Two metaphors for healing

I was trying to explain to my therapist where I stand now in relationship to the recent traumatic years, and I was struggling. Then, in a comment on someone else’s blog, the right metaphor came to me.

The bad years are a mountain range I was driving through. When I was in them they were my whole reality, and a lot of the time I couldn’t even tell that I was in an abnormal terrain. Then I started coming out of them. There was a time when I could see level ground and knew it was where I wanted to be. There was a time when I was definitely headed toward it, even though the mountains were still all around me.

There was a time when I was finally on level ground. I had made it out. And adjusting to a wide, smooth road, without sudden turns and sharp bends that demanded hypervigilance, was a project in itself.

And now I’ve been driving level for a little while, it’s starting to feel normal, I’m starting to relax. But the thing is, when I look in my rearview, all I really see is mountains. Everything that came before it is blotted out, and everything that came afterward is tiny in comparison.

I’m well out of the mountains, and driving toward whatever comes next. But it’s taking them a long time to get any smaller in the rearview mirror.

***

I have a patch of skin that’s recovering from a bad allergic reaction. There are patches of new pink skin interspersed with dry scabby areas. I’m eager for it all to be new and smooth, but I recognize that the dry, rough bits have their purpose. They aren’t pretty or nice to touch, but they’re needed, to protect what’s still tender and re-forming. They aren’t for always.

To accept that I need these rough spots, these dry and insensitive protective pieces, isn’t to accept that I will always be this way. I am still healing: in some places the healing is mostly finished, in others there’s a lot of work still to be done. If I try to rip off the scabs before it’s done, I just risk re-infection and further damage. So if I am a little prickly, a little insular, a little unforgiving, those are my scabs. Those are the defenses that help keep my heart safe while it heals. They aren’t for always, but they’re needed for now.

Defining Healthy Masculinity (Or Not)

So, this year I want to talk about healthy masculinity, and I should explain what I mean by that.

By healthy, I mean something that is generally good for you and the people around you; something that encourages you to take care of yourself and treat others respectfully and responsibly. I mean it to contrast toxic masculinity, which encompasses the attitudes that encourage people to abuse themselves and others in the name of seeming more masculine. That part of the definition, I think, is fairly straightforward.

Masculinity, on the other hand, is anything but.

If you look throughout history and across different cultures, our conceptions of what is and isn’t masculine have changed drastically. Nowadays the association between male homosexuality and effeminacy is widespread, but this wasn’t the case for the Ancient Greeks or Japanese military, while in Norse culture men on the penetrating end of homosexuality weren’t emasculated, but those on the receiving end were. These days, Western male fashion is supposed to be very understated and dressed down, but go back a couple of centuries and men were decked out in frills and tights and had long flowing curls.

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Aw yiss. Check out my manly lace.

Often when a word has a meaning that changes over time or depending on context, many people try to pin it down. They want it to find an objective meaning that lies beneath all the alterations, and throw out everything else. I used to be one of those people. Now, I think that some concepts are most useful when they are allowed to evolve and adapt to the needs of the current time; concepts like marriage, gender, grammar, art, language, even values like honor and justice. If there is some objective underpinning behind those concepts, it does not need defending, and if not, why fabricate one? And I definitely think masculinity is one of those concepts.

In fact, when I look at toxic masculinity, a constant feature is rigid, unyielding gender expressions and roles. Masculinity must be chained to maleness, and maleness must be changed to a positively Victorian concept of gender roles. As a society, we are trying to correct our ideas about women’s roles, but not update our corresponding ideas about men’s roles. Given that old ideas of masculinity were wedded to outdated and oppressive ideas about femininity, it is easy to see how this rigidity harms everyone. It hurts women because it reinforces sexist behavior, it hurts men by creating identity crises and insecurities where none need to exist, and it hurts people who don’t identify as either by erasing their very existence.

So when I imagine a world of healthy masculinity, I don’t have a specific image of what that masculinity would look like. Instead, I see a world where masculinity is acknowledged to be a social construct, and in future generations is constantly evolving to suit the needs of people of all genders.

But for now, what I want to see is masculine people rising up and taking back the definition of masculinity from those rigid gatekeepers. Whatever your gender is, and however you express your own masculinity, I want to see you recognize that masculinity is not some object that someone else rations out. I want the whole concept of revoked and bestowed “man cards” to die a swift yet painful death, and I want this bullshit idea that masculinity has to defend itself against being tainted with femininity to die even quicker. If some aspect of masculinity resonates with you, then that is yours, and nobody can take it from you. Whether you’re a knitting stay-at-home mom who also loves cars, sports, video games and Clint Eastwood, a person unsure of their gender but drawn to a butch aesthetic, or a classically masculine hetero cis man who doesn’t like how his culture has been associated with sexism and gay-bashing, you have a right to whatever part of masculinity feels right to you, and you don’t have to put anyone else down to claim it.

This is not Ginny

I like those facebook-analyzer memes much more than my ego wishes I did, and I almost always click on them, and I post the results when I find them pleasing and/or amusing. Until today, when I found my results amusing and most displeasing.

It started when a friend of mine (we’ll call her Cher) posted hers, which went something like:

This is Cher.

Cher says what she thinks and often speaks the truth. That’s why she is disliked by some.

Cher doesn’t give a shit.

Cher is smart.

Be like Cher.

I appreciated this, and it was so appropriate to Cher that at first I thought she’d made up her own text to go with the image, and started to think about what my text would be. Alas, I found that the meme has auto-generated text, but I was still curious.

So this is the first one they gave me:

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LOL NO. Ginny grudgingly admits that there are a couple of good men, and even trusts about four or five of them. Ginny complains about men on facebook whenever she damn well pleases.

But the “try again” button was enticing so I quickly went through a dozen or so. The least objectionable ones were along the lines of “Ginny feels fine about her body and doesn’t care who knows it,” but they were all selfie-related and I don’t take a lot of selfies (but I support those of you who do!) It became evident very soon that the text pulled was completely random, with no input from anything I’ve said or done ever.

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I have nothing but respect for this person, but it is clearly some other Ginny.

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Ginny doesn’t remove her eyebrows because she’s not very femme and it fucking hurts, but she doesn’t shame other people for their beauty routines.

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Au contraire, Ginny recognizes the value in speaking common experiences as a way of community building. When Ginny posts about the weather it is not to inform others, but to express what is important to her in her world at that time. Ginny knows that the closest relationships are ones where we can each speak whatever is on our mind, even if it is well known to the other person.

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WTF of course I would check in on facebook if I were in the hospital! Unless I wanted privacy about the experience. My friends give a shit about me and would want to know that I was going through something! What kind of monster wrote this one?

(Actually I bet I know: people who accuse you of “attention seeking” when you talk about important things in your life are almost always narcissists themselves, pissed that you’re stealing their spotlight. Or they’ve been raised by narcissists and have internalized the self-abnegation that comes with that — if that’s you, message me, I have some books you should read.)

Anyway.

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Oh. Oh nuh-uh. Ginny loves to cook but has NOTHING but side-eye for this one. Moving on.

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BWAhahahhahahhahaha brb laughing forever.

***

If I wanted to do some kind of remotely valuable analysis, I’d log in and tell it I was male (no one will be surprised that there was no non-binary option, and clearly they assumed I’m straight) to find out whether they’re sexist or equal-opportunity crappy. But it’s my vacation weekend and I don’t feel like it.

I don’t know exactly what I’d put if I was designing one of these, but it would probably be something like:

This is Ginny.

Ginny thinks people should do whatever the hell they feel in their souls is right for them, as long as it doesn’t harm others.

Ginny is smart, although that doesn’t mean all her opinions are correct.

Don’t be like Ginny.

Be like you.

A Year of Healthy Masculinity

Sometimes, I care a lot about a subject, but I’m afraid to talk about it because I’m not sure I fully understand it. Sometimes I get over this fear, and talk about it anyway. When I do that, so long as I acknowledge that I’m still figuring it out, I often find my understanding of it grows. People give me feedback on my ideas, share their own stories, and point out flaws in what I think I know. And sometimes, simply trying to express my thoughts forces me to improve them.

There’s an issue that I care about a lot. It doesn’t have a good name, though the phrase “toxic masculinity” covers part of it. I love masculinity, but I hate patriarchy. Men are granted significant power under the patriarchy, but at the same time, all too often, they are held to ridiculous standards. Toxic masculinity interferes with good relationships, reasonable expectations and self-acceptance. It teaches men that to express a full range of normal human emotions is shameful and worthy of mockery. The patriarchy is the only system I can think of that dehumanizes both the group it oppresses and the group that it privileges.

A huge part of how it does this is with the concept of masculinity. Men are controlled and shamed with masculinity just as women are with femininity. On top of that, in the name of masculinity boys are often encouraged to learn behavior that is demeaning towards others, especially women and boys whose gender expression is more feminine. I hate that, and I don’t think it’s necessary. I think it is possible for masculinity to exist without misogyny or homophobia, and I think when that happens, masculinity will also lose its aspects that are toxic to men.

This is a serious issue, but its difficult to talk about for a number of reasons.

  1. People who bring it up are often just trying to attack feminists.
    I remember when I was a little trans boy, not yet out of the closet, and discovered this thing called men’s rights activists. I was so excited that someone was talking about the ways society was unfair to men and I was sure such a movement would be full of thoughtful, intelligent men who would merge all the best aspects of feminism and maleness. God, was that ever disappointing. So many of these legitimate issues are brought up by men who don’t seem interested in actually solving them, but simply silencing other people who happen to be standing up for other important issues. This has created some knee-jerk responses from feminists, many of whom have defensive, pre-determined responses to anything that smacks of “what about teh menz?” It sucks for everyone.
  2. Some women feel this issue comes under the jurisdiction of feminism, others do not.
    Feminism is about gender equality. Many feminists are fantastic at recognizing the legitimacy of these issues; some of the most intelligent discussions I’ve had about toxic masculinity have been with women. Contrary to the image of the vitriolic feminist, quite a few feminists care about men too. At the same time, many women have been deeply wounded by the way men in their lives have treated them, and the way the misogynistic rules of society have enabled those abuses. Some women need feminism to be a space where its okay for them to be angry about that without worrying whether they have made some man somewhere angry. That’s just one reason why women might object to campaigning on behalf of men, and its a pretty valid one.
  3. When men try to discuss men’s issues under the umbrella of feminism, it can create problems.
    Men are granted a lot of space for their voices in our society, and when they come to the world of feminism, they often expect that same level of attention. Feminism has a lot of important battles to fight on a number of fronts, most of which men shouldn’t lead. Now, I don’t think that masculinity is something that only male-identified people can discuss. But I do think a discussion of how to reform masculinity and deal with men’s issues should include male voices. At the same time, I can’t help but see the point of feminists who say that men have so many platforms to speak on, they should let women lead discussions that fall under feminist umbrellas. Women should feel free to focus on the vast injustices perpetrated against them and should have a space to recover from misogyny, without having to also fix everything for men.

Because of the last two points, I don’t think feminism is the right movement to fix toxic masculinity. Instead, I think there can exist a separate but allied movement that seeks to reform masculinity so its no longer so closely allied with the patriarchy. I want to see a healthy masculinity movement that is not synonymous with either feminists or men, but makes life a better for both.

I just don’t know how to make that movement.

So I’m going to dive in and talk about it. For the next year, all of my posts on this blogs will center  around the topic of healthy masculinity; how to recognize it, how to create it, and how to defend it against toxic masculinity. Hopefully by the end of it, I will have some good groundwork laid.

Thanks for reading, and here’s hoping I find something helpful in the coming year. Stay awesome, peoples.

Stealing Souls Chapter Five: The Homeless Boy

The Writerly Blog of Lane William Brown

This is a continuation of my novel. A new chapter will be published every other Sunday until my first hiatus in April. The full archives can be found here. Please feel free to leave me a comment with your thoughts, and thank you for reading!

Over breakfast, Avalon explained what would happen over the next few days. First, they would go to a place called Vienna. In Vienna, they would be separated from each other for a time. They would be examined by doctors, and given whatever they needed to become whole, and then be watched until the doctors were certain they were all healthy. Next they would be taken to a place called Ballston, where they would all be claimed by the Metropiads who would apprentice and raise them. It would be like an adoption fair, with everyone leaving with a family, sooner or later.

Vienna itself was…

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A Christmas Carol; an Atheist’s Perspective on Christmas

And the final part! Merry Christmas, everyone!

The Writerly Blog of Lane William Brown

There’s an argument that this story is more responsible for the modern concept of Christmas than the Christian religion.  In brief, the Christmas holiday had actually gone somewhat out of fashion when Dickens wrote this novella, in no small part because fundamentalists had decided the holiday was too frivolous. There’s irony for you. It was a very common, folksy holiday that lots of people were above celebrating. This is why, while Scrooge asking his employees to work on Christmas was a bit mean-spirited, it wasn’t actually shocking. Dickens apparently did have a lot of affection for the holiday; A Christmas Carol is just the most famous of a series of short stories and novellas he wrote, all with the message that Christmas is a wonderful time of joy and goodwill that we should all celebrate more. And good god, did it work.

I was into Christmas specials before they were cool. I was into Christmas specials before they were…

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Veggietales’ The Toy That Saved Christmas; An Atheist’s Perspective on the Nativity

Part two of three!

The Writerly Blog of Lane William Brown

Christmas is a time of traditions. For some it’s touring the neighborhood lights displays. For some it’s putting on Christmas tunes the day after Thanksgiving. One friend of mine does not consider the season real until they have drunk spiked eggnog while watching Ralphie get his Red Rider BB gun with this thing that tells time. Traditions have many uses. They invoke nostalgia, provide a sense of stability, and often exist as a reminder of some deeper value. That last one is especially true of Christmas. Every other song and TV special is about finding its true meaning, which I suppose means one tradition is going a hunt for the point behind the traditions. Truly, it is the most meta of the holidays.

This episode has George the scallion telling his granddaughter a story about a town that didn’t get Christmas. Not in the Narnia cursed by the White Witch…

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