fully realize at the time.
We often think of transactional relationships as entering relationships with a sense of “what do I get out of this?” While this is true, I would argue that a relationship is no less transactional because your “price” is an unnamed favor in the future. I would argue in fact, that a transaction that assumes someone or a community will always fight for you and will continue fighting for you regardless of what happens, is not only transactional but abusive.

As a cis Black male, I can bank on Black Trans women fighting for me, regardless of whether I fight for them. It has never crossed my mind that Elle or Venus would not be on the streets fighting for me. For me to bank of this one sided solidarity and then use it to solidify how “down” and intersectional I am is not only abusive but oppressive in the specific patterns of oppressions that typify transmisogynoir.

Instead of being transactional within my own family, I should have had reciprocal relationships with them. Reciprocal relationships are the only way to have true solidarity. A reciprocal relationships is one based on honest interactions, equitable negations of terms and long term vision. If I had been reciprocal with my relationship with Elle I would have had honest conversations about my capacity and level of understanding and would have had mature, direct loving communications about how involved she wanted to be in the planning. I would have been honest about what I would have gotten out of this campaign and what Elle wanted from the organizers not only for the week but also in our ongoing, evolving relationship.

Instead, due to my insecurity with own organizing ability and trans familiarity and in a rush to perform solidarity instead of embodying it, I ended up stumbling along in the dark. It also meant that I had to rely heavily on the support of Black women like Erika Totten, defeating the intention of call for cis Black men leading the charge. If I had had a long term view of my relationship with my Black trans siblings, I would have thought about how to use the action to create multiple relations with other Black trans people. I would not have simply run into Venus by chance months later.

The Importance of Love in Organizing

This is not to say that my relationship with Elle or my other trans siblings is or was completely abusive and oppressive. However, it is an honest recognition of the fact that capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy has breed a culture of lovelessness into ALL of my relationships. It has limited my human ability to feel, practice and reciprocate love. This is a recognition that transactional relationships are not loving relationships.

As Darnell L. Moore’s essay beautiful illustrates: “When we know another loves us, right critique is not treated as wrong and uplift is understood as a collective and not individual endeavor. Love is not violence. And freedom is not lovelessness. And we don’t have the time to not love each other in our present. And if even if we did, time is too expensive to deny another black person the very force that might catalyze their survival.”

This brings me to heart of this essay: what Black Queer Feminism has given to me.

It has given me to the ability to truly love. To love my self. To love my blackness. To love my body. To love my people and show that love in healthy, sustainable ways. It has given me the intellectual tools to understand how I have internalized capitalist, white supremacist, cis-hetero patriarchal imaginings of my Black maleness.

As my sister Erika Totten would say, I have internalized the “fight or fuck response” of cis-hetero patriarchy. This fight or fuck response removes much of the nuisance and depth from my relationships. It means that my relationships with men are highly competitive and even joy is expressed through violence whether it is the violence of playing football, or brotherly punches in the arm or in the violence of my language when I am in all male spaces.

With women, the fight or fuck response becomes even more problematic. It has often led me to overly sexualize positive feelings of affinity with women. This has always been in conflict with my rather sex-negative but pro-gender equality upbringing. A conflict that often resulted in discomfort with non-sexual physical touch and sexual repression writ large. There is also something inherently effeminate and sexually suspicious in our society about a man who is constantly surrounded by women he has no intention of fucking. I have dealt with the pressure of this societal suspicion, and the internally questioning of my sexuality that it instilled in me, all my life.

It has only through a 10 year journey of my deepening engagement with sex positive, body positive feminism that I am able to untangle and start to grow past these conflicts. It is only through the intersectionality I was exposed to in the Black Queer Feminism in the Movement for Black Lives [M4BL] that I was able to actually begin to resolve these conflicts.

On Trans Brilliance and Transformative Relationships

This leads me to the second thing that clicked for me in what Venus said on the panel: what I have gained through my on-going journey of identifying, naming and processing my internalized transmisgoynoir.

I realized that the root of my transmigoynoir is my sexual attraction to Black transwomen. Our collective imagining of Black masculinity does not allow for one to be a “real man” while also being attracted to trans women. This is similar, but distinct, from Black male homophobia.

While it is equally true that our collective imagining have little room for Black men loving other Black men, Black transwomen present a unique challenge to narrowly drawn and fragile Black men. It is their inherent femininity that is attractive to me, to us. Yet, in a binary masculinity, attraction to Black trans women either makes a Black man gay or a man unfairly “tricked” by a Black man dressed as a woman. For binary men, this triggers our fight or fuck response which, in a society infected with pervasive rape culture, often leads to violence and murder. This is the reason that so many Black Transwomen died last year.

This attraction, and the cognitive dissonance it created, caused a prolonged sense of discomfort in me. It was only through Elle Hearns and other trans activists’ articulation of #transbrilliance that I was able to resolve it in a healthy, sex and body positive, trans-inclusive way. Again, trans brilliance is an idea that I am not able to give justice. Yet my understanding is that trans brilliance, like the term Black girl magic, refers to the lessons of resilience that communities learn in their resistance to their specific location on the matrix of oppression.

Trans brilliance is the kind of radical solidarity that Sylvia Rivera practiced with STAR [Street Transgender {originally Transvestite} Action Revolutionaries] where she provided housing and economic support to gender non-conforming and gay youth in 60’s San Francisco [among other amazing things]. Trans brilliance is the vibrancy of self-expression and radical, communally based, self confidence that many of our trans sibling exemplify. Trans brilliance is the direct, loving communication that our trans siblings displayed in their demands at the M4BL Convening where they neither demonized the Black community for its transphobia nor allowed oppression to be comfortable around them.

This lesson of Trans brilliance, along with the emotional emancipation work of Erika Totten’s EEC’s, the lessons of Black Queer Feminist dreaming I learned from the work Alexis Pauline Gumbs and the example of my unapologetically Black Queer friends in BYP 100 DC and the Movement for Black Live at large has allowed me to re-envision a non-binary Black maleness for myself. I can dream and embody a Black maleness that is not based on an exclusionary and binary understanding of gender. I can dream and embody a nurturing masculinity that better reflects how I want to interact with the world and how I want to contribute to the movement for my own liberation.

This understanding of the intersectional power and value of trans brilliance and Black girl magic, along with a non-binary understanding of masculinity that grants me access to gender-fluid and masculine nurturing allows me to create and sustain transformative relationships.

The Power of Transformative Relationships in Decentralized Network Based Organizing

 

If transactional relationships are typified by a “what can I get out of this” mentality and reciprocal relationships are typified by a collaborative solidarity informed by honesty, equity and long term vision then transformative relationships are ones that leverage the power of reciprocal relationships to transform spaces and endeavors in ways that improve the freedom, joy, power and self-determination of all parties.

In many ways, the trauma and emergent strategies informed praxis that the M4BL uses is an attempt to operationalize the power of transformative relationships in decentralized networks for broad based social change. We recognize, intuitively, that transformative relationships are revolutionary. They are relationships that allow us to tap into a collective erotic power that allows us to begin to share our need for individual and communal excellence.

Transformative relationships in social movements allow for hundreds of new activist to learn a lifetime worth of political analysis in months by submerging them in constant political analysis and giving them ample opportunity to practice and embody new lessons. Transformative relationship operate from a paradigm of abundance, accountability and love; changing the way we view the world and each other. Transformative relationships allow us to access all of the knowledge we have gleaned from different but interlaced histories of resistance for collaborative power with [as opposed to dominating power over.]

Transformative relationships in organizing encourage us to be fractal or to embody our politics on personal, interpersonal and communal levels. Like all dynamic relationships, transformative relationships foster iterative processes that change as new data or history is added. Transformative relationships are rare and take a great deal of trust and internal work to create and sustain but are immeasurably powerful. This trust and accountability allows for increased flexibility and rapid adaptation around shared values.

As we think about using transformative relationships in the context of social change, it is also crucial to note that power is an inherent aspect of transformative relationships. Our trans siblings, in all their grace and love, did not ask politely for the broader Black community to accept them. Trans organizers and activist have been doing exactly what their titles imply [organizing and acting] to demand cultural change within our community. Elle Hearns and Venus Selenite’s ability to stand in their personal power [both political, intellectual, and spiritual] is a large part of how I learned from them. The narrative and cultural power of Black Queer Feminist like Audre Lorde also added to the power behind their lessons. As did a culture of centering the narratives of the most marginalized community members that infuses the M4BL network.

All of these types of power mixed with the love, support and compassion of how this power [trans brilliance and black girl magic] was used and embodied continuously by those around me to aid me in my personal transformation. As Silvia Federici articulated, power educates. To paraphrase a line from her amazing book “Revolution at Point Zero” first men will fear this power, then they learn from it once capitalism [or patriarchy or white supremacy] learns to fear this power.

As I stated before, it has taken a lot of internal work to see this power as a gift and not a threat. It has taken even more internal work and practice experimenting with and standing in my own power, to learn from this power and attempt to stand with my Trans siblings in it in transformative, accountable and collaborative solidarity. It has also taken a history of organizing through what Amiri Baraka might call “revolutionary theater” to create a counter or queer script for gender that empowers women and non-binary folks.

The intersectional power of transformative relationships are not limited to issues of gender, sex and sexual orientation. In many ways, unapologetic Blackness as a political theme and ratched politics in general are lessons learned by Black upwardly mobile millennials from our working class and poor siblings. I firmly believe that we should expand this thinking to include burgeoning coalitions between POC communities and in our collaborations with white allies.

Transformative Relationships Within the Anti-Racism Movement

Too often, the model of solidarity we use in anti-racism work is based on abusive transactional relationships. Anti-racist solidarity is distinct from other forms of transactional relationships between different communities like services presented as charity or tokenism rampant in the performance of white and POC ally ship. This is both a particularly dehumanizing and ineffective model of solidarity in which the transactional nature of the relationship is obfuscated as a repayment of a historic debt. While White people and other communities that benefit from anti-Black White Supremacy do have a debt that they must pay, that debt is fundamentally not payable by disempowering themselves through some guilt ridden attempt to shift their power over to Black people.

To get free we need more power, not less. We need more leaders not enfeebled followers.

This idea that white people must give up their power is based on a white middle class and masculine limiting belief in scarcity. It presumes that either power is inherently bad [or at least bad in white people’s hands] or that it is a zero sum game. Intersectional transformative relationships teach us that power works in abundance. Just as standing in solidarity with my Black Trans siblings requires me to stand in my own transformative non-binary masculine power, not abdicate it, so too must non-Black people stand in their own transformative power. Yet in order for them to do it, they must first discover it and re-imagine their identities is a way that accepts my existence and my inherent humanity.

If you are afraid of your power or unable to separate your use of it and your identification with it from the dominance of my Black maleness, then you cannot stand in solidarity with me.

Re-framing the Ally Journey

I often talk about how my tendency to gravitate towards femme spaces and people [or perhaps more accurately my aversion to masculine spaces and traumatic history with other men] forced me to learn how to make women comfortable as way to ensure that I could stay in those spaces.

Yet, am I learning that a more accurate way to understand my relationships with women is to say that I have been transformed by my relationships with women. My progressive transformation has allowed me to unlearn the fight or fuck responses that grant me access to my nurturing skills which in turn allow me to build more authentic [and eventually transformative] learning relationships with more and more women.

As I began to learn from and depend on more and more women, I began to change the way I saw myself. This allowed me to respond to the feminine power that drives the M4BL and the history of Black femme resistance that guide it from a place of curiosity and gratitude. This disposition allowed me to learn from the power of women like Omolara Williams McCallister who once gave me one of my favorite compliments when she said “you are very teachable.”

I firmly believe that everyone must go through their own journey to this transformative power and re-imagining of their identities. I believe that Black Queer Feminism provides a poetic road map to complicate and guide this journey. My relationships with powerful women of color like Darakshan Raja, the indomitable co-founder of the Muslim Women’s Policy Forum, as also taught me that each of our identities and communities have powerful lessons to the teach the world that can be accessed through transformative relationships. Our relationship has also taught me that such cross-cultural/class/racial/gender transformative relationships take a great deal of evolving internal emotional work and on-going political analysis building in order to useful for movement building.

This is why I am going to redouble my efforts to explore and embrace my nurturing side; to invest in my personal transformative relationships and guide and nurture other people in doing the same. I what to identify what other self-limiting beliefs that capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy have instilled in me. I want to identify the systems and institutions that teach and re-enforce those lies. I want to stand with everyone willing in collective transformative power to dismantle these systems within ourselves, or communities and society as a whole.

I hope this articulation of my learning journey was as illuminating in your reading as it has been healing in my writing of it. I hope that my friends will continue to hold me in love as I stumble along this path of processing my internalized misogyny and transphobia. I hope that we will all make it to our beloved community, to that land filled with love and abundance before we are through. I hope all of you who know me will allow me to continue loving you and practice my nurturing by nurturing you. I hope you all continue to allow to thank you for all you have given me. I hope all of you in relationship with me continue to teach me how to better to stand in my transformative power. I hope to continue to hold you all accountable to your greatest, most gorgeous, most powerful selves.

 

If this essay sparked some interest in you, read pieces that inspired this essay below:

On the culture of Lovelessness:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/darnell-l-moore/you-arent-leader-if-you-dont-love_b_9229394.html

On nurturance culture and building relationships as a male feminist:

The Opposite of Rape Culture is Nurturance Culture
http://www.mediacoop.ca/blog/norasamaran/19018

On the Erotic:
http://uk.sagepub.com/sites/default/files/upm-binaries/11881_Chapter_5.pdf

Silvia Federici:

http://www.churchland.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Federici-Silvia-Revolution-Point-Zero-Housework-Reproduction-and-Feminist-Struggle.pdf

On dreams and re-imaginings:

http://alexispauline.com/

On ally performance:

How to Tell the Difference Between Real Solidarity and ‘Ally Theater’

On Misogynoir and Transmisogynoir:

On the different types of power:

http://leadershiplearning.org/system/files/Power%20Analysis%20Types%20and%20Sources%20of%20Power.pdf

On White Middle Class Dominant Culture:

http://www.stevebozzone.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Elements-of-White-Middle-Class-Dominant-Culture.pdf

On Emergent Strategies and Decentralized Movement Organizing:

https://www.alliedmedia.org/esii/resources
http://movementnetlab.org/

Feminist Reflections on my Spiritual Sabbatical

As I think about my role as a prominent leader in the Movement for Black Lives in DC and recognize the ways that masculinity and middle class dominate cultural values have biased by leadership, I am excited by the possibilities that feminism has to offer me. As I have forced myself to take some time to think about the emotional and spiritual toll this work has had on me, I am over joyed at the possibility for a reprieve. That is why I will be taking a spiritual sabbatical in the month of December.

It is unclear to me what this will look like exactly. What I have decided on is that I will be doing much much less work for the Movement for Black Lives in December. I will take time to rest, heal, reflect and learn from my community and the universe as I can. I will take the time to gain perspective and clarify my vision for myself, my community and the world. I will try to re-learn the truth that I am loved because I deserve to be loved and that I deserve to be loved because of who I am and not what I do.

In preparation for this sabbatical, I have taken to reading materials that might change my perspective on the world and give me the tools to grow and evolve in the movement.

One of the many books I am currently reading is Silvia Federici’s “Revolutions at Point Zero: House Work, Reproduction and the Feminist Struggle.” It is blowing my mind. Her perspective on the history of the feminist labor struggle and keen observations of the historic connections of the Feminist Movement in America following the Black Liberation movement seem to have important implications for the Movement for Black Lives.

BLM often talks about “re-claiming space” and understanding the spiritual importance of Black space. Her writings have me considering the economic and political ramifications of owning and controlling space separate from owning property. As I investigate what autonomy means and looks like through a Black Queer Feminist lens I am reminded of a conversation I had with Erika Totten about what I felt my role in the movement should be.

What does it mean to provide leadership as a Black man in the Movement for Black Lives? What does supporting Black women and recognizing their unique role as the engines of American history mean in practice? I think Federici’s work, coupled with authors I am more familiar with like Audre Lorde, Angela Davis and Bell Hooks, points towards a re-investment and valorization of housework by Black men such as myself.

By re-investing in “house work” [broadly defined as community sustaining activities like childcare, elder care, cooking, emotional labor, mutli-generational narrative creation and healing work] we free up women and gender-non-conforming folx to do the strategic organizing and movement work that their places on the spectrum on various oppressions give them the unique perspective the lead on.

Equally important, we provide ourselves the opportunity to emancipate our minds and spirits from the limiting chains of masculinity. The “home,” broadly defined, is the perfect space for Black men to re-invent or deconstruct or dismantle the poisonous aspects of Black masculinity in ways that both support our non-male siblings and shelters us from the daily emasculations of capitalism and white supremacy.

I have come to realize that the disempowerment that Black men feel in our daily emasculations in a capitalist and white supremacist society is the destructive fuel of Black patriarchy. We are so often disempowered in our daily existence that we reach for power in the only system in which we have it. In a sense, our oppression creates a series of voids in our psyches and spirits that we try to fill in with power and commercial validation. I am beginning to see an opportunity for us to escape this feedback loop of disempowerment by oppression followed by reinvestment in our oppression through the home.

How empowering would if feel to Black men to get our sense of human validation from emotionally supporting our families [broadly defined] rather than anxiously trying to game a system founded in our bondage in order to support them financially? Imagine what our communities might look like if we supported Black women and Black gender-non-conforming folx in transforming leadership and the workplace as Black men and gender-non-conforming folx transform the home?

As a lifelong admirer of Black girl magic and strong believer in the inherent artifice of all our identities I am excited about the afro-futurist possibilities of such an endeavor. Might we discover, through putting our Black queer feminist lens into practice, Black boy sorcery and gender-non-conforming alchemy? Might trans* brilliance an Black girl magic reach its fullest expressions of power if Black men invest in the home? Might we all find more added capacity if, understanding that ideas of the scarcity of leadership is a figment of the middle class white imagination, we step back from our positions of power over to make more room to step into our power together?

These are the things I will be exploring on my sabbatical. In glimpsing these possibilities and writing them out they feel more real to me already. I appreciate all of you who I know will support me in this month of healing and growth. I am honored by the talent and leadership of those who have stepped into power with me as I stepped back from power over certain projects. It has confirmed to me, more than anything else: that I am beautiful, I am not alone and collectively we are powerful beyond measure.

The Truth About Gender Based Violence

cropped-defend_equality_power-and-equality1.jpg

Elliot Rodger terrifies me.

It’s not that I’m afraid that some kid like him will attack me or, worse, someone I love. I don’t think Men’s Rights advocates are going to join with the NRA to declare open season on women. What scares me about Elliot Rodgers — what makes my whole body clinch into a coil when women I respect and care about talk about him — is that he doesn’t seem all that extreme to me. I understand where he is coming from.

He is every teenage boy I played football with. He is my brother. He is my father and, to a very sickening degree, he is me. More to the point, Elliot Rodger reminds me that society has already declared open season on female bodies.

A few weeks ago, a woman with whom I’ve been fortunate enough to have organized with on progressive causes sent me a letter written by another organizer in my city. It’s a plea to consider the epidemic of horny, angry young men who haven’t had sex for extended periods of time as a public health crisis. The writer goes on to say, that while he thinks murder is wrong, Elliot Rodgers’ rampage could have been prevented if only someone had set him up with women to have sex with. He cites other spree killers who “snapped” after extended periods of time without sex, as well as several unnamed studies that show sex reduces stress and leads to a more balanced mental state. The author writes, at length, about how women just need to stop thinking emotionally about this issue and start thinking logically.

As I talked to my friend and fellow organizer about this letter and saw her reaction, her visceral fear that a man like this could be working alongside her, I was filled with another kind of visceral discomfort entirely: I didn’t think anything he said was that extreme. Even if I disagree, I can understand where he is coming from. Some of the logic of the rant rang “true” to me. There’s normalcy to this seemingly extreme behavior.

This is not to say that the normalcy of these beliefs make them any less dangerous. Nor that every man is a powder keg of misogyny waiting to explode. My point is that these moments of mass gender-based violence are merely a symptom of much more widespread and virulent problem: the formation of masculinity.

Why Masculinity Is The Problem

There’s a distinction between an individual man and the larger social idea of masculinity. Masculinity is way of being: it is all of the things we mean when we say “that guy is so manly.” Being a man means you, either innately or through social pressure, identity with your culture’s construction of maleness — you call yourself a man, you think of yourself as a man, and when you decide how you should act in social situations, you observe other men. You’re part of the group of humans who seek to be masculine, consciously or subconsciously.

Being born with a penis, a Y chromosome, and the ability to grow a beard is not the problem. Testosterone (though a possible factor) is not really the problem. The way we teach men to behave is the problem. Masculinity is the problem.

It is the logic of masculinity that blinds most men to their privilege; it is this logic that causes some men to rape; and it is this logic that causes some men to kill. It is a logic that is ingrained into the psyche of all men, a logic so embedded as to become almost invisible. I believe that as long as we view this logic as the exception and not the rule, society will continue to tacitly endorse violence on women.
It must also be said that masculinity is as much as an identity as it is a socially constructed justification for allowing men to have privilege. This seems like a radical claim but it is actually rather obvious. Masculinity is not inherent to everyone born with the biological markers our society decided to call male. If this was the case, it would be unnecessary for fathers to teach sons how to be men. We would not tell boys to “man up” if boys naturally grew into men. Nor does it make sense that masculinity is a cultural idea created organically over time. Organic cultural ideas are not defended by their adherents, only carefully constructed ideas are. For example, human bodies are meant to walk or run from place to place. This idea has a biological basis in the natural world. Yet, you don’t see threats of violence every time a pilot decides to fly. Yet, in America, if a man were to wear a dress he would be met with credible threats of violence.

Yet, men who commit violence against women assert their inherent, “natural”, and biological determinism as men as the justification for their heinous acts. It would be easy to dismiss this pathological denial of simple truths if it were merely the actions of a few misguided men. Unfortunately, the construction of masculinity is a social project undertaken by all men, myself included. Every time I tell a boy to “act like a man,” or remain silent while someone else does, I am taking part in this social project. In order for this fatal masculinity to function, it requires both the visceral hatred of women by a select few and the near ubiquitous silence of the majority.

Audre Lorde eloquently stated that, as a woman facing the brutal oppression of life under male supremacy, “your silence will not protect you.” As men, we must come to realize that our silent acquiescence to the logic of masculinity enables the rape, coercion and murder of women. For men, silence in the face of culture of violence is not merely unproductive; it is downright destructive.

I’m not interested in validating the arguments that support misogyny. However, I do think it’s important to illustrate how the logic of masculinity twists mundane facts into apologies for rape and murder. Without making those connections, men like myself will perhaps see no need to question our own internal logic and beliefs. Without some serious introspection by men, we will raise yet another generation of spree killers, rapist, abusers, and enablers.

Weeding Out Emotional Understanding

I would argue that the most strongly held sexist belief in America is the idea that men are less emotional than women, and therefore more logical. That belief is often perpetuated by well-meaning men taught , as all men are taught, to suppress their emotions. This may seem like a small thing, almost like an example in a magazine article entitled “10 ways men are different than women,” but it illustrates a much larger problem in our society: We raise 49% of the population under a gender identity that systematically weeds out emotional understanding.

When men have emotions that our society has determined are not masculine, they are uniformly told to suppress them through masculine activities. I remember talking to my High School coach about a girl who didn’t return my affection. He told me, in the smug voice of the patriarchy, that’s why god gave us football and to “work it out on the field.” This mantra, work it out on the field, becomes the way men are always told to deal with emotion. Ignore the pain, act manly, and you’ll feel better.

This systematically teaches boys that all emotional vulnerability stems from not being “man enough.” So, when faced with emotions, boys seek to perform their gender through feats of strength and control rather than processing their feelings fully. They also often attempt to invalidate the emotional responses that other people (usually womyn) may feel. Eventually, this flawed logic of emotion replaces actual emotional reasoning — with dangerous results.

Men systemically deny emotional responses until they respond with anger and aggression. This anger and aggression is often either denied or reframed to be the fault of the more emotive person (often, though not always, a womyn.) This is blatantly clear on reddits and blog post about gender. Men speak to the emotional insecurity feminism forces them to come to terms with the only way they know how: through rape threats and other forms of victim blaming.

This denial of emotion is clearly essential to the constructing of maleness though I, for the life of me, could not tell you why. It is possible masculinity seeks to control emotion as a way to limit empathy because it is hard to set yourself above someone if you have to consider their feelings while you do. This explanation seems likely, given that most forms of oppression tend to cause the oppressed to be seen as more emotionally vulgar. Whether it is the primness of aristocracy, the respectability of whiteness or the stoicism of maleness: dominance is always carefully constructed to cull empathy within the dominant class.

For men, this lack of emotional awareness causes several problems. Chief among them is the fact that men have emotions, regardless of whether they acknowledge them or not, and these emotions have to get expressed. When men have emotions that our society has determined are not masculine they are uniformly told to work them out through masculine activities. I remember talking to my High School coach about a girl not returning my affection. He told me, in the smug voice of the patriarchy, that’s why god gave us football and to “work it out on the field.” This mantra, work it out on the field, becomes the way men deal with emotion.

A young boy hurts his knee and he is told to walk it off. If he limps and shuffles it would not be unheard of for an older man to tell him walk like a man. The implicit message here being, ignore the pain, act manly and you’ll feel better. The same goes for all manner of emotional pain.

Sexual Frustration and Gender Based Violence

By tying the cure to all emotional vulnerability to acting “manly” we systematically teach boys that all emotional vulnerability stems from not being “man enough.” Boys seek to perform their gender through feats of strength and control when faced with emotions rather than process them fully. Eventually, this flawed logic of emotion replaces actual emotional reasoning, again to dangerous results.

Another belief central to misogyny is the notion that sexual frustration is the root of gender based violence. I believe that regular, consensual and safe sex between adults who share a sense of mutual respect is a decent way to manage many different types of stress. Yet it is absurd to say that men kill women out of sexual frustration.

The real culprits are not prudish women refusing to satisfy the needs of horny Neanderthals. Blaming women for this frustration isn’t just blaming the victim; it is wholly misunderstanding the problem. The problem is not that some men feel entitled to sex, or, as many feminist writers have posited, that most men feel entitled to sex. The problem is not even that some men think they are superior to women (though far too many do).

In reality, the problem is that nearly every derivation of modern American masculinity is fundamentally based on a specific, limiting, oppressive, and mutually fatal logic of maleness in which emotional insecurity and vulnerability can only be addressed through feats of violence and control.

We live in a male oriented society that tells men that they are only as important as they are manly, and that they are only as manly as their sexual and physical prowess. The more women they sleep with, or the more capable they are in perpetrating actual violence — or simulated violence through sports – the more fulfilled they are. In such a society, sex becomes a major avenue for external validation of men as social beings; validation without which no person, of any gender, can have stable and healthy emotional lives.

So when our social and sexual expectations are not met, instead of processing those emotions, far too often, men find convenient scapegoats and lash out.

Within this fatal perverted logic — and only within this logic — it makes sense that sexually frustrated men would kill. They have internalized their need for social validation as their masculinity not being accepted by society. They then perform their gender through feats of violence and control, such as rape and murder, to gain that social “proof” of maleness.

Masculinity and Scapegoating

Not all men deal with this dynamic by raping or killing, but that doesn’t mean they don’t find some way to exhibit violence and control. When our social and sexual expectations are not met, instead of processing those emotions, far too often, men lash out, and find convenient scapegoats. Few men are taught to effectively process and resolve emotional problems and all men have been taught the idea that emotional problems are a result of not being manly enough. Even for men who have grown past that idea intellectually feelings of failure often coincide with feelings of not being man enough. This means that regardless of what expectations are messaged to us, we are unable to process the feeling of vulnerability when those expectations are not met.

This is why we see a rise of domestic violence and racism after downturns in the economy. When people’s financial expectations are not met, they lash out and focus on a convenient scapegoat. Too often this leads to men hitting their wives as a way to compensate for not being able to provide for their families. In a sense, these men are substituting emotional or physical control for financial control. Similarly, white men have, historically, been prone to blame economic downturns on the “animalistic masculinity” of Black and Brown men. To paraphrase a former Klansman, hating America is too hard: it’s big and amorphous and you’re a part of it; it’s easier to blame to Black men for taking your jobs.

Unfortunately, domestic violence and racism are not the only places where male frustration and feelings of inadequacy lead to scapegoating and violence. In fact, perhaps one of the most common ways men lash out their feelings of inadequacy is through street harassment. Few men who ask strange women to suck their manhood actually expect the women to respond positively. Street harassment isn’t actually about getting sex; it is about asserting masculinity. The impulse that makes a group of men call out to women on the street is the same impulse that led me to run faster and hit harder in football. It’s all just “working it out on the field,” showing the world your sexual and physical prowess.

It is commonly believed that street harassment is a cultural problem of low income or minority communities given that street harassment is more likely to occur in communities where men hang out on the streets. Yet in reality, street harassment is simply another symptom of the logic of masculinity as men with more money exhibit the same behaviors in bars, by water coolers or on the internet. How often have you or a friend hit on a women in a bar after staring at her breast? How often has a male co-worker dismissed the irritation of a female colleague by saying “she just needs to get laid?”

Why That Sexist Joke Matters

The same form of thinking that leads to street harassment is present in all manners of male conversations. How often have you overheard male friends talk about how upset they are that someone won’t sleep with them? How often do your married friends complain that their wife always has a headache when they bring up the subject? How often have you been upset that your girlfriend didn’t want to have sex with you when you were horny? How often has this anger been expressed by calling the woman a bitch, slut, whore, prude or a tease?

It may seem like innocuous venting, but it is anything but. Words matter. More importantly, the words we use to categorize people matters, as it tells us how people deserve to be treated. If you to write an article on a bill and refer to the President as a politician, most readers would automatically start to be skeptical of their motives. If you refer to the President as “the last adult in Washington,” you have already helped frame how readers will react to the bill. If you refer to woman as a bitch, what, then, does she deserve? How about a whore? A Slut? A Prude? Or a tease?

To make this point another way, consider how most men feel when their best friend doesn’t want to hang out with them. For instance, if your friend tells you he has to work, you’re unlikely to be upset. If a friend says he has to have dinner with his girlfriend, some men might be a little more inclined to be irritated. If a friend says he can’t hang out because he would rather stare at a wall, most men would be upset. You can understand your friend’s need to work as being more important than your need to hang out. You might, given your personal feelings about committed relationships, easily understand the need for romance over “bromance.” However, few people would take kindly to their need for companionship take a second seat to staring at a wall. Then, we feel we are not giving us the time we deserve.

In that context, it becomes clear what we actually are thinking when we are upset with women for not sleeping with us: How dare they put their physical comfort, their desire to spend the night with their friends or their lack of sexual arousal, above our own needs? How dare they put their human need for self-fulfillment above our sexual ones? For this transgression, they are put into categories that justify our violence against them. Bitches need to be taught a lesson. Sluts are to be fucked and discarded. Whores to be fucked and bought off. Prudes just need to be coaxed. Teases just need a taste of their own medicine. The logic of these jokes is the same as the logic of street harassment. Before you know it, locker room talk leads to “she was asking for it”.

I remember a moment in high school when my friend was telling me about the latest girl he was pursuing. He said, “Sometimes, I think that I should just rape her…I know, it sounds crazy, but after a minute I think she’d learn to enjoy it.” My friend was clearly joking — but he was joking in the uncomfortable way that made Dave Chappelle stop his show, the kind of joking that so deeply blurs the line between humorous exaggerations and “funny because it’s true” statements that reinforce stereotypes. I called him out on it, disgusted, and immediately another guy told me to “quit being such a faggot.” Again, clearly joking…

Men who think misogyny doesn’t exist, or is vastly over stated by “femi-nazis,” often dismiss humor as existing outside of the things we actually believe in. They claim the jokes are funny because they are not true. Yet, if you think about how we actually develop our worldview, you can see that humor is the way we test out ideas and see if they are socially acceptable. If you want to know if you new glasses are cool or nerdy, it is often less emotionally risky to make a joke about them being nerdy, and gauge your friends’ reactions. The same is true for rape and domestic violence jokes we are told, still tell, or have been shamed into silence when we hear.

This worldview gets reinforced in our minds with real world consequences, even if we wouldn’t agree with it intellectually. So when a girl doesn’t like us back, we look for faults in her, call her names, or otherwise react aggressively. Eventually it gets so ingrained, and men are so incapable of handling rejection and criticism positively, that we find ourselves labeling women in aggressive manners for minor things like correcting us in a staff meeting. In this way, locker room humor becomes board room bigotry.

Where Men Can Go From Here

I am not arguing that every man is a rapist or mass murderer in waiting. I am arguing that all of this – aggression, street harassment, misogynist jokes, rape, and killing sprees — are all symptoms of same fatal logic of masculinity. The construction of modern masculinity causes men to perpetrate all manner of violence, due to our inability to understand and process emotion. When I say this is a problem with #yesallmen, I mean that as long as we live under the chains of modern masculinity, we will all continue to invalidate the emotional experience of other people, threaten or perpetuate violence when someone forces us to come to terms with our emotions, and fail to overcome our feelings of vulnerability.

Elliot Rodger is not a lone, crazy gunman, nor is he a poster boy for the danger of the radical men’s rights movement. Elliot Rodger is the generic archetype for modern masculinity, and a case study for what happens when you mix alienation, masculinity, and easy access to guns. If he were less alienated, he would have probably still been abusive to his partner. Had he not had access to guns, he still would have reacted violently. The only thing that stops Elliot Rodger from perpetrating gender-based violence is deconstructing masculinity.

It should be the endeavor of all men to do just that. Deconstructing our social concept of masculinity involves exploring our emotions and not fearing that will make us effeminate. We must understand that ignoring emotions is not some stoic expression of control; instead, it is the most profound cowardliness. It is a sick and often fatal cowardliness that put the women we profess to love in danger. The logic of our masculinity, the logic that tells us not to feel, that tells us that sex is the means to social validation, a logic that teaches us to fear the unknown inside of us, is literally destroying the fabric of our society.

Because until we as a society recognize that masculinity is the problem — and force men to deal with it — rape, harassment and murder will continue to typify the daily experiences of our wives, daughters, sisters, neighbors – as well as ourselves.

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

singles-dc

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?

Justice As An Imaginative Act

I was recently reading a counterstorytelling post about “sex-positivity” as only being positive for white, middle class, heterosexual women.

 

http://counterstorytelling.tumblr.com/post/41102914582/sex-positivity-isnt-so-positive

 

It makes the familiar argument that sex positivity is only liberating for a small group of women for whom the idea of virginal purity was oppressive and limiting. For women and queer people from minority communities who have a history of sexual fetishism and exotic sexual exploitation sex positivity reinforces extremely harmful and limiting stereotypes. While I had heard this argument before, the author mentioned an idea that I had not remembered ever hearing before: justice as an imaginative activity.

This seems to mean that justice in regards to issues of identity and oppression is essentially about reimagining our identities and rethinking the social templates for interaction. I think this is an interesting lens to look at justice in identity politics. The implicit idea seems to be that seeking justice through changing laws and systems of oppression is not sufficient if we still operate on racist, sexist, homophobic, classist etc frameworks. It is the idea that in order for a man to no longer be sexist we would have to do more than treat women as equals he would have to start thinking of women as equals.

This resonates with me on a very personal level as I have been rethinking my essay on the American Male. While I still agree with much of what I said, I still wonder how much of it was simply me projecting my own hang ups onto a larger social problem. I was never really able to find many men to talk about the essay with so some amount of projection was unavoidable in a sense. Yet most of the women I talked to said that they didn’t think the men in their lives had all the emotional stunting and sexual hang-ups that I was talking about. Though, to be fair, they were also women who actively avoided stereotypical men and bro culture.

Since publishing that article on my website I’ve done a lot of what in retrospect I can call the imaginative work of justice. I have explored my inability to talk to women outside of a sexual or romantic context and I have become more focused on learning about other people and that has inadvertently made me less self-centered. I am slightly embarrassed by how some of my issues seem to have been a result of being self-centered but mostly happy that I have at least grown as person in the last couple of months.

I realized the extent of that growth as I was sitting with a female friend of mine the other day and was able to talk to her without the barriers that our multiple identities sometimes create. I was aware that she was an attractive, middle class, college educated, young, white, woman yet that was very much in the background. I was able to talk to her as just another person in a way that I am rarely able to talk to anyone, male or female. It was a way that was just in the imaginative sense. She was not a character in my Socratic dialogue, a model on a pedestal to impress or a supporting manic pixie dream girl character in my romantic comedy.

I’m not sure how or why I developed the habit of making people supporting characters in my life story instead of fully realized beautiful individuals. I could probably blame my obsession with characters on writing or movies but in ultimately it is an odd form of self-centeredness. I am now going to commit myself to increasing my engagement with the imaginative aspect of justice. I am going to seek to rethink how I conceptualize my fellow human beings and recreate my template for interacting everyone: male, female or zir.