CW: Friendships, family, gender, relationships, mental health
TW: addictions, abuse, men, masculinity, toxic-masculinity, suicide
…let’s talk about you and me.
Let’s talk about all the things…
I kid. Let’s talk about men.
And when I say men, I mean let’s talk about all men; cis men, trans men, gender nonconforming men, non-binary men, bi men, straight men, pan men, tall men, fat men, short men, white men, brown men. Anybody that could be involved with the toxicity quite often derived from masculinity and some form of ‘manhood’.
Let’s talk about that little box we put ourselves in, that narrow definition of what it means to be a dude, a bloke, a mate.
I’ve had two interesting experiences in the last week, one of which resulted in an argument and the other involved me wanting to hit my head against a brick wall. Hard.
The former was the inability to reconcile male emotions with rational thinking.
I’ve been a part of cishet male groups since I was a teenager, before that I gathered intel via interactions with family or friends of family. I’ve always felt like an outsider, due partly to being raised predominately by cis-women but also, partly due to an array of mental health issues.
One of which in trusting men and what that unearths in me.
All of my friends at primary school, up until a parental-school intervention, were girls. I was the token Dad for the wedding/family play out at lunch, I was the school bike in terms of being the boyfriend of said girls, I was a prepubescent hoe in not so many words. But as I left primary school, I had a fundamental lack of understanding as to what constituted as a boy, or what I would soon be thrusted into – a man.
But I soon learnt.
I learnt in my teen years, or I suppose my memories and experiences were galvanised, that I hadn’t really met many nice men. My Dad was a mentally and emotionally abusive alcoholic cum-drug addict with an expansive set of mental health illnesses and a taste for violence against his enemies (men that weren’t him or his partners). Both my granddads were the same, both of my uncles too. My Mum’s partners, all three of them in the 25years of being separated from my Dad, were hapless and pathetic, falling into the same traps all other men I was exposed to did – delusions of grandeur, lying, fragility, egocentric behaviour and decisions, disloyalty, inability to express healthy emotions. It’s a long list.
Ironically, I would say to myself as a teen that although I had never really been given any good role models in life, I could learn who I shouldn’t be from these men, how not to treat people and how I should carry myself into adulthood. Sadly, that didn’t stop me from becoming the very thing I opposed.
I would pride myself on not being a violent person, particularly towards women. Yet I’d emotionally drain them in relationships. I would always make sure that I was as caring or giving during sex that I could be, yet I’d ghost people. I’d claim to be kind and considerate, but I’d make excuses when I was mentally or emotionally abusive – blaming my mental health, or whatever haphazard scenario I happened to find myself in.
I went out of my way to not only instigate, perpetrate and contribute to a toxic ‘lad’ culture of pulling, but I’d orchestrate it and strive to be the best.
I was toxic, my masculinity – or however I identified that element of my being as – was sceptic. Rotten at the core, needing removal and I was fragile, weak, unstable. I’ve never worked out whether they were borne from poor mental health related to toxic masculinity or if they contributed to it, but mental illnesses and masculinity are linked, intrinsically.
Now, this isn’t a remission or declaration of guilt. I’m not about to raise my hands up and say I’m cured. I’m toxic as hell, probably in ways I don’t even know. But I’m actively challenging my behaviour and making conscious choices to ensure that I break my patterns and relinquish myself from its prickly grip – as well as save my future partners and friends from it too.
But I just feel the need to engage with it, engage with the males in my life and rather than cut and run, create friendships and circles that aggressively clapback at these notions of what is acceptable as men and rebuke it, and its perpetrators. Although, that olive branch is at my discretion.
Men and all-male circles have this tendency, amongst other really shit behaviour, to tout loyalty as the key principle of their friendships, their kinship. Loyalty to one another, loyalty in their actions, loyalty in the ‘bro-code’ or other such nonsense. Lad culture, and its inherent toxic masculinity, is founded on the ability to stay quiet in the face of atrocious behaviour and staying quiet makes you complicit.
What men and all-male circles do not do, from my experience, is favour emotions, depth and feelings to be attributed to their relationships with other males. This #nohomo culture of allowing ourselves to drink our feelings away, joke about trauma and insistently believe that being loyal means staying quiet is why the biggest killer of men is suicide.
We are slowly killing ourselves with our lack of accountability to each other. By refusing to challenge ourselves, we are refusing to grow. The ‘boys will be boys’ mentality has to die a death.
This leads me, briefly, to my second thought provoking encounter of the week.
“Why not say ‘Toxic-behaviour’ rather than ‘Toxic-masculinity’?”.
Someway somehow, people feel personally attacked at the critique that they, or their identity as a man, could be in some way toxic. That in actual fact, wouldn’t it be fairer to label all toxic-fuckery as just that, rather than insinuating that all men are toxic?
These are often the people who see feminism as an abhorrent reclamation, or theft, of power from men. The people that can’t see past the idea that racism isn’t just hurling abuse at POC on the street, but institutional and pandemic in our culture.
I won’t and can’t pander to this kind of rhetoric, it plays into the culture of allowing this behaviour to exist and is deeply rooted in patriarchal society – if I’m not affected by it, in ways that I can see, then why should I be urged to change it?
It’s weak and telling of where you stand, if you’re not willing to make change, within yourself, your life or the greater community, you’re by definition – a part of the problem.
But I have hope, a glimmer of positivity in what could be an otherwise bleak scenario. I know that we capable of expanding on and deepening connections, there just needs to be a catalyst.
The hard part is trying to make sure that that catalyst isn’t a pint or half a bottle of whisky…